Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Sweetness of Bitter, by Beth Cato

A story may die but from the ashes a far better tale may emerge.
In its first incarnation, "The Sweetness of Bitter" told much the same story. It featured the same characters, with the same names. I sent it out to a few magazines and it garnered higher tier rejections. I knew there was something special about the story, but it obviously wasn't quite there yet.

Therefore, I submitted it for group critique at the Cascade Writers the-sweetness-of-bitterWorkshop--where it was eviscerated. I have received hundreds of critiques and given as many, but this was my first time enduring it all in person. Mind you, my fellow writers had plenty of nice things to say about it, too, but I left feeling dizzy and overwhelmed at the depth of the experience.

I returned home and stared at the stack of marked-up manuscripts. I was at an absolute loss at how to start revising. So, I didn't.
I started from scratch. Blank document. As I went, I copied in bits of the old story. The process endowed me with an epic migraine. At a few points, I was so frustrated that I cried. I debated trunking the story entirely. "Maybe I'm not good enough to do this idea justice," I thought. I could bury it on my hard drive for a few years, maybe return to it someday.

Maybe. That was the key word. Deep down, I knew that if I set this story aside, I'd never pick it up again.

I sent the story for more critiques. I tweaked it more. I judged it as ready to submit.

My old story, like the phoenix, had been incinerated by critiques and born anew. I retitled it in a way that not only described the story, but the frustrating process of its evolution--and the end result, as you see here on Intergalactic Medicine Show.

It's worth enduring the bitter to get that sweetness.

--Beth Cato

Friday, October 04, 2013

Working on Wet Work—by Matthew S. Rotundo

Some days, I feel like I'm in control of my writing.  On others, the muse lets me know who's the boss.  Such was the case with "Wet Work:  A Tale of the Unseen."wet-work

It started innocently enough.  I'm a member of Codex, an online writing group, and every year, we have a Halloween story contest.  Strictly for fun, you understand.  You get a seed from another member, and you're supposed to use it in a spooky story.

For "Wet Work," my seed consisted of a couple of photographs from Ireland--one of a castle gate, complete with portcullis, and the other of an abandoned factory.  The two pictures were taken from the same spot, at a crossroads.

So I embarked on a story involving a castle (later a Long Island mansion) in a contemporary setting, and some sinister doings within.  I originally conceived of it as a darkly satirical version of The Apprentice, with contestants vying to work for a powerful demon instead of Donald Trump.  I know, right?  The jokes just write themselves.  Hilarious.

But the muse had other plans, as she often does.  She's funny that way.  For one thing, "Wet Work" became much heavier on the dark than on the satire.  In fact, it's one of the nastiest pieces in my repertoire.  What that says about me is an exercise I leave to the reader.

For another thing, the story decided it wanted to be a novel. 
Which, you know, can be a problem for a short story contest. 
What can I say?  Something about the Unseen and their evil machinations drew me.  The muse visited me with a flash of inspiration, in which I saw not only a much longer story, but a series, and maybe even a career.

"Hold your horses, there," I said to the muse.  "We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves, aren't we?"

She agreed that we were--not that it mattered.  The tale of Ellie wet-workGibson's encounter with Dontur kept trying to swell, and I kept wrestling with it to keep it at a reasonable length.  I finally managed it, as you can see, but the muse was not satisfied.  The story would not let go of my imagination.

So shortly after completing it, I expanded it into a novel.  Like you do.

Book #2 in the series wants to be written, but I'm holding off for the time being.  We'll see what kind of reception the short story gets first.  Call it proof of concept.  Who knows?  If the readers enjoy it, and if the publishing gods are good, you may one day get to read what happened to Ellie after that fateful Halloween night.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I hear the boss calling.  Time to get back to work.