Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I hear the clock tick, and think of you

Yesterday I sent out a short story I had been working on for nearly two years. It was my week 6 story from Clarion, "The Least of the Deathly Arts." I love that story. It was the story I had the most fun writing. 

But I couldn't get it right -  the ending, in particular, was a problem. It was so much of a problem that, when it came to be my day that week to workshop something, and I still hadn't figured out how the story ended, I just sort of stopped writing. And didn't tell anyone. (Sorry, guys!) It was week 6, we were all so far beyond exhausted we had come out the other side, and I loved that story, and wanted it workshopped. 

I got great comments. (Thanks, guys!) Then I got Neil's response, which pretty much ended with, "And where's the sestina?" I laughed. Of things I was never going to be crazy enough to attempt to write, a sestina was number one on the list. He told me I really needed to write it, if it was that important to the story, and besides, he had written one and felt it was a good skill to have.

I wrote it. 

(The end words, which were dictated by the needs of the story, are: touch, dance, grace, dream, love, death.)

Let me tell you, after you have - in character - written a sestina, you finish the damn story.

So about a month after I got back, I revised it. It had an ending this time, but the wrong one. I knew it was wrong, but I didn't know how to fix it and get it right. I sent it around, got some feedback, and set the story aside.

I wasn't trunking it - I knew the story was there, and I knew it was something I needed to write. But there were other deadlines, and other projects where I did know the ending. Every few months, I'd pull "The Least of the Deadly Arts" back out of the box, look at it, reread some of the comments on the latest version, think about it, and put it away. 

At the beginning of May, I decided it was time to finish it. I finally knew what the pov character truly wanted, rather than what I thought the story ought to be. I revised so thoroughly that it was more of a stripping the story down to its bones and reanimating it than a revision. And I wrote an ending.

And then I scrapped it, and wrote another ending. And another. They were all fine. They got the story to where it needed to go. But they weren't right. And then the story got stuffed in the bag with all the other works on progress from the top of my desk, and I drove across the country. I reread it when I unpacked this weekend, and I knew exactly how the story ended: "A poem, Scholar. A poem for your death."

And so it does.


  1. Wow. That's just ... wow!

    Thanks for being so dang inspirational. :)

  2. You know? I think you can guess we're all itching to read the story which goes with that ending.

    But thanks for sharing/teasing/inspiring

  3. Thank you both! And I'm itching for you to be able to read it, too. As soon as I sell it (she says, optimistically) I will let you know.

  4. I always love your reports on your creative process. And I can only confirm that sometimes it just takes so much patience to get a story right. As in, "10 okay-ish drafts, 15 revised endings, five new stories and one novel later..." I have a couple of Clarion stories that are starting to whine for my attention as I type this. After 2 years of dormancy!

    Anyway, good luck with the submission. With such a last sentence, what could go wrong?

  5. Thanks, Steffi! I feel like I will be doing a post soon on "cooking time" for stories -I have a few that have recently awoken from dormancy. Also, I am really excited to hear that you may be revising some of your Clarion stories in the near future. Your stories are so elegantly creepy.