I’d been doing the Three-Day Novel Contest for several years and concluded (rightly or wrongly) that the then-sponsors and I had too widely divergent senses of taste for me to ever place in the contest. A few friends and fellow writers recommended National Novel Writing Month and I doubted I could get a new narrator (or at least a familiar narrator with a new project) to talk for an entire month. Worse, I never know how long a piece will be when I start writing it: I dreaded starting off with fine hopes on November 1st and ending up with firmly concluded a short story or a novella a few days later.
I decided to try: it was what I did when I had similar doubts about starting the Three-Day Novel Contest. At the end of that first November I had a complete novella (50,000 words is just over the Hugo award’s standard for a ‘novella’. It would make a fine short novel by 1950’s or ‘60’s SF publishing standards but it falls far short of contemporary ones.) The novella was “Steven’s World”. Like all of my National Novel Writing Month works it is still in the awkward fledgling stage – I work on them and revise them but never have the concentrated time to end up with finished piece that is ready to stand on its own.
Like many of my works, “Steven’s World” puts the narrator in a situation where he (or she) has every reason to quit but chooses not to. It’s a novella about the sole survivor of the small advance team whose colony site unravels catastrophically – and how he (or rather she) becomes the mother to a second, successful colony with a new advance team. Shortly after I finished the novella I wondered what let this narrator continue. I don’t write heroic SF: my narrators are ordinary people affected by new illnesses, prolonged trauma, isolation, repeated griefs and every other real-world consequence of spending decades alone far from help on a frontier. So what let this narrator report back to base and accept a second assignment? Personality? Beliefs? Loyalty to earth? Not being eligible to get out of his contract to serve? Was this a heroic story? Military SF satire? Or something far more small-scale and human?
I wrote a short story, “Nightskyman Hope” to explain his choice. Steven is alone on a 20-person ship: sick, depressed, and traumatized with no one and nothing preventing him from flying his ship into a star or a black hole. By the end of the story he’s back on base, he’s deleted his I-accept-any-and-all-penalties resignation letter for good, and he’s met the person who will be the center of the rest of his life – all because of a good psychiatric crisis-response computer program. (Or is it? Officially there is no live voice communication across galactic space ….)
I would like to finish the novella linked to “Nightskyman Hope”: Garnett Dorman shows up in two other pieces (alongside one of few earth-born women to remain at her post outside of earth’s solar system), in a third story Steven finally gets to hash things out with his ex (“Life on Earth”’s Edward) – with some help from Things We Are Not’s Olaf (yes, that’s Edward again in that story), and all of them get a last bow in a novel I’m working on now. Each story I write changes the other works I write.
A list of my stories: https://lisashapter.com/category/read-my-short-stories-in-order/