Writing Report May 12, 2018
I wrote two short stories this week, totaling 10,133 words, but I cheated:
I started one story 41 years ago.
41 years ago I was the Senior NCOIC of the Public Affairs Office for the worldwide U.S. Army Communications Command at Ft. Huachuca, AZ.
Not a whole lot to do there, so I spent a good hunk of my type writing stories that I tried to sell and screenplays I had sense enough not to.
Ft. Huachuca is a nice enough post, but there’s not an awful lot of amenities beyond the PX, so for major shopping expeditions my wife and I would drive to Tucson, about 70 miles away.
Coming back at night, we’d frequently have long stretches of the desert highway all to ourselves, and on moonlit nights it was possible to turn one’s headlights off and drive by the pale but clear light.
Sometimes while driving I would catch a glimpse of headlights in my rearview mirror, and sometimes they would overtake me and head on down the highway, and sometimes they would turn off on tiny little side roads, heading to God knows where for God knows what reasons…
…and sometimes they’d just pace me, hanging back about a mile or so, not gaining, not falling behind, just…following.
And I got to wondering, What if they aren’t headlights?
So I wrote a short story called “Eyes” but because I was getting out of the Army shortly, I didn’t submit it until a year or two later when my wife and daughter and I were settled down in Los Angeles and had a house.
And it got rejected.
Again and again and again.
Oh, I got some encouraging editorial notes from it, but the editors all noticed the same problem.
The story I’d written really kind of fell between stools re fantasy and science fiction.
It was like an old Twilight Zone episode insofar as the weird element was never really explained, either as magic or the supernatural or science.
And while it had a cool central idea and a great visual and an interesting look at how humanity is going to fit into the changing world of the future, it really didn’t jell as a story.
But writing it was a great learning experience, I felt as if I had turned a corner in the mastery of my craft, and while I’d like to hope I’ve continued improving, “Eyes” felt like the first story to come within striking distance of being professional.
(Meanwhile, I was selling animation scripts and learning my craft in that medium as well, and with far more success and financial reward, so the short stories remained a hit or miss thing through much of my early career with sometimes as much as two or three years elapsing between efforts.)
I stuck “Eyes” in a folder and the folder in a box and the box moved from one garage to the next as my fortunes waxed and waned in Hollywood.
Earlier this year I had reason to drag out some of my old animation scripts and in doing so stumbled across “Eyes” again.
I remembered the story and its central conceit, but in the 40 years since I first conceived of it, significant changes in technology had occurred to give me a possible albeit implausible rationale for the story.
I’d also written two shared future stories in set North America following the collapse and rebirth of civilization after climate change pretty much renders what are now the temperate zones into deserts.
While “Eyes” had been a contemporary (i.e., circa 1978) story when originally conceived, it fit much better in the blazing hot world I envisioned for my shared future.
So RIP “Eyes” and in your place is the much more aptly named “As One Is Born, So Must Another Die”.
I’ll keep you posted.
But that wasn’t the biggest block of writing I did this week.
On Monday I learned about a market for pirate stories, all kinds of pirate stories: Genuine tales of the golden age of piracy, Pirates of the Caribbean style dark fantasy, even space opera pirates ala Captain Harlock.
And I remember an idea I had maybe a decade ago for a screenplay that I never got close to writing down.
It was about modern day pirates, and who they were and why they were doing it made sense, and I knew the twist would have to be that what started out as more of a mischievous lark would end up as a life or death conflict…
…but that was about it and since I had no market for the idea, I just let it rest in the back of my brain while I went on to other projects.
But then I found the aforementioned pirate anthology market, and I thought that my story certainly fit and Well, why not write it up and see what happens?
It took me two days to find the time to sit down and write it; I didn’t want to be interrupted once I began.
But interrupted I was. I started writing it at about 2:30 on Thursday afternoon and between kitty litter box cleanings and dinner and a couple of “honeydew” requests, I didn’t get more than an hour straight at the keyboard.
But it came out fast and clean and I guess two days of turning it over in me widdle head gave me a chance to explore some blind alleys without committing anything to pixel, so when I ///did/// start writing, very little wasted effort.
(Oh, it still requires a rewrite and editing and polishing, but the spine is there, the characters are there, and that’s what’s really crucial.)
And if I can just write 45 more words for this post, I’ll have another thousand for the week…
Oh! Go buy the May / June 2018 issue of Analog! My short story “While You Sleep, Computer Mice™ Earn Their Keep” is in it.
© Buzz Dixon