Surfacing Surfaces Again

by wjw on April 17, 2014

SurfacingsmallerMy Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novella “Surfacing” is now available for your love on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Baen, and Smashwords.  It will appear on other sites in the next few days, and is a mere $2.99.  You have my permission to spend freely.

The book is set in the same future as my novel Knight Moves, though you don’t need to have read the novel in order to enjoy the story.  In fact “Surfacing” is basically an attempt to do Knight Moves all over again.

I thought I had failed with the novel.  I was wrong, but I didn’t know that at the time

Based on the completely false notion that I’d somehow let myself down with Knight MovesI decided on a do-over, at a more compact length.  I set the story in the Knight Moves universe some hundreds of years later, and wrote a story that shares the major concerns of the novel: love, communication, obsession, life, death, immortality, and a nigh-hopeless quest to unravel one of nature’s more imponderable mysteries.

I should point out that “Surfacing” doesn’t actually cover the exact same ground as the novel.  It has different characters and a different plot.  It just explores similar concerns.

I wrote the story in a furious white-hot blaze, then stalled on the ending.  I remember workshopping the incomplete story with Terry Boren and Laura Mixon, and they couldn’t figure out an ending, either.

So I put the story aside for about six months, and then went back to it.  And when I looked at it, I realized that I’d already written the ending I wanted.  I just hadn’t realized it.

Some people still find the ending incomplete.  I get that.  I faced a choice where the finale was concerned.  One possible ending would be: “Anthony and Philana resolve to solve their problems together, and after years of therapy and one fuck of a long lawsuit against Telemon, finally achieve something like happiness.”  Which would have turned my tidy novella into an epic the size of Anna Karenina, and would have been pretty damn dull, besides.  (I find that accounts of therapy are of interest only to the therapized: the rest of us have been there, already.)

What I decided to write instead of the long, dull ending was a triumphant scene filled with ringing trumpets and hope, that would imply that Anthony and Philana were on the right track, and would solve their problems in time.

A couple of things “informed,” as we say, the narrative.  The first was this long essay I wrote a good ten years earlier, when I was living in Boston.  I knew nobody there, and I had no job and no money, and so I ended up sitting around in a coffee shop writing long, desperate letters to everyone I knew.  And one day I— having run out of friends to pity me— found myself writing a long essay on whale speech, which I actually knew nothing about.  I hypothesized, however, that the black watery realm would tend to break down the barriers between the self and the environment, and result in a grammar in which subject and object were one.

(This already exists in the grammar of the Navajos.  “I’m going to the store,” can’t be said in Navajo, what you end up saying is “The store and I are in a condition of moving toward one another.”  Because you and the store inhabit the same universe, and it’s all part of the same circle, and everything’s connected.)

All of which was said in much greater detail in my essay.

Another element of the story is that Philana’s condition— which I won’t describe BECAUSE SPOILERS— is a metaphor for mental illness.  I’d been around some people who, even if they might not fit the diagnostic description of multiple personality disorder, nevertheless seemed to have more than one person clumping around in their heads.  In one case, I went to bed with a very nice, loving lady, and next day woke up with a complete stranger.  (And no, it wasn’t that she just needed her morning coffee.)

Anyway, this and other experiences had me thinking about MPD, and all that led later to Aristoi.  

So anyway: “Surfacing.”  Whale speech, aliens, desperate love, Nebula and Hugo nominations, and the sense that I was on the right track.

Read, ye people, and enjoy.

TJIC April 17, 2014 at 1:01 pm

FWIW, I read Knight Moves just a few months ago (when you mentioned that it was available as an e-book) and I thought it was very well done. You’ve reached that conclusions yourself, but just giving it another vote of confidence.

Clyde April 17, 2014 at 2:18 pm

It seems odd to me that you thought you had failed with Knight Moves. It is the one book of yours that I have read (and bought) more than once. It just resonates with me, I suppose.
I’ll go get Surfacing now.

wjw April 18, 2014 at 3:23 am

Writing Knight Moves was so filled with trauma that I let the grief spill over into my view of the book. All it took to banish my misconception was reading the book twenty-eight years later.

Oh well, better late than never.

Bruce Arthurs April 22, 2014 at 11:47 pm

I forget where I read it, but one of the most useful pieces of writing advice I’ve had has been to cut the first scene and last scene of a story.

Cutting the first scene is basically the old “Shoot the sheriff on the first page” advice, starting the story in the middle of action.

Cutting the last scene is a little trickier. When it works right, I call it “The Bullet”. A (metaphorical) bullet has been fired, you know what or who it was aimed at, you know it’s not going to be deflected or ducked, you know what the effects of its strike are going to be. So you don’t actually have to show all of that concluding scene, because it’s implied or implicit in what’s happened before. If you’ve written it well, the reader will figure all that out on their own.

DensityDuck April 22, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Basically, imagine them doing what they’re doing in the last scene, forever afterwards.

TRX April 23, 2014 at 11:39 am

I’ve seen that “advice” before, and vehemently disagree.

More than once I’ve read the last page of a novel, frowned, and then examined the binding to see if any pages had fallen out. Hey, I paid for a complete story; if I have to make up my own ending, I might as well write the whole thing myself and see if I can get paid for it. At least *my* customers wouldn’t get gypped…

Flip side: where the story winds up, and then the next 25% of the book keeps going and going, long after the real end, and finally expires from exhaustion. I suspect that sort of thing has more to do with word count than storytelling, though.

DensityDuck April 23, 2014 at 5:21 pm

“I didn’t like the ending” isn’t “there was no ending”. There’s always an ending; it happens on the last page.

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