How to Fill a Wastebasket

We’re watering our trees again. While the mild weather facilitated this morning’s pre-dawn bathrobe-and-slippers dog walk, at this point I’d prefer a foot of snow. I can keep wishing. Colorado’s second-worst drought since 1895 is unlikely to break anytime soon.

Like the weather, my writing has dried up. I’ve done nothing but rough drafts for seven months. Filling the Wastebasket, a new regular feature in my updates, details my efforts.

January saw me complete a short story and bring it to critique, so I can post this quarterly update with my head held high. That success has me hungry to do more writing. My muse is back! But there’s nothing I can do for the weather.

Talking About Writing

Writing advice surrounds me. Everyone, it seems, is an expert. One day, all that information on self-publishing, pitching a story, and writing query letters will come in handy, but for now I feel like I’m drowning in unhelpful advice. Sink with me to the bottom of the writing-advice ocean, where I talk with Mark Stevens, author and host of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) Podcast. Why would Mark bother speaking with me? Because I’m an expert at being a new writer.

Filling the Wastebasket

The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend.—Isaac Bashevis Singer

Welcome to Filling the Wastebasket, a new feature of my quarterly update.

I’m understandably pleased that I published two short stories last year, but focusing on my scant successes paints a distorted picture of my experience as a new writer. Filling the Wastebasket will describe my writing failures. I hope every inch filled hones my skills in some small way.

Strong Interactions

This is my current front-burner short story project. Desperate to part company after twenty months of pandemic lockdown, a couple discovers they are bound together by the strong nuclear force.

I’ve brought a draft to critique and I’m actively revising this. I hope to include it in my critique group’s upcoming anthology.

How much will this contribute to the wastebasket? For our last anthology, my story Jimmy’s Hat went through about a dozen revisions before publishing. There you go—nothing comes easy.

F is for Float

2020’s maelstrom of hate, fear, and misinformation inspired me to write this short story, in which a toddler gains the ability to make people float. It contains elements of It’s a Good Life by Jerome Bixby, which was adapted for The Twilight Zone.

At this point, the rough draft needs some work, and I’m reconsidering the wisdom of employing a five-month-old protagonist. When I pick it up again, the rough draft will surely add an inch to the wastebasket.

Untitled DNA Editing

How do you know you’re in a writing slump? Creating and discarding six consecutive rough drafts might be a hint. I’ve tried and failed to create a world in which people with modified DNA become outcasts, filling the wastebasket several inches in the process. Each revision represents one less viable storyline. Eventually I’ll be left with the only proper way to tell the tale. Hopefully I’ll think up a good title, too.

Graven Image

In this short story, a woman claims her digital personal assistant told her to kill her husband. The detective interviews the DPA, confronting his own inner demons in the process.

I still think this premise has promise, but need to fill the wastebasket a few more inches while I develop the chops to write it.

The Blackest Ink

Artisans in future Istanbul discover that calligraphy imbues inanimate objects with life. After the protagonist’s romantic advances are spurned, he uses his calligraphic skills to unleash a monster.

I brought a draft of this short story to critique last June. After I make revisions, I intend to send it around for publication. I like this one and hope it doesn’t end up in the wastebasket.

Carved in Stone

Leave me a comment if Edith Hamilton wrote your high school mythology textbook.

Carved in Stone is my origin tale of a Greek hero, Petródis, set in ancient Anatolia and written in the style of Greek mythology. The characters include Zeus, Arachne, a gorgon, and a pair of twin cyclopes. The story has promise, thanks to the rich settings and compelling plot.

I wrote the draft 18 months ago and only recently begun to cut, edit, and rewrite. The original draft is certainly wastebasket fodder. In its current form, I see some unfinished gemstones, but the story needs so much more.

Untitled Pleistocene Flash Fiction

Flash fiction strives to show a nugget of a story in a small space, usually less than 1000 words. My 100-word piece describes a stone age story of vengeance. I may never finish this project, but every attempt is a lesson in voice and brevity (and one more inch in the wastebasket).

What I’m Reading

Here’s what I’ve read since my last update.

  • Black Glass by Karen Joy Fowler. An outstanding collection of speculative fiction and magical realism short stories. I have read two of her novels, Sarah Canary and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. She remains one of my favorite authors.
  • The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult. Protagonist Dawn McDowall’s life follows two paths, much like the Egyptian burial mythology she studied in grad school. It’s a masterfully told story with realistic characters and memorable settings.
  • Camino Winds by John Grisham. With Mercer Mann in a minor role, this sequel to Camino Island tells the story of bookstore owner Bruce Cable’s investigation into a writer’s murder. Grisham’s crime drama prose reads like a police report, yet he always manages to provide a suspenseful and satisfying climax.
  • The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer. Don’t make the same mistake I did and read this dog because you assume it might have something to do with Houdini.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. The proper, manicured, orderly lives of the Richardson family are upended by the arrival of Mia and Pearl. The result is a coming-of-age story about human relations and childbirth.
  • The Man Who Invented the Computer by Jane Smiley. I reread this 2010 non-fiction book about the pioneers of the digital electronic computers that permeate modern life.
  • Planetfall by Emma Newman. In a small colony on a distant planet, protagonist Ren’s obsessive hoarding contrasts with her role as the recycling engineer. Perhaps her mountains of rubbish are hiding a deep secret.
  • Replica by Jenna Black. You’d never kill someone to keep a secret. But if your victim could be bioprinted from a backup before your secret was revealed, you might change your mind. First in a trilogy.
  • Writing Into the Dark: How to Write a Novel Without an Outline by Dean Wesley Smith. Sometimes I outline and plan a story so completely that the actual writing process becomes a tedious chore, bereft of all creativity and enjoyment. This book presents a different approach to writing, one designed to keep the author’s creative brain engaged.

Currently, the vortex of Charybdis draws me into the following books.

  • Accelerando by Charles Stross
  • Better than fiction 2: true travel adventures from 30 great fiction writers edited by Donald W. George
  • How Long ’til Black Future Month by N. K. Jemisin

My reading list is fed by some perpetual Lucille Ball chocolate machine.

  • The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
  • Ultralearning by Scott Young
  • Wit’s End by Karen Joy Fowler

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