December seems to be a month of publishing firsts for me–my first collection of short stories, Rarely Well Behaved (out of print) appeared in December 2000. I remember when the proof copy arrived as if it were yesterday. Never before had I held a real book with my name on it as the author. I had approved the cover (based on my suggestions) a few weeks before, but to see it on the book was a whole different experience. As I flipped the pages and saw my words there, I thought perhaps I was dreaming.
When I “refreshed” the short stories in Rarely Well Behaved this past year and reissued them as two eBooks then paperbacks with new covers, I was pretty excited, but it wasn’t the same kind of feeling as holding your first published work in your hands.
I’m hoping the past is prologue for a whole new collection of short stories–short, short stories–coming out this month. (Fingers crossed that it won’t take me twelve years for the next book.)
Spy Flash is a collection of flash fiction stories I’ve written over the past year in response to Jennie Coughlin’s Rory’s Story Cube Challenge. Each week Jennie posted a picture of a roll of a nine-cube combination of object and action Story Cubes, and based on those objects and actions, I wrote a story, usually of fewer than 2,000 words. There was some cube repetition, and I pounded my head on the desk a couple of times trying to think of different ways to use a pyramid, beyond the obvious.
About ten stories into the adventure, which I initially intended just to use to explore back story on the two main characters in my novels, I starting thinking about what to do with the stories. Somewhere along the line, I decided I would compile them into a collection of linked flash fiction. Even though I’m sure it’s been done, I thought that rather clever. (Hey, I’m an infrequently published writer; someone needs to brag on me.) I also thought the possible title clever as well. I mean, what else would you call flash fiction about spies except Spy Flash?
I then decided once the story count reached twenty-five, that’s when I’d compile them into a collection. I began the compilation again about ten stories in, and the first thing I noticed was that inserting them into the manuscript in the order I’d written them and published them on my blog resulted in massive incoherence. So much incoherence, in fact, I doubted the decision to compile them after all. They were linked in that they were about the same people in a specific profession, but because I had moved back and forth on the timeline of their careers, the vignettes were a jumble. For a while, I couldn’t come up with a solution. I liked each story individually, but I didn’t like the whole they made.
So, I set the idea aside awhile–always a good thing. I continued to write the stories, but I really felt as if I were just compounding the problem. Finally, when I had the twenty-five stories, I printed the manuscript and skimmed it. Still a jumble. Then, I had one of those forehead-smacking, “duh” moments and rearranged the stories in chronological order. Hello! The whole thing made sense now. It had a logical flow, and, if anything, the stories were even more linked. Then, I found if I added transitions and references to earlier stories, what had been a jumble of disconnected snapshots became a big, coherent picture.
Once I completed a revised draft of the manuscript, I realized I hadn’t been this excited about a work of mine since Rarely Well Behaved.
And the cover for Spy Flash? I wanted something dark and mysterious, something that conveyed spying as well as the less exciting aspects of espionage. What better than a black file folder and an all-seeing eye?
As of today, I’m waiting for the proof copy of Spy Flash to arrive, and I know when I hold it in my hands I’ll have that giddy feeling of accomplishment. I’m a much better writer twelve years down the road thanks to a lot of people, and I’ll be just as proud of Spy Flash as I was of Rarely Well Behaved. I’ll again rue that my Dad won’t see it and that my brother–the guy who hated to read but read my first book–won’t see this one.
For a long moment I’ll savor that feeling of “yay, me, look what I did,” then reality will set in–lining up book signings and arranging the publicity because, hey, I’m not John LeCarre or Alan Furst. I’m just Phyllis Anne Duncan, who’s pretty excited about the publication of her second, original book of short stories.