Sometimes it feels like I don’t really think of short story ideas. I write them, on occasion, but the ideas…they seem to come from somewhere else. Somewhere down in the dark parts of my hind brain.
I first heard about an anthology more than a month back. Very specific theme, but something not too far removed from what I tend to write. But I didn’t have anything for it right then and there so I put it aside while I worked on some other stuff: editing, rewrite notes, blog posts. I read a few things in the right vein, browsed a few articles, and then let it go.
And then, last week, while I was in the middle of making a vanilla bean custard for a pie, the idea came to me. That’s how it feels, too: it turned up out of the back of my brain like a stray cat. And, very much like a cat, once I made room for it, it promptly stretched out and made itself at home, scratching the couch and pissing in the corners. I thought about it while I whisked and heated and eyeballed the custard, daring it to break while my attention was elsewhere. By the time I had the custard poured into the crust and cooling, most of the story was fleshed out. All I had to do was sit down and write it.* Which I then did. Just a zero draft, but I got 4000 words out in about two and a half hours, so it was a good afternoon.
Sometimes they just turn up like that. My head is kind of a big, chaotic factory. Maybe like the Pits of Isengard, if you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings movies. From a distance it’s just smoke and noise; close up, it’s chaos and work and sweat and evil. And then some goblin** is coming up to me with a twisted new thing it made while I was busy doing other things.
I trust my Brain Goblins.*** They come up with some interesting things down there in the dark, while I’m cooking and reading and (rarely) cleaning and brushing my teeth and all the other crap that makes up a daily life. I throw them some raw materials, in the shape of myths and themes, and they come up with ideas. And, often, nightmares. But I consider that a by-product.
But I needed the prompt first, and the anthology listing was just that. Maybe it was the narrowness of the submission guidelines, or maybe it was the promise of payment. Either way, the story is done now, and soon it will be sent off to its (hopefully) new home.
And in the meantime, I’m going to go browse submission listings again, and see if the Brain Goblins have got anything else for me this week.
*I say that like it’s the easy part, but of course it’s not. Anyone can think of an idea; writing it is the real work.
**Yes, I’m enough of a geek to know that the workers in the Pits were orcs or, more rarely, uruk-hai. I just don’t like the way Brain Orcs reads. Consider this a lesson in editing: it works even in your own head.
***For stories, that is. Not so much with things like, say, talking to the mailman or getting groceries. It never goes well.