So I was having a rough day the other week. I’d received a short story rejection that really stung. No matter how often you submit—no matter how thick your skin gets—there’s always the odd one that still hurts. Funnily enough, the angst hit worse a few days after the actual rejection. I’m not sure what the trigger was, but it sparked a whole slew of thoughts, which I now present in the form of a dialogue.
ME: I’m never selling anything ever again.
ALSO ME: You just sold a piece to Augur.
ME: But I’m not selling anything else. I’m a has-been before I was even an is.
ALSO ME: Why do you say that?
ME: Everyone else is selling short fiction.
ALSO ME: Who’s everyone?
ME: People on Twitter.
ALSO ME: So what? You’ve had a good year career-wise. You have an agent!
ME: Yeah. That’s good.
ALSO ME: You had a story come out!
ALSO ME: You SOLD a story. To Augur. You love Augur.
ALSO ME: So what’s the problem?
ME: I don’t sell many stories.
ALSO ME: Why is that important to you?
ME: Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You sell short stories, and then people start to know you, and then you sell a novel.
ALSO ME: That’s what you’re supposed to do. I see. Says who?
ALSO ME: Is that what [WRITER FRIEND] did?
ALSO ME: And is [WRITER FRIEND] still doing well?
ALSO ME: Okay, what about [OTHER WRITER FRIEND]? Do they write much short fiction?
ALSO ME: And does everyone still love them and think they’re an awesome writer?
ALSO ME: So it is possible that short fiction is not an absolute prerequisite?
ME: Fine, yes. But what if I’m just not good enough?
ALSO ME: (Deep breath) Okay. Look. You know that’s not the only thing. It’s budget. It’s personal taste versus the publication’s aesthetic. It’s balancing out the stories they bought three months ago. It’s balancing out the stories they’re buying three months from now. It’s publicity. It’s “OMG I love this story like I love every puppy in the shelter but I can only adopt two and my heart is breaking but I still have to leave this one behind.”
ALSO ME: Can I make an observation?
ME: Go for it.
ALSO ME: Generally speaking, your writing does best when you don’t give a f*ck—when you just write whatever makes you happy. Six Stories, for example. Angst-ridden friendship and fairy tales and a ridiculous metanarrative structure? Who does that? YOU do.
Or, okay, Beer Magic. Queer ladies—magic beer—Toronto history—you literally just combined your six favourite words and that’s what finally worked.
This is true of your short fiction, too. Most of the stories you’ve sold were about things that make you angry.
ME: I’m not sure I’m comfortable using anger as my main motivation.
ALSO ME: Yeah, that’s another conversation. The point is, the stuff you feel like you “should” write? Yeah. That tends not to fly. But the stuff that matters to you…that does well.
Let me ask you a question. If you could write anything right now, what would you write?
ME: That Southern Gothic fairy tale novella.
ALSO ME: Then why the f*ck are you beating your head against the wall with short stories?
ME: I can’t just write whatever I want! I have to think about my career!
ALSO ME: Okay, great. Think about your career. When Kim-Mei’s done with Beer Magic, then what? You’ve got to have something on deck. Why not this novella?
ALSO ME: It’s okay. It’s okay to focus on something else for a bit. It’s okay to explore other avenues. It keeps you nimble.
ME: I know.
Then I sold a story to Lightspeed three hours later. Even so, I still want to write this novella?
Everyone says, “There’s no one way to have a writing career,” but we all have our own blocks and unconscious beliefs. Part of me feels really guilty that I haven’t written much short fiction lately…
…but where is the guilt coming from?
I’m not sure. But I think this novella’s calling louder than anything else right now. Maybe it’s time to listen.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Ah, Louise Pitre, I love your music so dearly. It is sad and heartfelt and jazzy.
I have a friend from Stonecoast visiting this week, which means there has been lots of gallivanting and little else. So not much musing today, just updates.
I’m a Sunburst nominee?
So last Monday, I posted about this strange, transitional sense I’ve been having. And the minor crises of self-esteem. Then I opened Twitter…
…and found the awesome and talented Kelly Robson congratulating me.
Having “La Corriveau” on the longlist was a huge honour; I honestly never expected it to go any further than that. This is likewise a huge honour—look at that list! Go back and look at the longlist! There is serious talent there!
It’s very humbling. And I’ve always been fond of “La Corriveau.” If nothing else, the historic Marie-Josephte Corriveau was a remarkable woman: I hope I’m doing her some justice.
The Sunburst winners will be announced sometime this fall.
Starting in September, I’ll be producing the Apex Magazine podcast!
