The Genesis of Ganesh

The short story “Ganesh,” which Xchyler will publish at the end of this month in the anthology Terra Mechanica, was a delicious opportunity for me to revisit the world I inhabited while writing my debut novel, A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk (AMNS).

Every decent author will tell you that they know way more about their characters, settings, and events than they could possibly fit into the novel. And nowhere is this truer than in the closely related speculative fiction genres of fantasy, Steampunk, and science fiction. AMNS is certainly no exception.

As a SpecFic writer, I fill my notebooks with thousands of bits of information about how the characters got to be who they are, their relationships to each other, the world they inhabit, and the twists and turns of their adventures. Over months and sometimes even years, they emerge from the shadows of one-dimensional concepts and become very real to me. They become people. I dream about them at night. They become my friends and enemies. I fall in love with them, I weep over them, I despise them, and I yearn for their redemption.

A Midsummer Night's Steampunk by Scott E. TarbetTo make things worse, I’m a lover of history and a bit of a perfectionist, so the process of ‘world creation’ tends to take on a life of its own. I go through all the stuff I know, and decide what bits serve the story, and what is distraction, what is vital info for the reader, and what is a sidetrack leading to nowhere. In the case of AMNS, following/steampunking as I did the skeleton of Shakespeare’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream, events are compressed into a couple of days and nights. So even though I could go on and on for thousands upon thousands of words with the stuff I know, most of it wouldn’t serve the story.

I didn’t realize it at the time of the first draft of “Ganesh,” but I didn’t write the short story to stand on its own. As a tyro novelist I figured I knew, loved, and cared about this character, and implicitly assumed that anyone else picking up the short story would too. Um . . . wrong. Especially my editor, the redoubtable Penny Freeman. After all, who (besides me) knows and loves this character better than she? Who else would just go along with me, and dive headlong into the story? Um . . . wrong.

Because therein lies the difference between a writer (me), a reader (you), and an editor (in this case, Penny). The writer speaks for the characters of his creation. He speaks for his world. He speaks to a reader, someone for whom he hopes he can draw back the curtain and say, “TA DA! Come into my world and let me tell you a story!”

Enter the editor. While the writer waxes rhapsodic over the tsunamic output of his imagination, the good editor stands proxy for the reader. She is the guardian of perspective.

So Penny turned down the first draft of “Ganesh.” Flat. For the first twenty minutes I was crushed. Then, with her comments in hand, I went back to the story with fresh perspective. O…M…G.! She was right! I was asking the reader to start the story already caring. I had started the story at a point in the narrative arc that absolutely required it.

If I myself, unfamiliar with the AMNS world, had come upon that first draft in an anthology I’d have read the first page or two, dismissed it as maudlin, and would have been quickly on to the next story without a backward glance. (After all, isn’t that what we love about anthologies?)

Terra Mechanica: a Steampunk Anthology

The same wasn’t true of my good, intelligent, educated pre-readers. They loved it. Because they already loved it. To them it was another chapter of AMNS, a flashback that told them more about a beloved character. Just like it was to me. Lesson: learned. Admiration for good editorial skills: relearned.

Because I really care about “Ganesh,” I went back and rewrote it. Then I rewrote it again. I changed the plot arc. And rewrote it yet again. Same people, same world, same events, same emotional punches in the gut. But something still wasn’t right. I set it aside, worked on other projects, went back to it, wrote a whole different version, aimed at a different audience. Set it aside again.

So when Penny came back with an inquiry about the story, whether I was willing to undertake a pretty serious editorial effort, I was more than ready. I believed in the story. I knew I needed the help.

Together we burned through two more drafts in just a few days. We reset the narrative point, leaving its tie-in to AMNS but not requiring the upfront emotional investment. The fever was upon me. Or labor pains. Or something. The result is what you will see at the end of the month when it is finally published. Thank goodness.

I will leave it to you, the reader, to decide if the labor produced a Miranda or a Caliban. Either way, I hope you enjoy your visit to my world.

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