This story collection, Protons and Fleurons: Twenty-Two Elements of Fiction, gestated over a long period of time. “Iron” and “Gold” were the first two stories I drafted, well over a decade ago. At the time I didn’t have any sense that they would be linked by a common theme of an element of the periodic table to each other, much less to another eighteen stories.
I can’t remember anymore exactly how the idea for a whole book of stories based on the periodic table came together, though “Molybdenum,” as an exercise in metafiction, tells some of what I’ve been able to reconstruct from my memory.
After I settled on the idea, though, I read John Emsley’s comprehensive book Nature’s Building Blocks: An A–Z Guide to the Elements (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). I took notes about aspects of the elements that I thought might give rise to a good story. The resulting stories are the ones that coalesced into a good yarn. But some of the elements I eventually set aside with regret: titanium, copper, silver, indium, tin, lead. Maybe someday there will be a second volume.
I also drew up as comprehensive a list of genres as I could to scry out what might be a good match for my selected elements. Here, too, I had to leave some behind that otherwise intrigued me: ode, travelogue, fan fic, picaresque, jeremiad, riddle, parody… Again, maybe someday a volume two?
And finally, since I wanted them to be set more or less in North America, I made a point of representing a number of different places therein as well as different time periods, including imagined pasts and imagined futures.
Eventually I settled on twenty stories, but since three elements appear in one story, I had to come up with the rather awkward subtitle of Twenty-Two Elements of Fiction. The stories in the book are listed in sequence according to each element’s atomic number, with the delightful result that the chapters are not numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, and so forth but 1, 2, 6.7.8, 10, 11, 14…
This collection also marks the first offering from Thornbush Press under the genre “Mystagogical Realism.” Not every story has a mystagogical element, and in all fairness some push the bounds of realism. But then again, mystagogical realism is meant to be a higher realism anyway. If you enjoy the stories and want to understand the mystagogical elements better, be sure to check out the Palimpsest Guide to Protons and Fleurons (and more on Palimpsest Guides in a future post!).