This was unexpected, but delightful news! I’ve missed working with sounds—as everyone predicted when Six Stories wrapped up, I love podcasts too much to quit them entirely. Not only is Apex a wonderful team, it seems like the perfect balance: I’m just producing. That cuts down on time and workload, but still lets me keep a toe in the pool.
At the moment, I’m busy cultivating a stable of narrators. So yes, you’ll be hearing more from Blythe. I’m also excited to bring some new voices to your ears, too!
And that’s about it for the week. Things continue to tick along. We shall see where we end up.
What I’m Listening to This Week
Sometimes, the hardest thing about finishing a story is leaving the world. I was very fond of Heartstealer and Skarland. This piece brings me right back to the northern woods and autumn hearths…
Excitement! I have a story out today! (Read it here!) “La Corriveau” is available over at Strange Horizons. I absolutely love the magazine and the fiction they publish, so I’m honoured for my story to be included in their ranks!
If you heard Six Stories, Told at Night, “La Corriveau” may be familiar. Marie-Josephte Corriveau was actually a real person. She was accused of murdering her second husband, she was hanged, and then, her body was suspended in a gibbet like this:
All sorts of legends grew up around her. She was a witch, she met with Satan, she actually had seven husbands. Myself, I looked at the cage and figured it would lend itself well to steampunk.
To get some more background information on 1700s Québec, I started researching La Corriveau…
..and fell down a rabbit hole, wherein the historic record is utterly fragmented and often contradictory. As a historian, I couldn’t piece together what really happened. Did she kill her husband? Was she abused? Was there a cover-up? Since she was tried by an English court martial, were things lost in translation?
I didn’t know.
So, sitting in the media room of a cabin in Tennessee, I stopped trying to tell the real story. I tried to tell her story – all her stories – the story of the witch and the story of the woman. As with much of my fiction, “La Corriveau” has an unusual structure, but that’s the only way I could figure out how to do it.
In all these explorations into Canadian folk tales, La Corriveau has been one of my favourites. She is a fascinating woman…partly because, from what I can tell, she started out incredibly ordinary. I am quite fond of this story, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed the research and writing!
What I’m Listening To This Week
An old Broadway standard: “Who Can I Turn To?” from The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. This isn’t the precise version I’m familiar with – I know Louise Pitre’s rendition best, which is considerably slower and sultrier (I think she described it as the song that closes out the club, one last vodka in hand).
In any case, it’s a poignant little mix of heartbreak and grit. Enjoy!
Sometimes people ask me how much of life shows up in my writing. I never find this question easy to answer. After all, I write fantasy. It’s all made up, right? How much life and research goes into that?
Imagine you’re making a cake. You start with some recognizable ingredients—eggs, butter, milk, flour, sugar—and then you change some of them. You separate the eggs, or cream the butter, or chuck some chocolate chips in on a whim. Then you mix them all together, and suddenly, it’s hard to tell where one ingredient ends and the next begins. And then, you throw it all under high heat, and when it comes out, it’s delicious and totally does not resemble the elements going in….although you’ll certainly notice if a cake is lacking sugar. Likewise, you’ll notice the chocolate chips, or extra spices, or what have you.
Writing is kind of like that.
Take a lot of different things. Change some. Mix them together. Let them react and transform. See something very different come out—with maybe a specific flavour distinguished here or there.
For me, it’s always interesting to see what gets chucked in. Writers are like kleptomaniacs at a grocery store. Random ingredients somehow end up in our mental baskets, and they sometimes get used in unexpected ways.
Looking for firewood in Australia one afternoon, our guide showed us how to knock over small, dead trees. In the current draft of Strix, three of my characters work together to knock down small, dead trees. At the time, I didn’t think about the experience as fodder for fiction. And then it was, and it was exactly what I needed. Kind of cool.
Likewise, I have a short story in the February issue of Black Treacle Magazine, wherein I shamelessly riffed on Black Creek (with the important caveat: I shamelessly riff on places, not people).
Likewise, the numerous times I’ve smiled at the delightful children’s doodles scrawled across my choir music wound up in Hapax—Praeton likes the random sketches and notes too.
Of course, sometimes you don’t know things, which requires research. I’ve never been flogged. Nor am I a celibate priest in his fifties. Nor have I ever gone for days without water. My list of Google searches would likely leave a few people scratching their heads.
And then, the magic of fictionalization happens. I guess that’s like tossing everything in the oven.
Assorted bits and bobs go in, and the results aren’t always predictable. Random bits of life that you don’t necessarily think about until the moment comes, and it just fits. Really, it’s just a reflection of the old saying, “Write what you know.” Write what you know, but watch it become transformed as you change it to suit the needs of the story.