Over the weekend, I made some progress on “Solvjaynghi’s Christmas Wish”, but perhaps more than I’d like… I finished the redraft, and all the parts are basically in the right places, but the story is now close to 8000 words, which is roughly how long it was when I first drafted the unwieldy epistolary version of it a couple of Christmases ago.
I’d say that more than anything, the “writing soundtrack” I used says a lot about this story. I was listening to things like Atari Teenage Riot, The Orientalist (download available at that link!), and Boards of Canada. If you don’t know these bands, then I should note that this would be, in mainstream terms, something like listening to, oh, Moby and Metallica and Ravi Shankar in the same random MP3 queue. Not quite, as they’re all bound together by being vaguely techno-related, and all somewhat musique electronique, but it’s still a strange mix: the ultraviolent and the gentle, which is what my story already was going to be too, from the outset.
A number of writers I’ve known say they can’t write with music on. They prefer silence, and I have to admit that in recent years, I’ve come to appreciate silence too, especially for fine-tuning and editing and so on. But when I am drafting a story, music is sometimes downright necesary for me. The thing is, a lot of what gets me going in my writing is emotions — the feelings of the characters, the mood of the place(s) where the story is happening, things like that. It’s not that the music shapes the story, but rather that the music helps me emulate (er, “summon up,” if you prefer mystical-artsy terms) emotions in myself which then shape the story. Sometimes, I don’t even need much music at all, because I’m not really listening to it closely. While at Clarion West, in the basement, banging away at my Lester-Young novella, I spent a good hour or so listening to a loop of a downloaded Lester Young sample because it was exactly the sound I needed in my head to write that scene. Had I been listening, I would have gone nuts after a few repetitions, but as it was, it just kind of entranced me and kept me going. (Which may be how the story turned out to be a novella.)
Anyway, back to old Sol, my unwilling revolutionary Xmas elf. The new draft is “finished”, which means I’m pumped out the whole story and now know exactly how the skeleton is shaped in detail. I’m going to spend a couple of hours today just working in a mention of something that needs to be mentioned earlier on, and tuning the dialog according to the weird rule I’ve set up for dialog in this story, and cutting out some of the flab and extra bits. Then I think I shall set it aside for a while. (Perhaps shooting it out for critique a little later this week, after another pass at tidying up.)
What’s on the stovetop next? A very short short (for the Postcards from Hell venue, which Caroline brought to my attention), for one. The story popped into my head. But I’m growing leery of venue-driven writing. I rather feel like I should focus on the stories I really want to tell, and so that means, for the moment, going back and reworking “A Killing in Burma” — damn! and hooray! at once to Bruce Sterling for upping the stakes for stories about fabbing technology in his story “The Kiosk” in the January issue of F&SF, which I just finished reading, and hooray for Michael Breen for making me think more about times of dictatorial transition in his book The Koreans.
Once “A Killing in Burma” is drafted (and ready to sit for a while before its lipsocution and polishing start up again), I’ll probably turn my attentions to a few of my Clarion West and post-Clarion West stories. At the moment, I’m feeling like the three stories I really want to finish and get out the door are “Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues”, “Comfort Woman”, and the piece with the working title “How Jangguk Took Down Kim Noh Wang, the Madman of Pyongyang”. “Lester…” needs the least work, I think, where “Comfort Woman” could use a little reworking — I’m thinking of warping the novel I’ve drafted in such a way as to use the story as the first chapter, which would take a lot more work on the novel, but not so much on the short story that I wasn’t planning to do anyway. “Jangguk” is going to take piles of work, I think — cutting, surgical adjustments, deep bone-readjustment, cauterization of internal bleeds, all kinds of nasty stuff. (Lime has told me that during surgeries, in the OR it smells like cooking meat, and that surgeons quip about craving some barbecued pork all of a sudden. That’s the kind of weird scent that comes to mind when I consider reworking “Jangguk…”) So if I can actually get two of these stories done by the end of April, I’ll be proud of myself.
If I finish those, it’ll leave only two Clarion West stories to revise, by the way: “Why Korean Eat Dog” (which will be a completely different story, probably starting at the point where the original story left off) and Winter Wheat, which I’d like to be slightly shorter, and will need to rework, reorganize, and do some serious research on copyright, gene-patenting, GM foods, and the RIAA if I’m going to pull off. I wouldn’t mind making those projects for May, and I think I could even be genuinely satisfied if I finished them and maybe one more old story (“Professor Whitney’s Resignation”, maybe, or my new, heavily reworked version of “Realer”, or maybe I’ll take another run at “Instead of Pinochets” and try to make it shorter and less preachy, since that’s what finally held it back at Interzone) and got them out the door by the end of semester.
These days, I feel like, if I only had time, I could be putting out a novella or at least a long short story draft once a week, and reworking something else up to the level of being publishable. The problem is simply time. This week, I have a bunch of classes to prepare for, and some rewriting for the campus English magazine — I won’t pretend it’s editing anymore, it’s literally rewriting, because the stuff has to look like it’s at a professional level of publishability. Each article takes a few hours of meetings and a good two or three hours of writing to finish.
Sure, I’d probably waste some of the time on films or dawdling, but I like to think that at least a couple of those hours would be spent on my writing. Ah well. I still work less than a lot of people I know, so I shouldn’t complain. But I guess it’s a good sign that I wish I had even more free time, to do more writing. It means I’m really interested, and really want to write.
Which is what I think I shall go do now.
UPDATE (that evening): Well, I managed to get a draft of a new short-short for Postcards done. Its working title is “The Infection” and, yeah, it’s very loosely based on some stories Lime told me about the hospital. (Choosing the most horrifying one, with the most horrifying spin, was difficult. Lime pitched in and helped me get some of the details a little closer to right. I’m going to have to spend some time fine-tuning the language. Time meaning, probably, another evening. It’s only 500 words, and I have worked on it quite a while today.) So tonight, I have some class-planning to do, and then, I think, some more work on “Solvjaynghi’s Christmas Wish”. For the moment, just dialogue repairs, and maybe the odd cut here and there.