And this has always kind of been how I work. The story generates itself by a combined process of daydreaming and concentrated effort--natural growth, in other words, and what I call hothousing. (Hothousing is the process of packing my brain with relevant information, of brainstorming, of bending the ears of friends or nattering on endlessly on lj. Also, going for a long walk or doing yoga and turning off the OverBrain so that Fred can get to work. Because I, like many writers, have night shift brain squirrels, and the chatter in here almost never lets up.)
So, it grows down there in the dark, swelling and splitting like a, I dunno, like a rhizome or something, and the eventually one little shoot pokes up into the light (polypiform! crocuses!) and then suddenly, bang, I'm aware there's a plant there. Before then, it was a pile of compost I was feeding ideas into, and wondering if it would grow.
Now, that little thin shocking green shred of a shoot can still die. Or it can get stuck there for months, barely holding on, waiting for the right conditions to take off and flower. Boom. Overnight. Like a Christmas amaryllis, six inches in an hour.
...that came out wrong. Anyway, you take my meaning.
And here's where the metaphor suddenly jumps the shark, the tracks, and several other, er, metaphors. Because some stories never flower, but that doesn't mean they're not growing.
It means they're growing not up but down.
And those ones need excavating. they'e not blooms but fossils. They have to be dug up, chipped from the matrix, as much by touch and taste and the texture of the rock as by sight. They must be unearthed and strung together, and the water's been running over them so they're jumbled, and there will inevitably be missing bits that need to be reconstructed in plaster, and I may have to try four or five different articulation schemes until I come up with something that resembles the authentic animal.
It's taxonomy in the dark.
More and more, lately, I'm getting this sort of thing as short stories. These stories where I find myself assembling them image by image and bit by bit and line by line as they bubble out of the tarpit of my subconscious. To bend that metaphor even further, while these stories may have a surface narrative (The one in "Love Among the Talus" is about a princess with a bow, a distant Khagan, and a bandit who would be king--and what becomes of them) the actual narrative, the one Fred is really interested in, is down there somewhere in the symbolism. And that's telling five or ten different stories at one, depending on how you squint at them, and some of those readings contradict each other, so I can't say "this is what the story means," because of course, while it does, it also means the direct opposite.
All of the readings, in other words, pile up in layers, like multicolored mica chips, and depending on how the light hits them you get a totally different pattern.
It's tricky to write these things, because it's like staring at clouds or Rorschach blots. The pattern that is produced is very reliant upon the reader.
So on that level, "Love Among the Talus" is about a cold young woman growing ruthless, or about the economic and social status of women, or it's about feminist readings of history (or just about all the things history doesn't recall), or its about finding a third choice that isn't the choice laid out for you (breaking the rules, a la fairy tales), and it's about whether one tyrant is any better than another, and leahbobet found a kind of Marxist economic reading that I hadn't seen at all, but which pleases me greatly, and she's right, it's supported in the story.
And it's weird to look at this story and see all these thematic things, only maybe one or two of which were conscious in my head as objectives when I wrote it, and realize that the story is bigger on the inside than the out.
What's especially cool about it is that I've realized that I can tell during the process of writing which type of story it will be, a crocus or a fossil. Because the crocuses are ready. They surge out of my head, kicking, clawing, ready to be told. They tend to be written in a more or less linear fashion, front to back, and most of the narrative is on the surface. The narrative is manifest in the story, in other words.
The fossils, on the other hand, come out in fragments, in any order whatsoever, a sentence in one scene, a sentence in another, an image here, an image there. I have to run my fingers through the earth until I find the bits, and then fiddle with the bits until I get them into the structure. And these ones are much more about what's happening in the interstices than, you know, the actual pieces themselves.
The crocus stories are about the bridge, and the rocks that make it. The fossil stories are about the way the light gets caught in the layers of mica in this particular hunk of granite, and how the stone changes with the sun's angle, or how you turn your head. (1)
And now, I have to shower and take the garbage out and clean the kitchen and catch my bus. 'Scuse.
(1) and if I could do that to an entire novel, instead of just a 5,000-word short story, and if I were much much better at it than I am, I could write Dhalgren.