22
Feb
09

Margaret’s Sunday Quickie: The old shame

Today’s Sunday Quickie question is “Stories That Didn’t Make It,” first tries at novels and stories that never made it into publication.  I’ve written a lot of crap, far more than the million requisite words that you’re supposed to get out of the way before writing anything good.  For the sake of brevity and sanity, I’m going to gloss over the stuff I wrote in high school and college, most of which only exists now in a quarantined section of my hard drive and in a few notebooks I can’t bear to throw out.  I’ve also got a couple of novels that ended up only half-written — one tried to link Easter Island, The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel, and Max Ernst; the other was a big space opera that had too much backstory and not enough life in the current story to work.  Both of those I’m still hoping to salvage in some way.

But the first full novel I wrote is never going to be salvaged.  It was called Lost Colony or The Broken World, depending on the draft, and it gave new meaning to the words “turgid and overblown.”  182,000 words of evil faceless corporations, mysterious benefactors, ice worlds, desert worlds, water worlds (all of which were the same world), psychic aliens with nothing better to do than to poke at humans, poorly defined magic that was revealed to be poorly defined science, social engineering of the totally ineffective kind, nebulous “planetary life-force” and (very rarely) ass-kicking.  I hadn’t yet learned proper pacing and the trick of cutting out the parts that the reader would skip over, so there were such gems as the twenty pages of technobabble that wasn’t even remotely relevant to the plot, and the riveting, chapter-long urban planning scene.  With extra departmental squabbling.  

My heroine was an astrophysicist who didn’t seem to know much in the way of astrophysics, mainly because I hadn’t done the research and had filled in the gaps with handwavy pseudoscience.  She had really cool ocular implants for reasons that didn’t really hold up and a tragic past that was imperfectly grafted on.  Her counterpart was a shapeshifting (see above re: poorly defined magic) community leader who was also an exile and whose past was obscured by a cloud of false memories, possibly relating to how the original colony was lost.   The side characters were more fun, and even though the novel itself was a failure, I liked some of what I was able to evoke for them, although in hindsight I should have focused more on them than on my main characters.  One guy was obviously having sex with a space newt, and I’m still kicking myself for not paying more attention to his story.  Or the space newt’s.
There was a lot of tragic posturing, last stands, mystic knowledge imparted in large indigestible chunks, menacing figures who turned out to be good guys, and backstories that got neatly tied up and then forgotten about for the rest of the novel.  I even had one character get plot-induced amnesia, for crying out loud.

However, I regret nothing.  I enjoyed writing it, and I learned a lot in the process.  I do, however, regret that when I finally sent it out to a publisher, I spelled the editor’s name wrong in the cover letter.  That’s the sort of error that doesn’t just make me cringe, it makes me want to hide under the bed and not come out till everyone’s forgotten that I exist.  

I’ve since gone back and cannibalized the novel for parts, using some of the central conceit for a short story.  Unfortunately, it still didn’t quite gel, although I had a better grasp of it in a shorter form.  Maybe later on, it’ll come together.  Minus the urban planning scene.

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