Tagshort stories

Long lists and generous hearts

Once upon a time, I learned that writers are supposed to have Google alerts on their names. Being the dutiful sort, I set one up. The internet, in a brief moment of mercy, decided not to make the alert work. Sure, an occasional email to let me know I’ve posted a blog, but aside from that, nothing. I’m a happy castaway on a very peaceful island when it comes to knowing where my name pops up online.

However, occasionally things manage to break through. This morning, for example, a kind soul tweeted to let me know that The King’s Huntsman is on the Million Writers Award’s long list of notable stories of 2012. That’s a lovely thing to wake up to. The full list can be found here. Huntsman’s keeping some great company.

While on the whole award subject, I also had a Pushcart nomination this year for She Walked Out The Door. The whole Pushcart process is shrouded in deep mystery–I only knew about the nomination because I received an email from an editor at The Sun, and I only knew the story didn’t go any further because eventually the names of some selected works showed up online and I could assume the notification date had passed.

I’m fairly relaxed about the whole awards thing. Nice work if you can get it, and the nominee lists always provide interesting reading material, but it’s low on my list of things to lose sleep over. What I do appreciate, in a very real way, are the people who have nominated my stories, or just told me that they mean something to them. Million Writers, Pushcart, the readers who added one of my stories to their own recommended reading lists, the ones who’ve sent me emails or stopped by here to say thanks–holy carp, folks, your faith and generosity rocks my soul.

I do, of course, have my core audience. But when I sit down to write these days, it’s no longer just Big Eyes and Guitar Dude out there waiting for me. The front row has expanded. The chairs may not match, but I hope they’re all comfortable. Let me know if they’re not.

Thank you.

Comfort writing

There’s something to be said for comfort writing.

(Psst. I’ll have you know that that first line, and these as well, I typed without looking at the keyboard.

Wait! That might be more impressive if I tell you something else first. Once upon a time, long long ago, I took a typing class in high school. The old fashioned kind of typing class, on electric typewriters. We were tested for speed on the first day of class and the last. The first day I managed a mighty seventeen words a minute. On the last, a somewhat less than stellar thirteen.

Yes, I was typing more slowly by the end of the class than I was at the beginning. We’ll ignore the fact that neither number held much promise for my future as a typist.

Anyway, when I started writing after my hiatus, I was a four finger typist and I watched the keyboard. Four years later, I don’t look. Only it’s a little like learning to ride a bicycle. If I remind myself that I’m not looking, I lose my balance and type something like absuhnc kenruhvj aseinincf kiawhid, which is very rarely what I’m trying to say.)

So, comfort writing. I still haven’t figured out this whole publication thing. I understand the “writing is communication” piece, and I’ve learned to be a brave writer and send things out, and I do my part to continue to grow. But the Infernal Editor still owns prime real estate in my brain, and the publishing part of writing can serve as a reminder of that fact. When things are going smoothly, I can ignore her. Other times, when I’m clever, I can type around her.

Sometimes, though, she just dances on my bones.

That’s where comfort writing comes in. Ninety-seven percent of her power comes from the threat that other people will see what I write. Take that piece away and she’s got no leverage.

This is what I do. I go back to the beginning, back when my writing was more or less a private fortress, with a moat, and crocodiles, and a dragon, just for good measure. I write because it makes me happier, and nicer, and gives me something to do with my fidgety fingers and even more fidgety mind. Lately I’ve written about what it means to be a Mender when to mend is to cause pain; about what the Undertakers do for a planet; about the sometimes nonexistent space between magic and science, and what happens when neither works for a dying girl; and about a man who falls in love with a grizzly when his plane crashes into the mountains. Next up, I think, is a girl stowaway who gambles with the god of the ocean to save her only friend.

It’s comfort writing. It’s mine. I don’t have to do anything with it unless I choose to, and I can change my mind at any time. It’s an exercise in writing what I love, rather than what I think I should write. It’s better than mashed potatoes.

And I’m doing it without looking at the keyboard.

(Mostly.)

This life

I have two or three things that I’ve been trying to pull together into coherent posts, but life continues to get in the way. This week has been tied up with, among other things, getting to the point of saying goodbye to our sick kitty, only to discover that she’s not quite ready to go. It’s been a rollercoaster of the worst kind, though I have to admit that at one point I couldn’t stop thinking of the bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and “Not dead yet!” If you haven’t seen it, I’m afraid I’m totally incapable of explaining it right now. In any case, Lazarus Kitty is here for a bit longer, apparently.

“This Place From Which All Roads Go” is now available at Daily Science Fiction. I have to say that I really didn’t know how it would be received, and it’s been wonderful to hear some positive things about it. Thanks!

This is one of those weeks where I would love to hear some good things, writing or otherwise. I am feeling very grateful today for a warm house, and for the way the hemlock boughs my daughter hung outside my window swing in the breeze. I’m feeling good about the new stories I’ve been working on.

Tell me, what’s keeping you going these days?

In the Library of Souls, part II

The second half of “In the Library of Souls” is now up at Strange Horizons. You can find it here.

Almost there

I should be finished with my latest pass through Wren later today. Everything is finally in the right place, more or less. It was a great shaggy mass of a story to work, kind of like oatmeal bread dough, wet and sticky and hard to shape. The good news is that it now looks and reads more or less the way it should.

My difficulty in working on Wren had everything to do with my process, and what happens when I don’t follow it. I wrote The Lost in the space of a couple months. I wrote its unnamed successor in a similar time frame. Working like that means the story is constantly in my head, and I sort through plot details on a daily basis, making changes as I go.

