New stories, creativity, and a few words on author platform.

I’ve somehow managed to crank out a couple of new short stories in the last few weeks. This feels like an interesting development because of how it came about: I had slogged through almost 4000 words of another one and grown bored with it (which rarely happens), finally come to the obvious conclusion that it wasn’t working, and set it aside to incubate a bit longer. Another story I’d been mulling over for ages, “Darjeeling,” kind of came together all at once, so I started on that one. I had generally known it would be a story about a ghost that likes tea, but the details had yet to resolve themselves. Once I began thinking about the story in a more conscious, deliberate way, I figured out where it was going. As I was closing in on the end, another idea came to me: I thought it would be interesting to write about a Welsh sin-eater, only updated. Or Marshallized, if you will. And voila, “Just Enough Murder in the Air” was born. I wrote that one with a specific publication in mind and have already submitted it. As for “Darjeeling,” there are a couple of places where I think it might be a good fit. I want to let it sit for a little while longer, at which point I’ll give it a polish and send it out.

One thing I try to be careful of these days is the habit of mind I’ve developed — and I suspect this is the case with many writers — of describing the creative process as if it were something external. It can feel that way, so it’s not the worst possible way of looking at it. Putting it in more mundane terms such as “a highly complex and ramified problem-solving process” strips it of its mystique. It sucks the fun and the mystery out of it. Besides, it’s not always a process we are conscious of as it is taking place. To me, the experience feels like moving an object forward or backward in my mind: when I bring it forward, I can consciously mull over the ideas, playing out sequences of events such as what might need to happen before or after, what might have caused this or that to happen, why someone might find him- or herself in that situation. If I haven’t already decided on the setting, I can try out different locales to see what seems to fit. (Case in point: I considered London, Vancouver, Portland, and Hong Kong for “Darjeeling” before realizing how well it would work in Edenton, North Carolina, of all places. It needed a slightly sophisticated but mostly rural town setting in order for all the moving parts to fit together as I envisioned. “Just Enough Murder in the Air” is set in Stockholm.) Alternatively, I can move the idea to the back of my mind, where there seems to be some kind of conveyor belt that will take it to whatever storage basement it belongs in. Now and then I can check in on it (my ability to retain and recall story ideas is pretty good, if I do say so myself), and if I find that it has incubated enough — or if I have become interested in it again for some reason — I can retrieve it and perhaps get to work.

One more thing before I wrap this up: I’ve been thinking (and reading) a lot more about the concept of author platform lately. Although there’s more to it than I want to say here (I’ve already written the first draft of a paper but I have proposed it for a conference next year and thus shouldn’t put everything out there yet), I’ll bring up one point: although I’m fully in favor of marketing, and as a publisher have seen the difference it makes when authors take an active (or, better yet, aggressive) approach, I also think that as a mandate, it falls short. Just this afternoon, I unfollowed some 400 Twitter accounts, many of which were authors whom I suspect of falling into the “your book is slightly similar to mine, so I’ll follow you on Twitter in the hopes that you will (a) follow me back and (b) be interested enough to buy my book” trap. No judgment. I’ve been guilty of it. However, it really doesn’t work. I’ve already got more to read than time to read it, which I believe is true of a lot of people out there. No matter how much you love books, there are too many potentially good ones out there and not enough hours in the human lifespan. This notion of author platform has been conflated with author marketing to an extent that I’m not sure most of the people out there in the authorsphere (to coin a term) can see the distinctions. When we’re publishing, we need to know what we’re being asked to do on our own and on the publisher’s behalf. There’s more to it than that, but… I’m still writing the paper.

 

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