"Untethered World" Thoughts and Craft

I thought it might be fun to do a combo craft / what this story means to me blog post. The occasion is that this story got long listed (aka rejected with maximum accolades lol), so maybe we'll throw in some thoughts about this short story submission process.

(Also there are gonna be spoilers for the thing. Go ahead and read it first. It's only 7 minutes, by my jank-ass reading time estimator.)

I'm not really much of a short-storiest, though you wouldn't be able to tell by the number of short stories I've written. Writing short stories seems to be something that I feel compelled to do, rather than something I want to do (vs writing books, which is an activity I actively seek out). Untethered World is basically a dream I woke up from and then wrote down, pretty beat by beat, even the dialogue. The only thing I really "made up" (well, consciously) was the ending with Marie. That, too, is pretty heavily borrowed from my actual life--the orange tree, for example, comes from a house we were sitting for my partner's relative. This was all before I realized I was trans too, so the gender-vibes there are indeed real.

The dream origin also explains a lot of the kind of random symbology--the golden thread, the star-like eyes, the giant, literally just things I dreamed. I think the egg-like stone is probably the one that beta readers were like "this means something, right?" to which I was like "I dunno, I just wrote it down." but eggs are a classic trans metaphor so I guess it all loops back around eventually lol.

Another beta reader also asked the incredibly legitimate question of "what is the point of this story", which, seeing as I just wrote it down from a dream, I was kinda stumped on the answer for. But after some thought, the point of the story is to convey the feeling of waking up from a terrible nightmare into, well, something inexplicably wrong. You're safe, you're loved, but something deep inside of you knows that something isn't right. The nightmare continues into your waking life in a way that by its very nature, you will never notice. That somehow, even though it was dangerous and terrifying, things were more right in the dream.

That's kind of like how it is to be trans. I guess this story is like the inverse of The Matrix.

But it's also an interesting answer to the question of "what is the point of a short story?" Like, I've heard a lot that short stories need to have a twist or something, but clearly that's an over-specific generalization. Should this story ever be blessed by the establishment (unclear whether longlisting counts), that would make me feel confident enough to say that the point of a short story can be to convey a single, important feeling, and everything til then is just set up for the moment of that feeling.

We can talk craft too. I think the "cleverest" thing I did in this short story is with the tenses. The forest bit is in past tense, but the opening sentence and the ending scene are in present. And then also, the last sentence before the ending. Unless you're paying a lot of attention to tense and the correctness thereof, my guess is that it hits the subconscious first for a "wait something's different here" before you can realize what it is. It also coincides with our unnamed main character doing an agency for the first time in the story, which feels good too.

The other interesting craft thing is a blatant disregard for run-on sentences that hits as things start to go really wild. The world is running together? That's an invitation for the sentences to run together too! I think if I do another pass at it, I might try for less a straightforward run on and more for a garden-path style sentence so not are you grammatically lost but the meaning of the words changes as you read it too.

A couple thoughts on the magazine submission process, and we'll wrap up the post. It's been good to try, but it's kind of a long, laborious process. And rejection is never particularly fun. Meanwhile, posting stuff to my website and then getting to hear directly back from people who read my story is pretty awesome. Obviously I can do both (minus mags that don't let you publish to personal websites but whatever), but I'm debating whether the quantity of work s worth the size of that burst of sweet sweet external validation. I do like the process because it really pushes me to polish and be happy with my writing, but (oho look at us looping back to the beginning, totally planned this) I'm not much of a short story-ist anyways, so maybe just setting them free on mastodon is fine too. That's what I did with my The Tiger and the Witch story, since I have no plans to do anything with that. But if I see a call for submissions or a venue that feels like it really works, I'll change my mind. Compare and contrast to the giant worm story, which I haven't even posted to this site to try and keep its magazine eligibility at a maximum. Unclear what I'll do from here on.

Anyways, thanks for reading.

gender on_writing blog