My Secret Holiday Project — Revealed

I recently had the opportunity to re-read all of my previously published fiction. It was not a fun experience. I don’t particularly enjoy reading the stories I have written once they are finished. To anyone but another writer that probably sounds strange. There are two reasons I don’t enjoy reading my old stories:

1. In the older stories there is a temptation to want to revise what no longer feels right. I read a line of dialog I wrote 8 or 9 years ago and cringe a little bit. It is not a line that I would write today. One of the most difficult things I have ever done as a writer is resist the temptation to change those lines.

2. I’ve already read the story a lot. I read the story after completing each draft. I read the story out loud before submitting it to make sure it reads smoothly. I read the story again when I receive the pre-publication galleys. And I usually read it a final time when it appears for publication. By that time, I’ve moved onto other stories and I’m sick of it.

The reason I recently re-read all of my stories was because I put together a privately published collection of all of my published fiction, and one unpublished story as holiday gift for friends and family. I used as the publisher, and following their template for a bookstore quality trade paperback, I set about gathering the published text of 11 of my stories, proofreading them again, and putting them into the template. I wanted to give my family a true record of my publications, so I resisted the temptation to change even a single word. The only changes were a few rare instances where a typo had made through editor and copyeditor.

I called the collection Twelve Fossils1, and after hesitating over whether or not I had correctly followed Lulu’s instruction, I submitted the manuscript for an on-demand print run of 15 copies.

12 Fossils Cover

I was eager to see how the books turned out. Much to my surprise, they came out really good. They look professional. There were no formatting problems that I could identify. All the pieces were in the right place. Now that the hard part of re-reading the stories was done, I was delighted with the finished product.

The twelve stories in the book amounted to about 64,000 words, and comes to 191 pages. I’d written a lengthy introduction, and then an introduction and afterword to each story. But I decided I wasn’t interested in analyzing my work, even for friends and family. The stories, I decided, should be whatever anything thinks of them. So I cut my introduction down to 2/3rds of a page, and cut all of the individual story intros and afterwords.

12 Fossils TOC

I intended this as a holiday gift, and purposely printed only 15 copies. I mention this to head-off anyone who might be interested in a copy. There are no more, and I don’t plan to have any more made. I wanted the book to be something special. Except for the last story in the volume, all of the stories have been previously published and are all available through their original outlets.

Lulu did a great job with the book, and at an affordable price. If I was ever crazy enough to do a project like this again, I would not hesitate to use them for it.

The problem is, I don’t think I’ll ever do a project like this again, at least not with my fiction. I already knew that I didn’t enjoy re-reading my old stories. What I learned from this experience is that I dislike the process of producing a book. I don’t like the formatting, and editing, and specifications, and everything that comes with it. I prefer to write things and have someone else handle all of the boring stuff.

  1. A deliberate reference to how Stephen King refers to stories—as fossils, or found things.


    1. Talile, no, I’m afraid. As I mentioned in the post, this was done as a one-time holiday gift for family, and a few friends. Most of the stories in the collection are available in the magazines in which they were published, and many are available online through their original publisher.

    1. Jesse, half the times the title comes before I’ve written a single word, the other half they don’t come until I’ve written the story. “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” came before the story. I heard Charles Osgood recite the Walt Whitman poem, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” on a radio station in L.A. It stuck with me, and at some point, I thought there might be an interesting story in it.

      “Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon” was another one that I had before I wrote a word of the story. I knew just from that title it would be an alternate history.

      “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown” was rare in that it was chosen to fit the story. I wanted a title that sounded like the title of an article you might read in Sports Illustrated, because the story is written as profile of a baseball player who plays ball something like 400 years from now.

  1. Very cool. I really like the idea of hearing or thinking of a phrase and building the story off that seed. I think my favorite title is “In the Aftermath of Victory”. It has such a good rhythm to it.

  2. So it’s like you baked delicious cookies, but you won’t share with the class?! Joking what a great idea; I’ll bet everyone loved it.
    Any chance you could post the introduction and story notes here? I’m sure a lot of your readers would enjoy “seeing behind the curtain”.


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