Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"Cassie's Story" by David B. Coe

Different authors tend to write to different lengths. Some specialize in short fiction; others feel more comfortable writing novels. Throughout my career, I've fallen into that latter category. At the same time, I’ve always admired -- even envied -- those writers who could create a seamless and complete narrative in the span of 8,000 words rather than 80,000 words.

Back in October, while in upstate New York for World Fantasy Convention, I met with my editor at Tor Books, who encouraged me to write more short fiction. He thought it would help me further hone my craft, and he believed that publishing more short stories would help me reach a broader audience. I appreciated the advice, but I wasn’t at all certain that I could simply will myself to start finding short story ideas. After all, I was a novelist -- that was my preferred length of work.

I had driven up to New York from my home in Tennessee and so, of course, I needed to drive back home. And during the first part of that drive, right there on the New York State Thruway, I suddenly found myself writing “Cassie’s Story” in my head.

The character of Cassie came to me first. And actually my first image of her was as a prisoner in jail garb, sitting in an interrogation room smoking a cigarette. I knew that at one point she had it all: brains, looks, a great career, a husband she loved. I knew as well that she had lost everything, and that she had been driven to this state by a power she possessed but couldn’t control. (You'll have to read the story if you want to know more.)

But the more the story developed in my head, the more I came to realize that while Cassie was the focus of the narrative, this was Eric’s story. He was the one who had to grapple with implications of what she had done and in doing so he also had to acknowledge his own indirect complicity in her crimes. His emotional process in the story parallels that of the reader, and in many ways, he’s the more dynamic character.

By the time I pulled into my driveway in Tennessee, the story was basically complete. I just had to transpose it from my head to the computer screen. Or so I thought.

The editorial process on “Cassie’s Story” was more involved than I had anticipated, perhaps in part because I had written so much of it in my head. There were elements of the story that needed to be moved forward in the narrative, others that needed to be tightened, and still others that needed further explanation. Fortunately, I was able to draw upon the wisdom and insight of Edmund as I reworked the story. With Ed’s help I was able to realize the full potential of that idea I first encountered on the thruway. I hope you enjoy the final product.


Alethea said...

It's so cool to be in an issue with David...yay!!

Driving is very conducive to brainstorming, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I found this very interesting. I always like reading about another writer's creative process. Thanks!

--Kenneth Mark Hoover

Edmund R. Schubert said...

Driving is highly conducive. That's why a good friend gave me a digital voice recorder a few years back: I think she was afraid I would wreck the car while writing down ideas.

Kenneth, Glad you enjoyed David's essay. There are several more to come.