Whew. That was like birthing a… well, I don’t know about birthing, to be honest, but “Winter Wheat” is the biggest piece of writing I’ve ever sent out, and it took me ages to get it ready. Every time I looked at it, there was something screaming to be added, squirming to be adjusted, wriggling to be fiddled with. I think I know now what whoever it was meant when he or she said, “Novels don’t get finished, they get abandoned.” But if it gets rejected, I’ll give it another look — I always do that with everything — but I feel pretty good about it.
Actually, I feel so good about it that it’s looking like it could be another novel-project item: “Winter Wheat” could certainly be the first (or maybe the second) section of a 90,000 word novel about technology, agriculture, corporate power, the moment when Open Source and IP issues slide into the physical world, and all that. So I’ve added it to the list of possible-sometime novel projects on my stack of ideas, which is now 6 novels deep (not including the two I want to get done this year — like I said, it’s in the maybe-sometime stack).
One of the things I’ve been figuring out, slowly, is the role of each character in a story. Not in this particular story, I mean the roles that different characters play. The original version of Winter Wheat had a couple of central characters, and then a bunch of peripheral ones who ended up kind of being stereotypes: the tubby neighbour farmer, the girlfriend/wife of the narrator, the kid sitting next to the narrator in elementary school who shows up later and then somehow kind of shuffles into an incongruous, important role at the end. It was a mess, and I figured out why — those characters had motivations, but the motivations didn’t line up with the main thrust of the story, and they weren’t forced by circumstances to act in interesting ways.
What I did to make those characters more interesting was to push them into their own corners, mercilessly in some cases, just like I did to my central characters. It reminds me of what Maureen McHugh said to me, about how I was maybe trying to protect my protagonist in a story of mine she’d read — about how I was protecting him from the really hard question that went unsaid in my draft of the story. Thus far, I’d gotten good at pushing my central characters into a tough spot, and that is often enough in a shorter story, but at over 20,000 words, every character needs a struggle. They don’t all need to struggle at the same time: some of the struggles should peak while others are climbing, some should ebb away as others are peaking. But every character in a longer work needs some kind of demon with whom to wrestle.
Anyway, I don’t believe the story’s perfect, but I’m happy with it and proud enough of it to have sent it out, even if it was a struggle to get it done in time for the submission deadline I was shooting for.
Which leaves me thinking about my goals for the year. I have several short stories I’d like to get done this year, but I also have two novel-drafts to get back to:
- A Killing in Burma, which I’m pretty much determined to finish drafting this semester, since it’s likely to be a short-ish novel, and that means it’s probably doable.
- Dead Abroad, which among other things needs a new title, and to which I need to apply the lesson I (re-)learned working on “Winter Wheat” — to every character, his or her individual struggle — according to, or occasionally beyond, his or her ability to cope, as long as it keeps things interesting.
However, there are a few short-story things I simply must get done this year:
- a rewrite request for my first sale of 2008, which I’ll be announcing shortly, once the rewrite is accepted
- my piece for Nemonymous, about which I can’t say any more about except I’ve almost finished drafting it, which is good, since the deadline is the end of March 2008
- finish drafting “Defect”
- a rewrite of “Rupt,” a story that’s sat fallow since before Clarion West
- a total and absolute rewrite of my Clarion West story “Why Korean Eat Dog” because it’s the only thing (aside from “Comfort,” which will be the new beginning of the aforementioned novel Dead Abroad) that I haven’t returned to, and because I have some really good ideas of what to do with it.
- a few edits and revisions on various stories I’m not quite satisfied with, but could finish up and send out because they’re relatively close, like “Empty of Words, The Page” and “Solvjaynghi’s Christmas Wish”
My writing goals so far are on track — I’m sending to major markets, and being accepted at a pretty healthy rate. (Being rejected by the same ones, though, so I’m going to launch a submissions moratorium for the one that has been consistently rejecting my stuff for the last year — including stuff that other other major magazines incidentally have bought. No sense in wasting stamps sending to a market that my stuff doesn’t seem to fit into, especially when I’m more enthusiastically embraced by another.)
The other weird thing is that I’m getting these melodies and shapes in my head. Musical ones, I mean. So I’m thinking of getting myself back up to speed with Finale, the music composition software I mean, so that I can work on some composition on the side. I’ve read that the newest version of Finale is so smart you can enter a score and it will play it back for you with expression markings, articulations, slurs, dynamics and other markings taken into account, and pretty good sound to boot. That’ll be a major help to me. So who knows… maybe I’ll even have a piece of music to try get premiered in 2008 or 2009.
Anyway, it’s nice to know the creativity isn’t getting blocked, but that it’s also not turning mushy. It’s nice and regular, and rich and fertile. Okay, better end this line of discussion before the bowel movement analogy gets too stinky… next post, the travel update…