Earlier, I was asked by one of my writing buddies to explain my thoughts on short story writing compared to novel writing and how it got me to write a novel. Here’s part of my reply, the part where I explain just how I was able to come up with the story that eventually became Mind & Machine.
In 1997, I started college and, during my freshman year, I would type a little bit here and there. I was trying to write a little story about the main character of most of my work. I’d been reading The Gunslinger by Stephen King, which is essentially five serialized short stories. I liked the idea well enough, I started doing that same with what I was working on. Little by little, bit by bit, I made progress on the story. Or stories. By the time I was finished in 1998, it had grown to 12 stories which linked to make a larger story. I called this story Life is Pain because I thought it sounded like the title of a book. (It doesn’t.)
Over the next few years, I had no idea what to do with the story. I didn’t understand how the publishing world worked at all. I did set about learning, but I had a hard time getting started. When I figured out what I needed to do, I decided that good writers start by publishing short stories. Everything I saw told me this is what I had to do. I knew nothing about where to submit stories, so I wrote more stories and submitted them to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or Asimov’s Science Fiction and Fact. I got nowhere with it. I came up with some ideas, but that’s about all I could pull off.
I finally learned about Robert E. Howard and how he produced Conan stories. Howard was a prolific writer, though not completely there. He thought Conan was coming to kill him every night and only writing would save him. I fell in love with the idea of having my main character in some short stories that stood alone, if only to give me an idea of how to address the character. I came up with a short story called “The Golden Hollow,” where Commander, my character, was the hero, but he’d be presented as the antagonist of the story. It was just the thing I needed to sort out my setting. I realized I could frame the entire setting around the ideas I came up with for the story.
It made me think I could overhaul Life is Pain and make it better. Then I tried reading my earlier story and I realized it was little more than cultural references and name-dropping. There was little substance, even though I’d learned a lot about writing from classes and writing whatever I could from time to time. I figured out that the title Life is Pain sucked and I switched it to fit the framework I was going to use to fix the story: the battle between Commander and a crazed cyborg. I called it Mind & Machine. I knew I’d have to start over from nothing, so I buckled down and did it. Combined with the loss of my PC hard drive, I was left with nothing to fall back on, so I just had to write it all over from the beginning.
I’ve since written a draft of a sequel to Mind & Machine and I’m editing the story once more, making it stand out as best as it can. Right now, I’m about a third of the way through my edit, which I hope to have finished before Labor Day.