[January 2011]Every now and then, Jeopardy has a category called “Potpourri” that is filled with questions (or answers) that don’t fit into any other category. I think this is going to be that kind of entry. I don’t know what to call it and I don’t really know what it’s going to be about.

I’m in one of those in-between periods. I finished a couple of short stories, one in early December that was accepted after revisions for a forthcoming anthology. The other I finished a week or so ago and have already collected a rejection slip for it and found a new market to inflict it upon. My to-do list contains the guidelines for three anthologies that I would like to write stories for, with deadlines in March, May and July. However, I only have glimmers of ideas for two of them and nothing at all yet for the third, which is also the most challenging. I’m nowhere near ready to start writing any of the stories.

The most recent story I wrote was also challenging. It was supposed to be humorous, but I don’t think I know how to write something deliberately funny. My recent story “The Bank Job,” published in Thin Ice, had funny moments and it was light in tone, but I wouldn’t say it was a knee-slapper. Jaunty, perhaps. So this recent story, the one that was supposed to be funny, ended up being more satirical than humorous. Almost a parody. I wasn’t surprised when it was returned. The idea took a long time to develop and I made one serious false start at it that amounted to three or four pages, all of which I discarded. Then I came up with a different approach to the story, with a different viewpoint, and it all came together like magic. In fact, I wrote most of the story in my head after I woke up one Saturday morning and what ended up on the page was very much as I had mentally inscribed it. The editor who rejected it had some complimentary things to say about it, so I have hopes that it will sell somewhere else, somewhere that won’t expect it to be funny.

What do you do when you want to write a story for a market but don’t yet have a story idea? I have a number of journals that I use to handwrite stories when I’m traveling. At the back of these, I often have pages of story idea notes, things that occurred to me out of the blue that I capture for possible future use. Every now and then one or two of these, coupled with the anthology theme, come together to spark a story. I take a modicum of satisfaction in crossing these ideas off the list when they’re used. “See?” I tell myself. “Good thing I wrote that down. I knew it would come in handy some day.” And yet the list of ideas grows faster than the list of stories I write. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Cheaper—they’re as prevalent as molecules of oxygen in the air. However, it takes some mysterious form of chemistry—or perhaps it’s alchemy—to fuse ideas with inspiration with characters to come up with a story. Right now I’m waiting for that spark to ignite. I know it will happen, but I can’t force it to happen, alas. Would that I could.

I’m also champing at the bit to tackle a novel again, but I’ve been stumped there, too, and I finally figured out why. I have a complete manuscript for a novel that needs renovation, but I subsequently wrote a new first chapter that introduces different elements of the story. That chapter was well received by my agent and also by my critique group. I believed that I would then revise the novel with that chapter defining the style and adding a new subplot, but I was never able to get back on track with it. I was wrestling the story in a direction it refused to go, and I should have figured out sooner that I was fighting inspiration. Then, while I was cogitating over one of the anthology guidelines, the next incident after the new first chapter came to me, and then another one after that and I realized I was writing a completely different book. So, I think I will go with it and, instead of revising the existing manuscript, I will write the new book that wants to be written. I can go back to the older manuscript later if the new book works out. I’ll have a better idea of the characters, because there is quite a bit in them that needed exploration that I didn’t do in the original manuscript. One of my goals for 2011 is to write that book.

However, you just never know what else might come along to alter those plans. I’m scheduled to talk to my agent on Wednesday about another project that might take on a life of its own and elbow everything else out of the way.

One thing’s certain: I’ll be writing lots of things this year. The jury’s still out on which category I’ll be selecting first, Alex.

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