So some part of me has been meaning to talk about the time from around 2011 until now when I seemed to disappear from genre writing, though not really. It was a strange time then, I was trying different things. Some people thought I stopped writing all together.
The answer is sort of true, yet not. I was trying lots of different styles and modes of writing. I think that’s how we improve, in a way. I spent a few years focused only on poetry and nothing else. Poetry, after all, is where I got my start. My first professional publication in the 90’s were poems to various magazines and newspapers. I also wrote some plays (a one act that got locally produced, etc, and one that won some local awards but wasn’t put on), which was also where I had originally gotten my start. Plays and poems.
I also acted for awhile, also local theater stuff. I enjoyed it. It was nice to return to those strange formative years where my writing was smaller, personal, more incandescent. I also read a lot. A lot of genre theory. Some classics. I read a lot of literary fiction as well, and yes, some random bits of genre here and there. It may have seemed like I disappeared, but really I was just elsewhere doing other things.
I also worked on some novels, and had one or two short stories published. One or two new ones, that was. I had a lot of reprints through the years, most of them coming from my print collection Glass Coffin Girls (published by the amazing PS Publishing). But I did write new shortstories, just not as much as I used to. They were startlingly strange now. Moving in a different direction. Some noir, some crime fiction, some magical realism. It was a nice break. Writing poetry and plays helped in other ways, too. It helped me with sentence structure, with dialogue.
I also wrote probably the best poem I have to write. I’d spent five years writing it, maybe even longer. It said a lot of things I’ve been meaning to say in poetry. It got published in Interfictions– this was All the Houses on Sesame Street Are Haunted Houses. I realized afterwards that I had nothing else to say in poetry. That I had done it, and done it perfectly, and could not top that.
Really, I think this was an important period for me as a form of exploration. Of finding out what I liked and what I didn’t like, and how different narrative forms worked. I meddled around with podcasting again, and near the end of 2015 or so I got back into genre fiction (SF/F/H) once more. I restarted Grendelsong magazine, and flew through the center core of it all. I got a shortstory published again in a genre market. I’m just not the fireball of short fiction now, as I had used to be. Which, I’m okay with. Sort of. I miss being everywhere, all the time.
I move slower now, larger with my words and worlds. I tend to reach towards longer things, creating a complete immersion in the writing. Novels and novels and more novels. Hitting towards some secondary world I see just out of my sight. Novel writing is completely different in form than short stories and poems and plays. It’s length and size are gargantuan, leviathan, you could be swallowed alive inside of it.
So I’m not seen as much because of that. This focus on novels keeps me from writing a short story every week, as I had before. It keeps me from appearing all over the place, as I had before.
I can see why a lot of shortstory authors who make the jump from the lesser, intricate form of shortstories to the larger, messier, hungrier form of novels seem to evaporate and fade away. The words themselves become complex. The worlds overshadowing everything. There is a complexity, a performance and anxiety, and a fear of getting lost in the woods and devoured by the chapters. You can’t just string together stories, you can’t just try and make the shorts longer and longer, bloating them into being.
You also can’t approach plot the same way. Purpose the same way. Even characters the same way. One could propose that scenes and chapters play out as short stories, and then it’s all connected together. One could also say that a necklace is made of stardust and vinegar. It becomes a messy, incoherent shadow text. One that does not survive the fires of edits.
It is a complex thing. Moving from one station to the next. Drifting between the forms like a wraith. You experiment, you prod, you try and gather purchase. All the way, you are attempting the truth of the medium, of all fictive mediums: that voice inside of you. What are your strengths? What are you shadows? How do you pursue the best you?
Writing is an act of self-discovery. It’s one thing you don’t hear about much. You hear about gauging the market, chasing fads. How to promote yourself, create a brand of your own style. But that’s not really it, is it? It’s not the truth of it. An undertaking like constructing a novel is like building a cathedral of selfhood. It may never be completed. It may never be found all the way. It’s gigantic, it’s huge. It smothers you in your sleep.
The only way to survive is to plunge further into yourself. You need to dredge from the depths of identity the truth of the matter. It is a constant process. It shouldn’t be what plot plan am I going to follow? What structure suits this best? But rather, where am I going, and where have I been? That’s not to say you don’t need a map. Just know that all maps are unfinished things. Maybe architecture is the wrong allegory. Maybe it’s spelunking. Maybe it’s cave diving.
Maybe it’s you in the dark with a light made of words, fishing around in unexplored places. Everywhere you see bits of a mirror scattered into the shadowlands. It is yourself. Finding tiny bits of who you are in everything. That’s what makes a novel unique, important, worth reading. It is not the things you take from everywhere else, it is what you bring to it. How you build a new you out of words and phrases and paragraphs. How to construct a new you out of plots and structures and tombs. You may turn the cliche up and down. You may scavenge the works of others, and hold them up as shiny bits showing the parts of you that are savage echoes of identity.
That is what will take this work and make it spit and flicker and shine. Though the path is a rough path, I discovered. It does boil down to one thing, is it a true path? I guess so. Maybe. I’m not sure, there are still caverns down below I need to explore.
But that’s not to say there isn’t a fear here. With each construction and demolition, you wonder if this is it. The trajectory you had been on grows cool and distant. You think of all the possibilities you had let slide. Will you just become another shadow to be burned out in the dark? You look over a million Best Of books from decades ago, and realize you only recognize one or two names if any. All of these Best Of’s, all of these Amazing Writers are now gone. Footsteps in time. Metronomes lost and forgotten.
A heartbeat whispered in the dark. Do you want to be like that, lost and forgotten in the pages of some old book? Some book that will cry out and cough once and then disappear? What will be left of this all, after the dying and the dead make their way? How can I leave a mark in the dark if the lamps have been shattered?
There, a whisper again. Another new idea. Keep forging onward, keep forging inward. You need to keep going, I think that’s the truth of it. Stopping is the sickness. Stopping will never accomplish anything. Find excitement in the everyday. Avoid the annoying buzzes of the whispering flies of anxiety. Instead sacrifice all thought, push out all theory. Keep rushing forward to what only could be something…something…something.
Maybe a jigsaw of who I was in the moment of making. Piece it all back together. Keep the fire floating, the flames burning brightly. Don’t give into the panic fear of the Tent Pole books and movies and television shows. Don’t sit down and try to chase something else, something other, something they say you should chase. Stand tall with bleeding limbs and demand for something else. Something that no one knew was necessary, but there it was. Broken heart shaped puzzle pieces. Memories mapped and discarded.
Don’t let the world eat us empty and forgotten. That is for the dust and nothing else.