Thursday, April 21, 2005


Deborah Biancotti started an interesting discussion lately, about whether writers and other artists do their best work while hungry or 'living on the edge'. This prompted Stephen Dedman to post a fascinating list of tales behind some of his most successful pieces So stuff it. I thought I'd do the same.

SILK I wrote this story on a dare: Heather Gent posted the guidelines for the All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories anthology to a mailing list and dared me to work something up. For 5 months I didn't have an idea in my empty head. Then the Monday of the Friday it was due I woke up with the entire thing complete in my mind. Five drafts in four days and it was off. An example of transcription rather than true writing. The only part of the published story that wasn't in the dream is the black-painted trees, and I found those in the first 30 seconds of the only 5 minutes of research I did.

FATHER MUERTE AND THE THEFT Believe it or not, directly inspired by GK Chesteron's Father Brown stories (which is also why the stories are all titled Father Muerte And...) and his fabulous collection The Club of Queer Trades. I just ran things through my kitchen-sink filter and threw everything I could at the concept until it creaked, fell over, and turned into the kind of rublle I make stories out of. But if you look closely enough, a lot of the central conceits are there in this story. The influence is strong here. Thankfully, the following tales in the series move much more strongly towards an individual voice.

MOMENT What everyone thinks of as my "Poor Lee and his dead wife story", but what I consider to be one my cleverest market identification moments. Written specifically for the second Consensual collection, I identified that most of the tales in the first book were on the harder edge of erotica and set out to pen something as gentle and melancholy as possible. There's nothing more beautiful than lovemaking between two people who love each other, and nothing more heartfelt than letting go of someone you love. Simple as that.

MAKING TWO FISTS Written in response to a Dave Luckett post on a mailing list, in which he said that he couldn't understand why anybody wanted to read depressing noir tales. I hadn't written one at that stage, so I sat down to try. This is also the story that saved my career after my 1st wife died: it was unfinished when she died, and it was the last story she read, and the submission period closed less than a month after she died. The thought that her last story might go unpublished forced me to get off my bed and finish it.

PATER FAMILIAS One of my triptych of stories concerned with losing a wife during childbirth, this time surrounding a notion that facinated me the moment I read of it whilst doing research for another story: craniotomies. One of those occasions where an idea lodges in your head and won't leave until you write it out.

BRILLIG Back in 1989 I wrote a half-enquiry half-fan letter to Algis Budrys regarding the Writers Of The Future competition, and received a letter and signed book in reply. This story was a film script at the time. I kept much of the format and non-linear structure, rejigged it into story form, and sent it in. It got nowhere, but 13 years later I found it in a desk drawer, reworked it, and sold it to EOTU ezine, just in time to head to LA for the WOTF workshops and tell people the tale.

TALES OF NIREYM A story about my fathering fears, my fears about a daughter's place in the world, and an attempt to write a straight fantasy with a strong female character, prompted by a comment from one of my WoTF alumni along the lines of "Fantasy stories with women characters always end up being anaemic and unfocussed." Meh. I don't like the guy all that much anyway :) To see who inspired the story, and who it's really about: read 'Nireym' backwards :)

THROUGH THE WINDOW, MERRILEE DANCES My anti-phantasy story. Prompted by a postcard, of all things, with a somewhat crappy art-nouveau picture of a dancing girl upon it, limbs all out of proportion and stare like a Valium zombie. Anyone who knows me even slightly is aware of my rabid hatred for pale Phat Phantasy stories, and cheerful-hobbit-sidekick stories, so this was an attempt to insert a bit of real life mud and grime into a fantasy setting. Even the people who like this one don't want to spend much time in its world :)

ECDYSIS Written in 24 hours on a pool deck in LA during the Writers Of The Future workshops in 2002, including the 3 hours allowed to me for research. Workshop convenor Tim Powers made us do the whole thing ass-backwards: start with an object (in my case, 4 quarters), do the research and see where it leads you, then work out what the story will be about. It's a great exercise for taking you out of your comfort zone. It's also the story that helped bring Lyn and I together: she bought it for her issue of ASIM, and I asked her to lunch. The stupidest writer in the world: starts sleeping with the editor after she buys the story :)

CARRYING THE GOD Inspired by an article in National Geographic on anhydrobiosis (the ability of certain plants to snap-freeze themselves until revived by the presence of water), it was a small step to ask "What if humans...?" The main story seemed a bit slight, so I added a post-apocalyptic storyline, and alternated between the two. Funnily, reading the story recently, I realised that the post-apocalyptic stuff is by far my favourite of the two storylines. The idea of genetically advanced arachnids worshipping a sentient human mummy just appeals to me, I guess...

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