The Story Behind the Story: “Re: Guilt”

In this segment of The Story Behind the Story, Eric Laster talks about what motivated him to write “Re: Guilt.

I wrote “Re: Guilt” during a time of exploration, when I was exercising different voices in short form, and it features one of the straightest voices I rendered—without idiosyncratic “verbal” tics, without much of the hesitation, stuttering, repetition, redundancy, and filler (“like,” “you know”) so common in speech. Because of the sensationalistic subject—the adult narrator lives through a gunman’s attack on diners in a restaurant; he manages to escape but abandons his parents in the process—and because the narration is supposed to seem spoken, I knew in advance that I didn’t want anything “literary” in the language. Nor would I succumb to gimmicks, such as a complete lack of punctuation so as to suggest urgency. I wanted “Re: Guilt” to read like a mostly matter-of-fact bulletin from the front lines of a tragedy.

Not all spam is created equal. The title of the story comes from a bit of virtual junk mail I received, the subject line of which was “Re: Guilt.” I greatly enjoyed that subject line, its mingling of the public and personal, its suggestion of business correspondence—the memo-like “re:”—coupled with the stuff of personal diaries. (I never read the actual email.) Some time later, I heard a woman on the radio talking about an ordeal she’d lived through, similar to the one described in “Re: Guilt.” The title and the story just fell together at that point; I knew the last lines instantly.

I often don’t understand why I’m drawn to a subject until I’m in the middle of grappling with it. But looking back now, doing my little interpretive dance and risking pretentiousness, I see “Re: Guilt” as an open-ended study of the limits of filial love, of selfishness and regret for that selfishness. The reader is a rubbernecker. Fascinated by horrific incident, compelled by morbid curiosity to stop at the scene of a crime, the reader perhaps learns more than she would like, becomes belated witness not just to the tragedy of those killed, but also to the tragedy of survival, when instinctive behavior under mortal threat seems wrong but inevitable, and might or might not warrant forgiveness.

Related Posts
Filter by
Post Page
Featured Fiction New Fiction Finalist for Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Prize Essays/Articles (all)
Sort by

“Guilt and Matter”

The man cries then vomits. It starts with a foamy leak down his T-shirt, followed by a stream of color and guts. He
2017-08-03 10:43:59


“Re: Guilt”

We’d just been served our food when it happened, the Camry or whatever crashing t
2014-07-31 11:45:09


“Symptoms and Remedies”

I try to interpret the signs of my own body, and think back to a medieval literature class I took in which we
2019-09-30 11:05:53



Not many people knew what I knew about my brother and his wife. I knew it all. The booze, the opioids, the
2019-08-02 23:35:47


“Story Dissection”

Here’s all that is needed to dissect the story: Thematic Elements 1) The man loves his wife, as in t
2019-07-10 09:35:19


“The Funkmeister”

If you happen to meet my co-worker Maxwell Benz—unlikely—and the conversation turns to music, be prepared for your op
2019-06-26 09:34:49



So how did I get here…well, okay, where do I start? The strippers. I’m going to start with the strippers. The
2019-05-31 07:55:44


“My Apologies”

I will start by saying that I do not have to explain myself to you.  Then I will go
2019-04-12 07:58:47


“The Gathering Before the Storm”

Against her better judgment, Gladys takes a moment to notice that the sky looks deceptively banal through the
2019-03-04 11:51:03


“Writing and the Unconscious: A Personal Exploration of Process and Content”

If dreams are the royal road to the unconscious mind as proposed by Freud, then what are the stories that we write?
2018-12-28 19:34:37


Eric Laster

About Eric Laster

Eric has spent ten-percent of his life as a ghostwriter, in between publishing two kids' books: Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Savior, for whimsical readers nine and up; and The Adventures of Erasmus Twiddle: Grmkville's Famous & Talented Not-Detective, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Welfy Q. won a 2014 Mom's Choice award. Originally from New York City, Eric now lives in Los Angeles, where he pens fiction and provides writing and editing services to publishing and marketing clients.