I wrote Wren off and on over eighteen months. Too many breaks, too much time in which to lose plot and character threads. It’s been an adventure sorting it all out.

Were my process different, were I someone who started with a detailed outline, for example, it likely would have been a different experience. But minds work in their own ways. Mine does better working out details as I write, rather than plotting it out in advance. Same process, whether with novels, short stories, or, long ago, college papers. The act of writing allows my mind to make connections that would be a struggle otherwise.

Anyway, one or two more revision passes and Wren will be done!

What then? I wrote a short story this weekend. I have a handful more waiting for my time. I have the short story that will not die waiting for me to take it out and despair over it again. And with Wren complete, it will be time to revise The Lost (the stories overlap), something I’m eager to do.

How to write a short story: one version

Let your mind travel–at night before bed, when washing dishes, or cooking, or carrying on conversations that you won’t remember later because you are too busy imagining the fur of a grizzly or the stars above a sailboat at night. Feel something catch, a little itchy burr that makes you restless inside.

Ignore it. Work on other things. Tell it you have no time for such nonsense. You’ve done this before. The weak always wither with neglect.

Feel this one sink its roots in. Allow it no more time than you would for brushing your teeth. It does not care. It grows in soil you’ve pushed to the sides of your mind, forces its way through everything you’ve cultivated in careful rows there, until there is nothing else, until the only words left in you are that story.

Give in.

Write.

Water Child

Specutopia is out! Buy it for the stellar lineup of writers and stories, or because it’s an interesting new venue for speculative fiction, or because you’d like to read “Water Child”, but do buy it. For the moment, your choice is to purchase through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, though it will soon be available directly from the publisher.

The writers featured in the first issue are: Greg Mellor, James Beamon, D. Thomas Minton, Rachael Acks (who also has a great story out at Strange Horizons this week), David Steffen, and Jetse de Vries. (And me, but if you’re reading this, you already know that.) I’ve only had time to read a few of the stories so far, but I’ve enjoyed them.

What can I tell you about “Water Child”? I could say it came from a title of a documentary I read about, or from standing at the viewing window of a fish ladder while enormously pregnant, and watching the tattered, tired fish trying to reach their final destination. Both would be true, to a certain extent. But beyond those things, it’s simply about the fact that motherhood takes you places you never expected to go.

More of the story

When I posted on Sunday, I only gave part of a story. Yes, Rainpocalypse sold to Strange Horizons, which is a fabulous thing. It’s a story about a lot of rain, as well as other things, like souls. I wrote it originally for an anthology that I never submitted to, much like I wrote “Snowfall” for a contest I never entered. Yes, I believe that can be called a pattern.

Anyway, that was one thing. The other thing, the one I alluded to a week or so ago, was that Daily Science Fiction bought “This Place From Which All Roads Go.” Also very exciting! “This Place…” features a water disaster of another sort, and families, and community. The whole piece is somewhat more personal than many stories I’ve written, albeit in the weird and unrecognizable ways that happen when minds convert experience into fiction.

So, that’s it for now. It’s raining, it’s cold, the peepers are peeping, the owls are calling, and I am bound for sleep.

Sunday reading 4/15/12

It’s Sunday! Actually, it’s Saturday night as I write this. Sunday morning I will be working on Wren, not blog posts. But as this will go up on Sunday, let’s start again.

It’s Sunday! Up this week, “Chorus of the Dead,” by S.E. Gale, at Ideomancer. Again, a story incredibly rich in detail, which not only grounds it, but slows the pace to mirror the dreaming lethargy of grief. Strong and wonderful.

If you enjoy this story (and if you do, please sample some of the other fiction at Ideomancer), consider donating here.

A question of length

Most of the time when I sit down to write, I know whether I’m working on a short story or a novel. They simply feel different. Some feel full of ideas and want to be long, and some don’t.

Occasionally I’m wrong. Occasionally I end up with a story that just doesn’t take off the way it should, and I run through my list of reasons, and none of them quite fit, except, as always, the idea that I’m a complete hack and can’t write my way out of a paper bag. For some reason that one always fits.

Anyway, none of the reasons fit, and I decide the story doesn’t work as a story, and I put it away. Then something happens. I’ll be driving home and a line in a song will hit me, or I’ll be thinking about gardens, or moose, or the Badlands, and all of the sudden I’ll realize the story doesn’t work because I’m trying to make it the wrong length.

(Alternately, I’ll be writing a blog post and will realize that every single paragraph has three sentences in it, and it will disturb me to no end, and I’ll forget my point entirely…)

I have a story I started in the winter. The idea came to me last year, and it had to do with this poem, which was in a poetry book I had as a kid. I wanted Bess as the highwayman, with her long black hair and her fury at the world.

But it didn’t work. Something was missing. Why was Bess so angry? I didn’t know, so I set it aside. I didn’t think of it again until I was talking with a friend about OWS and the appalling distribution of wealth in the U.S. Suddenly I knew exactly where her anger came from.

Better, but still not right. I could get to a certain point and go no further. Once again, Bess went on the back burner.

Then yesterday, while watching Trouble the Water (about New Orleans and Katrina, and so important to see), I realized what was wrong. Bess’s story was never meant to be short. There were too many elements to fit in. I’d been squashing the characters in an effort to keep the length down.

It’s a relief of sorts, because I hate to dump ideas. It’s also frustrating, because I have more than enough on my plate when it comes to novels. I’ll just have to add it to the list.

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