Tuesday, October 07, 2008

That first short story

Since I will be doing a lot of promotion for THE DARKER MASK this week (see post below), including at Bouchercon, I thought I would do some posts on my DARKER MASK story, “The Edge of Seventeen”. Maybe I’ll even post an excerpt.

I got the idea for “The Edge of Seventeen” while I was on tour for my first novel, THE HARROWING.

THE DARKER MASK, is something I said yes to when I was a brand new author - even before THE HARROWING came out. I was caught up in Chris Chambers’ and Gary Phillips and Reed Farrel Coleman’s and Walter Mosley's (Walter Mosley!) enthusiasm, and the sheer honor of being asked - without really considering that I’d never written a short story in my life and I didn’t have the slightest clue how to go about it. It’s a whole different animal than scripts or plays or novels – baffling.

I’d actually called Chris in a panic the week before my HARROWING tour started, saying I just didn't think I could do it with my tour lasting until late in November. I WANTED to do it – I just didn’t think I physically COULD.

Well, so, a few weeks before the story would have to be turned in, if I were really going to do it, I was in Wilmington, NC for the Cape Fear Crime Festival, but due to some inexplicable scheduling glitch, I had a signing in Salisbury (Eastern NC) on Thursday, had to drive four hours to Wilmington that night so I could be up at 5 am for a 6 am TV interview, then had my first panel at Cape Fear – “What’s it like to be a New Author?”

Then I had to drive two and a half hours back to Fayetteville for a signing there. (Madness – but I got it all done. I THINK I’ve weaned myself of saying yes to anything that crazy. I truly hope so.)

I walked out of the Fayetteville signing (Books a Million) and it was pouring. Really, a gale. I had some insane thought of trying to get back to Wilmington anyway, because I had a 9:30 am reading – but as soon as I hit the freeway it was quite clear to me that I could actually die out there on the road (this state is so DARK…) You just don’t take your chances in a city everyone casually calls “Fatalburg.”

So I opted for the first hotel I saw and made it back to Wilmington in the morning.

That weird trip to Fayetteville was worth its weight in gold, though, because I met two really lovely bookstore clerks, Ashley and Bryan, and we had a rambling existential conversation about ghosts and psychic phenomena (Ashley is one hell of a psychic…) and the whole encounter reminded me of a seed of an idea that had I thought might just work as my story for THE DARKER MASK anthology.

That night I sent that idea I’d gotten from those clerks into whatever subconscious cooker exists – you know - down there - and hoped for the best.

Being a writer is ALL about hoping for the best.

And when I got in the car to drive the next morning a whole set of very dark songs started to play on the radio, starting with Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen”. And suddenly there was the whole story I had felt prickling in the bookstore with the clerks. I knew I just HAD it. So I drove and talked it into my mini tape recorder.

After the festival, the next day, Halloween, I flew to LA for more touring and wrote 13 pages, start to finish, and blocked out the whole thing. I eventually doubled the page count, but it was all there on the plane that day - a whole story – my first ever – on Halloween. And definitely as dark and spooky as the day.

You just never know what you can do until you do it.

So how about you all? Ever tried one of these short story things?

- Alex


Bobby Mangahas said...

The book sounds like something I'd read. I may just have to pop over to Red Emma's for the signing.

Anonymous said...

I used to love writing short stories, but now that I've started on novels I keep looking at my short and going, "there's a story in that little exchange that I should elaborate on." And I keep doing that until the short story isn't short anymore. Oh well, at least I've finally broken the barrier (provided I don't screw anything up between now and when it gets published).

I think I'd be better off sticking with these novel thingys...

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

RJ, it would be fun to see you there!

Jake, you really would be better off sticking with the novel thing, just because that's the way you're going to make a living. I do think I'm going to try a short story in between every novel, though - that's starting to work well for me.