Dhuluma No More, My Brother, and the Rains Will Come Again

Whew! I don’t know if the title is working, but it’s the one I’ve settled upon. That’s the new name of a story a lot of my crit group may remember as “Ogallala,” the rewrite of which I mentioned here.

T’was a hell of a  struggle to get from the 2,500 words there to the 5,500 words here. All kinds of logistics, plot changes, shifts in plans, shifts in character action, and struggles to make my viewpoint character actually work. Note to self: it takes a lot of work to make a cameraman an effective character, meaning one who is involved in the proceedings of a story, and not just a passive observer.

Which is interesting, really, since that’s a problem I’ve had with characters in the past: they tended to be passive observers, not people who made decisions and took action. I know it’s not unique, but it may be partly a personal bent: back in my RPG gaming days, I always preferred GMing — the worldbuilding, villain-devising, background-imagining work — to running individual characters and actually role-playing.

Sounds like I should have gone off into writing straight off, but developing an interest in characters, decisions, and plots did come later, and was worthwhile, after I took up playing an RPG. My characters were often the most distinct, unusual ones.

The least flat, in the sense of stock-type characters. Most of my fellow RPGers tended to go for more, well, typological characters: the millionaire haunted by ghosts, the female KGB agent bitten by a vampire, the slightly psychotic dwarf whose main love is gold soaked in the blood of his enemies. The characters I can remember were a little odder:

  • a female bard who constantly sang songs about a male fertility god, until one day he appeared to her, and got her pregnant. She carried his baby, a godling. There was this whole uncertainty about whether she’d ever tell the boy his parentage or allow him to go off and do whatever Great Things he was supposed to do, or whether she’d just apprentice him with the local lute-maker and pray he was never Called to Greatness.
  • A (black) Haitian vampire who had a love affair with his “sires,” a couple of white Haitian landowners who fled the 1790 uprising and ended up in America. They made their way about, him playing the slave; a long sleep brought them out of the ground in the 1920s. Seeing a world without slavery, he rose up and declared independence of his sires. They didn’t take it well. Went into hiding, then to ground, woke in the 1960s, just in time to catch on to jazz music and rasta; went to ground again, and surfaced in the 1990s. Was a kind of rap/poet-performance artist/ganja activist/rasta vampire. He also was the only vampire who gave a shit about race — the others all thought he was crazy when he brought it up, since to them, clan and species were much more important.  He was damned fun.
  • There was a werewolf character I ran for a while, who was a street dog at some times and a kind of homeless punk/hacker the rest of the time. He had a vendetta against a group of Cthuloid-worshipper terrorist werewolves who lived on the edge of his city. I only played him for a while, but what was fun about him was how scared he was of damned well everything. He was far from a hero: if something was at all dangerous, he got the hell away. Combat? Pbbbt. He hadn’t survived the streets for so long by fighting battles. But with a computer, man, he could do almost anything.

Still, what I really loved was running the mess that was the background of the worlds my players wandered through. I didn’t often do the worldbuilding myself. I was a big user of campaign settings, especially the Forgotten Realms series. But I tended to get those books more for the joy of poring over the information and crazy ideas that were thrown into that world. Okay, after a while I got tired of it, and I much preferred playing urban gothic-punk RPGs for a while, and then I think I would have played SF RPGs for a while if I’d known anyone else into it (in Montreal) but in the end, I just gave up the hobby and started writing. I think it uses relatively similar hunks of the brain, for some of the work.

Not for the revising, though. The revision is a whole different hunk of brain. It’s strange: I really hate the idea of revising. Chopping the hell out of something I’ve written? Though I know I’m the sort of person who just “poops out a story” (as a friend put it), and then sorts through it, wondering where this or that came from, and tying things together, reworking it unti it’s much more unified. And this is a process John Gardner described in one of his books on writing, too, so it’s not like this is a unique curse or gift or whatever it is.

Yeah, the idea of revising is still something that gives me a tiny bit of quease. But I do it, and when I’m doing it, it’s not so bad. I’m getting better at weaving the threads tighter. In the 5600 words of “Dhuluma…” there’s more action than in the whole 9,300 words of the original story, “Ogallala.” There’s more motivation, more punch, more kick, more wow, more everything. It’s more logical, it’s tenser, the arguments are between the right people, the whole damned thing is better because I went back and reworked the story so profoundly I bet I could probably submit it to the one place “Ogallala” went and not annoy the slush reader. (If I changed the character names. But I won’t.  I’ll try all those other markets that haven’t seen it yet, instead.)

Anyway, what have I been working on in this one? Action, definitely — this piece has more action than anything I’ve ever written, in terms of, you know, explosions and danger and fighting and stuff. Yet I think it also has a brain and a heart, and the reconciliation of the two in the story is also something I’m pleased with. I think it may be the hardest SF I’ve ever written; practically every technology in the story exists, with the exception of some well-programmed, remotely controllable minicameras and the funky goggle interface. Done away with the brain implants, done away with the hyperfissiles (for now). Nothing crazier than a nuke from some Arab country. (Actually not Arab, but my narrator doesn’t know that.)

Hard work. Very hard work. I wrote the middle section about 5 or 6 times, deleted or cut it, rewrote, tried something else… and finally, I’m happy enough to call it a (re-re-)draft. Still lots of editing  to go, but I should be in good shape for the deadline for the Mundane issue. In the meantime, Jetse de Vries is looking for something positive for the next reading period for Interzone. Um… okay, maybe I can get “Egg Hunt” up and running in time. Or maybe that “And The Blind, Given Sight,” since that story is really badly wanting to be written.

(Though I do want to get back to working on “Egg Hunt” — which I suspect is a kind of transfigurative-rewrite of “Rupt” — you know, the kind of thing where you write a new story with the main idea of a less interesting story [marked for total rewrite] as a middle-ground issue in the new piece, and in doing so, you reconceive the issue, and the new story kind of tells the older story better than the older story told itself? Like that. And more than anything, I’m eager to get back to working on “A Killing in Burma,” which I think is some kind of short novel.)

There are, however, two other calls for submissions hanging heavy in my mind: one for Asian fantasy (for which I have something to revise, and another idea for a draft), and the other for a novella of any kind. I’ve got a story I could revise for that, too, but I think I’ll try it with at least one magazine first. But someone looking for novellas — that doesn’t happen everyday.

And there’s always WonJjang… Lime will be giving me comments on that one tomorrow. She’s checking the Korean stuff for misconceptions on my part, of which I believe there are none, but who knows? Anyway… Lots going on, as usual.

Time for me to relax.

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