“The Other Realms Were Built With Trash” in LCRW #26
This was my fifth week story at Clarion (which I attended in the summer of 2006). Kelly Link, who had been one of my favorite authors since I picked up her collection Stranger Things Happen my freshman year in college, was coming to be the instructor for our final two weeks. This story was the product of me walking around for three weeks being all like, “Oh my god, I have to write a fantasy story for Kelly Link”.
I mean, I had written fantasy stories before. But they were all like, fantasy stories with swords and wizards and stuff like that. I knew that I could be bringing that sort of stuff. I needed to write some hip contemporary fantasy filled with the strange and inexplicable. Except…I didn’t really know how to do that.
What ended up happening was I took an SF story I’d been planning to write about a garbage dump and India’s untouchable castes, mashed it up with some fairy mythology, added a nuclear war, and created this story over the course of one all-nighter. The next day I showed it around, realized it was somewhat incomprehensible, grabbed two hours of sleep and pulled another all-nighter to revise it.
Even in final draft, the story was still somewhat garbled, and many of the scenes were just somewhat perfunctory placeholders for scenes that needed to be there and things that needed to happen. But I accomplished my goal, in that Kelly Link liked it in fairly unequivocal terms. I promptly became totally burned out, and was unable to write anything for the final ten days of the workshop.
A year after Clarion I revised the story and sent it out to a bunch of places before finally selling it to ‘zine edited by Kelly Link and her husband Gavin Grant.
At one point, this story was alot of things to me. It was a huge departure for me in terms of content. It was the first time I’d tried to add an Indian cultural element to a story. It was my first contemporary fantasy. It was my first extensive revision. And it was the first time anyone ever intimated to me that I might have some kind of potential. At the time, and for a long time after, I despaired of writing anything better. This story profoundly altered the kinds of stories I write and the way in which I write. In particular, I don’t think I’ve written a careful, extrapolative SF story since this story showed me what I could be doing instead.
Rereading it now, I’m not sure how I feel about having it out there. I have written better in the four years since. In the last year I’ve probably written stories that were many times better. But, you know…I am happy that it’s been published.
I’ve found that, over the years, I’ve had stories that were an effort to write, ones where I reached for something new and which, once completed, inspired me with the highest of expectations for their future reception, and then I’ve had stories where I just sort of fooled around for a few afternoons and didn’t expect to sell at all. Inevitably, the stories I have sold have been the latter. I have my own theories as to why this is the case, but I am happy that for once one of the former is going to see the light of day.