(Some of) the story behind a story: ‘One Who Knows’ in Insert Title Here.
The Endless Saga of ‘One Who Knows’.
In 2015 a story of mine, ‘One Who Knows’ appeared in the Fablecroft anthology Insert Title Here. I thought I would write a little bit about how the story came to fruition. I won’t talk much about the plot — it’s a bit of alien (and Earthling) biology on a distant planet.
The story came out in 2015. The book it is in is jam packed with good fiction, diverse and full of the unexpected. Its Goodreads score is pretty high, so that’s not just my biased opinion. My story is currently titled ‘One Who Knows’, which is not entirely satisfactory. The title is a glob (or gobbet, depending on your notation — but not a reverse gobbet) — a bit of text from the text, which is a useful fall-back when seeking a title. Ideally I think a title is an important part of the story and perhaps can perform a very useful task — that of shaping the reader’s expectations and of influencing how they expect certain scenes to run. For example if a story is called ‘Doublecross’ then a reader is put on guard and will perhaps be looking more closely at whether the characters are lying to each other.
So the story is called ‘One Who Knows’. It was written in 2005 on a ancient Olivetti laptop (like this one) with a black and white screen and a 3.5″ floppy drive. The ending was not satisfactory and I reworked it several times, changing the text to fit with what I hoped was a better conclusion. In the process it went through about three other computers and a couple of different word processors. I thought it was good. I thought it was probably the best thing I had written, but I knew the ending did not quite do justice to the story. But I could not see how to fix it. I submitted it a couple of times on the grounds that my own judgement is far from perfect, but it got bounced — on at least one occasion after making every cut but the final one. It always got close enough to get a ‘personal’ rejection, usually along the lines of ‘we liked this but just don’t have room for it’ or ‘we liked this but something about it does not quite work for us.’ In no case did the feedback really put its finger on why the story was too far back in the rankings to print. It seemed like the editors were having the same trouble with it as me.
I sat on it for a few years. I hoped that as I got bit more experienced, and was able to see the story with fresher eyes, I might be able to figure out how to change it to make it work. At one stage I did a couple of passes over it to tighten it up, cut some exposition, focus the story a bit more. I had done that of course when I first wrote it, but I have learned that text that appears absolutely critical when I am ‘close’ to a story can be recognised as superfluous when critical distance is gained. That later trim took 10% off it — it is remarkably easy to take 10% off a story. That also helped with the ending — everything happening that little bit faster gave it more immediacy and force. It was called ‘Intimate Circle’ for most of this time and ‘Circle’ for some of it. Neither title was very good.
I saw the submission call for Insert Title Here. Fablecroft is a good publisher. They publish good work. I decided to send the piece off, but first I read over it again, paying close attention to the dialogue. Did it fit the characters? Could it be terser or cut? That helped the ending too.
I sent it out. I got a response from Tehani Wessely. Paraphrasing, she said ‘can we find another title?’ And in the end we settled on ‘One Who Knows’. She also suggested a bunch of edits that tightened it up and fixed things that needed fixing — a good process.
So ultimately acceptable.
Yay. Ten years later, yay.