Living In the Thirties

My grandmother grew up in the thirties.  Back then, you didn’t throw anything away.  You might be able to find another use for it or fix it or scavenge parts from it.

If you want to write, you have to live in the thirties.

Over the years, I’ve sold a couple dozen short stories, written a few dozen others that didn’t sell, and have fragments of many, many others that may or may not see the light of day.  Every single one of them I keep stored in my computer (with backups).  Some of them are broken, some didn’t sell because the market didn’t pan out, and others are just ideas waiting to cross-pollinate with something.  Most will probably die with me.  My children will go through my computer one day and say, “Why was he keeping this?  Was he really planning to write a story about an alien that lived in a blender?”

And other things have turned out to be extraordinary useful.

I wrote a story called “Round Dragon, Angry Tiger” and submitted it to Marion Bradley for one of the Sword and Sorceress anthologies.  It made the final round, but Marion ultimately sent it back with her now-famous “inelasticity of typeface” rejection.  There was no other market for it, so I put it away.  Years passed, and Laura Anne Gilman announced she and Jennifer Heddle were accepting stories for an anthology of revenge stories.  I remembered “Round Dragon, Angry Tiger,” which is all about anger and revenge.  I polished it a bit and sent it to her.  She bought it.  Good thing I didn’t throw it away!

Another time I wrote a story called “Innkeeper’s Solution,” set in a world where everyone got a familiar, not just witches and wizards.  I sent it to Dragon magazine.  The editor rejected it, but gave fairly detailed reasons why.  I mentioned this to Sarah Zettel, who said, “It sounds like a rewrite request to me.”  The more I thought about this, the more I realized she was right.  I rewrote the story along the lines the editor mentioned and sent it back.  He bought it.  (Sarah was very wise.) Good thing I didn’t throw it away!

Fifteen years ago, I wrote an SF story about a circus, clowns, and clones.  I liked it quite a lot, but no one else did–every editor I sent it to rejected it.  I put it in my files.  Then Book View Cafe announced its steampunk anthology The Shadow Conspiracy.  For some reason, my circus story wandered back into my mind.  It was far-future SF, nothing like steampunk.  I had written it fifteen years ago, and my writing style has changed drastically since then.  I could also see that the structure of the story had some flaws in it that really weren’t fixable.  But I still found the characters and the situation compelling.  It wouldn’t leave me alone.

I decided to treat the story like a chef making gumbo out of leftovers.  I plucked out what still tasted good, added in a whole lot of fresh ingedients, and simmered it all together until you couldn’t tell what was new and what was old.  The result was a 14,000 word novella completely unlike anything I’d ever written before.

Good thing I didn’t throw it away.

Ask any writer what he or she has tucked away in those files.  They’re probably extensive.  No matter what century it might be now, we’re still living in the thirties!

–Steven Harper Piziks



Living In the Thirties — 5 Comments

  1. Some things you just have to grow into. When I was seventeen a first line came to me outta nowhere: “Beatrice’s lover was made of lip.” And I looked at it and thought, “no way am I old enough to know what to do with that.” Put it in a drawer for a couple of decades, took it out, ironed it, and it became the first line of “Abelard’s Kiss.”

    When my computer died (unbackedup, dammit) last summer it took with it a couple of decades of snippets, first lines, and ideas. The most robust, I reconstructed (and backed up). The rest…floating in the wind.

  2. Oh Mad, you gotta have faith. They sprouted once, from your fertile mind, so they can spring up again!


  3. The late Mike Ford used to talk about failed projects as being the fallen trees in the forest. A lot of good mulch in a forest. Although a story died, from the mulch something new will grow!

    We did not fail — we are doing what any good farmer does. We are enriching the soil.

    I’m doing it now — a nice mystery that was called “too literate for mystery, not angst enough for mainstream” (is that not bizarre?) is being heavily mined for a new work.

    Miners, farmers, mapmakers, dream speakers — it’s what we love to do. If we’re lucky, we get paid to do it!

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