Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

From the virtual attic

It's sobering to return to stuff you wrote 15 years ago. Especially when you don't actually remember writing it.

I'm collating my published short stories – well, some of them, anyway – to turn them into an e-book anthology. These are stories that appeared in mags like Asimov's and Realms of Fantasy. I'd get mail from readers asking where they could find my short fiction, as all but one of them were published in magazine issues which were not only long gone but, in some cases the magazine itself had also ceased trading. I kept saying I'd think about publishing them independently. Now I have no excuse not to, so I've knuckled down to finding the files and knocking the antho into a single clean document.

These are very old stories. The most recent is from 2002, I think. I started reading through the folder, and not only did I not recall what happened in the stories, I couldn't even remember writing some of them. I admit I disconnect completely from my stuff after a short absence from it and it looks like a stranger's work no matter how hard I try to see it as mine.

It was the same when I was a reporter: I'd dredge up a story from my files to follow up, and think: "Bloody hell, did I write that?" Of course, for a news journalist, a story with your by-line on it didn't necessarily guarantee every word was yours, because different stories would get merged by news desk and the subs according to what was coming in – for example, I'd do a piece on a warship contract and a colleague's separate piece from the Commons would be knitted into it – and copy would also get cut to fit. You had no expectation of your copy remaining untouched. But even when I knew it was all mine, it didn't ring any bells, no matter how well I recalled the events I was writing about.

Well, fiction's ten times worse for me. And reading chunks of these old short stories, I realised how many ideas and settings I'd kicked around in them and then extracted for novels later. Some were earmarked to be novels but so far haven't been worked up into one.

Most of the shorts in this antho are ones I wrote during the Clarion workshop at MSU in 2000. Some predate that and were written between then and a previous workshop I did in 1998. I only wrote a handful of creator-owned shorts after Clarion and called it a day by 2003, because by then I was writing novels and they paid a lot better. But when I get this antho on sale, if you take a look you'll see all kinds of stuff that popped up later in my books – aliens I was trying for size, ideas that struck me as interesting moral dilemmas, and so on. So if nothing else, it's an interesting exercise in how writers evolve, work out what they're best at, and refine the themes that carry them through a career.

For example, I found I'd done a lot of first person POVs in shorts, but I've never written a novel that way. There were present-tense stories, dual intertwined POVs, and all kinds of techniques I was trying out, but this was mostly workshop material even if I sold it professionally. What we leave on the cutting room floor is as significant in developing an approach to fiction as what we retain. I'm leaving the stories exactly as they appeared back in the day – no coat of paint, editing, or updating.

A couple of the oldest stories turned out to be prophetic about the use of certain technologies. I need to add a foreword to put the stuff in context and note when each was written. Yeah, okay, it looks routine now to you young 'uns, but back then, that stuff was the future!