Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

[writing] "America, Such as She Is"

Just put the wrap on the novella "America, Such as She Is." Rewritten to editorial direction, with extensive feedback from various readers. (And a huge thank you to those folks.)

I've done a couple of things with this story which are risky.

First, I disregarded much of the editorial feedback. Not the intent of it, but the details. The intent was that I clarify a number of ambiguities in the story, and clarify the meaning of the ending as well as some key events within the narrative. The particular suggestions and requests would have required me to address the highly nontraditional structure of the story in a way which I wasn't prepared to do.

Win, lose or draw, the story is built around that structure, and I think the piece would much less remarkable than it has the potential to be if I smoothed out those kinks. Sort of like lacquering over the curious grain in a piece of found wood. The editors are free to disagree with my disagreement, but it is my sincere hope that I have solved enough of the issues that the structure will no longer seem so troublesome to them.

Second, part of what concerns them about the structure is my application of what I call a "parachute technique." Which is to say, many if not most writerly techniques will work even if not quite fully successful -- you can mess up voice a little, hit a few flat notes with characterization, what have you, and still have a readable, even good story. To a significant degree, it is these very imperfections which constitute a given author's style. Sort of like Leonard Cohen's singing voice.

A parachute technique is a technique which fails utterly if it is not completely successful. There is no middle ground, no B- grade. Either you land upright and healthy or you augur broken-necked into the cow pies.

The particular parachute technique in question is cultivating a deliberately crafted ambiguity in the plot and narrative structure to support multiple possible endings, all of which are valid, all of which are substantiated by textual evidence, and none of which run over the others. In other words, the inevitability of story which must be implicit in the beginning is branched at the end.

I've published over 200 short stories, and pulled this ending off twice. Once in "The Oxygen Man", and once in "Heading West." In both stories, the branching ambiguity is built into the conclusion of the narrative, and involves eliding the validation. I learned this trick from Bill Morrissey's song "Waiting for the Rain," which as I've said before is an entire seminar in plot and narrative technique in just less three and a half minutes. (I could certainly teach storycraft for an hour or two off that song.)

In "America, Such as She Is", I applied this technique to the entire damned story, not just the end. Risky as hell, especially across 20,000+ words, but I think I've got it working. Hopefully my changes have balanced the piece enough that the editors agree.

As always, the story belongs to the reader. What I think stops mattering when I send off the file to the market. But still...this is a tough business, but by damn is it fun.
Tags: process, stories, writing
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