If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me talking about my new short story, currently titled D, but sometimes also known by the hashtag #MANdroid. “Mandroid” became a sort of joke after I shared the opening lines of the story with @eddyrivas.
The piece starts like this:
I have met the perfect man.
His name is D-084.
D was one of those stories I had to tell right away, the sort that keeps you up until 2 a.m. tapping away at the keyboard, feverishly getting the words down while they’re still fresh and ripe. It started as a dream–the morning kind of dream that’s so realistic you just can’t seem to shake it off. In the dream, I’d fallen in love with an android; but it was unclear whether he could return my feelings, whether we were really meant to be together. When I woke up I decided to explore this idea: is a synthetic human capable of feeling love, or is it purely an emulation?
As is typical of productions of the subconscious, this notion is a mishmash of outside influences. It was likely inspired by Prometheus and, by association, its precursor (or is it technically the sequel?) Aliens. Prometheus‘s David is handsome but emotionless; Aliens‘s Bishop is nothing to look at, but gets to heroically rescue everyone with his marvelous android powers. Somehow my subconscious merged these characters and spit out “D”–a nickname the people aboard the transport vessel Pioneer give to the android D-084 to humanize him. He’s perfect, but not handsome; impassive, but not emotionless. Also has a comm cord that comes out of his hand.
On a whim, I decided to set the story aboard a commercial space vessel. Turns out there’s plenty of conflict on a ship “out to sea” for years at a time. It requires a certain kind of person to crew that ship, to sell those years for a paycheck. It allowed D to become a thriller, a turn I hadn’t expected.
It’s been a while since I wrote an action/thriller. All in all, the high-tension sequences in D are some of my best to date. I’d guess that the complex, steampunk-style battle scenes I wrote for The Aeronauts were a sort of boot camp, and now a little scuffle in the cargo hold is easy peasy. A trickier skill to master is the development of the thrill, or the reader’s heightened anticipation of unfolding events. I think thrill is a sort of combination between psychology and mystery. A good thrill element makes the reader believe one thing, and then later changes the very foundation on which that belief was based. The best thrillers put high stakes on the protagonists solving the mystery.
I’m not much of a mystery connoisseur (unlike my S.O., who has read almost every Agatha Christie novel three times, or the Patricia Cornwell-loving members of my family–we’re related?). Considering my background in what is essentially mystery ignorance, it’s not terribly surprising that writing the intrigue and planning the reveal in D was tricky business. But, as I always manage to do if I get a jog and some bacon in me before noon, somehow I figured it out. (Big ups to my early beta readers, who provided some tips that will crank up the tension.)
So: mystery, check. Thriller, check. Romance? My heroine, Lila, was a hoot to write. I’m growing pretty bored with female leads lately–the strong, fiercely intelligent Katnisses of the world–and I wanted to maintain an element of comedy, so I tried out a nutty professor type. Book smart, not street smart.
I’m slowly coming around to the fundamental notion that character is the supreme master of storytelling. It shapes dialogue, narration, and plot progression (e.g. character decisions). Everything else, it seems, stems from the tree of character development. When I approached D from this perspective, the plot flowed much more naturally, and the conflicts were sharper and funnier. Get two very different character types in a room and watch the fireworks.
Now that all those things are checked off (mystery, thriller, romance), it’s on to step 2: Finish the f***ing rewrite. And then? Step 3: Start submitting.
To be honest, this is my first time really seriously pursuing the publication of a short story; I spend so much time on novels I’ve never bothered to break into short stories besides the random, casual submission to Writer’s Digest or the pieces that I post here on my website. Kind of silly, considering how large the “Writing/Free Reads” section of my website has grown; I produce a lot of short stories–I just prefer to share them with people for free and use them to attract new readers. The half-life of a short story for me is very short compared to a novel; I forget about them almost immediately after writing them. And the effort required to sell a short story feels like too much work for so little payoff.
With D, though, I think the piece has enough chops to make submission worthwhile. I feel like I’ve finally stepped into the ring with a decent short story. So, the question is:
Do you have any suggestions for speculative fiction or sci-fi publications that will buy short stories? I’m already looking into Strange Horizons, but there’s this little thing that they prefer stories of 5,000 words or less and D will probably come in around 9,000, all rewrites considered. It’s an awkward length, but I’m just not sure what to cut.
And even worse, I’m not even sure D is the right title. I’d love to hear your suggestions!