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.