I get it. I talk about books a lot. A lot. Look, I work at two bookstores and my weeks start on Tuesdays. Plus it’s sort of my job to read books. At least that’s what I have to tell my boyfriend every time he catches me sneaking another paperback into the house. (You’re welcome, I also say, for reading a whole lot of straight-to-mass-market-paperbacks instead of the heavy, expensive, dense trade cloths.)
Anyway, the point is, I have actually been writing all this time. Short stories, mainly, for a few reasons:
1.) I am determined to make the short story form my bitch. It’s a hard one to master, so I hear – and so I have experienced – for the same reason, I figure, as the sonnet being harder to write than free verse (I will accept it as “poetry” for the sake of argument, but academically, I do not). And before you folks get all up in my face about free verse being just as hard to write as sonnets, I say to you, nay. I have written both, and trust me, it’s more than just the iambic pentameter and the rhyming structure. It’s thesis, antithesis, synthesis, summation. It’s a big deal, and it’s hard to get right. But I digress. Short stories, for the purposes of submission, are limited, on average, to 5,000-10,000 words. That sounds like a lot, yes? Let me put it to you this way: I recently wrote a story and thought to myself, the hell with it, I’ll write the damn thing, then cut it down to 10,000.
So, when the damn thing hit 17,306 words – I don’t know if you caught that, but that means that if I cut every third word it would be an appropriate length – I thought, okay, I guess this is done now. Then I spent an exorbitant amount of time editing, which included, about 24 hours before the deadline, panic, a slightly delayed and manic Legends of the Five Rings game session, and a ridiculous quantity of caffeine.
Never mind that. I finished it: 9,999 words emailed about 45 minutes before the deadline closed.
And got rejected. But never mind that. I did it and it was pretty much the best writing exercise I’ve ever had. I got to play with, for the first time, a deadline and a word limit. Both of which are. Total. Balls.
2) NaNoWriMo approaches steadily. This year has flown by, and both Camp NaNoWriMos were a bust for me this year, and I will not be defeated by the month this year. Last year I wrote 75,000 (ish) words in the month of November, and I won’t be made to look a fool this year.
So yes: this pursuit of the short story form is also about vanity. And why not?
3) I don’t have an idea for a novel-length story right now, and as I mentioned, November comes a-calling. And I’m sort of stressing out about it. I can’t write 50,000 words – much less 75,000 words – if I don’t have anything to say. So, um, cue panic. Now.
The short story that I wrote (and, subsequently, got rejected; boy, I really am racking up the rejections that I’ll be able to giggle about with my grandchildren while I waste truly Pattersonian amounts of money without worrying about the mortgage) was meant to a prequel story for the Olivia Monck universe. It was supposed to introduce Calhoun (her trusty sidekick wizard, but don’t tell him that), and generally be revelatory. It… well, once I cut every third word out, it couldn’t be that. It ended, ah, fine, but it was far from what it was initially meant to be.
Don’t worry. I have the 17,306-word draft saved. Someday, my beautiful little girl. Someday.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that I read a romance novel which will not be named at any point in the future. When I finished it, I was so disgusted by the lame-ass-ness of the female protagonist (to whom I will not deign to refer as a hero, or even a heroine), that I scoured my bookshelves to find a strong female protagonist, a hero even, and I…
I found nothing.
Look, I have a pretty good freaking selection of urban fantasy – which is what I wanted – and I drew a blank. A blank. I’m not saying that some of the books I haven’t read (of which there are a number, including Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series and Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate), but I could not take a chance that I was going to get a lackluster lady who fell flat when someone poked at her even a little. The closest I came was grabbing Lilith Saintcrow’s second Dante Valentine installment, DEAD MAN RISING. I hesitated, and ultimately decided against it, because I’d read a few reviews on Amazon (or Goodreads, or something) where she gets a little mushy in the second book…
Anyway. I settled on Richard Kadrey’s second Sandman Slim book, KILL THE DEAD. A few days later, I got over myself, and I started DEAD MAN RISING.
All of this to say that the story I’m working on now (which has no working title, but is basically about a revenant assassin, a working class angel of death type character), is pretty freaking dark. And don’t worry, it’s got a strong female lead, and the level of violence and intensity and putting-the-screws-to physically, morally, emotionally – even in a 10,000-word story – is a direct, visceral reaction to… Jesus, I’ve forgotten her name already. Whomever in the romance novel. And I’m not sure she’s a likeable character, or someone I want to explore further – in fact, she scares me a little too much to explore further.
I’m really bad at ending stories. I’ll think of one, and plan it out, and then… I’ll put it off and put it off and pretend I’m doing other things that are important and put it off and…
But this story had several scenes that have made me uncomfortable. That’s good, I think; no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader, as they say. That’s what I want for my short stories, though – I want the emotional intensity of a 100,000-word novel compressed into a tenth of the space. I want the reader to run the gamut of emotions in the little time given them to spend with the protagonist.
Of course I do. That’s what every writer wants. So let’s do this, yeah?