This was the first story I wrote for an anthology, as opposed to a magazine, and it's also the only story of mine (so far) which has come true.
"See My King . . . " was written for the anthology Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic, edited by F. Brett Cox and Andy Duncan. As it happened, I've known Brett Cox since the previous millennium, and he knew that I'm from New Orleans and thereby qualify as a Southern writer, so he invited me to submit a story.
I knew right away that I had to write a New Orleans story. It's my hometown. Even now, more than twenty years since I left for college in Chicago, that's "where I'm from." I live in New England, but I'm from New Orleans.
My other boundary condition was that it had to be a science fiction story. In fiction, New Orleans is normally fantasy territory, or horror country. Voodoo, zombies, ghosts, vampires, pirates . . . to hell with all of them. New Orleans has a lot of history (and profits from it) but it's not a museum. It's a real place, where people live and work and go to school. It exists in the 21st Century, and I wanted to show that in a story.
I also wanted to wipe it off the face of the Earth.
Why? Well, because you can do anything in a story. But also because I wanted to make use of some of my own emotions. As I said, I'm from New Orleans. I'm not there, and I wasn't there when I wrote the story. I was stuck in Ithaca, in fact, freezing my tail off in an arctic wasteland full of drunk undergraduates and tedious old hippies. I missed New Orleans, so I decided to use that emotion in the story, so it's about someone who really loves the city and how he deals with the fact that he can't go back because it's not there anymore.
To wipe out the city, I flooded it catastrophically by means of a giant hurricane. Oops. My storm also did a lot of physical damage by wind and storm surge. I spent some time on a visit to my family taking notes on which downtown buildings I wanted to knock over. On that same trip my mother gave me one great image when I told her I was flooding the city: "Robert E. Lee walking on the water." That went right in.
Flooding the city let me work in one of my old friends as a minor character. At one point the protagonists visit flooded New Orleans, and their guide is an affable fellow called "Dr. Doug" who describes the evacuation and the final days of the city. After Hurricane Katrina, the person who inspired "Dr. Doug" told me that he wants me to write him into a light romantic comedy next time.
I wrote up the story, sent it to Andy and Brett . . . and they sent it right back. They liked the start and middle, but hated the ending. In my story I start with my main characters living in post-storm exile in Atlanta, jump back to how they met at Mardi Gras before the catastrophe, and then wound up with a bizarre terroristic revenge plot in which one of them uses nanotechnological devices to sabotage flood walls in Florida so that the Disney World version of New Orleans will be inundated.
My editors, bless them, told me that was a completely awful way to end the story. I re-read it and couldn't argue. So I scrapped the whole final third and gave it a quieter ending which was much more appropriate. Listen to your editors -- unless they're wrong, of course.
After the rewrite, Cox and Duncan accepted the story and the anthology came out in 2004. This is my most "literary" piece to date, and I think it holds up very well.