In late June I began writing a science fiction novel. Sort of. “Writing,” in the sense I mean it here, translates to “outlining and amassing copious notes for.” To claim that the work I’ve put into the project thus far has involved much actual writing — that is, the construction or arrangement of sentences that might end up in even the roughest of manuscript drafts — would basically be lying. I’ve written one sentence. Mind you, I think it’s quite a qood sentence, meeting all the criteria prescribed by so-called experts for a quality opening sentence for any narrative: inviting inquiry, stating something integral to the plot without giving anything away, providing characterization for the protagonist, sounding good…. So I have been working on my novel, completing steps that are part and parcel of the writing process. My attentions are simply elsewhere.
For my reading, these past four months, I’ve chosen exclusively sci-fi and fantasy books. “Priming the pump,” is how I described it in my latest posted reading list. The tactic worked too well, though. Yes, reading all that speculative fiction caused my ideas for the novel to flourish, but ideas for other projects did, too. The story collections I’ve been enjoying so much unintentionally focused my mind on the short form, so even though I have all these notes and printed encyclopedic articles relevant to my novel, and am intellectually prepared to bend to that work, short stories have seized my exclusive interest. It’s frustrating. And incredibly fun.
My short-fiction jag began when I went back to revise a somewhat surreal 2,000-word story — “Remembrance” — about artificial intelligence and grief, which I wrote nearly two years ago. The editorial feedback from the magazines I sent it to, in the only round of submissions I sent the story on, was encouraging. For unremembered reasons, I never got around to making the suggested changes — foolish of me, no matter what my excuse was. Now, having finally (I hope) repaired what in the first version was broken, I’ve sent the manuscript back to one of the original commentators. Maybe “Remembrance” will make the cut now. I’m pleased with the changes I’ve made to it, particularly the 500-word increase in length and the removal of some ambiguity I’d initially mistaken for compelling mystery. This manuscript has been out for several months, which I can barely resist thinking means it’s being seriously considered for publication.
Motivated by how good I believe “Remembrance” turned out, I spent a week writing an atmospheric 4,000-word story titled “Dragons” — a fireside tale of off-world colonization gone genocidally wrong. It’s pretty grim. To balance out that gritty creation, I tried my hand at writing a humorous piece of flash fiction. The result of that is a trifle of urban fantasy I call “Doorbell, Book, and Candle.” Preliminary reports are that it’s a fun read, so I consider it a success. But will these two pieces meet editors’ approval?
The work receiving most of my attention for the previous weeks represents yet another leap of imagination: a satirical 11,000-word work in progress involving a young autistic man, the zombie apocalypse, and one very late grocery delivery. I feel hobbled when the time comes to title my stories, and the struggle to name this one is almost as protracted as anything in its plot. I don’t know if this should worry me or not. Thus far, I’m pleased with the story, even though it’s longer than it will probably need to be for publication. People who give writers advice about such things say it’s best to just tell the story that’s begging to be told, and worry about submission guidelines later. That’s exactly what I’m doing, and my unnamed adventure through the world of the undead is proving very fun to write, as a result.
Will I get back to my novel soon? Absolutely. But it’s been so long since I’ve been this prolific with fiction of any length, so I’m allowing my muse to run her course, whatever crazy route she chooses to take.