December 10, 2008

Following the White Rabbit

I have a story out in the current issue of dANDelion magazine. I'm proud to be in this great magazine, especially this issue which also features the artwork and writing of astounding (and highly prolific) friend GMB Chomichuk.

The story that appears in the journal has an interesting origin in that it the bastard offspring of another story, which I will call Story X. I suppose it's not unusual for one story to emerge out of another abandoned one, although I haven't tended to do much reworking in this way. If something isn't working, I'm usually happy to just leave it aside. But Story X is an unusual case -- a White Rabbit of an idea that I kept chasing with no real idea of where it would lead.

Inspired one day by the strangeness of seeing an Esperanto recruiting table set up in the lobby of the university building I worked in, I started reading more about the language with the idea of writing a story. I've always had a soft spot for Esperanto as my high school Latin teacher had a peculiar contempt for it. Somewhere in all this reading, I stumbled on the fact that Esperanto was declared the official language of an interesting and short-lived micronation named Rose Island. Rose Island had declared its sovereignty through the production of a number of stamps, and I was determined to work some of this material into a story.

I had a couple of isolated sentences related to this idea tucked into a notebook for months, and while I was at the Banff Writing Studio, I decided to finally cash it in and dash out a draft. Story X was a narrative about a love triangle involving a girl named Maude, who meets an Esperanto enthusiast named Jericho (at the above-mentioned info table). Maude, however, is unenthusiastically engaged to a young man named Paul with casually racist parents. Full of trivia about Esperanto, including all my favourite bits about Rose Island, and the story was pretty scattered. I was lucky enough to have two of the mentor writers read it (it was fairly short, after all), and Mentor S had a lot of useful things to say at the sentence level, but she found some plausibility issues with the whole Jericho-Maude storyline. She also didn't find much of interest in the Rose Island details.

Mentor G had an amazingly thorough ("eviscerating" might be the right word here) take on Story X which made me slightly embarrassed to have shown it to him, but gratified at the same time to have a brief taste of his considerable and instructive editing skills. We had a conversation about the story in which he admitted (conceded?) that the Rose Island stuff might be interesting, but dryly suggested that if I wanted to use the material somehow, it might work better as a "short film." (Um, harsh! Ha.)

Rose Island stamps with Esperanto text.

Everything S and G told me was right, however, and the Rose Island material was definitely not properly integrated in Story X. Jericho was too weird, and I had awkwardly squeezed in a description of a couple of stamp albums. Later that summer, though, I hit on the idea of actually writing a story about a stamp store, which would give me the perfect excuse to talk about the micronation and the Rose Island stamps at greater length. (The Esperanto aspect I left by the wayside.) Although only tangentially about the stamp store, it turned into one of the long stories in my collection, and my favourite among all of them, if only because it was such fun to write. (Maybe because it was so long in the making, the story basically wrote itself, very quickly.)

The Maude-Paul storyline of Story X I expanded into its own story, which I think I submitted to a journal that gave it a gentle rejection. And the Jericho-Esperanto part of Story X evolved into "No Word for It," the story in dANDelion.

So, though Story X wasn't a great hit, it was a super little dry-run/seedling for three other stories, two of which are now published in some form. A White Rabbit chase that multiplied ideas like rabbits!


Bill Chapman said...

What a clear account of the process of producing a published story.

There is, by the way, a real sort of micro-nation called Esperanta Civito, with its own elected officials, using Esperanto as a common language.

saleema said...

Thanks, Bill, for letting me know about this -- I've just been reading up on it a little. I find the Esperanto movement so fascinating!