If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you probably already know about this story, but I suspect I’ve picked up some new readers, so.
Remember last time I linked to a short story, I said that my first few pieces of short fiction had been SF? “Night’s Slow Poison” is one of them. I wrote the first draft while I was at Clarion West. In the first week, two of my classmates had turned in stories titled “Crawlspace.” They were very different stories, but the coincidence amused us, and for a while there was a running joke that all of us should turn in stories with that title. “Or,” someone suggested at one point, “Spacecrawl.” The suggestion was made that this would involve lots of creepy alien bugs maybe. “Or,” I said, “you could…” and then stopped, because the idea of The Crawl had suddenly built itself in my mind, and it seemed full of story possibility. “Oh!” exclaimed a classmate, “Ann’s just had an idea!”
I had. It took me a week or two to work out, and the first draft was full of problems, but there was a lot there that I liked. Eventually I revised it to my satisfaction and started sending it out, but for a very long time I couldn’t sell it. This made me sad, because I was quite fond of it, but that’s the breaks, that’s how writing goes.*
Then, finally, it sold to Electric Velocipede, edited by John Klima. EV had been on my list of venues I really wanted to sell to for a while, so I was super happy about that. EV is, sadly, no longer with us.
The Jewel of Athat was mainly a cargo ship, and most spaces were narrow and cramped. Like the Outer Station, where it was docked, it was austere, its decks and bulkheads scuffed and dingy with age. Inarakhat Kels, armed, and properly masked, had already turned away one passenger, and now he stood in the passageway that led from the station to the ship, awaiting the next.
When I submitted this to Strange Horizons, way back when, the (very nice) rejection included a mention of the tea vondas–a creature in the story—saying the name made the editor think too strongly of Vonda McIntyre. And well it should have. At the first week’s Friday night Clarion West party, the first person I met was a very nice lady who offered a bag of crocheted…scrunchy things.** “Take one,” she said, “I make them for the students every year.” How nice, I thought, and chose a white one with red edging, and thanked her, and she went off to offer her gifts to some other students.
A classmate came up to me and said, very quietly, “That was Vonda McIntyre.” And I nearly fell over. I had just been in the presence of Vonda McIntyre! Unconquered Sun!
So when I needed a creature for my story–and fast–I looked up from my desk and saw…my scrunchy thing. “Okay,” I said. “But what will I call it?” And so I found myself with the vondas of the story. I kept it, when I revised. Because.
“Night’s Slow Poison” is set in the Radchaai universe though not (at the time of the story) in Radch space. Readers will likely recognize a few placenames.
*I did have to change the title, of course. I’d turned it in to the workshop as “Spacecrawl.” (The same week, I think, as S. Hutson Blount turned in his story titled “Spacecrawl.” He sold his “Spacecrawl” to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, far sooner than I sold mine.) I quite like the new title, actually, but I still think of it as “Spacecrawl.”
**If you crocheted a couple chains and joined them to make a loop, and then made twelve or so double crochets in that loop and joined them, to make a flat circle, and then each round made two dc in each dc so that it got all curvy and ruffly instead of flat, you would have something that was nearly identical to my red and white scrunchy thing.