Hi all long time no see. There's loads of news, however, that I will reveal. First, on November 1 Indian SF is publishing my short story "The Lion in the Wave," on their website; be sure to check it out and to give the magazine your support if you can provide anything, from readership to funds. "Lion" is an ocean story, about my fear of large waves and how their crashes sound like lions' roars, and it's my first successful attempt at a literary style.
The reason I've been AWOL is because I've been working on a novella for an editor, a fantasy horror novella expanded from a short story that I finished in the fall. The time that I would have spent crafting a response to a StoryDam prompt instead went into reading about Tarot, studying the language behind Ray Bradbury's novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, listening to my new beta reader's comments on the story, and writing about twenty thousand words in a week and several days. The editor is reading the novella this week, so I have my fingers crossed.
"Carousel" is about a haunted orchestra conductor who fears a strange creature called the Piper, a humanized force of chaos that steals children with his magic flute. He suddenly makes reappearance at her university, first taking the sound away from orchestra rehearsal. She has to become someone she hasn't been in a while to confront the person who summoned the Piper, as well as to get rid of him.
Novellas typically start at twenty thousand words, which is roughly one hundred pages double-spaced, with Times New Roman font sized 12. I have written three thousand words a day, every other day. With that track record, I thought adding twelve thousand words to an eight thousand word short story would be a cinch. I'd set up my computer at night, or during two hours I had free in the morning, and type away. I even had a day off I knew the story's plot, what I wanted the characters to do. All I had to do was write, write write, which is what I enjoy doing! Surely nothing could be easier!
I couldn't have been more wrong. See, the times I had been writing three thousand words a day had involved some form of having three or four hours a day to write freely, or when I had been willing to stay up till midnight putting in the work. They were also part of fanfiction, which I have always found easier to write than original fiction-- that will be another blog post's subject. Original fiction requires the brain to produce more description, in terms of picturing the world and how the characters act. I had to borrow liberally from my university campus, and then memoirs of driving to Miami Beach at night for the new climax.
To immerse myself into the novella's world, to be able to expand, to explain, to make deeper characterizations, I had to swallow the necessary language, research, and suspension of disbelief. Something Wicked This Way Comes inspired part of the story, including the title, but only in terms of how a fun place or object has creepier implications, that you have to cling to joy and laughter to fight the darkness that threatens your soul. Bradbury's prose also emphasizes that not all parents fail their children in times of crisis, and that sometimes an adult can provide wisdom that the children lack. I consider it one of his more uplifting, nostalgic tales about the wandering carnivals that don't appear any more these days.
I also had to answer a lot of questions. My first beta reader had complained that draft four hadn't held enough back stories. Beta reader two didn't complain about that, but rather about how the protagonist let weeks of time go by before taking action, and that the climax did not satisfy him. A male love interest had no personality or motivation, and the Piper wasn't threatening enough. Both readers went on a long rant, which meant that they liked the story and were frustrated by its shortcomings.
The story had to change. I ended up throwing out the old ending, which had survived six drafts, and crafted a new one. That took four hours to write, on two separate days. Only then, sweaty and relieved, did I email the draft to the editor, who was gracious enough to accept my submission and who let me resubmit it with correct formatting.
"Carousel" taught me many things: one, a story can always get longer. Sometimes it will stretch like an anaconda, demanding that you count every scale on its body till you reach the end, sweaty and exhausted. Sometimes you have to let that anaconda grow, and grow, so that you can get the best story possible.
Two, always answer a readers' questions. Though Stephen King likes to write short horror stories that have no explanation for the supernatural causes, we cannot all be Stephen King and the age to abruptly blame haunted laundry machines on nightshade and mandrake root has passed and gone rotten in the grave. When two readers want back story, even if you dislike flashbacks, provide back story. Connect characters that were previously drifting like bits of seaweed in an ocean current.
Three, write what you know, and what you only know. Not every writer has played in an orchestra like I have, and not every person noticed the clock tower that played melodies at noon on my university campus.
Next post will be about Halloween, and I promise it will be on time, maybe on Thursday. We'll see what I can write this week.