July 25th, 2010

Baby and me

30 days on writing: Entry #4

Five days in a row! Who'd-a thunk it?

Collapse ) 30 days on writing, arthur wharton, feminism, fiction, politics, sexuality, writing, valley of shabathawan

4. Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!

Ha! I've been looking forward to this question, and was all prepared to start talking about a short story called "One Long Night Along the 401", of which I was proud enough in 1983 that I submitted it to Harper's and then Redbook, if I remember a'right. It was a small, slice-of-life story in which very little happened: a teenage girl, then called "Julia" but later retconned to be the aforementioned Ashera, is hitchhiking from Toronto to Montreal. It's long past sundown and getting cold. A single, older man driving a run-down Lada stops for her, she gets in and they talk. He seems a little sketchy, she gets nervous, but nothing bad happens and they end the ride on friendly terms, promising to keep in touch (huh. Just checked. They exchange phone numbers). Years later, they spot each other walking along the street but neither says a word. The end.

But taking down the slightly battered duotang that holds (ahem) The Collected Works, 1981-1985, I found the above wasn't the first story contained within the covers.

The first is entitled "The Question" and (I now remember) was one of the few science fiction stories I've written. Not surprising, I guess, since I wrote it for my science fiction literature class (Hi there Arthur Wharton!).

That was a story in which quite a lot happened in its few pages. Again (or rather, first), the narrator and protagonist is a young woman, not much older than I when I wrote it.

As you might expect, the writing and especially the dialogue is pretty bad — I was just scanning through it now and found it almost painful in places; it's funny how something one wrote at the age of 15 or 16 can still have the power to embarass 30 years later.

But I'm far from entirely ashamed of it. For the first short story I ever wrote, it's pretty damned ambitious.

The situation is a crashed colony ship on an alien planet. En route, the narrator's father (as she learned later) had "gone berserk" and murdered many of the women on board. Meaning that the colony's survival was in serious doubt and that, the antagonist would argue, that babies and genetic diversity were its Priority #1.

Our intrepid narrator has no intention of spending her life "barefoot and pregnant" and proceeds from arguments in general meetings to taking matters (and a heavy, sharp stone) into her own hands by the story's climax. She kills Roger and later claims that he had attacked her.

Following the murder the final paragraph reads,

I return to the settlement and tell my story. They believe me and everyone is terribly sympathetic to me. They are very impressed with the speed with which I have recovered from my ordeal. They are proud of the way that I have been demonstrating my leadership qualities. They like the way that I have taken control.

Okay, I'm pretty sure I stole that final sentence from Joseph Heller's Something Happened (and possibly (the tone of?) the entire final paragraph; it's been many years since I lent out my copy of the novel and so don't remember for sure), but I'm still impressed by what I was trying to do, from the ambiguity in the ending to the wrestling with politics in general and with feminism in particular.

A couple or three years later, I expanded it into a novelette and later tried to turn it into a novel and I still sometimes ponder the possibility. I read so much SF it seems strange that I think I've only written three stories in the genre — and one of those only a 300 word bad-pun story which Asimov's quite properly rejected.

But that, as they say, is another story.

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