Reworking “Sun Glass” Into “The Demons in the Dark”

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I’ve spent the past two days tweaking “Sun Glass” and turning it from a secondary world story into something closer to sci fi, to space opera. Oh and nixing 1250 words. I got it down from 9250 down to just under 8k. I also renamed the story as this isn’t the same tale anymore. I’m currently going with “The Demons in the Dark”.

The World of Three Moons has long been a haven for humanity, for the last survivors of a Chinese ship called the Hubei. Yet it is also a strange world, inhabited by more than just humans. Demons stalk the darkness, shadows with gemstones for eyes, who tear all those they come across into pieces and devour their unlived days. They are also becoming more powerful and no one knows why.

Hu Xia is living a double life, pretending to be her dead brother Jin. Now a master glassweaver, she is tasked with serving her village, creating a magical momument out of moon glass which will protect them through the long nights.

Then a mandarin steps into her life and changes it forever.

Lin Cui is convinced the demons’ rise in power is connected with his distant ancestress, the first glassweaver, Shao Jian. He is convinced Shao Jian lies buried in the a village deep in the forest, forgotten and abandoned, and that with her corpse lies the ability to  ward off the demons permenantly.

Together Xia and Cui will discover the truth about their history and the glass magic that stops the demons in their tracks—and Xia will find out precisely what happened when her brother was devoured.

There’s a particular place I want to send this, as my previous story died in its tracks. I’ve run it through speech in Scrivener, I’ve tried to catch any errors and I’m hoping, once I’ve done a final pass, it’ll be good to send out. I just hope it passes muster and is the right kind of story for the anthology I want to submit it to.

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The Liner Notes: “Sun Glass”

By Chi King (Huangshan, China (YELLOW MOUNTAIN/LANDSCAPE)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Chi King (Huangshan, China (YELLOW MOUNTAIN/LANDSCAPE)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m in the processes of working on a redraft (the fourth) of a rather epic story called “Sun Glass”, it’s a secondary world story focusing on a civilisation based on ancient China. Except that the people live on a planet with three moons and a population of shadowy creatures called demons—the native species—who appear at night and do not like the humans one iota.

When I started the story I knew several things for certain:

  • Humans came to this world from somewhere else, aka Earth, documented in a semi-mythicised text called The Annals of the Arrival. But enough time/generations have passed for this to become near mythological.
  • The ‘demons’ were the native inhabitants of the planet, who dwell in the dark and the shadows and are capable of taking partial form as smoke-creatures with coloured, jewel-like eyes.
  • Magic, encapsulated around arts and crafts, words and meaning, exists and the moons of this world can enhance magic.
  • There are specific clans and castes who teach children how to forge a magical weapon from a meteorite or how to capture a spell in glass.
  • Humans either have magical talent or they don’t.
  • The hardest of these professions are the glassweavers, a protective form of magic that shields people from being attacked by demons.
  • Hu Xia, my MC, is a glassweaver of some skill who became one thanks to personal tragedy. She’s also spent her life pretending to be her dead brother, Jin, in order to learn her art.
  • The demons are getting stronger and more bold; no one knows why or how to stop them.
  • Xia must stop them. Because reasons.

This story was unabashedly inspired by TV. I was watching Kevin McCloud’s series on making his man-shed which involved making his own glass, the process captivated me (as does any hobby involving hot things, danger etc). The process was literally magical and thus was Hu Xia born. The story opens with her crafting a magical totem made of glass to protect her village from the demons.

I knew I wanted to set this in a Chinese-based secondary world because, like Japan, ancient China lends itself perfectly to magic. Add in a sci fi angle and a secondary world with a crux focusing on magic and off I went, building a world which included lost villages, angry demons and (though it’s never stated) genetically-engineered sentient unicorns. Oh and, once, there were dragons too.

This is one of those stories where, as I write it, I’m mentally reminding myself I want to submit it to a certain place, in this instance I have the market’s submission guidelines open so I can review them as I go, things like word counts and genre. I’ve got a list, helpfully provided by my crit group, of places if my first choice isn’t successful which helps because I tend to be very narrow-minded and focused when it comes to submission. I want to sell it to X, it doesn’t mean they’ll take it.

This story has been a beast but it reminds me a novelette I think I beta-read for Mary Robinette Kowal a couple of years ago called “A Fire in the Heavens” which was essentially about a journey and this discovery of the unknown. The entire time I was writing “Sun Glass” I couldn’t stop thinking about this story, even though there’s no connection whatsoever with my pseudo-Chinese society on an alien planet. No MRK’s story feel’s epic, even if it’s just over 15k in length and the world was so vibrant, so strange.

