The Story Behind the Story: “Spin”

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I wrote the first draft of this short story around 1999 and revised it innumerable times over the years. Though it got me into grad school, the story racked up at least twenty rejections and remained unpublished until 2013, when a young editor at Bayou Magazine named Robin Baudier told her superiors that she wouldn’t take on any other project until the magazine decided whether or not it was going to publish this piece. I’d found my first real fan!

It seems fitting that Robin’s love for “Spin” brought this story out, at last, into the light of day, because it’s a story about love, albeit romantic.

It’s also a story about physics, quantum entanglement (the real phenomenon at the heart of the fiction), and Einstein’s “spooky actions at a distance.” I’ve been thinking about such things recently in the wake of our latest major scientific breakthrough, the detection of gravitational waves via the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, which appears to confirm one of the stranger implications of Einstein’s theory of special relativity.

In essence, that giant, immensely expensive piece of equipment was constructed solely for the purpose of detecting the subtle ripples in space time hypothetically generated by the collision of two black holes just over a billion years ago, many millions of galaxies from here–and, as of just a few months ago, it succeeded. Those ripples are hypothetical no more.

Nicola Twilley, writing for the New Yorker,  points out that virtually everything we know about the universe has come to us via the electromagnetic spectrum, whereas LIGO is a completely new kind of telescope, which means we have an entirely new kind of astronomy to explore. How exciting!

Clearly, I’m still preoccupied with many of the same things I was at twenty, when I wrote the first draft of this story. You’ll see other hallmarks of Young Writer Susan here as well…

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Work-in-Progress Wednesday: Dream Studies

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I spoke last night to a fellow writer who admits that he hates to write–he doesn’t enjoy it at all, it’s just a compulsion. That’s a sentiment I understand (see my recent essay, on the Back Road Cafe), but it’s something I seldom experience anymore. In part, I think, because I’ve learned how to spend more time inside the dream of storytelling (and less time trying to perfect the telling).

Inside the dream of my next short story, a quantum version of my twenty-year-old self is the assistant manager at the Elks Opera House in Prescott, Arizona. She’s enrolled in a class called Dream Studies, and she’s in a romantic relationship she can’t quite figure out how to get out of.

Over the course of this story–which I’m just beginning to imagine the opening lines of–she spends a night at work, in part to avoid dealing with her boyfriend, and discovers a network of what appear to be Hopi kivas beneath the hundred-year-old theater. But how is that even possible? How could anyone build one structure so elaborate right on top of another?

In the course of this tale, as you might imagine, reality and dreams converge. I have a few notes–pictured here–which I made this summer, but beyond that, I have no idea where this story will take me.

And that is something I very much enjoy.

Monday Muse: The Sound of Gravity

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The odd little audio blip in this video, from the New Yorker, is the sound of gravitational waves, released a billion years ago, many millions of galaxies away from here, when a pair of black holes collided.

Those waves appeared on the screen of Marco Drago, a postdoc student, viewing data from LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), an immense two-part particle detector in Louisiana and Washington, which was constructed at a cost of upwards of two hundred and seventy-two million dollars, more than any N.S.F.-backed experiment before or since–all in the hopes of proving one of the more elusive implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

These waves appeared on Drago’s screen as a compressed squiggle, but to LIGO, which this fascinating New Yorker article calls “the most exquisite ears in the universe,” which is attuned to vibrations of less than a trillionth of an inch, and he heard what astronomers call a “chirp”—a faint whooping from low to high. The LIGO team has announced that the signal constitutes the first direct observation of gravitational waves.

This sound indicates the presence of waves in spacetime, caused by the tragic dance (and subsequent collision) of two black holes a quarter the lifetime of the universe ago, which actually cause matter here on earth to shrink or expand by a vanishingly small degree when they pass through us.

I’ve been thinking about this extraordinary development as I prepare to release my first short story to my Patreon subscribers, “Spin,” which tells the tales of two other star-crossed lovers–a physicist and a dancer, two people equally fascinated by the physical world but in different ways.

As with every great discovery in science as well as art, the question, for me, is this: If this is true, what might also be true?