Sunday, July 17, 2011

One Sale per Break-up?

I realized something the other day.  The two short stories I've sold thus far were completed after I had ended romantic relationships with someone.  And, they contained scenes from those failed relationships.  
My first short story was published back in 1990.  At the time, I was dating someone I had met while working in the same theatre company.  I had recently had started writing again after a hiatus of a few years when I was focused on being an actor.  I had sold some articles to role-playing game magazines but had yet to sell a piece of fiction.  
I was working on a couple of stories while dating my then girlfriend.  One was a rather sappy romantic story about finding one's One True Love.  I think it was inspired by the current relationship.  The other was a science fiction story about robotic mind control.  Neither of them were going well, I recall, but I was working on them every day.  
One night, my girlfriend asked me to stop by where she was doing some volunteer work for her church.  I picked her up at the school she was at and we went to a diner nearby.  Over pie and tea, she told me that she came to the conclusion that she didn't love me any more.  She cited a recent trip she and her sister had taken to their family's cabin in the woods where she hadn't "missed me at all," while she was there.  This is what lead her to end the relationship.  
I took her back to the school and made the long drive home by myself.  I don't remember feeling much pain driving back.  I remember congratulating myself for taking the break-up so well.  When I got home and went into my bedroom, I saw the most recent drafts of the two stories I had been working on sitting on my desk.  
"These are actually one story," I said to myself.  I immediately sat down and starting working, taking the two stories and making them into one.  The next morning I read the new story, switched the position of one paragraph and decided it was done.  I printed it out, put it in an envelope, opened my copy of Writers' Market and found the first magazine listed that accepted science fiction stories, which happened to be a well respected magazine called Aboriginal Science Fiction.  I put it in the mail box with the the thought, "That's that."  
The story sold.  It eventually appeared in their Sept/Oct issue entitled, "Random Access."  It was the story of a young man, in pain over a recent break-up with the woman he thought was his one true love, who uses a computer to delete his memories of her.  I didn't read the story again until someone said to me, "There was a lot of you in there."  When I did read it I remember feeling a little taken aback and somewhat embarrassed by the scenes I had included in the story.  I also thought that it read like someone else had written, because of how good I thought it was.    
The story I sold most recently took a long time to write.  The idea for the story came to me when what was the opening line popped into my head.  It was, "I need you take me to Broombridge, Emil...  Before this gets sent to me."  I immediately started hammering out a rough draft; a story about a space pilot/navigator who takes on a dangerous transit through what I termed, "sponge space," in the hopes of winning back his ex-wife.  
I liked the draft I wrote, but there were some things about it I thought needed fixing.  First off, I had set it in a universe I had created for myself where I was placing all of my stories, one in which an alien race visits Earth in the first half of the twenty-first century and then leaves after staying in orbit for forty years, taking a hundred and forty-four thousand people with them.  I wanted to create a specific form of faster than light travel that would fit thematically with the universe I was creating.  
More importantly, though, I kept thinking that there was something...  Not quite there in the story.  It had numerous scenes and passages that I enjoyed, but they didn't quite hang together the way I wanted them.  
It was a couple of months after writing this draft, at the suggestion of a friend of mine, that I auditioned for a play at a community theater near where I work.  The play they were performing was "Rashomon," based on the movie made back in 1956 by Akira Kurosawa.  I loved the the movie and wanted to perform the same role that Toshiro Mifune played in the movie, that of "The Bandit."  So, for the first time in years I auditioned and got the role.  
It was during the audition that I met the young woman that played "The Samurai's Wife," who is raped by my character.  Without going into all the gory details, she and I started what I guess you would call a "showmance."  This was a startling occurrence for me.  She was just about half my age at the time I did the show, in her mid-twenties.  And, even more startling, she had approached me about getting together.  We were together from about a month before the show opened to about two or three months after.  Changes in her work made it impossible to spend time together, compounding all the other problems that we faced given our differences.  I wasn't surprised by the break-up.  
After the show ended, and I turned my focus back to writing again, I finished rewriting the story I had been working on.  I made a number of changes to it.  I got in contact with an Australian physicist about an article he had posted on line regarding, "quantum hyperspheres," which I used as the basis of my FTL drive.  I restructured the story, changing it from a linear progression to one that jumped back and forth, from the present, to memories of the past, to the future.  And I changed the relationship of between the "sponge-pilot" and his ex-wife.  She was much younger than him now, about half his age when they met.  And I put in details about how they met, while they both worked on a play they had auditioned for while he was taking a leave on a station he dove to.  With these changes, which I didn't take that much notice of at the time, I submitted the story to Asimov's Science Fiction.  
It sold.  I got the email from the editor about two months later.  For the next two months, on and off, I made some minor changes and went over the galleys.  It will be appearing in their September Issue under the title, "Shadow Angel."  It's been a dream of mine to get a story published in Asimov's.  I'm very proud of the story.  
It was a couple of days ago that it occurred to me what made these two sales similar.  Both of them were reworked after I broke up with someone.  And, as I write this entry, I am realizing that both women were met while doing theatre work.  
But there is also a specific difference between the two.  Random Access was written almost unconsciously.  It was an effort, I believe looking on the process years since, to purge myself of the pain I was feeling at the time.  It startled me to no end to see it published, and I spent years trying to figure out just what I did in an effort to replicate that success.  As much as I was proud of the story and glad to see it in print, I was frustrated over the fact that I could not tell you how I had written it.  I just had.  Only when I gave up trying to duplicate what I did do I think I started to progress again as a writer.  
Shadow Angel, on the other hand, was a deliberate and consciously made work.  When I wrote the first draft I knew it wasn't right.  I knew that I needed to create a form of faster than light travel that was not only plausible, but which had a aesthetic to it that fit the story I was telling in Shadow Angel, as well as the overall epic I wanted to tell with my universe.  I knew that linear structure wasn't right for the story, but that I didn't want to tell it in flashback either.  When I finalized my method of FTL, I used it's impact on a pilot's perception and experience of time to go back and forth over the sequence of events in a fashion that told the story the way it needed to be told.  
And when I broke up with the lovely young woman that I was involved with during and after the play I was in, I realized that the relationship we had, of having someone that you really couldn't keep, was the same that the main character in Shadow Angel was experiencing.  I folded those moments from my experience into the story in order to make it come to life.  It was a deliberate choice to do this.  It was, I think and hope, an artist's choice.  
Finally, I think one of the reasons these two stories sold was because, at the time I was rewriting them, I was wide open emotionally.  Unconsciously, with Random Access, and by deliberate choice with Shadow Angel, I let my feelings go into the stories where they needed to be.  Recently, in my life, I have made the decision to live more "experimentally."  To do what I feel or think I need to or want to do and see what results, instead of imagining what might happen and refraining from taking action.  I am hopeful that not only will this make me a healthier, happier person, but will also allow me to invest myself into my stories to a greater degree, and create more work that will sell for people to read.  
Otherwise, I'm going to have to find someone to marry and divorce in order to sell my first novel, and that will end up being a real royal pain.  


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