Some time ago, I wasn’t paying enough attention and got voluntold into an anthology for the North Texas Writers, Shooters, and Pilots Association. As in, by the time I looked up from the food to figure out why I’d been mentioned, I was already in. Oops.
I warned the people involved that this was a bad idea; I only had two books out and was working on a third, and had no idea how to write a short story. I told them not to expect anything from me. I flat out stated I was finishing the third book first!
It didn’t get me out of it. Friends have these unreasoning expectations and somehow we find ourselves trying to live up to them…
So, several months, three how-to books on shorts, quite a few anthologies read, and four false-starts later… (Those ended up being chunks of novels that went nowhere or were discarded because they weren’t the short story I wanted. Look, I haven’t even figured out sequels yet, and those are still novel length! (As for those 4 starts, they’re in the scraps folder. Someday, I may figure them out and be able to revise and finish. I want to; one’s arid-land farming in alien ruins, and the things that farmers know but never talk to archaeologists or town clowns about.))
The deadline blew past like the air force boys overhead in T-38’s practicing low-level formation flight. And to be honest, the frustration at being unable to figure this out was not nearly as bad as the feeling that I’d let the guys down.
Due to… well, mainly a lot of things blowing up and going stupid in a lot of people’s lives, which we’ve all been suffering this year, the anthology was delayed. Jim Curtis gave me this look over food and informed me I wasn’t off the hook; he still expected me to rise to the challenge.
In a fit of pure frustration, I gave up and started writing the next thing that came to mind. I thought it was another novel. And then I realized that it may be a novel’s worth of worldbuilding, because my brain can’t stop thinking through economics and the intersections of culture, technology, and humanity. But the story itself, set in all that? It doesn’t care about the two-front war and how strange and imprecise front lines will get when there’s all of space with its many uninhabitable star systems that no one cares about. It only concerns two people with nearly diametrically opposed goals and cultures.
In fact, it came out as a novelette. (When’s the last time you heard that word?) At almost 13K words, it was a little too long for a short story, and a little to short for a novella. Way too short for a novel.
I wasn’t certain I’d gotten it right, even though my brain said it was finished and nothing more was going to happen. So, I chopped a couple scenes and got it down to down to 12.3K. Then I sent it out to alpha readers, saying “Is this a complete story or the first few chapters of something?”
Based on feedback, it is a complete story arc that needed a little editing to clarify the ending, though half my betas liked as is, and half want it expanded into a novel. Jim was still waiting patiently for a short, so I eyed it with the intent of editing out 2.3K words, and hey, I’d have a short story!
Besides, as my darling man pointed out, expanding short stories into novels later is a long and glorious pulp tradition, so there was no reason not to do both. I may have given him the hairy eyeball and grumped that the backbrain was supremely uninterested in doing that, and besides, not only have I still not figured out sequels, I also missed figuring out a short by over two thousand words, and he expects me to pick up yet another skill set I don’t have?
Being my husband, he smiled, and offered crème brulee and black rifle coffee. I forgive him everything!
I rewrote the story, especially the ending, cut out a lot more, and explained a little more here, added a character interaction there because it’d work better than an infodump, and… it went from 12.3K words to 12.5K
This was not the direction toward the 10K word cutoff for the anthology I wanted.
Jim Curtis took it anyway.
So in a few months, y’all may get to enjoy a not-so-short story of a spice and tea trader doing business in the colony world equivalent of modern-day Afghanistan, her extended family whose plans to take care of her are anything but helpful, and the soldier who intentionally gets himself caught in the middle…
…and I’ll probably still be over here trying to figure out sequels and shorts.
“…arid-land farming…” The correct term for this is “goats”.
Nah it’s no-till to prevent soil erosion due to dust, and winter wheat planted so you get the moisture from snow, and whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting, and milo and wheat for crops, but not corn unless you’re irrigating, and the reason mesquite is an evil invasive is that it sucks the aquifers down and dries up springs and creeks…
It’s not just a different set of farming techniques, it’s a different set of rhythms to the year, different crops, different mindset.
Goats do okay off arid land, but arid land suffers under goats.
Sounds a little like what happened to my last submission: I was stalled out at a bit over 8k, which was supposed to be the target, with the story half-told. A beta-read and suggested edits got it off of being high-centered on the speedbump, and a call for redshirts got twenty names to fit in somehow– which meant scenes to keep the story going. Finally rolled in at 18.6k, but complete and self-contained. And in Shunn format (12-pt. Courier, double spaced), that’s 90 pages.
I told the editor to submit as a standalone if too big for the anthology.
— Some time ago, I wasn’t paying enough attention and got voluntold into an anthology for the North Texas Writers, Shooters, and Pilots Association. —
Yet another illustration of an all-important maxim:
Don’t Be A Joiner!
Hey, they feed me! The dark side not only has cookies, it has tagliatelle, shrimp and grits with tasso gravy, pulled pork barbeque, jambalaya, chicken tagine, deviled eggs, baked brie, chili, and then there’s the pies and cakes and blue bell ice cream for dessert…
As the pilot and shooter who’s not a writer said when we were picking up burritos from Chuy’s (the lunch burritos are small, at only two pounds of meat each. The salsa? Nuclear. The green is from jalepenos, not cilantro.), “Food is love!”
We had/have a Chuy’s here, and it’s absolutely nothing like that.
Maybe there’s a secret Texas menu?
and the things that farmers know but never talk to archaeologists or town clowns about
If you can get folks to realize it EXISTS, you’ve done an awesome service to mankind.
The oddball thing about fiction: I can leave bits of real life lying about in plain sight, and those who recognize it will smile. Those who don’t will assume it falls under the fiction right alongside FTL travel and aliens, as it’s alien to their experience…
That is what I absolutely despise about historical fiction: I usually cannot find the boundary between the two. I stopped reading the genre after reading Space (Michener’s) in High School – I knew enough to realize it was mostly fiction with a dash of history.
The world is complicated enough without filling my brain with not-true factibbles.
Not that they listen if you do.
(We had a construction project held up for over a year when archeologists “discovered” my great-grandpappy’s moonshining shack. Some of their theories were enough to make you gawp like a landed fish.)
I know someone in Flat State who was digging a foundation and found mastadon bones. They were instructed to collect them, and the land owner crushed them and used them for fill in a different project. There was a rumor going around that if you found something interesting, the state or even the feds would take your land. Apparently a few years prior, some archaeology type had made threats about claiming the artifacts or bones (I suspect NAGPRA* was involved), which then got expanded in the telling . . .
*NAGPRA is the law about Native American remains and artifacts. It began as a good intention and decent idea, and like so many other .gov things, got out of hand.
I refuse to confirm or deny any second-hand knowledge of well preserved pleistocene specimens being quickly reburied near Hagerman, Idaho.
(It was federal land to begin with, but they’d have darned sure lost the easement! Not to mention losing all the sunk costs already invested.)
If things are in the ground, it does them no harm to go back into the ground.