Monday, June 27, 2005

Fear of the Big Story

I'm beginning to fear that the elephant story is trying to become an elephant novel. Signs:

1. The research is spiraling out in several directions at once.

2. I'm getting more and more interested in the backstory (there may be an alternate-history piece to it--blame the Sultan of Zanzibar).

3. I'm beginning to see this as a picaresque bildungsroman. Aagh!

4. Elephants are big. So are arcologies, and plagues.

Despite all this, I am determined to keep this from being more than a Jumbo short story. I have enough unwritten novels in the waiting room of my brain. Novelette, novella, OK (except, still yikes!). But novel, no. Please, no.

Interestingly (or not), this was also my thinking about "Five Hundred and Forty Doors" at one point, which ended up at 5,000 words and sold to Twenty Epics. So maybe I would be best served, at some point, by setting myself a strict word limit. Worth considering.

Yesterday Marianne and I went to check out Chicago's Chinatown, which is small but has good food. We were too full for bubble tea, sadly, but I took note of the many DVD shops to scour for subtitled kung fu if and when I ever have money. Elephants in all the gift shops, but they were the same in every shop, and some of them may have been carved from ivory, which gave me the willies and the rage in equal measure. Some cool architecture, though, and we determined that I am most definitely a Dog. (As in, Year of.) Marianne, however, is not so much an Ox.

Am ready to swear off Cabals for life. Might be interested in, say, Houses, Leagues, Orders, or Societies.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been seeing elephants everywhere.

I blame you.

(Year of the dog here, too, and I've always wished I could just substitute it for my regular sign. Plus, it means I should be a secret agent. Secret aaaaagent me!)

(I could be a secret agent. You don't know that I'm not.)


7:04 PM  
Blogger Justine Larbalestier said...

Have you read Margo Lanagan's elephant story in Black Juice? You should definitely check it out.

3:00 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Secret Agent Hannah:

I've been seeing elephants everywhere, too!

I blame all those elephant books. 'Specially the ones with the pictures.

The Dog stuff has me pretty well pegged, as does the Virgo. I'm probably just credulous, but sometimes it freaks me out a little bit.

Dr. L.:

"Sweet Pippit" made me cry. (Er, in an extremely masculine way.) One of my favorites out of a great collection.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how are you posting if you don't have a working computer?

-secret agent shana

2:21 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Secret Agent Shan:

I'm at work. Slacking, clearly.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

The big story has become a houseguest of mine over the last couple of years, Dave. At times I grow angry and want to kick him out, but it looks like he's here to stay.

The real fear about big stories isn't the length. It's that the length makes them hard to sell. Magazines don't want to buy long stories as easily as they'll throw down a check for a shorter one, in general. THere are exceptions to this, but not many. That's the real fear. But the long story in and of itself? It has it's own pleasures and beauty. I for one think the heavily competitive short story market has made many people, even editors see long as obviously overwritten, when it may be exactly what it's supposed to be all along.

But it still sucks to worry over the chance that it's length will hinder it from seeing light.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Dave said...


I know what you mean. There was a time, back when I didn't know how to write short stories, that they were all too long. I couldn't get one under five thousand words to save a life. Then for a while they were really short. Now I've got pieces hovering around the 10,000 word mark again, and they don't want to be any shorter.

And yes, the sales are the thing. Once it's made the rounds, there's nothing to do but sit and wait and hope that someone's going to do an elephant anthology. Or something.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Justine Larbalestier said...

The good news though is that if they're truly rooly big--novel big--then they can be easier to sell than a short story. Not to mention easier to write. Novels are a doddle compared to short stories. Stupid short stories.

An elephant anthology would be wonderful. You could reprint "Sweet Pippit" (but have it last so as not to blow everyone else out of the water). I'm sure Kelly's got an elephant story in her. Not sure about Ted Chiang though . . .

6:34 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

I have a 3000 word long elephant story looking for an anthology or magazine. Sounds like we need to get David Moles and Susan Groppi onto their next anthology!


4:09 AM  
Anonymous HeyTrey said...

Ooh, an elephant anthology? Intriguing.

If its really picaresque then such a novel might lend itself to marketing certain episodes as individual short stories, like Charlie Finlay did with The Prodigal Troll.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

I took a long walk last night and decided that if it turns out to be a novel, I'll be OK with it. I'm excited about the story, and now that I have an agent the idea of selling one doesn't seem quite as scary.

(Aside to Dr. Justine: short stories might be difficult, but you do them well. I still have "The Mark" seared on my brain.)

If I had money I'd do the elephant anthology myself, and give a big chunk of the profits to a reputable organization trying to help them. With a Zakbar story and "Sweet Pippit" to start with, I'd be well on my way already! Hm. I wonder what kind of initial outlays folks make for POD?


Once I figure out exactly what I'm doing I might try the CCF approach. Right now I'm in the stage where I'm dreaming of going to Kenya and writing it off as an expense. (Probably I'll have to settle for Brookfield Zoo for right now.)

9:16 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Oooh, if you go to Kenya, you absolutely must make a pilgrimage to Karen Blixen's former home. Well, if it's still up and running. I heard for a while it was turned into a museum. Then I vaguely recall it was under some threat of being torn down, but I can't remember if I'm imagining that or not.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Dave said...


Considering that the lowest airfare I'm seeing is over two grand, I doubt it'll be happening anytime soon. But the Blixen home would be at the top of the list. (I'm going to reread Out of Africa, for research for this story. "Research." Heh.)

There's another Blixen Museum near Copenhagen, which is also a destination on the dream travel list.

9:41 AM  

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