Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Recycling, Revising, Same Thing

I've got the hook for Len in reasonable shape and the synopsis down to a page single-spaced, so I'm going to let all that sit for a week or so. I'm now flipping through my old short stories files and finding that most of the short stories I haven't sold yet have something in common: They're sad and honest and say uncomfortable things. The ones I wrote 20 or even 30 years ago and have given up selling, most of them more mainstream and adult than I know how to market anymore, seem eerily prescient, addressing issues I've since had to face.

Writing does that. Nothing makes a better case for precognition than old manuscripts. You write things, and they come true, or say things you needed to know and didn't want to.

But the short story I'm most concerned about today does neither. (I don't think.) It's about the post-life business of gathering up people's cast-off emotions, processing them, and recycling them so that people who, for example, need a little more guilt or ego or anger in their lives will have it available when the people who had too much of those qualities divest themselves of it. If it doesn't get recycled, it rots and festers, sometimes gets mixed together to create anomolous phenomena - teen angst and old bitterness create poltergeists as a by-product, for example. People who never let anything go can't open themselves up to fresh stuff and their whole lives stagnate. A lot of this stuff is tangled up in the heaps of large trash you leave at the curb when the city does its biannual collection of that sort of thing, so the trucks of scrap metal and second-hand furniture and appliance dealers are joined by the less-visible trucks of the emotion recyclers.

I really like this idea, but the story is over 11,000 words long - too long to be a short story, too short to be a novella. And though parts of it are well-executed, the parts don't hang together well. It has to be third-person omniscient, which is always tricky. It has to tell several stories at once. And it has to encapsulate truths about the way we process emotions without getting all sappily guruish. And all of that is doable, so I feel like I ought to be able to launch myself at it; but I hesitate to do so.

Because there's a lot of the Year from Hell in there. Not even very well disguised. On the one hand, I'm proud of myself for dealing with that at all in writing so relatively soon. The Year from Hell was 2005; I wrote the story in 2008. On the other hand, reading it again brings the Year from Hell back in full Surround-sound Sense-O-Drama. Also, I've mixed in equally recognizable bits of the Years from Hell of other people I know, and that squicks me. It doesn't matter that the people in these situations are not the characters, may be very different indeed from the characters. If they recognize their situations, they'll confuse the characters with themselves.

So until I work out how to cope with those two things, that's another story that's going to sit on the hard drive.

Oh, well. You have to let cheese age, too. No matter how far behind I feel like I am, I won't get anywhere by hurrying the work.


  1. Peni, now that you can, why not self-publish some of these short stories electronically? The 11,000 word novella is an ideal length for e-publication.

  2. Because I'm entrepreneurophobic? It's a good suggestion, if I can get myself to the point of actually doing it. I am circling inward toward the point of translating the idea into action, anyway.

    And how nice that there's now a form of publication for which 11,000 words is an ideal length. I don't know if you've noticed this, but I have a bit of a brevity problem.