Short Fiction: “The Nalendar”

So, the first short stories I wrote were pretty much all science fiction of one sort or another. I thought maybe I just wasn’t much of a fantasy writer, though I do like to read fantasy, quite a lot. But then a friend of mine pointed out an anthology call for submissions that wanted fantasy stories involving war, religion, and political intrigue. “Ann, if that doesn’t have your name on it, I don’t know what to say,” my friend told me.

So I sat down and did some serious considering. And in the end, I came up with “The God of Au,” which was way too long for nearly anyone and didn’t quite fit the call anyway. (It is kind of typical of my process that I started off with the intention of writing war and political intrigue and ended up with volcanoes and giant squid.) That bad boy took a while to sell, but I was proud of it, and it was still sitting unsold in my inventory when I saw the call for the newly revived Sword and Sorceress.

I wrote “The Nalendar” in the same universe I had already begun to establish in “The God of Au” but, of course, a very different part of it. And I managed to keep it down to about eight thousand words–the guidelines had given nine thousand as the upper limit, so I was pretty proud of myself. (Much of my short fiction career involved working very hard to learn to write to shorter and shorter lengths, so this was a milestone for me.)

The editor bounced it back to me saying they couldn’t buy a story that long but if I would cut it down to five thousand, they would take another look.

That puzzled me, because it was under the stated maximum–but hey, the editor gets to make the call, and Mithras help me, I was going to cut the story down.

When I was done, I felt like it was kind of lifeless and bleeding, but I sent it off anyway. And immediately found myself hoping the editor wouldn’t buy it. That was a revelatory moment for me–I hadn’t thought it would bother me much how good I thought a story was, that I could ever not be happy to have anything at all published so long as it got me money and a publication credit.

Thankfully, the editor didn’t buy the story. And I went on to sell the original, full length version to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, which I’d been hoping to sell to for a while, so it was all good. The story has been reprinted recently in Uncanny Magazine. So, have some light Monday morning reading!

Down at the riverfront at Kalub, the little gods congregated in clouds, flies and dragonflies and even small birds approaching would–be travelers. They scattered out of the way of wagons and carts, circled over the flagstoned road and then re–formed. Umri walked through them, careful not to jostle or hit. The citizens of Kalub paid deference to a host of more powerful gods, including the river itself, but it was wise to be wary of even these tiny things.
A small bird lit on her shoulder. “Take me with you, I’ll see you safely to your destination!” it chirped.
“No thank you,” said Umri, “I’m seeing someone off.” The tiny brown bird cocked its head, eyeing the bag in her hand, but flew off without saying more.


3 thoughts on “Short Fiction: “The Nalendar”

  1. Dear Ann,

    This is such a great idea, calling them “inventory” rather than “stories I haven’t sold yet”, or worse yet “stories that never sold”. It’s empowering! Suddenly, I have inventory too!

    I feel like, if you have a story that’s working, in your own perception, there’s usually about 10% (maybe more like 12.5% – one word in eight) that can be cut, reasonably, to make the story leaner and stronger as it is. Cutting much more than that brings you to a different story, really. Obviously, every story has a different amount of elasticity, in terms of what it can or cannot accommodate.

    Christopher Mark Rose

  2. W
    Wilson F says:

    “The Nalendar” was the first story where I really started to get to know and like your work. I’d heard “Hesperia and Glory” on Escape Pod when it came out, and I’m betting I liked it, but I’d only been listening to that for a few weeks and wasn’t really retaining author names (sorry).

    When I heard “The Nalendar” on Podcastle, I really loved it. And by then I also knew your name as the co-editor (or assistant editor?) of PodCastle, so the association stuck and I’ve been a fan ever since.

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