02 November 2005 by Published in: writing 1 comment

At one point, during Viable Paradise, we were assured by all present that short fiction venues would be closing down just as we sold pieces to them. We were not to deduce the demise of short fiction venues was in any way related to us, even if this closing happened on the very eve of their acceptance (or publication) of our work. Apparently these places open up and close at the drop of a hat, are notoriously difficult to succeed with and eke out their margins just this side of profitability most of the time. So I was saddened to note (via Merrie) that Lenox Avenue, whom I had hoped would one day publish me, is no more. I can’t take this ending as a signal from the universe to quit writing since Lenox Avenue had not accepted any of my work. I’d gotten only a positive rejection from them. Still, it’s pretty sad to see them go. They put out some great stories.

I finished “Olympus” two weeks ago (approx. 5600 words). And yes, it is still called “Olympus”. The wonderful first reader says he thinks it may lack meaning for anyone unfamiliar with the historical details. So, possibly, another story that will make my writer’s group say “Zuwha?” We shall see. Besides being a thing which I felt I had to write, I consider this a story in conversation with Jeff VanderMeer’s story “Flight Is For Those Who Have Not Yet Crossed Over“, which I read in his collection Secret Life. That sounds a lot more pompous than I meant it. It’s not that my story is on the same level as his or written with as much skill as his, it’s merely that it is informed by his and speaks to it. I liked his story, but it also annoyed me. If you followed the link and read the story (which is worth your time), you’ll discover in the afterword that “To accentuate the emphasis on his character, I removed any references to a particular country in the story.” He scrubbed his story clean of geographic specificity, details that I was looking for intently as I read because, as far as I’m concerned, where this happens informs character. Instead the absence of true place stripped the story of (some of its) emotional weight for me. When he made the location as well as the events fictional, I felt cheated, and a little angry. You will find, then, if you ever have a chance to read “Olympus” that it’s not even remotely abstract, and that it’s drenched in details of specific real physical spaces at specific real physical times. Setting is the first character in this story. Possibly, this doesn’t work, and that’s why VanderMeer made the choices that he did, but we all have to make our own mistakes.

I want to read more VanderMeer. He’s a talented writer. His prose is simultaneously dreamlike and evocative, his worlds strange but true. I didn’t love any of the stories in Secret Life so well as that first taste I got of him from “The Cage” (collected in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Vol. 14), which was an outstanding story. Nonetheless, most of the stories in Secret Life had great indelible moments. All but one or two I was happy to have read. Many of the pieces play with form in a way I very much admire. He has not one but two stories here in second person. One was far more convincing than the other, but both were deftly executed. He often touches on dreams, a topic I write about frequently as well, and which interests me.

I didn’t write anything last week, but I did spend a lot of time pondering the crunchier bits of YWGYSL. (Another thing we were told at Viable Paradise is that thinking about the work is legitimate. Sure, it looks to everyone else like you’re staring into space doing nothing when you claimed you would be writing, but it’s actual work and it counts as such.) One reader wanted to see the Coriolis effect, for example, since I have artificial gravity. Some of the crunch I had not thought out real well (I’m not about the hard SF, mostly) and other bits I had elided in the text but established concretely as part of the universe, and genre readers were unhappy with both positions. I was also vague about a lot of the geopolitics (though I had worked it all out, of course) and people kept assuming things that were not true because I had not told them exactly how all the pieces worked together. When I verbally explained them I got a mix of “Aha! You know exactly how these things work!” and “Noooooo, still not buying that.” This was part of what was frustrating about VP, contradictory feedback. At any rate, all that sociopolitical stuff was underpinnings and starting points to me, not part of the story, so I didn’t include it. I suppose I have a tendency to be secretive about backstory. In general, that might be useful, since the usual problem beginners have is dumping in too much backstory, but I have to learn what bits to reveal to keep people on board and happy and interested. I feel like I need to have much more of this established before I start on it again.

I think I’ve come to a useful phrasing for all those “avoid this” rules that are thrown at beginning writers (you know, “avoid passive voice”, “avoid adverbs”, “avoid using sentences that are too long or too short or all the same length”) and I think it’s this : instead of looking at it as avoiding a use, make sure any use is deliberate. If I’ve written a passive sentence just because that’s how it came off my fingers, that’s probably wrong. But if passive says exactly what I want it to, and if changing it around breaks it, then I mustn’t change it just to avoid the discouraged form. It’s just a focus shift that my contrarian nature finds more helpful than denial.

I’ve started a new story this week which is only 1500 words so far and is, as yet, untitled. I don’t know what shook loose at VP 9, but since I came back I find story ideas unpacking themselves in my mind from first glimmer to supernova at astonishing rates. A kernel idea drops into me and suddenly its unfolding or blowing itself up and it fills every available space and won’t let go until its written. Better than that, it pushes at me until it is finished. Well, maybe. Olympus did that and now the new story appears to be doing that as well, grabbing hold of me and demanding to be told and when I say “Wait I haven’t figured that piece out yet and why haven’t you got a title and what does this character lose and why is his name Jupiter (that’s the stupidest name ever) and are you really taking me to the horror gore on this one?” it says “Go, go, go.” and then it opens up some more and I say “Ooooh, pretty.” and I write it.

I haven’t done the fixes on HDYGG? yet, so I haven’t sent it out. I did not make the desired Halloween deadline. But maybe I’ll get it dressed up and out the door this week. I felt it so promising at first and now I’m starting to have doubts. It’s probably not spec. enough for the spec. fic. venues and too spec. for the non spec. venues.


Jeff VanderMeer
Thu 17th Nov 2005 at 3:42 pm

Woo hoo! A response to Flight! After all these years! Waiting. By the dead lighthouse. In the rain!


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