Etelka was genetically modified so she could transform the bodies of the elite with her breath, but this young woman had other plans for her life. This story was a 2nd place winner in “The Writers Of The Future” contest.
I wrote this one immediately after returning from the writing escape where I wrote the previous audio story posted, “Dead City Reconnect.”
Winning this award earned cash, inclusion in a published anthology, a writing workshop, and a big awards event in California. Attending the Writers Of The Future award event is a story of its own, with observations about physiological manipulation, receiving insults from pro writers, secret Scientologist confrontations on the beach, expectations of David Carradine, and more, but my apologies, as this post is just about this story.
Spoilers below, so I recommend listening before reading on.
Here’s a funny little story about competition among writers. The week before this story won, I let some of my Clarion Writing Workshop classmates read it. Of course, they strongly insisted it needed major revisions. One of them also claimed the story seemed too similar to a story that had won awards a year or two earlier. What? The geek in me decided to read both stories back-to-back and in an analytical way write down similarities. Panic. There were some! What? I can be an anxious guy sometimes, and man did that part of my brain explode! How could there be similarities? After my anxiety settled, I got the idea to read through both stories and look for the differences. What I realized was both stories indeed stole elements and tone from fairy tales. Both had a classic wealthy evil-queen character who our protagonists served, and who threatened to “call out the dogs”. Guess we were both guilty of cliche. Come on. It’s a fun cliche, and our evil-queens were unique in their own right. Both stories had genetically modified characters. Yeah, again, kind of a common SF trope. Both stories were a commentary on power inequity. Yeah, that’s fairly common as well. Maybe the big one was both main characters used their breath in a symbolic way, which was the biggest similarity, though even this aspect was handled totally differently in each story. What was not the same between the stories? The plots. The themes. The character motivations. The character actions. The story arc. The world building. The type of magic/science. And on, and on. The similarities were set dressing. Man, I can’t believe I let this guy psyche me out like that! My brother-in-law was a pro-golfer, and at one point he was writing a book about how to mentally unnerve your opponent. All golfers are opponents, and your job was to psyche them out. I realized this comment about my story — one he amplified publicly when he realized he got a reaction out of me — had also come from a writer that identified strongly as a soccer player. Psyche! He’s a very competitive guy. Perhaps all other writers are opponents? Beware of taking comments too seriously. Don’t be like me. Overreacting to judgements like this is why I don’t finish more stories. If I hadn’t won the contest before getting their critiques I probably would have just scrapped this story rather than publishing it. I’m not claiming this is a perfect story, but it’s the one I wanted to tell in the way I wanted to tell it, and some people enjoyed it. That’s the goal. Let me add one last data point for you. These same classmates loved to critique professionally published stories. You know what they found? Every published story they read needed total rewrites because they were all so damned flawed and awful. Reading is subjective, and among writers it can also be highly competitive.