So, I’m not gonna post so much, I say. But I will mention that I’m working on my first semi-post-Clarion story. I wrote some 5500 words of the story at the workshop, but that looks like perhaps even less than half of the thing, I’m realizing as I swoop in towards 8000 words.
So anyway, it’s a story about East-Asian superheroes, riffing off the notion of Superman as a representation of America economic/military power. Superman’s an individualist, representing a kind of capitalist-like competition of free agents — he doesn’t make money off his feats, but he does gain a kind of popular appreciation. If there were such a thing as Whuffie in Superman’s world, he’d he rolling in it. He’s also almost impevious to attack, and has ridiculous amounts of physical and strategic advantage over his enemies. And his enemies, in their desire to harm mass numbers of people, also represent mostly the bad side of the American Way: depraved individualists looking out for themselves and their own gain, and all competing for a piece of the pie, trying to snatch whatever they can and defy whatever laws and rules they can get away with defying; in a sense, Superman’s foes are a lot like corporations.
So after reading Cory Doctorow’s hilarious “The Super Man and the Bugout”, a Jewish/Canadian/activist take on the superman trope, I began asking myself what East Asian — especially Northeast Asian — superheroes and supervillains would be like. I don’t know that I stayed with this, mapping all the analogies onto related cultural and political analogies, though I think some of it is subtly there: anxious envy of Japan, the social pressure of nationalism, the role of Korean-style bureaucracy, how young Koreans tend to think about the job market, the mother figure (which is rather unlike Martha Kent, Superman’s foster-mom), the lurking threat of North Korea… a lot of things here seem to be present, many of them in ways I didn’t quite intend, at least not consciously. That’s what happens when you start weaving a narrative — the themes can kind of go underground, but they still show up if you’re paying attention and let them. But we’ll see how much readers pick up on those things.
Anyway, the story’s still a ways off, but I thought I’d throw out the drafted first few lines. I reset it (well, the first few scenes, anyway) from Korea to Southeast Asia, if for no other reason than to prevent all my stories being set in Seoul. While trying to write of my experience in Korea, I am also getting acutely aware of the dangers of being typecast as a writer. Anyway, that first paragraph-and-a-bit:
As Jjangguk ascended with his enemy wriggling in his hands, down below him a Thai ladyboy in a glittering golden skirt shrieked hoarsely at the top of his lungs, and panicked Western backpackers scattered into the neon-lit evening like monkeys do at the sound of gunshots. Khao San Road was a mess, stir-fried noodle stands and racks of sardonic T-shirts thrashed to pieces, their contents scattered across the pavement. Hastily commandeered tuk-tuks and taxis barreled away into the dusk in every direction.
And right there, down in the middle of it all, Laotzu had the chicken-plague bomb in his hands.
I’m going to try finish this in the next couple of days and get some crit on it, then move on to revising another one of my Clarion Stories. I hope to get two revisions and two new drafts done before the semester begins, and then settle into a pattern of one or the other per week for the rest of semester, and see where that takes me. I have a couple of pre-Clarion stories I’d like to revise too, but I’ll focus on that once I have this glut of new-things ideas out of my head, or at least when I’m in the thick of researching a longer work.
Another writing goal, while I’m at it, is to start conceiving of, and carrying out, some shorter stories. I’m daring myself to write a couple of flash (1000-2000 word) pieces in September, probably retellings of various myths and folktales transcribed to the modern era, and to pull off both “The Egan Thief” and “Peaches, The Strong Arm of the Flower Underground” at under 6000 words (see the sidebar periodically for progress reports, if you like). Then I can start in on the somewhat longer novella-idea I have in mind about H.G. Wells and his last lover, Moura Budberg.
UPDATE: You know how you can start out thinking something will be 10,000 words and then, find yourself at 9,200 and you’re going, uh, okay, but there are at least two more scenes to go, maybe more? Uh yeah. I’m shooting for 12,000 words now. It may even be 13,000 or 14,000 by the time I get to the end.
I really do need to start working at writing short things, just for the sake of getting things published within my own lifetime. Thought several Clarion Instructors urged me to embrace the natural length of my writing, I don’t think cultivating comfort in other lengths would be a bad thing either, as long as it’s not forced.