FII – Underground Lights

Failure Is Instructive is an occasional series where I take unpublished/unpublishable stories and reexamine them. They are often very old and not representative of my current work. Notes on the story are in bold italics.

Underground Lights came about during an idea session four or five years ago. I had a week off work and mapped out several stories on whiteboards and easel pads. Other story ideas during that time: a middle aged woman in an empty house with the ghost of an old professor, a child who dies trying to scale a batting cage, a sci-fi story about masked aliens. 

I sent it out to a few places, although it had been completed for almost a year. Rejections all around, but it wasn’t submitted widely. I then lost any ambition for it, having turned my attention to more promising work.

Underground Lights

Underground 1

The inhabitants of the area underground don’t expect to see the sun. They exist without expectations, without contentment or desire. They live most of their lives like moths drawn to a flame, chasing their little lights around. (It starts off kind of pretentious. The moth to the flame image, the repetition of the words underground and without. It’s too self-consciously arty. Also, the first sentence is unjustifiably stilted — it chucks the reader into the world.) 

Occasionally, one will receive the notion that something is missing (The word “one” shouldn’t be used as the subject of a sentence except in case of emergency. It’s particularly confusing in this case. Who is the one? Are they an inhabitant of the area? If you can be more specific you should.) . He will look around the darkness, possessed by a memory, not of light, but of an absence of darkness. The walker will then shake the idea from his skull and walk away.

Continue reading FII – Underground Lights

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on Lithification

Edit: It seems that Emprise Review is no more, so it’s unlikely that Lithification will see the light of day. Some parts of it have been cannibalised in this story. I’ll leave this up for, I don’t know, posterity’s sake?

I started writing Lithification 5 years ago, and it shifted a lot in that time. I had been reading Ovid’s Metamorphosis and got the idea to do a collection of creation stories, although only two stories have survived that period. The other one, called “The Five Before,” is done and submitted to a few places. They’ve both changed from the original intention — they are now stories about failed attempts at creation.

The first draft had a similar setting (hybrid island/mountain) and starting point (flood), but the two characters were siblings. The story was called Abominations. Both characters survived the flood, and the sister implored the brother to make new people — there was an unspoken assumption that everyone else on earth had died. They began making these failed creatures, similar to the ones in the finished story. The brother feels like he’s failed and climbs the mountain. He finds the door, goes inside. There is an empty stone room. He spends some time in the room doing nothing, and climbs back down to the sister. There they make even more intricate creatures that are able to talk, grow, and reproduce. That’s where the story ended.

I don’t want to be the kind of writer who bitches about how hard writing is. It can be hard, but the work involved is better than any other work that I’ve experienced. But this one was hard, worth bitching about a little. The work took the form of year long cycles:

1. Pick up the story, do a heavy revision (2 months)

2. Smaller revisions, approach happiness with the piece (2 months)

3. Nagging disappointment, panicked reworking, feeling like there’s an inherent flaw I’m blind to (2 months)

4. Abandonment (4 months)

5. The story pokes at my brain, the nagging feeling that I’m very close, can finish it this time (2 months), and then it all begins again.

So. I should say that while I’m not happy with the story, I’m rarely happy with anything I write. I’ve come to acknowledge that this dissatisfaction is irrational and unavoidable, and if I give into it nothing will ever get done.

That’s all.