Recovering a Lost Story

The penultimate Blogtober post is upon us, and today’s topic is one I’ve been looking forward to all month. I have lost several stories over the years. I also have managed to recover several of them.

Today, I’m going to go over four examples of stories I lost and recovered, and the different techniques I used to bring them back to life.

Unclaimed Goods

The first example is my short story, coming out TOMORROW in The Goldilocks Zone by Flying Ketchup Press. I don’t have a link to the book yet, as I’m writing this post in advance. The Goldilocks Zone is an anthology of short stories, and is my first success in publishing.

I first wrote Unclaimed Goods with the intention of sending it to Sheila Williams at Azimov’s. The idea for the story came to me while I was in an airport, on my way to WorldCon in San Antonio. After attending a meeting with Sheila, I knew I had to write the story. Shortly after returning home, I sat in a Starbucks on a Saturday morning, and completed the first draft by that afternoon.

The short story went through two professional workshops and my writer’s group. I received a lot of positive feedback and a few ideas for how to improve it, but nothing substantial. I never did submit it to Asimov’s. I sort of abandoned it and moved on to other things.

Several months ago, when I saw the opportunity to submit it to Flying Ketchup, I opened Unclaimed Goods and looked at what I had. The story was good, but I saw a few places I could make it better. I made some minor changes, broadening the scope and tightening the prose. I submitted the story, and they loved it.

Unclaimed Goods was lost only in the sense that I’d given up and forgotten about it. Recovery was as simple as remembering it existed and applying the skills I learned since writing it.

Spin City

Like Unclaimed Goods, I knew where the story was. I could go find it. I even had printouts. The problem was that I first wrote it when I was a teenager, and it was kind of terrible.

Originally called The Arthur Kane Stories, it was three short stories fused together, covering the three most important cases in the private investigator’s life. I had some good ideas, but I didn’t know what I was doing when I wrote the stories, and I put too much of myself in the main character.

For years, I had trouble moving on. I kept wanting to go back and fix this one story. I told people I was a writer, and that I had this finished novel, but I stopped sharing it because I knew how bad it was. The voice in my head would yell, “But still! I’m a writer, damn it! I wrote a whole book! I just need to FIX it!”

Two years ago, I fixed it. This was after I’d finished The Repossessed Ghost, so my first novel became my second. I lifted the names and some of the events from the old story and dropped them into a fresh outline. I changed the narrative from third person to first person, and I leaned into some of the noir elements I accidentally included in the original draft. Sherlock Holmes and Harry Dresden influenced me, and for Nanowrimo 2017, I wrote the first 50,000 words of Spin City.

The story was lost in the sense that it only ever existed in larval state. Once I grew enough as a writer to give the story the treatment it deserved, I rewrote it. I opened a new project and started from scratch, placing a few of the old bones in a new body. I recovered Spin City by recreating it, fresh and new.

Synthetic Dreams

As of this writing, the first draft of Synthetic Dreams still isn’t done. I’m working on it. For a while, I had to put it down, and I was afraid I would need to abandon it.

The summer of 2017, before I dove into Spin City, I had this brief idea for a story set about a hundred years after The Singularity. The idea was small, but the scope huge. In July or August, I tried writing a couple of chapters. I didn’t have an outline and I didn’t know what the story was really about. I just had the idea, and my test chapters worked. I thought I might be able to turn it into an entire novel.

Then I had to focus exclusively on Spin City, so my initial idea for Synthetic Dreams got filed away. I spent most of 2018 finishing the first draft of Spin City, completing the first draft just before heading to New York City for the Writer’s Digest conference.

On the Writing Excuses Cruise in 2018, I was working on a novelette, The Exorcism of Jack Evans. As an exercise for the cruise, I wrote a full outline for Synthetic Dreams. Out of the blue, the idea became real and I knew I had to write it.

For Nanowrimo 2018, I wrote the first 50,000 words of Synthetic Dreams in around 19 days. Going into it, I didn’t think I could write that fast, especially this weird third person story about genderless non-humans.

In 2019, I needed to work on the next draft of Spin City. Twice, I had to stop working on Synthetic Dreams so I could focus on the other story. I went so long without working on it that I forgot how to move forward.

The vision was gone. My ideas left me. I wrote half a novel and I didn’t know the characters anymore, or where they were going. I no longer knew how they were going to solve the mystery. I lost the story. It was gone.

I still had my outline and a bunch of notes. I poured over all of the material I had, but I struggled to get the flavor of the story back in my mouth. I didn’t know what to do.

I wound up going back to the beginning and revising with fresh eyes. The story wasn’t finished, but I had 50,000 words I could edit. The exercise forced me to read the story critically. The process rewired my brain for the story I wanted to tell.

When I reached the point in my story where the words ended and I needed to keep going, I was on Writing Excuses Cruise 2019. To my shock and amazement, the words flowed. It felt slow and clumsy at first, but I found the story inside me after all. I picked up the threads and moved forward.

I lost Synthetic Dreams through time and distance. I recovered it by immersing myself in the story I still had, trusting myself as a storyteller to be able to fill in the blanks and keep going when I ran out of material. I wound up having to rewrite some of the outline, but that’s okay. I went through the same thing when drafting Spin City. There’s something about the 3/4 mark of the story that throws everything out of whack.

A Clean Slate

My last example of a story I’ve lost is actually the subject of my post for tomorrow, so I’m not going to get too much into it today. It was my first Nanowrimo attempt, and I still think the idea is worth writing.

The recovery of A Clean Slate is going to take elements from all the previous examples. It’s a story that’s sat in my head for years, similar to The Arthur Kane Stories. It’s one I’ve lost the threads for, like Synthetic Dreams. My plan is to try it in Nanowrimo again, this time with an outline so I don’t get lost along the way.

Parting Thoughts

I have other stories that I started and abandoned that I may never try to recover. There’s one about an order of mystical knights that celebrate the day, that must grapple with the idea of a demon finding redemption. There’s another story that’s inspired by a song, which involves a dancer becoming the warrior her people need in order to throw back a monstrous horde.

I said earlier in the month that ideas are cheap, and they are. I have lots of ideas and I can make more. There is no end to the number of stories I can tell. The only thing I’m short on is time.

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