Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Maisy's Many Souls

My latest story, Maisy's Many Souls (number 75 of The One-Thousand) is available in GUD magazine's issue #6! You can score yourself a copy here:

So you know, It's not one of my happy/funny/pleasant stories which Mango fans might expect.

I often like to do the story behind the story, which I'll do here and now. You can come back and read this after you've read the story if you want, there are some minor spoilers here.

The story behind Maisy's Many Souls

I come up with story ideas in a lot of ways, one way being to write a bunch of silly sounding phrases down and see if they inspire something. This time, one of the things I wrote was, "Maisy had jars," and I looked at that and wondered what Maisy had in those jars. I decided she had souls in those jars and then I decided they were on circuit boards.

I wanted a little conflict so I created a human rights guy (that's the technical term) who wants to protect those souls and he's got a partner. Maybe they're a different sort of partners. Then I wanted to throw one more element in to make things interesting. His partner makes sculptures out of light. And that was it. I was off to the races with four or five sentences. If you've read the story, you'll know there's one more rather major idea, but that wouldn't come to me until later.

I wrote a huge chunk of this story on my AlphaSmart 3000 while waiting around at my job while off the clock because I had ordered my iPod and had it sent there to avoid shenanigans. So one of the things I did while waiting for FedEx was to hole myself up in an office and write. This worked marvelously because there were no distractions and no internet and I wrote some great stuff. I was in a flow which was mostly dialogue. Once I get into conflict, it's usually all dialogue in the first draft and then I fill in other stuff later. I realized something was happening in this story, I had risen above the plateau I'd been on for quite some time. Something new and interesting was coming out of me and the characters were coming alive.

I realized something else. I was onto some dark shit. It wasn't horror, but I was getting inside these people and not liking what was there. The whole story made me uncomfortable and when I reread it two weeks ago, not having read it for fifteen months, it still made me feel uncomfortable. I showed it around and got some really positive reactions but everyone agreed that one of the characters made a decision near the end that just wasn't believable.

My thanks to friend and writing compadre Grant Stone who gave me the solution. I immediately forgot it, tried a couple of things and finally hit on something that worked. It was only after I went back to Grant's e-mail that I found I had done exactly what he told me.

Thanks to Colleen Leong who liked the story so much she made me believe it was really good.

Thanks to the gang at GUD magazine, a very nice bunch of people with whom I hope I can work in the future.

Finally, thanks to Mike Ramshaw who passed away earlier this year. Mike was a co-worker (Like Colleen) and a dear friend and I loved him. I wish I could have given him a big hug before he died. Mike was a great writer who never got around to sending his work out to publishers. He was the best first reader any writer could ask for. He questioned everything from the use of a particular semi-colon to the major themes of a story and everything in between. And he wasn't afraid to tell you when something was awful. His extensive notes and our ensuing discussion helped flesh out lots of little details in Maisy. Maisy's kitchen came alive because of Mike and the Kiss-Me-Quick T shirt was all his.

Thanks, Mike.


Elke said...

You know I'm a complete sucker for a backstory, but I'll wait like you suggest due to possible spoilers. Will be back soon, and congrats!

Matthew Sanborn Smith said...

Thanks, Elke!

JLeuze said...

Great story Matt! The characters and the world feel timeless, it could be 1970 or 2070, and the technology fits unobtrusively into their world, just my kind of SF.

It'd make a good comic, I'd love to see illustrations of the jars, circuit boards, and light sculptures. GUD looks like a cool mag, I'll have to dig into the rest of this issue.

Matthew Sanborn Smith said...

Thanks a lot, Josh! And thanks for reading. I'm sure you'll enjoy the other stories too. It's a great mag.