Author's Note on Flatliners

Publishing news and updates by K.A. Wiggins

28 Feb 2024

Sometimes there are stories you just aren’t equipped to tell. The one that became “The Patron Saint of Flatliners” (first published in Mysterion, March 2024) is one of them.

I wrote the earliest version of it the summer after my best friend lost a young member of her extended family to the Vancouver drug toxicity crisis.

It wasn’t really a story at that point—just anger and cursing and chaos on a page. Unpublishable. I never expected to come back to it. But in 2023, I encountered Seanan McGuire’s works and found in her Ghost Roads series a surprising parallel.

Perhaps my strange, admittedly somewhat twisted form of processing/coping mechanism had produced something that would connect with readers after all . . .

But in connecting with readers, in taking something that I wrote for my own reasons and offering it to the world, I find myself concerned that fiction may be mistaken for fact.

So permit me the indulgence of straying into facts for a moment, starting with this:

I never met the girl who died. I know her only through second-hand accounts.

A scattering of stark snapshots of her life are here. Her truth is not.

I can’t tell you what it was like to be her. What her hopes and dreams were, how she thought about the future, God, herself.

I can tell you that, while she experienced hardship and betrayal, while she made choices you may not agree with and that she herself expressed uncertainty and regret over—according to my friend who was working to help her in her final days—I didn’t nearly capture her rage and desperation.

Nor the fervour of her religious practice. In life, she was a devout Catholic.

So, while this story does not, cannot, offer full and meaningful representation to that girl or the (many) other victims of the drug toxicity and opioid crises (please seek out survivors’ first-hand accounts and art for that! Recommendations welcome here.), it is perhaps in the area of faith that it falls most short.

In portraying an angry, questioning, alienated protagonist railing against God for her isolation, I fear I have crafted an engaging fictional narrative, but reinforced popular, comfortable myths.

There are convenient untruths that we all cling to at times. “Bad things don’t happen to good people.” “People get what they deserve.” “Overdoses happen to those people and we are not those people.

Popular myths, modern myths, religious myths, even, depending on the context. Nice people, nice families, educated people, professionals, women, students, children, good church-going folks, stable married couples, middle class households . . . immigrants. Believers. Catholics. Pentecostals. Baptists. And so on.

Pick your label. It still won’t protect you and yours.

The truth is that drug use, experimentation, dependency, addiction, poisoning, overdose, all of these can and do occur within the Church, to Christians, to nice people, to our loved ones, to us. They are not, in and of themselves, a mark of “godlessness.”

This story—both the real life story behind the fiction, and the linked piece—also highlight intersecting marginalizations.

While I think it’s important to take this moment—particularly as this piece was first published by a faith-affiliated market—to challenge Christians and religious communities, along with the “comfortable majority,” to recognize their own vulnerability, it’s also desperately important to stop judging and dismissing those who make different choices and/or come from different communities, backgrounds, and experiences.

This is a story about the vulnerability of people of colour, of people from the Global South, of the harms of adoption practices (esp. in white Chrisitan communities), of the abuses of the patriarchy and toxic control within religious communities, of economic vulnerability and the way young people, especially women and girls, are more easily exploited (and trafficked) when they can’t access adequate housing, education, and employment.

I wrote this story to transmute anger and grief and loss into hope (in my own twisted, strange way.)

I couldn’t change the outcome for one girl, but I could give her a sense of purpose and a continuation past “The End”, at least in fiction.

Since her death, the opioid and toxic supply epidemics have only worsened.

I urge you to take action in whatever capacity you are able. Advocate for safe supply, low barrier housing, and best-available treatments as scientific recommendations evolve. Form, fund, engage in, and champion healthy, strong communities and societies that support human thriving. Get engaged with the political process and hold your representatives to account.

And recognize that this isn’t only a “them” problem—we ourselves and our loved ones also may be vulnerable, if not in this moment, then in the future. Love and support starts at home.

With hope amidst the darkness, —Kaie

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