<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Monday, August 23, 2004
Not so very long ago, I switched gears from the novel (I don't think I should have typed that--scary!) and went back to short stories. Not because I have/had any problems with the novel--in fact, quite the opposite. But I was aware that it was about to eat my brain, and know that I have at least one short story that needs to be written in the next month or two, and I need my brain for that.

But instead of going to the story that needs my attention, I went back to "The Ghosts of Water."

What a weird story this is. And keep in mind who's saying this.

Back at Toronto Trek, Julie Czerneda read a short story called "Peel," which will be coming out soon in an anthology called In the Shadow of Evil. Now I love Julie's work, and have ever since I bought her first novel on a whim during one of my huge book-buying sprees at the World's Biggest Bookstore. In fact, her latest book, Survival, is one of the few books that I've read that had the power to make me cry. So you know that it's saying something when I say that I really enjoyed this story.

Clever, stylish, in present tense, creepy--it's a lovely little thing. And it gave me the twist I needed to make "The Ghosts of Water" work.

I said before that this needed emotional depth. Okay, figured that out. It's still moody as it can be, yet now it's also science fiction instead of just a creepy psuedo-ghost story, and it's ... well ... funny. At least I think it's funny. Don't get me wrong, I'm not writing a comedy, but certain lines just amuse the hell out of me. I realize that I am one of a very select group of people who will find this even vaguely amusing, but still ... man, what fun! It may be a disasterous mess when I'm done, but it's making me laugh out loud and giggle and snicker to myself, and right now that's enough.

M'ris actually said (a very long while ago...), in response to my post on Jim Kelly's advice to write what scares you:

And I agree with Karina that you can find the greatest reward in the things that scare you, and further that you can't find the greatest truths if you're scared off them.

The thing is, it seems incomplete to me. It seems to only bring about a certain kind of writing for each writer. I think, "Write what you love" is at least as valid. Or, "Write what makes you passionate." Or, for God's sake, "Write what's fun." "Write what makes you bounce and chuckle with its deliciousness."

I find myself agreeing.

We were also talking recently about some authors who had written wonderful, powerful books in the past whose recent books are dull and lifeless and make me feel like I've wasted my money if I buy a trade paperback. Like, for example, Charles de Lint. Memory and Dream is quite simply one of the best books I've ever read, and yet some of his recent stuff...? No, thank you. I have actually stopped buying his books (despite their lovely John Jude Palencar covers), waiting to hear from someone I trust that this one will be worth it.

What seems to be lacking is not the technical quality of the writing, not the prose or the structure, but the story. It seems that some of these books are all words and no story--no passion, no heart, no fire. I've read books where the author's newness to the craft has shown through, books that never quite sang (or even held an unwavering note), and yet they were still books that sucked me in and made me care and want to keep reading. They were books that you could tell that the author cared very deeply about as s/he was writing.

So maybe it's not fear that authors should steer towards, nor fun, nor any one emotion in particular, but rather find the story that they need to tell that truly resonates. A story that creates some powerful emotional response, be it joy or digust or excitement or laughter or whatever else you please. So long as it has something.

Which is, I think, the true heart of so much writing advice (at least when looked at from a certain perspective). People are always saying, "Write what you know." I've come to understand that not as "write about a rather introspective, rather self-conscious, rather silly 20-something girl studying/working at a University in Toronto" but rather as find what you know and love in any story. Write from what you love. There are so many experiences that our characters can have that we never can--and this is especially true for those of us who write in the speculative genres--and yet I think that one's own life can't help but influence the emotional depth of one's own stories, at least if one's being honest with the characters and the story and the whole crazy, confusing writing process.

Enough rambling for one evening, I think.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 7:03 PM


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