I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been multitasking so much this semester, but I’m currently reading a bunch of different books — about the first ten on the Now Reading animation that runs in my sidebar, with the rest being books I plan on reading next.
Anyway, this multitasking has also bled over into my writing. I’ve been working, off and on, with three different pieces over the last week or so. Very off, not much on, but when I am on, I only do about a thousand words, maximum, on any one of these stories. Then I stop, and the next time I’m doing some writing, I’m working on a different one.
It’s hard for me not to write here about the content of the story I plan to submit to Nemonymous, because usually, I blab a lot about the stuff I’m working on. However, I can write about the other two.
For the story of “The Story of Baejjangi and Gaemi” (the Grasshopper and the Ant[s]), I am doing this weird mixture of Aesop, biopsychology, and Che Guevara meets Korean salaryman, if that makes any sense. The thing is, it’s hard to see exactly where this can go — either side of the titanic microstruggle I’ve set up would bring tragedy if it succeeded. But it is fun recasting this story in this way. It only struck me afterward that this is also, in some ways, a response to Bruce Sterling’s “Luciferase,” though I’m trying not to let it be a conscious one. I’m also not quite sure that the ants and grasshopper need to be named their Korean names, though I may go ahead and find some other names for them — I may, though, leave it as it is, since the ants are so very much based on a certain type of Korean salaryman and the mentality and environment that leads people to work in that kind of role.
As for “Ten Spikes and a Hammer,” I am now a couple of thousand words in and, aha, I’ve realized there’s not really a conflict going on. Now I’m stuck contemplating the conflict that needs to exist in this story. My narrator is your average American small town kid in 1945 — he calls Chinese “chinks” and Koreans “gooks” even as he depends on them for his work — or maybe more because he depends on them so much. There are scenes in Okinawa and the Black Forest so far, and there are a couple of interesting people in his company, but there’s no real conflict. Progress is stalled on that account, but the scene in the Black Forest, which just popped out yesterday, is still a very cool one.
Writing’s strange because, sometimes, progress is subterranean. You want to “get somewhere” with something, and you think, “Damn! Where’s the source of conflict?” but there are other ways in which, without even realizing it, you get closer to your goal. It looks like just another scene, but it’s not: it’s helping to clarify what the hell is really going on in your story.
A major challenge I’ve set before myself is to make both of these latter stories less than 5,000 words — preferably 4,000 or fewer if possible! “Ten Spikes…” in particular is one that I can see myself submitting to Clarkesworld, if I can finally get it together, and Nick Mamatas‘ firm wordcount limit is, to me, a pretty clear challenge. It’s a long shot — Nick’s got very few slots to fill, and he’s a very discerning editor — but I think it’s worth a try, and it’s also a great challenge for me to produce stories that not only work, but shine — or, perhaps, gloam — at that length. I’ve done it before, but not often. Usually I need more words. But what can I do? Approach Nick Mamatas in his lavish office/living quarters and, in my best impression of Rutger Hauer’s voice, demand, “Give me more words…” ummmm: Father? Brother? Cousin? Mate? Well, maybe I could run up to him at a convention someday and groan that, but really, I don’t think it would help. No, I think I’ll just have to try harder, and write more and better stories at the length he demands.
In other writing-related news, one of those books I’m reading is Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, which I ordered on a whim (er, because it was on sale) from Small Beer Press. It’s a quick read, and a lot of it gels with what I learned at Clarion West. However, I am kind of wondering now whether we’re the dourest class ever. No water guns, no impromptu Tarzan dramas, no marching and chanting, and no weird team sports with no specific rules. Perhaps it is geekhood that’s changed in all the years since Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight started teaching at Clarion? Or maybe our living conditions in Seattle — which were downright luxurious compared to what Wilhelm describes as the ones in days of old in Michigan — kept us sane, and drove us to far less mischief? Whatever… we were still a great class, and our vibe suited me fine.
Finally, I’m in the process of gutting an old notebook for writing ideas. I have about ten short story ideas, a few for novellas, and some other project seeds in the pages, and I’m scratching my head at how I ever let some of them slip my mind. Luckily, I was takng notes. Now I just have to add them to my ideas file, or, rather, create a file for each one — this works better for me, to be honest — and drop the folders containing those files into the “To Work On Sometime” subfolder of my writing archive.