Monday, December 5, 2011

"Houses" in Lightspeed Magazine Issue 18

"Houses" is out now in Lightspeed Magazine Issue 18. My first professional sale and it's a Clarion West story! Yum! The whole November 2011 Issue 18 is fantastic. It's pretty awesome to appear next to China Mieville and John Crowley. Pick up a copy here

I came to the Clarion West Writer's Workshop with a number of ideas, half-stories, little gems of inspiration, some of which I distilled into stories I submitted to the Workshop, but "Houses" was not one of them. One morning I woke up on my horrible little plastic mattress bunk bed (we dormed in this enormous sorority house and we all all got our own rooms, but we had to sleep on these bunk beds with these mattresses that seemed to be designed to easily hose off vomit from sorority sisters who'd done too many keg stands) and the first line just popped in my head (which I later deleted, as per Terry Bisson’s rules [he's right, by the way]): “After the humans left, the houses got bored.” I had all these ideas after that, about the society these houses and machines we humans left behind created, our toys playing house, so to speak, eventually waking up and realizing that they didn't have to our lead, our psychology, our biology. But, I didn't know how to handle such a thing, it could easily turn into a sprawling work that couldn't be contained in a short story.
One of the things I discovered while at Clarion West was that I had no idea what a short story was. I’m still not sure, and don’t even know if it can be defined. At the time I thought it was just a story that was short. It’s not. It’s its own medium that has its own rules and own structure, and is totally different from any other format: Novel, novelette, serial, flash (which are all unique and have their own rules). So, I was afraid "Houses" would get away from me. Luckily, I was in the right spot to get help and I utilized the Workshop resources: other writers. 
I first pitched it to one of my cohort, Plot-Master Nick Tramdack (here's his latest Bad-Ass story: "The Smile"), a writer who was able to take that one line I had (“After the humans left, the houses got bored.”) and throw back at me 5 different plots in about 2 minutes. I started working it, but didn't really know where it was going, so I pitched it to Margo Lanagan (wiki entry). Man, she really knows how to get to an emotional center of a story. The story I wrote for her in the workshop (the way it works is they workshop the previous week's story and then you discuss/pitch to them next week's story, or talk about anything you want, really) was a novel crammed into 11 pages, about ships breeding humans as gametes, explosions, firefights, blood galore. As a short story it failed miserably: the scope was too big, it had no emotional center, no feeling, and the whole plot was backwards, with the climax at the beginning. There are stories out there, that do all those things, and are fantastic, but this was not one of them. So, for my next story, I pitched to her "Houses". I wonder what she must have thought, one week she's reading a story about humans bred by space-ships into being aggressive gametes that basically rape other spaceships, and then she gets one about Houses pretending to be humans. I'll have to ask her at some point. 
Right off the bat, she was able to really give me some angles to see the emotion of the story, which is something that can be difficult at times, especially for me. I have a very minimalist tone, purposely leaving an emotional gap for the reader to fill, which usually backfires, with people telling me makes my work feels cold and distant. 
I got to workshop it further with Minister Faust, a writer who's not only inspiring, but brings years of educational experience and is full of suggestions, prompts, and techniques to aid in writing and really put your work into perspective. 
Further more, once I got this to Lightspeed both Erin Stocks and John Joseph Adams really helped me edit it and cinch up the feel story, making it a presentable piece.
Anyhow, I'm very pumped about "Houses" and hope you can check it out now or pick up a copy of Lightspeed Magazine.

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