First Appeared: Reading 5×5
Published: March 5, 2018
Byline: Paul A. Hamilton
Edited by: B. Morris Allen
Permanent Link: Amazon
Cost: $5.00 (Kindle)
Content: Rated R, Strong Themes, Violent Acts, Triggers

Behind The Story

The Writer’s Edition of the book includes a few notes I was asked to provide about the process of writing this story, but since I had already written a very, very long story I decided to stick to the barebones when it came to my behind the scenes details. So I won’t reprint that here. Instead I want to describe the process of writing, for the first time, on an invitational basis and under a specific deadline.

My previous published stories were all unsolicited submissions. I wrote a story, fine tuned it over weeks or months or years, started sending it out to various publications, and eventually received an acceptance. The work, in other words, was done ahead of time.

Following the appearance of Oven Game in Metaphorosis magazine in 2017, Mr Allen contacted me saying he was putting together a new anthology based on an idea he had to see how different authors approached the same core concept for a story. He was looking for writers he’d worked with in the past and wanted to know if I’d be interested. Naturally, I said, “yes.”

The idea was for five authors to be given a brief (concocted by one of the participants), and each would write their own short story based on this brief, which would give the basic plot beats, necessary characters, and key character traits. It wasn’t exactly an outline, but it was theoretically everything each writer would need to produce a story. The briefs were divided into five speculative genres, so five genre briefs times five authors for a total of 25 stories.

Honestly, if I were going to do anything over again I think when the question came asking whether I had any particular preference on which genre, I would have said either soft science fiction, contemporary fantasy, or other. Hard science fiction and high fantasy are genres I enjoy and which I occasionally dabble in, but my efforts to be accommodating (I said, “I don’t have a preference”) meant I didn’t think seriously about what would happen if I ended up with a deadline to produce a story outlined by someone else in a genre I don’t have a lot of practice writing. When I was assigned to high fantasy (that’s typically non-Earth settings with traditional fantasy trappings like magic and mystical creatures e.g. Tolkien and Robert Jordan), I was more than a bit worried I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

When the brief, assembled by Sean Robinson, was posted to the project site, I was enthusiastic. It was a good concept, with plenty of thematic hooks and a clear arc. The one problem I knew I’d have—and other writers in our group expressed the same concern—was that it was ambitious. There was a ton of story to tell. When I read the other stories in the genre, it was clear the other authors had done a better job at choosing which brief elements to pare down to serve the story they needed to tell. Essentially, most of their approach was to use the brief, but mold it to their story. I took sort of the brute force track and tried to use every element in the brief at the expense of brevity. We were supposed to shoot for around 5,000 words. My initial draft was nearly three times that amount. Eventually I pared it down to a bit over 10K, which was still among the longest entries in the book (if not the longest), a fact I’m not crazy about but nearly all my beta readers pointed out there was very little left to cut that wouldn’t impact the story negatively by the time I got a submission-ready draft completed. Even with that being the case, I feel the ending is very rushed.

What didn’t help was that I was working under a deadline for the first time and doing so in the midst of a serious dry spell creativity-wise. Throughout big sections of 2016 and 2017, I struggled mightily to get into the groove. There were a lot of factors involved, but I think most of them were rooted in some ongoing issues with depression and a lot of self-doubt leading to a real lack of confidence. And then just as the deadline began approaching, some changes began to materialize at my day job which required a sudden increase in my workload there. In essence, it wasn’t the most ideal way to experience my first real deadline. I think, if I’d been working on this a couple of years earlier, I probably would have had more time and self-assurance to work out some of the kinks in both the story and my approach to the project. As it was, with everything going on and the fact that I was drafting and re-drafting the story over and over trying to get it to a workable length, I was late turning it in by several weeks.

I regret having missed my first deadline. Mr Allen was patient and accommodating, but it’s a matter of professionalism that I’ve always hoped I could bring to my writing efforts and I came up short in this case. Even though the circumstances weren’t ideal, I have a feeling that’s almost always going to be the case and the job is to just find a way to get it done anyway.