I recently read and reviewed the weird and the wonderful The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini (my review here). I found the story unlike anything I'd ever read before with its combination of sci-fi, superhero, and heartfelt story. So I am just thrilled to have Fred Venturini on the blog today to share with us the origins of this unusual story.
Every origin has an origin story by Fred Venturini, author of The Heart Does Not Grow BackHow do you get your ideas? Maybe the most popular form of reader question when engaging with their favorite authors. In the case of The Heart Does Not Grow Back, I sometimes get asked about where I got that specific idea, and while most authors have trouble answering questions related to the germination of their ideas (I like Stephen King’s answer: “Why do you assume I have a choice?”), this one has a pretty specific trajectory, so I figured I would share how the story was born.
Back in 2008 or so, I was tinkering around with a longer-form piece of work about a teenager and his overbearing best friend. The duo would eventually become Dale and Mack, but in this story, I had all this material about them growing up together, but I never found a way to hook them into an adventure (the fictional hook I had at the time, let’s just say it was a nonstarter).
During that same time period, I started my MFA program at Lindenwood University. With that curriculum, I’d be sharing my work with peers and instructors quite a bit over the next few years, so I needed to beef up my short fiction inventory.
Like most aspiring writers, I carried a notebook around (before my smartphone replaced it, of course). I had a lot of loglines in there—juicy, one-line pitches for stories. One of them was “guy can regenerate his organs and limbs, gives them away on a reality show.”
One reason I came up with that idea is because regeneration was heavily featured in a lot of fiction, especially with the superhero wave beginning to crest. Wolverine, for example, could regenerate from injuries—but he did it almost instantly. The healing process wasn’t a price to be paid for an injury—rather, it was a way for directors to extend fight scenes and spend more on CGI. Regeneration became a crutch to make heroes and villains more durable during battles.
When I was a teenager, I went through a bad stretch of heinous injuries. I often like to say I have eleven scars from eleven separate incidents. The two big ones were being on fire at the age of 10, and getting my neck broken late in my high school career. The healing process from injuries of this caliber was slow, painful, and draining both physically and emotionally. So the prospect of someone with the ability to heal from any injury, although at a pace that more aligns with traditional healing, became of great interest to me.
Finally, with Dale and Mack stuck in nonstarter story land, and my regeneration hook in search of characters to develop the idea, I tried to jam them together in a short story called “Love in Standard Definition.” The story didn’t go over great in workshop—not that it was bad, but everyone said it was too much summary and there was a longer story in there. People wanted more, which was a good thing. I then decided to develop the idea into something full-length.
What I liked most about that early process was how Dale turned into the exact wrong person to get that kind of power, and how his life highlighted how useless healing can be if the emotional wounds remain painfully human. In too many superhero stories, the exact right person gets the power—the dashing person who wants nothing more than to do to good at any cost. Dale is far more broken and complicated, and I found myself pushing him further and further off the edge to see if he could rebound by the end of the story.
If you read the novel, you know how it all turns out. What you may not know is that I still think Dale has a few dark moments that lie ahead, but he’s battle-tested enough to confront them. As much fun as it was coming up with Heart, I someday hope to keep pushing Dale, testing his abilities, and see him truly come to grips with his full potential. All with the help of a certain, sometimes overbearing best friend . . .
About Fred VenturiniFred Venturini grew up in Patoka, Illinois. His short fiction has been published in the Booked Anthology, Noir at the Bar 2, and Surreal South ’13. In 2014, his story “Gasoline” will be featured in Chuck Palahniuk’s Burnt Tongues collection. He lives in Southern Illinois with his wife and daughter.
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About The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini: EVERY SUPERHERO NEEDS TO START SOMEWHERE… Dale Sampson is used to being a nonperson at his small-town Midwestern high school, picking up the scraps of his charismatic lothario of a best friend, Mack. He comforts himself with the certainty that his stellar academic record and brains will bring him the adulation that has evaded him in high school. But when an unthinkable catastrophe tears away the one girl he ever had a chance with, his life takes a bizarre turn as he discovers an inexplicable power: He can regenerate his organs and limbs. When a chance encounter brings him face to face with a girl from his past, he decides that he must use his gift to save her from a violent husband and dismal future. His quest takes him to the glitz and greed of Hollywood, and into the crosshairs of shadowy forces bent on using and abusing his gift. Can Dale use his power to redeem himself and those he loves, or will the one thing that finally makes him special be his demise? The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a darkly comic, starkly original take on the superhero tale, introducing an exceptional new literary voice in Fred Venturini.