So as you probably know, my story “Lifeblood” is in the collection Blood Sacraments, which came out this month from Bold Strokes Books. (If you’ve been paying attention, you know that they’re the ones who will be publishing my novel next fall. If you haven’t been paying attention, well, I’ve just caught you up! You’re so lucky.)
This story had a long, complicated, torturous gestation. When I first wrote it, back in the early 2000s, it was, frankly, awful. No, really, it was. This was driven home to me when I was in an advanced writing workshop class in 2003, and I didn’t have anything to turn in. I looked in my slush pile and pulled out “Lifeblood,” read the first page, and cringed.
Oh, I thought, this is awful. When did I think this was actually good?
I should have revised it right then before I turned it in to the class. But, it was due that evening, and the other story I was working on was a long way from being ready for prime time.
It was this or blow my deadline, and I hate to miss a deadline. I printed it up copies, swallowed my pride, and turned it in. I spent the next week steeling myself for the inevitable blowback.
Oh, they were merciless. And you know what? I deserved every bit of that criticism. It was contrived. Stilted. The language was florid. It was too long. Nothing happened. The instructor (whom I didn’t really like, which probably meant he had something to teach me) pinpointed the relationship between the two main characters as the best part of the story. It was honestly felt, he said. Everything else was pretty much crap.
I put it in the drawer and forgot about it for a while. I’d written two more stories around the main character, and I still haven’t brought myself to look at those for fear of how dreadful they’ll be.
Time passed (cliché alert!) and I got a request from a good friend to submit to a vampire anthology. I like vampires, but I didn’t have anything in my “current ideas” bin that revolved around the undead or that I thought could be adapted to focus on bloodsuckers.
But “Lifeblood,” which had been DOA when I submitted it to that workshop, was still lying in the drawer. I pulled it out, read it, and tried to look beyond everything that was wrong with it to find what worked. I went back to what the instructor had said.
I didn’t just revise the story. I put a clean sheet of paper in the typewriter (yes, I still use one when I need to), found my first line, and started typing:
Let’s get one thing straight: I never bit Darren.
When I got my contributor copies earlier this month, I sat down and read the collection. I usually skip my own contribution when I’ve done this sort of read in the past, but this time I read it. After all the time I spent laboring over these characters, it was funny to read it and realize how much I cared about them. I still do. I may have to revisit the other two stories I wrote and see if they can be salvaged.
Oh, that other story I was working on for that workshop back in 2003? It was called “Next Stop,” and it was about 28 pages. When I turned it in, I thought, there’s more to this story. The class reacted positively to it, but they generally agreed. I put it aside for a little while and then pulled it out of the drawer about a year later.
It’s now called Detours.