So I finally took the plunge and arranged to have some of my stories sold through Fictionwise.com. Fictionwise is a site where you can buy books and short stories. (It’s sort of like the iTunes of prose fiction.) Some of my friends are on it, and have had good experiences.
It’ll probably take a few weeks to get rolling, but these are the titles of mine that’ll be available: “Seeds-for-Brains,” “Seven Brothers, Cruel,” “They Go Bump,” “The Prize,” “The Skull-Faced Boy,” “The Disciple,” “The Black Bird,” “The Second Rat,” “The Trial of Thomas Jefferson,” and “Lest We Forget.” Basically, most of my published work since I was 18.
So for the last few days, I’ve been madly giving all these stories a final polish before sending them off again. I’ve already read and edited each of these stories hundreds of times, so the fact that I’m still able to spend days making line edits really drives home how much my prose style has evolved in the last few years. (Plus I’m still finding really blatant typos. Argh!) I don’t think any of these changes would be really apparent to the casual reader, but to me they make a huge difference.
I’m particularly proud of the edits I made to one story. I was always dissatisfied with one aspect of this story, but didn’t know how to fix it. Basically, I have a character who’s pretending to be someone else, and the viewpoint character knows this, but the reader isn’t supposed to. If the viewpoint character refers to this character by their real name, it gives away the surprise, but if the viewpoint character refers to this character by their assumed name (which is what I did), it’s really cheating the reader.
There is a sneaky solution to this, which I’ve learned in the intervening years, and have lectured about, but I didn’t realize I could apply it to my own story until I just went back to polish it again. Basically, you only refer to the character by name in the dialogue, and in the exposition only refer to the character by pronoun (he) or descriptor (the man). This requires a lot of massaging to make it not draw attention to itself, but I think I did a pretty good job. (For a real tour de force example of this technique, see Iain M. Banks’s Use of Weapons.)
Of course, some purists argue that any critical information withheld from the reader by a viewpoint character is unforgivable cheating, but I think that’s too restrictive. I wouldn’t make a habit out of it, but really, what’s the fun of writing fiction if you can’t just screw around with the reader every once in a while?