Lethe | Out Now!

Heyo!! Published fiction author here!! Recently, I had the privilege of publishing an old flash fiction of mine, “Lethe,” in a local magazine, the Meridian Creative Arts Journal. It’s about fly fishing, and also about the nuclear apocalypse, but most of all, it’s my response to writing about love, and what’s worth writing about love. All that in 1000 words, too—because, you know, I’m so good at conciseness and that kind of thing. In any case, it was such a privilege to not only be able to put my name in actual print (!!), but to also do a reading of this story. I’ll do more voices next time, and that’s a promise, but I had a lot of fun this first time and would be honored to read again. If you’re interested in reading “Lethe,” you can read the 51st edition of Meridian online here—I’m the finisher, on page 77. While you’re there, be sure to check out the wonderful work of some of my wonderful writer friends, Sierra Farnum, Jemma Kuster, Ruth Nowotny, Jeffrey Pincus, Emma Schick, and Tristan Skogen (whose name is spelled with an “e,” Meridian). I hate to pick favorites, but Ruth’s “Psalm” will knock your socks off, Jemma’s “The Life Cycle of the Mimic Glass Lizard” would have made me a super fan if I wasn’t already, and Jeff’s “Full of Surprises,” well… it plays out as advertised. I’m gonna risk speaking for them and say your support means a lot to all of us!

While you’re still here, though, I figured it might be fun to talk a little about my process behind the scenes, like with my last SciAll project. Without further ado, let’s talk Lethe! But not out loud, because I don’t totally know how to pronounce it… still.

The Story

Like I said at the reading last Friday, part of what makes publishing “Lethe” so special for me is that I used to be kind of embarrassed of it—not the deep cringe of, like, old AO3 fanfic getting leaked, but the sort of embarrassment that comes with making any claims to wisdom after freshly turning twenty. “Lethe” was written in what I’d (maybe flatteringly) call a fit of righteous anger in direct response to my 2021 Intro to Fiction course. Then, we had recently finished a unit on how to write love—the sort of thing you can tackle in a solid week or so—but all of our example readings seemed pretty far from love to me. Each one felt like a slight iteration on the same regret-porn template:

“I watched my husband paint the nursery grey again, and felt nothing—only the way his skin felt like sandpaper after the miscarriage. From the furrow in his brow, I know he knows I watch him numbly, like I know he knows about my affair,” and yaddah yaddah yaddah.

And then, like, you’d scroll down and always see some millennial blogger in the comments with one of those black-and-white coffee shop profile photos of them with a quirked-up messy bun and a distant, unfocused ennui in their eyes, and they’d always say “Wow! so powerful.” And after a certain amount of these stories, I snapped, because you know what’s powerful?! A healthy, loving relationship! For fuck’s sake, man.

So, obviously, I still get riled up about this, and “Lethe” was my first step at processing these feelings—at the reading, I said it was about love to be clever, but I’m not sure that’s entirely the case. “Lethe,” to me, is also a response to a much deeper value I hold that clearly sprung to the defensive during the “how to write love” unit. For full transparency, I’m a pretty lucky person in life—I’m no nepo baby, but I’ve been dealt a pretty good hand. I’m very thankful for that, certainly, but there’s always been a monkey on my shoulder that likes to snag ahold of anything that might undermine me as a person, and one of its big talking points through college has been that my privilege and relative stability negates my accomplishments. This goes hand in hand with a very harmful myth that’s pervasive outside of my own subconscious, which is that the best art is borne of suffering. So, to be clear, that’s also a load of horseshit, but reading something like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is very convincing—certainly makes me feel like I’ll never produce anything of cultural worth because I’m not severely depressed (??). I know that’s a delusion, by the way, because that argument, followed to its (il)logical endpoint, would mean that severe depression is necessary to produce art of cultural worth. For anyone here without reading comprehension, that’s wrong. I digress. “Lethe,” I think, was a wildly ambitious attempt to examine these feelings—whether or not an emotion, a lifetime, a species can be defined by only its lowest lows and its highest highs. I would never make the assertion that the lows aren’t worth talking about—healing cannot happen without first exorcising our grief, our suffering—but if art has any utilitarian purpose, is this the only art worth anything beyond mindless and replaceable stimulus? Also, what is fly fishing if not suffering itself? These were and still are big questions for me, and I don’t think a flash fiction can fully contain their depths, but, you know, flew too close to the sun, hence the embarrassment. Also, a few rejections from literary magazines doesn’t help that, even if it’s part of the gig.

But hey! I wasn’t Icarus’ed after all, because an earlier draft of this story soon won me the Robert Manford Tobin, Jr. scholarship, and now it’s in print! Maybe there’s a lesson in there, and maybe I’ll process it in writing someday, but if you’re wanting to chew on the same questions I was chewing on when I wrote this, allow me to regurgitate them baby bird style into your open and curious beaks.

The Title

Of course, “Lethe” has changed a lot since those initial ruminations, although I’d be willing to bet two-thirds or so of the original prose remains more or less intact. What has completely changed many times, however, is the title “Lethe.” Originally, this one was called “Lemon Bar,” because of spoilers, but nobody liked that—myself included—since it gave zero hints as to the nature of the story. I meant for it to be a placeholder, back then, but I’d be lying if I said I had any clue what should replace it for almost two years afterward. I submitted this piece to several literary journals under the title “And Now, Five Stories That Say Equally Little” because I felt like I needed to match their pretentious factor, but I guess they called my bluff, because, well, here we are.

I settled on “Lethe” in one of those strange, eureka moments that art advice books always say you can invite in intentionally. I’m not totally convinced that’s true, because I hadn’t even thought about this story in months when I remembered that the Lethe was the river of memory in the Greek underworld—I almost feel like I didn’t come up with it myself. It’s kind of a cool parallel, though, right? I’m really happy with it, and happy with the draft that ended up being printed, too.

The Illustration

Even though I think Meridian would’ve also accepted an illustration, I’d never actually drawn any of this story until just yesterday. The image below has existed in rusty oranges, browns, and toxic blacks since February of 2021, and I’ve only just now adapted it to the current style of cover doodles on this blog. It’s all about that brand synergy, right? Anyways, I hope you like it—I don’t usually do this, but I’ve got the unshaded image here as well, because the shadows erased a lot of my favorite details, like the younger fisherman’s saggy drawers and the skull sitting at his feet.

Anyways, I hope that was fun for everybody—it’s so cool to be able to talk about this story as a finished product, and to be able to stand by its creative choices as facts. Believe it or not, the instructor of my workshop (who was a very cool lady, to be clear) told me to entirely omit the flashbacks that define the entire theme of this story, so this draft is a testament to sticking with my vision. Either way, it means a lot to have readers that trust me, and I hope this story delivers in every way.



  1. so proud of you!!! 🫶🏻

  2. sabinaespinet · May 3

    I’m so proud of you and really happy to have been there in person. And so fascinated by the title now! I have been pondering the word anamnesis (used in analysis as a conscious recalling of your own history) for an art series and I love the idea of a river of memory. Thanks for educating me once again, Correctasaurus!

    • maxtodd · May 3

      Actually, it’s correctOsaurus, but I’ll let it slide. Anamnesis is super cool and you should definitely go with that but the Lethe is definitely a reference that would pull it all together, you should use it!

  3. Sharon Todd · May 3

    Love this!! So proud of your amazing work!

  4. Pingback: May 2023 Wrap-Up 🌂 – The Bookish Mutant

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