I gave the third draft to my crit group a month ago and then, in the wake of their ever so helpful comments, literally pulled the story to pieces and added in what I call a Viola subplot (Yes, guess what I studied for my English GCSE). It actually fit well with the cultural feel of the story and turned Xia into a very active character (something I’ve been having problems writing) which has pleased my beta readers muchly. I can’t help squeeing every time one of my trusted crit group tell me they love something, even if it also means (because they’re good), I have a page by page list of things to fix or clarify.

I can’t help squeeing every time one of my trusted crit group tell me they love something, even if it also means (because they’re good), I have a page by page list of things to fix or clarify. Now I just have to go through, clean it up, check for typos, remove a few over-used words and wait for a rejection so I can submit it to Market No. 1. That’s tomorrow morning in Starbucks and my first coffee accounted for then.

That’s tomorrow morning in Starbucks and my first coffee accounted for then.

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Finding the Angle in Short Fiction

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I’ve been making a concerted effort to write more—and better—short fiction and send it out to markets. This is partly because I want to be a better writer and because I would love to see my name on the covers of magazines I adore reading. I can’t subscribe to every magazine but I do read LightspeedUncanny and BCS religiously (thank you Kickstarter credits, regularly updated websites of free fiction goodness and Weightless Books).

I’ve spent the last couple of days devouring an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of my friend Kim’s Mosaics: Volume 1 and it’s a beautiful tome, not just physically but compositionally. That’s what struck me, the positioning of the stories, poems and essays was particularly well done and I’ve not yet found one entry in the anthology I don’t like whereas I normally find anthologies are very much like albums; you love a couple of songs and the rest are kinda meh. That book has a soul which is a very hard thing to do and is seldom ever seen in magazines, no matter how well they’re curated.

I suppose a lot of that is down to the fact the anthology was curated with chosen pieces rather than a compendium of on-spec stories (which is how the anthologies I write for normally seem to be done). It makes for a nice change but it also got me thinking about my short stories, the ones I’m sending out to magazines, those are all on-spec (meaning I’m writing and sending them out without being asked for them). This makes it much harder as you’re basically writing stories in the hope that one of the slush editors/the EiC are going to like them enough to buy them.

But these on-spec stories, they’re also me; my ideas and composition. I have four stories out right now, with one more to follow after my crit group later today. Each story has focused on different ideas, styles and tenses. One is urban fantasy, another sci fi with notes of magical realism and fantasy, the third is historical, alternate fiction and the fourth an origin story. The latest story is epic fantasy with a secondary world based on ancient China which is just about ready to go out into the world for a round of rejectomancy. The last is a second person sci fi story about an author whose stint in a mental hospital activates psychic abilities which allow her see other worlds and dimensions, eventually evolving to a point where she is almost able to alter reality.

Each story is stand-alone and unique, part of the act of selling stuff is knowing which markets to try and that, in my opinion, is the problem or, at least, the challenge of submitting to market. You’re basically sending stuff out with no idea how it will be received, though if you’re lucky then you get rejections (called personals) with a note on what the editor liked or didn’t which can help guide future submissions, albeit to other markets.

Of course then you have that great question: to re-edit or not re-edit. A single editor doesn’t speak for the whole collective and one change might turn another editor off a story entirely. Being a slush editor for is one of those things which should help, except I did it for two issues and never had one of the stories I sent up go anywhere. Plus, with new magazines, it’s much harder to find a soul than with once that have been going for years. It’s almost like a brand and those, regardless of whether it’s a person or a magazine, take time to form. But, boy, is it fun to watch.

Every time I get a personal, I want to re-edit. This is my character flaw: I’m impatient and I latch onto what people say as if it’s gospel. It’s also why I’m in a crit group, surrounded by people whose opinions I trust, especially when it comes to my attempts at short fiction. Like journalism, it’s all about the angle except it’s this amorphous thing which changes depending on the editor.

I started a file last night, a folder on my browser called ‘Short Stories I Love’, mostly composed of entries from Lightspeed and Uncanny of short fiction which has really moved me. It delights me when I see the authors of my favourite stories with new ones in magazines I wait for with baited breath each month. I’d love to be able to to subscribe to every magazine but I can’t so I rely on the biweekly updates where fiction unlocks for free on publishers’ sites. Doing this, it’s helped me with my own writing but has also helped me, with my short attention span, to find a medium I really do love to read.

And if I read it, one day, I’ll sell just the right story.

Until then I’m going to play the probability game.

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