barry_king (barry_king) wrote,
barry_king
barry_king

They Are All We Have, You See, All We Have to Fight Off Illness and Death

So, as promised, that story called "Arrow" is now up at The Future Fire. I'm particularly chuffed because not only did I discover they'd comissioned their longtime collaborator, Swiss artist Cécile Matthey to do the illustration, they chose it as the feature on this issue's cover. Yay!

But because this is LJ, I'll put down how this came about, because I won't remember it the same way later, and perhaps it's a useful perspective to other people who are also trying to break into this mad business of writing.

Arrow was a strange story to write. The story I wrote before it was in fifth grade. It was about a piggy deamon attacking a monastery, told from one illuminator's perspective. It got an A and a note saying "You should consider writing sometime in the future." I never quite forgot that advice. Or acted on it.

Thirty years later, I tried writing a short story again. I had written 1 1/2 novels, 280K words total, and from feedback and submissions, I was really down because I thought "there's no market for this stuff. People don't want to make the effort to straddle cultural viewpoints and follow the morally ambiguous lives of flawed characters with powers that may or not be totally hallucinatory or a figment of their imagination. They want tatooed chicks on motorbikes who turn into werewolves. Or something like that."

But then... I had not long finished the "Soldier Son" trilogy from robin_hobb, and was suddenly afire with the idea that it was possible to write and sell the kind of stories that populate my head: ones about conflicts that arise becasue of war and culture-clashes, and global changes, and how they affect people personally. Stories that have one foot in at least one totally different idea of reality. Which you can only convey through what goes on in someone's head. With action, of course, but the meaning comes from within.

So I took time off from work to write one. I put a lot of stuff in it from my life and work. Stuff about how there's almost always three or more cultures involved in any cultural conflict. About how this was the case in the Philippines and in Brunei, and each culture was very different from the others, and history had coloured all of them, mixing their traditions together. Also how there are no "pristine" tribes; not even the Tasaday existed in a vacuum, and there were spanish coins being traded deep in the heartland of America long before Lewis and Clarke. Also how many tribal world-views see game animals with a kind of Platonic "ideal" perspective, meaning that they have a personality of their own, and the eternal part of them is there, even when the individual animals are killed and eaten (not the same at all as "having a soul"). Also how behind every suicide bomber is somebody whose identity has been destroyed or stolen or sees the death of his people as inevitable, and how those who are older, closer to death, take the long view about the tribe's survival. Also about how it's never really the person who injures someone from one culture that suffers the reprisal for that attack. Also about how individuals adapt to change, and how some trades change you inside, and so alienate you from your own culture. I also wanted to work in the possibly apocryphal story of how Bishop Brent cut down an Ifugao "Spirit Tree" (where malevolent spirits were trapped) to both build the first schoolhouse of my High School and to thereby destroy pagan continuity. And how the scream of a pig being slaughtered is purported to chase away malevolent spirits. And some other details, like how my first machete was made of jeepney spring-steel, and how thick black asian hair goes red and brittle with malnutrition. And how stealing smokes in the dorm was a constant problem.

Too much! It clocked in originally at, I think 9300 words. I didn't realize it at the time, but that's WAY too long for nearly all venues that take this kind of story. And I knew NONE of the venues, so I spent two days finding all the magazines I could and started making a list. Meanwhile, I workshopped it, over at anticiworkshop, the crit group that grew out of the pro-amateur workshops started by birdhousefrog and tcastleb. With critiques from my group: arwensouth, cerealboxreader, hurban1, slcard, tryslora, it got into ship-shape, and I started sending it off....

To totally inappropriate venues (F&SF, Realms of Fantasy, Electric Velocipede, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Abyss & Apex, Black Static, WotF, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, ChiZine, Unstuck, Darwin's Evolutions, Dark Faith (Apex), Giganautosaurus, in that order). After the first ten rejections, some of which were "almost, but too long", I started showing it to others, including selfavowedgeek. Generally, the reception was positive. "Don't change anything" sort of feedback. Still no bites. But a lot of rejections, generally along the lines of "we liked it, but it was way too long". I trunked it for a few months. Then, talking to Doug Smith at Ad Astra (whom I'd already bored at an earlier con by whining about not knowing where to send it), I was told that he NEVER stops sending a story around. Well, hardly ever. And that one of his best-known stories was rejected 24 times before it was accepted. So I dug it out, but didn't know what to do. I'd learned a lot about the business in that time, working with ChiZine and CZP, going to cons, and talking to authors online and in-person. I could see the obvious faults now, but was too close to the patient to do triage.

Then, in exchange for some tech support, a well-known editor (who shall remain nameless because his advice was ultimately, though not his fault, rather bad) suggested where to cut. I did, against my best judgement. I started sending it around; got the same reception "too long, not in media res enough" (words to that affect). Eventually, The Future Fire came back to light and life, and I sent it there, thinking "Aha! The perfect place." Which it proved to be. They even wanted the cut parts re-inserted to complete the picture.

So, to bring a long story to a close, that was my first short story, and one that I'm most proud of, more than Pythia, because it's 100% mine, wholly spun from my own experiences and imaginations, like the novels were. They're too long, too. Working on that.

I lied about the elephants, BTW.
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