Archive for February 3rd, 2011

Abandoning Ship

This image is overdramatic for the content of this post.

I was originally going to call this post something along the lines of “how not to run an anthology,” but that feels like something I throw around a bit too much without having any actual standing.  In the end it’s more about how not to approach an anthology, and how a story can die.

For a few weeks I’ve mentioned the Primogeniture anthology.  It was an interesting concept for an anthology, looking at life for the average resident on board a generation ship that was just far enough out from earth that people are starting to realize that this shit is real.  It couldn’t have aliens.  Your character couldn’t be the captain.  Or even someone that talks to the captain.  It was entirely the day to day life in such a circumstance (yes, this ties nicely with my mundane in the alien post).  When it was posted originally, there were very few additional details.  The ship was named the Primogeniture.  It had a captain and first officer.  It launched in 2111 and the stories were supposed to take place in the first few years of a 400 year trip.  The ship had 5000 people with an expectation of 10,000 upon arrival.

So I came up with a story about stowaways on the ship, and the implications when they’re discovered by a member of the maintenance crew.  It was, I felt, right on the edge of what they might consider for the anthology, but with so few rules to play with I went for a wide berth.  It is perhaps my own mistake that I didn’t contact the editors of the anthology before forging ahead with the idea.

What happened instead was I went ahead with the story.  Then when I realized I needed to name drop the captain, I went back to the anthology call for submissions to discover the rules had changed.  There was now a wider band of story lengths allowed, the stories could now be at any point in the 400 year trip, and there were more data points about how the ship operated, including dimensions and dispute resolution rules.  None of these was in direct contradiction to my story, so I shrugged my shoulders and pressed on.  Should I have written?  Yes.

Well, this week I went to the site again, and found there were now more rules about ship life.  Including, apparently, rather strict rules about birth control that include mandatory vasectomies, birth licenses, and strict birth limits.  I now no longer feel like my story can work within the rules as presented.  And…well, the rules have also now gotten self contradictory, as there is now a two-children-per-couple rule that doesn’t mesh with the anticipation of doubling population in 400 years.

So I do have my frustrations with the process, especially with the way the rules kept changing as the anthology went along.  I was worried from the beginning that submitters were expected to read the minds of the editors, less they break a ship rule that they didn’t know about.  Or, at least, write in and verify stuff.  And that is a lesson learned for me in all of this.  But it also just rubs me the wrong way how the goalposts for the anthology kept changing, and in some fairly major ways as the word count range and allowed settings both changed quite drastically after the original story call.

So could the editors have approached this anthology better?  Yes.  Could I have approached writing my story better?  Yes.  These are the kinds of lessons that must be learned by an aspiring writer, I suppose.

In the end, I’m forced to walk away from the story as a submission for the anthology, and may in the future rework it to remove the Primogeniture name from the ship and submit it somewhere that I can define the rules of the ship.  Might even work it into a novel length plot or a screenplay.  But for now I need to let it be.  It is a completed rough draft, and thus it will probably stay for awhile as I shift my attention towards Bad-Ass Faeries and the Mammoth Book of Steampunk.

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