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POINT OF VIEW: Happy Accidents & Silver Linings

silver linings - pixabay

Last week, I reached the bottom of my Point of View barrel. I sat down to write my weekly column, and there was just nothing there.

So I put the word out to my peeps on social media – what should I write about? I got a variety of responses, from the silly to the profound. Today I’ll start to respond to them.

Janet Gershen-Siegel suggested this:

“Silver linings. In writing, when something turns into a happy accident, if that makes any sense.”

And yeah, it does. Writing, like any art, wraps up craft, hard work and serendipity. For a writer like me, it’s a beautiful moment when all those things combine unexpectedly to create something sparkly and new.

In early 2019, I resolved to get into SFWA – the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (and yeah, there’s an F missing in there LOL). The easiest way to do it? Sell a short story to a magazine at the SFWA approved rate (at the time 8¢ a word). It wouldn’t get me full membership, but it would get me in the door.

So I sat down and started to work on a story based on a conversation my friend Jim Comer and I had – what if FTL travel ultimately turns out to be impossible, and the only way to get between stars is a long slow slog?

The premise was simple. A cargo ship arrives on a far away world called Tharassas, and it’s the last one to ever come from a dying Earth. (and yes, I am aware that I kill off the Earth with distressing regularity, but in my own defense, I have been known to revive it later).

And so “The Last Run” was born.

But here’s where serendipity comes in. As I was writing the story, one of the characters had an unplanned and unexpected interaction with a semi-sentient plant. Such a small idea, right? But by the end of the story, it turned into a full-blown case of human-alien contact and symbiosis. It’s one of my favorite stories – truly alien and strangely beautiful.

Things for Tharassas might have ended there if I hadn’t had an old story laying around called “Autumn Rain.” Set in the American Southwest, it was my “cowboy/indian” coming out tale that I’d written some 25 years back, and that had seen publication in a small journal about five years ago. It was the last of my stories waiting to be republished, and for good reason. I used Native American culture without ever having taken the time to learn about it, drawing on what I had been taught in school and my boyhood reading of books by white writers about kids abducted my Native Americans and raised in their culture.

There was nothing inherently bad about the story as I told it, but it did represent cultural appropriation as well as my own ignorance, something I have since learned to be very careful about.

So I hit upon an idea – I would transform the story into a sci fi tale, and remove it from its problematic cultural roots. As I cast about for a way to do it, I thought about “The Last Run” and that whole symbiont thing.

The story could be reforged to blend into this new world, and there was even a time and a place on my world to set the story that would work well with Autumn Rain’s existing “feel.”

So I took some time and reworked it, lengthening it and giving it a whole new soul and direction. It’s now out making the rounds for possible magazine publication.

Still, once again that might have been the end of Tharassas, but those two stories gave me the idea for my current novel, set about a hundred years later on the same world. And that original, simple, almost throwaway idea – the sentient plant – has now blossomed into a full-blown plot arc for this new novel, tentatively titled “Twin Moons Rising.”

So yeah, serendipity is a real thing in writing. Sometimes things really do happen accidentally, chance occurances which bring you to a beautiful place you never expected.

So welcome to Tharassas – I hope you’ll be able to stop by soon.

To my writer friends, have you ever had a splash of serendipity or a happy accident bring you a silver lining in your writing? Tell us about it!

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