This is a Conversation, Not a Speech

Rusalka by Ruth Sanderson

Notice the lovely painting to the left, “Rusalka,” by the amazing artist, Ruth Sanderson. I was reminded of it by a FB post by the writer Theodora Goss, said post being about a different matter altogether (we can discuss serendipity on another day). But I recognized the painting she’d referenced immediately. Partly because I’m fond of Sanderson’s work, but mostly because that very painting was the original illustration for “The Swan Troika,” (Realms of Fantasy, February 2011) my final story in that much missed magazine (Seriously. Show me a current fantasy magazine with the same ecumenical spirit toward the genre that ROF had).  If you’ll look in the left background, the guy in the funny-looking sleigh is Pyotr on his way to his fateful meeting with the rusalka in question.

Ahem. Yes, I’m getting off of the subject. Of which there is one, implied in the blog title. Ursula Le Guin once said something to the effect that a story is just marks on wood pulp (or pixels on a screen) until someone reads it. That reading is an act of creation itself and the story isn’t complete until it’s read. I have no argument with that. We want people to read our work, complete it, create their own inner vision to echo the one in our own heads. It won’t be the same vision, but that’s kind of the point. There aren’t just two sides to every story, there are as many sides as there are readers for that story, and the more the merrier.

Sometimes, though, it goes even beyond that. “Rusalka” exists because I wrote a story and the editors at ROF commissioned an illustration of it. You cannot fathom how pleased I was when I saw its original appearance in ROF. After all, I’m no artist. I could never have created my vision of that scene the way Sanderson did. Instead, she showed me hers. I was and am thrilled.

I will now contrast that with an incident from a writer’s group I was involved with. The Heavenly Fox had just been published and another writer in the group really liked it. So much so, that he announced that he was going to write a Springshadow story of his own, at which point I was forced to stand on his head until the impulse passed. Okay, not literally. But you get the idea. I was not thrilled. A little flattered, sure. But not thrilled.

So why the difference? Well, one is an act of re-creation. The other was copyright infringement. As in any conversation, you know when one party has crossed the line. Granted, it’s a fine line. Or rather a tightrope that we all walk when it comes to what happens to a story once it’s out in the world. In a sense, to send a story out into the world is to cede control of it. Legally it may belong to you, but practically? Things will happen that you didn’t count on. My own opinion goes beyond legalities though. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t care who has the right to continue the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. So far as I’m concerned, that series ended when Douglas Adams died. Sure, I know that’s unrealistic. Knowing that doesn’t change the way I feel.

Yes, reading is a creative act in itself, and stories were designed to be read. That’s kind of the point of them, but another thing they are is a conversation between the writer and reader. It’s an act of communication that, in the right context, creates something grander than the sum of its parts, witness that painting. Experience that a few times and you won’t wonder why we get cranky when someone tries to turn the conversation into a monologue.

New Story Time

TrunkThe new Story Time (see link on the right) is “How Konti Scrounged the World,” which first appeared in Realms of Fantasy back in February, 2000, and reprinted in THE OGRE’S WIFE in 2002. I’m including the story note I wrote for the ebook edition of the collection, with the understanding that the note was written long after the fact, and might have no more to do with the story than something anyone else might say about it. Continue reading

Surfing for Survival

FoxMaybe not literally, but as far as visibility and career are concerned. I’ve been thinking about the question of career survival because it finally occurred to me that I’ve been shifting gears a bit lately when it comes to my own writing, in that I’m doing more novels these days, and fewer short stories. Now, for many cases that’s just considered par for the course, and was once considered the only course—you started off writing short stories, with the intention of getting good enough to sell them to the major magazines, of which there were several. If you were planning any sort of career, then part of the plan was to build up your name recognition through short fiction and then use that visibility to transition to novels. Short stories were never considered to be an end in themselves in that scenario. Sure there were probably as many exceptions as not, and writers who started with novels from day one and were either barely or sometimes not at all aware that the magazines even existed. I wasn’t one of those. I discovered the magazines at about the same time that I started to write in the first place, and I began with short stories, and the first novel I ever wrote I thought was going to be another short story, until an editor took pity on me and informed me that what I had submitted was not a short story, but the opening chapter to a novel, and so it later proved. Regardless, the short story was my go-to form. Continue reading

Going Pro

WRITING 02I was out of town most of last week on a business trip that didn’t give me a lot of access to my normal online channels, but I did find out that I’d sold a new story while I was out. I sometimes get asked about that, meaning the experience of selling a story. “Doesn’t it get old? I mean, after 20-30-40-50+ short story sales, doesn’t it get a little ho-hum?” Continue reading

Clockwork Phoenix #4

Not a bad way to start the new year. Almost literally. I got a request from Mike Allen, the editor of the Clockwork Phoenix anthology series, for a small tweak in the story I’d submitted. The request came in just before midnight on the 1st, I approved it, and the confirmation of the sale came in just after midnight, January 2nd. So my slightly surreal, modernist fairy-tale, “Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl,” will be appearing in CP#4.

Pleased as I am about that, it’s not really what I wanted to talk about today, other than to note that “Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl” has something in common with “Three Little Foxes,” an entirely different sort of story that appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #105 last year– those were the only two usable stories I wrote last year. Right. All year. While 2012 was a pretty good year in some ways, so far as writing progress goes, it kind of sucked. While I’m not the most prolific writer I know, I’m usually more productive than that. I generally manage 8-12 stories a year, and usually sell most if not all of them. Those two stories I did write were, in my humble opinion, pretty good ones and I sold them both which makes me happy, but they shouldn’t have been alone. 2012 was a fallow year. Continue reading