My short story “How I Lost My Virginity in a Lobster Trap” came into its form with a lot of input and collaboration from various people and writing groups to make such an absurd story idea come to life. It started with the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, which I joined in 2014 right after graduating, which led me to discover many great writers I wouldn’t have known otherwise.
The first was David Shields, a writer and college professor, who had just released the collaborative I Think You’re Totally Wrong around the time I joined. I interviewed Shields and later met him in person when I attended the CWW’s summer writing retreat (Paris, 2015). One of Shields’ main writing tenets was on collage and collaboration, something notable in I Think You’re Totally Wrong and his incredible book Reality Hunger. It wasn’t enough to just write on your own, but to take in your surroundings and the people around you when composing.
I was also involved with an online roleplaying group (since 2011) which was a play-by-post forum where writers created characters from the ground up, detailing their appearances, personal history, and relationships with other characters, and then played with them in a battle royale setting. These games could take up to two years to complete, but during that time I could generate a character and play out their entire history before showing how they reach their inevitable, tragic end.
One character I created was Noah, the protagonist of “How I Lost My Virginity in a Lobster Trap.” Noah was everything I was into back in 2015: snarky, irreverent, jovial, and queer as hell. I had started coming into my own queer identity at the time, and I wanted to explore that through a campy character and his bizarre YouTube series and drag persona Pina Bucket. Although Noah eventually met his tragic end, it was still a character whose voice came naturally to me, and I wanted to continue developing him.
I finally was able to do that in 2017 at CWW’s Harvest Writing Retreat in Rockport, MA. Over a long weekend, our group participated in a writing exercise called The Bake Off. Based on a writing exercise by playwright Paula Vogel, the group was told to observe all that was around as we walked to a nearby beach. Then, we were given an index card to write something based on one word or object we noticed. The words were things like “lobster trap,” “Joan Baez,” “lavender,” and so forth. Once we had our seven keywords, we had to create 20 pages of new material in a 36-hour period, then share at the end of the retreat.
That’s when “How I Lost My Virginity in a Lobster Trap” began to emerge. I had been discussing my roleplaying site with another participant on the retreat, and I remembered I had written posts that were meant to be fictional YouTube videos created by Noah, such as parody makeup tutorials and stand up comedy videos. I decided to use those seven Bake Off words and write video transcripts themed on each word.
“Lobster trap” came to mind first, making me realize how easy it was to dive into the psyche of this weird character, a sort of vlog personal story that got more absurd and gross as it went on. How did it turn out? You’ll have to read Stories About Penises to find out.
I see how much collaboration played a part in generating my writing over the last five years. I feel it’s really important to find groups and people to help foster ideas and stories. I often can’t just sit and materialize a story out of thin air, I need people around me or media in my sphere to push me. I still regularly contact that friend I made in Rockport about Noah-related stories (yeah, “Lobster Trap” is not the last time I’m going to try to get anything Noah-related published), and I try to attend writing workshops in Washington D.C. every month. It’s why I’m glad for anthologies like Stories About Penises, as these allow me to generate material I wouldn’t normally create, but also to find people who can inspire me and offer something for my future writing.
I really hope readers of the anthology take something away from my story and the other pieces in the book, even if it’s just a weird line or phrase. I’d be happy if that resulted in a collaboration, even if I never see the end result.
Alex Carrigan's fiction, poetry, and media reviews have been published in Quail Bell Magazine, Life in 10 Minutes, Realms YA Fantasy Literary Magazine, Mercurial Stories, Lambda Literary Review and the forthcoming anthology Closet Cases: LGBTIQ Writers on What We Wear (Et Alia Press, April 2020).
The Stories About Penises anthology is now available.