Monday, November 14, 2011


This past weekend I saw the Pacific Northwest Ballet dance "Love Stories," an program of five pas de deux including my very favorite short ballet, AFTERNOON OF A FAUN. They were wonderful. But even if I hadn't had this treat, ballet would have been on my mind because I was writing, and then rewriting, a story for an invitation anthology edited by Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin, DANGEROUS WOMEN.

The story concerns ballet in a post-apocalyptic world. This choice of a subject matter was the result of a two things: (1) I love ballet and hadn't written about it for a while, and (2) I wanted to avoid the two (to me) most obvious kinds of dangerous women, armed warriors and men-destroying vamps. I was after something more subtle. I didn't achieve it, because Gardner and George rejected the story: My women weren't dangerous enough. Or hardly at all. But the story itself, they said, was a good read -- would I like to rewrite?

Yes. I would. Here is the process I went through:

Day 1: Brooding and feeling bad.

Day 2: I sat on the sofa, trusted clipboard with legal pad on my knees, and listed all the editors' objections. I stared at each of these until I thoroughly understood what each meant. Next, I listed all the characters in my story, including the minor ones. Often the best way to restructure a story while preserving its basic idea, tone, and plot is to shift the focus to another character. Did I have any secondary characters that I could make more dangerous? I stared at each of these names, running various plot ideas through my mind. Nothing struck, but I was preparing ground. I was also determined: I was going to be in this anthology if I had to arm my ballerinas with AK-47s.

Day 3: Took a long walk with the dog, ruminating on the world I had created for the story, thinking about it. The dog was no help with this. Later that evening, just before I drifted off to sleep, I saw which character I could use, and how.

Days 4, 5, and 6: Rewrote furiously. For new material I usually work three or four hours a day, but with an existing manuscript I can go far longer. Printed out the story, edited on paper, wrote new scenes longhand on the clipboard, typed it all in, repeated the entire procedure two more times.

Day 7: Jack proofread the story, made a few suggestions. Typed those in, and sent it off to Gardner.

Day 10: Gardner and George accepted "Second Arabesque, Very Slowly."

Does this procedure for rewriting work for everyone? I have no idea. But it's what I know how to do: Start with character and go on from there. And I think this version of the story, thanks to the editors, is stronger than my original.


Amy Sisson said...

I will look forward to this story. It took me until adulthood to appreciate ballet, but now that I've found it, I love it.

Lou said...

Good job! Thanks for including the process, including the necessary steps of walking a dog and sleeping.

I find, as you did, that the magic time when the brain begins to unhinge in preparation for sleep is the best time to think outside the box and find answers to thorny issues.

My major issue is that I fail to awaken and write them down. I, therefore, wake up the next morning satisfied that I solved the problem but without any idea as to how.


Robert Mitchell Evans said...

Does it make me a bad person that one of my favorite authors dealing with a rejection actually encourages me after a spate of my own?

Nancy Kress said...

Why would that make you a bad person? Be encouraged!

Robert Mitchell Evans said...

I felt guilty taking encouragement from someone eles's rejections. Though knowing someone of your very considerable talent faces the same dreaded reject does make facing my own easier. (though no one calls your execution flat. lol)

José Iriarte said...

Thanks for sharing this look at your process. I always find these little "behind the scenes" vignettes helpful and interesting.