July 1st, 2005


More on cool titles

Well, the third cool title in about a week popped out of my fingertips this morning in an entirely different context.

In that vein, things I have not (yet) written that I wish I had.

"A Suntan Before Armageddon"
"Constellations In the Grass"
"To Me, I Feel Normal"

And of course, an old favorite never worked on:

"The Boy's Own Guide to Dating Outside Your Gene Pool"

Any of you have any favorite unwritten titles lying around?

Stupid people

Man, I hate stupid people. Went to the Child's extreme theater recital (she's taking some summer sessions). Show started late, ran late, I had to get back to the office to work on a hot project. Ran into the Oasis Cafe across the street to get a pizza slice and Coke to go. A woman with two teen-aged kids was in there, picking pizza slices. Cheeses Price, I could have made an entire pizza in the time it took her to buy three slices. She got all hung up on whether the vegetarian pizza on the counter was fresh. She kept asking the counter guy if there was another one coming out. He said no. She asked several more times, in case the answer would change. It didn't. He assured her that pizza had just come out. She made him get the cook. The cook said that the pizza had just come out and there was not another in the oven right now. She continued to insist that she had seen that exact same pizza in the store earlier. The counter guy tried to explain that they, in fact, kept making the same kinds of pizza for the slice traffic, and she might well have seen an extremely similar pizza earlier, but it was not the same pizza. She insisted it was, and began the whole thing all over again. (I will point out that from the state of the cheese, it was obviously a new pizza...didn't have that dull look pizza gets from sitting out for twenty or thirty minutes.)

Meanwhile the girls are dying of embarassment, trying to tell their mom this wasn't the same pizza as earlier. I am dying of time wasting (this took four or five minutes). The poor counter guy is trying very hard to keep his happy face on and dying of an obvious urge to cuss loudly and dope slap his customer.

This stupid woman would not let go. I was on the verge of offering to buy her lunch if she'd just shut the hell up when she finally, with exaggerated exasperation that clearly indicated she felt the counter guy was both a liar and an idiot, selected the same slice she'd been arguing over the whole time.

What the heck is the matter with people? She had no conception of reality -- it was very stupid issue, not a legitimate customer service complaint -- and she wasted a lot of her own time, as well as three other adults and her two kids. I sort of expect this kind of mickey mouse baiting of counter help in famously grumpy-rude cities like New York or Chicago, but out here on the West Coast we're supposed to be a little more mellow.

:: growl ::

On the trunking of stories

saycestsay asked me in an email what my practice was for trunking stories. I thought about that for a little while, then told her that question didn't have a simple answer. It occured to me that this would be a good place to post my thoughts and possibly launch a discussion.

In one sense, I don't believe in trunking stories. In principle, every story has a home somewhere. That's a philosophical statement, not a serious practical opinion, but I thought I'd start with that. Feel free to disagree. At the same time, some stories are trunkable for one of several reasons.

First, a story might get trunked if it is too narrowly-oriented. If I wrote a story for Strange New Worlds (ignoring the qualification issues), and it didn't place in the contest, that's it. Trunk. There are no other legal, paying markets for Star Trek fiction. That's a bit of an extreme case, but it is possible to exhaust all reasonable markets for a certain kind of story. There aren't all that many places that publish short high fantasy, what Gardner Dozois has in the past referred to as "elfie-welfie stuff," for example. This isn't necessarily a story quality issue so much as a theme/(sub)genre issue.

Second, a story might get trunked for topical reasons. Anyone holding a tsunami story in inventory after the Indian Ocean tsunami at the end of last year almost certainly considered trunking the story. Likewise stories about the impending millenium which didn't sell by 1999 or so.

Note that in both of the above cases, the passage of time, change of editors or opening of new markets can cause a story to be marketable again.

Third, a story might get trunked for reasons of quality. I do this sometimes. I'll look at an old story, think, well, this isn't up to the standards I have for myself now, even though I was quite proud of it in 2001 (or whenever). This is dangerous in one sense, because I am a lousy judge of my own work. I have stories I deeply love which have never stirred the slightest feather of interest in an editor. (Any of you ever read my "'Love,' I Told the Tide"?) I have stories which have sold, gotten good reviews, even direct compliments via fanmail or Con chatter, that I wondered about. On the other hand, I can certainly look at the line level prose, what I was doing with all the crafty bits, and see how solid a piece is. From time to time, I'll take a piece that falls in this category and do a blank sheet rewrite, that is to say, write it again from memory without having the old mss in front of me. Afterward I'll compare the two versions to see if there was anything cool from the original that I neglected to steal.

Fourth, a story might get trunked because I simply run out of markets for it. Not in the narrow sense cited above, but at some point when a story's been out 30 or 40 times I've run out of places to send it. I know some folks disagree -- including literary markets, a story could literally go a hundred places over the course of years -- but I have a very informal rule that after 20 rejections I take a careful look at it. I've never yet trunked a story based solely on the 20 rejection (or 30 or 40) rule, but that step has led me to do a quality trunk.

Any trunk story has potential to be reworked or rewritten or redrafted of course. Even in the trunk, they're not dead. I've made several sales in the past year or so from stories I trunked in the mid-1990s, then eventually came back to.

But for me, there is no simple formula.

So, questions for you guys..

1) Do you trunk stories?
2) If so, what's your trunking algorithm, if any?
3) Do you have reasons other than the ones I've cited?

  • Current Mood

The Child on the Riddle of the Sphinx

So we're driving from Portland to Surfside, WA, where my parents have a beachhouse. Somewhere on highway 4 in the green depths of southwestern Washington state, we're playing the riddle game. I pop this chestnut on the Child:

"What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?"

She starts asking all sorts of intelligent questions, such as, "Does it have the same number of legs all the time, and not use them all?"

Eventually I give her the hint, "Not all the legs in this riddle have feet. It only has two feet."

The Child starts laughing and says, "A person, silly. Because a person could crawl on their hands and feet in the morning, and walk around at lunch, then lean over and touch the ground when they were tired."