A collection of my short stories from waaaaay
back is now up on Amazon (Kindle and paperback), iTunes, and Kobo. VIEW OF A REMOTE COUNTRY is 13 shorts that were published in various magazines like Asimov's and Realms of Fantasy between 1999 and 2003. It's 60,000 words, a mere shopping list by my standards, but a full-length book whichever way you cut it.
It's a mixed bag: most of these stories were written at Clarion or for another workshop, One Step Beyond, so there's a wide variety of approaches in there including fantasy. (Look, I was young and I needed the money, okay? But I swear there are no dragons or mages.) As I said the other day, this is the stuff I was trying for size to see what my true style was, so things like first person POV and present tense were dropped as soon as I started on novels, while other elements like parallel character arcs stayed the course.
There were more stories than that, but I couldn't find the files. I wanted the stories to appear as they did on publication, so apart from making it consistent UK spelling throughout (the files were a mix of UK and US) they're what magazine readers saw at the time.
I have some of the original art: Return Stores
, for example, was illustrated by the late John Berkey,
truly wonderful stuff, and I have the final painting plus the three preliminary colour sketches that he did for it. If I work out how to get decent images without wrecking the UV glass and frames, I'll post pics here some time. The fact that magazines were spending money on commissioning top artists like Berkey to do real paintings still stuns me. It's lovely, but I have no idea how the mags managed to afford it.
I'll be honest, I didn't enjoy writing shorts because they're not substantial enough to really get into developing characters. Shorts as a spin-off from an established novel or series is another matter entirely, though. It's a kind of sandbox for stuff that might not fit logically into a novel. So I haven't ruled out doing more shorts again one day, because money is money, and mobile devices lend themselves to reading fiction in smaller chunks, but the stories will probably be part of a greater whole.
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!
I'll be answering questions on Goodreads
from July 14 to 18. (If you're not already registered to use the site, it only takes a couple of minutes and all they want is an e-mail addy and a password to sign in. Nothing intrusive that commits you to a life of being harvested and monetised.) I'll be fielding questions on GOING GREY and the Ringer series, other upcoming novel series and comics, and writing/ publishing in general.
In other news, I've discovered that over-ripe melon that I'd normally consign to the bin makes a fantastic tropical sorbet with the addition of some coconut milk (the milk substitute variety you get in litre cartons) and a few spoonfuls of stevia or the sweetener of your choice. No egg white, no syrup, and no other weird additives. If you want to avoid the rock-hard tooth-busting texture that home-made ices acquire after a spell in the freezer, try adding a splash of rum; I did an experiment and the alcohol seems to do the trick, although I didn't use as much as I thought I'd need to get the effect. It's half a capful of alcohol – the cap of a standard spirits bottle – to a 500 ml of sorbet mixture.
I have never lifted a character from the real world*, but I must say that some one-liners I've heard in the course of the day have tempted me to whip out my notebook. There's some fabulous dialogue going begging out there.
I heard a cracking line yesterday in my local hardware shop, a fascinating emporium full of hazardous substances, sharp objects, and power tools. I was queueing at the cash desk; further up the queue, a brat launched into a full-on shrieking tantrum, screaming his head off because his mum had told him to put something back. "I don't want
to put it back! WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!"
This was conducted at an eardrum-rending volume, and showed signs of going on for some time. Other customers were starting to mutter and shuffle from foot to foot. Mum, all middle class and reasonable, was trying to deal with the meltdown by explaining to her little precious that it was just too bad and he had to do as he was told. Which, of course, he didn't.
Then the rather pissed-off cashier, a big burly bloke, looked at the kid and said: "This is a man's
shop. We don't have any crying in here."
It didn't completely silence the little sod, but it did reduce the volume. Now I'm just waiting for the right scene to write that line in. Pure class.
(*For the writers-in-training among you, filing the serial numbers off real people is, as far as I'm concerned, bad writing. See here
for my rationale.)
Last call to those of you using the Mando'a pages on my site: those pages will be among a batch being retired in a week or two, so if you're using them every day, as some folks seem to be, download them or copy them now. The content won't be changing (it hasn't changed for five years) so there's no advantage in checking daily.
I don't normally give advance notice of expiring pages, because this site isn't set up to be an archive, but I want to avoid being hit by mail asking for files. So save your copy ASAP, because it won't be available after July 12.