#403: Ludicrously Capacious

Rear end of U-Haul truck with squid graphics, shot from moving car, blurry trees whizzing by.
Somewhere outside Ann Arbor, MI

One welcome aspect of a book’s publication is space. Imaginative space, the capacity to work on new stories. It’s not quiet enough to finish the manuscript; capaciousness doesn’t come till it’s done done. That’s not true for every writer, but it is for me. In the last weeks I wrote most of a short story that’s been germinating for years, and have started pulling at loose-threaded novel ideas, seeing which wants to unravel.

The thread analogy rings familiar. Am I borrowing it from somewhere or someone (maybe my former self?). Either way, it feels more appropriate than the reverse, than knitting or weaving, because when it happens swift and with little resistance—that’s how I know I’m onto something.

M.T. Anderson, at the end of a podcast interview, offers resonant advice: Alternate between blurry inspiration and rational plotting in your drafts. One draft could be expansive, the next contractive. Long, deep breaths. Anderson also mentions earlier in the interview, in the context of the rules that govern magic, a seemingly throwaway yet genius idea that I couldn’t tell if he’s used yet in one of his books. I won’t spoil it. Those gold coins are some of the great joys of reading him.

On the topic of breath and gold coins: I loved Ted Chiang’s short story collection Exhalation. Julia had gotten the book for me one Christmas, and I’d read the first couple of stories before it was absorbed by my bedroom book pile. A small freelance fiction editing project coaxed it back out.

I’ll confess: I don’t read many short story collections. The hit-or-miss nature of most unsettles me, and even the stories I do love often end too soon, just as I’m feeling at home in a story world. I want more. Maybe that’s the novelist in me. The same novelist also wants to read everything in a linear order without skipping for the contrast and echoes in the author’s sequencing. I was the same way with mix CDs; I’m the same way with Spotify playlists.

But Exhalation I did finish, and I’m glad. Chiang’s stories take hold quickly; he has a knack for reframing a scientific idea through a fictional conceit, then manufacturing a wholly consistent and interesting world around it. I picture worry stones with supple indentations and the sheen of finger oils, the marks of countless passes by a warm hand.

Now I’m onto a bookseller recommendation: A murder mystery whose main protagonist is a tea-vending Chinese grandma. And later this week, I have an appointment to use the Risos at a local print shop.