March 28th, 2008


[fiction] "Smoke"


by Jay Lake

Facing off in the raw, blustery January wind, I grabbed Crater's jacket, one hand on each side of the zipper. He wore the jacket open, like he always did, pushing his jiggling gut out toward the world through some cheap t-shirt. "Fat fucking slob!" I shouted, shaking him, though he was so heavy he barely moved.

As naturally as the running tide smooths a sand castle to a simple hummock, then flat nothingness, he faded into smoke. Crater's eyes widened in surprise even as they became translucent, then fled along with his face in wisps of blue on the wet wind. The jacket collapsed in my hand with the nose-watering odor of burning sage, and there was nothing more.

"Nice move," said the wind. "Good work," whispered the sudden rain. The jacket just stared at me, the empty arms shrugging away a man's passing, as if I were below reproach.

"I didn't mean it," I whispered, cradling the grubby nylon of his jacket to my cheek. "I didn't mean to call you that. Please, you're my friend."

Alone, I stood on the sidewalk and sneezed until I cried, but he never came back to me.

◊ ◊ ◊

© 2008, Joseph E. Lake Jr.

This story was used by Weird Tales to promote their 85th Anniversary party at Norwescon 31 in March of 2008, and as such had its first appearance in a Con flyer.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.



In the OMA airport, waiting for the flight out. Still sick, about two weeks on. Every time I think this thing is over, it comes back for more. Frick. Keep oversleeping and being fatigued, which is really interfering with work on Green.

Anyway, home this afternoon. Off to Vegas on Monday.

[process] On the killing of darlings, and shooting a good idea in the head

Nearing the end of the run on Green. I'll have it in to casacarona and arcaedia Monday (possibly Monday night), and off to a few other readers.

Having just hammered 30,000 words out of the manuscript, I can say yet again that killing your darlings is hard sport. I did a tight line edit (and will do one more tight read before it goes in). I cut a bunch of things which I won't miss...passive voice constructions, unnecessary scenes, some dream sequences that added little, some minor characters. I also cut a bunch of things that I really liked a lot. Some of them might have been important, but I have a word count goal driven by contract, which is turn is driven by my publisher's business needs.

I don't get deeply emotional about my prose, mostly — in all fairness I'll note that klingonguy might differ about that statement. Generally it's true. I'm also perfectly clear on the fact that some tight, hard cutting can only benefit any manuscript, be it a flash piece or a multivolume epic. Yet weirdly, in places I now feel like my 160,000 word manuscript is a little too direct and economical. Novels digresss, it's what they do, so they story can breathe like a fine wine, mellow and acquire nuance on the reader's palate. You want a fast shot glass full of prose, read short fiction.

Also, I am reluctantly concluding that my Cunning Plan to add 5-10K of additional material isn't needful. Back when I was in the middle of the first draft I was quite worried about the sustainability of single-threaded first person narrative at this length. I'd contemplated inserting extratextual material — creation myths, scholarly bits, excursions and digressions beyond the scope of Green's tight first person POV. Now I look at it and think, this works. Don't interrupt the reader.

Heck, at the moment Green doesn't even have chapters. I rather expect it will by the time it becomes an actual book, but I like it this way. I think it works.

Thinking it works is my writing mind's way of telling my forebrain I'm about ready to turn the damned book in. There will still be an editorial cycle (co-incident with a reader feedback cycle), followed by copy-editing, so I've still got room to rethink this stuff. But as I've said many times, I write from deep beneath the surface. When the dark ocean of my psyche burps out a message, I really do try to listen to it.

So, no intertextual inserts, and nearly to handing it in.