Monday, February 7, 2011

Story Notes for "The Hot Bun Man"

Yesterday's story, "The Hot Bun Man" was the first story I ever sold, but alas, not the first one I ever published. The market was an interesting little press called Story Cards, and they published little flash fiction chapbooks as greeting cards. Unfortunately, it just wasn't a good business model, and they went out of business before they published my story. They did pay me a $150 kill fee, however.

The story itself was inspired by two things. One was Chinese green onion pancakes -- something I had never experienced in a restaurant at the time, but I had an excellent cookbook and I learned to make them myself. You make the dough with boiling water, and it has an added sweetness and tenderness that's just plain yummy.

The other element was a fantasy world I had developed for this major magnum opus I was going to write. You know, the kind of door-stopper fantasy trilogy that everyone was writing back in the 1980s? It was beyond my skill, and of all the work I did, this was really the only story that actually came of it. The 'businessman' is actually the major antagonist of that series. Martin the Clairvoyant - a slave who grew up in sheer misery and raised himself to he most powerful man in the kingdom via fierce self-control and anger.

I guess you could say that the Hot Bun Man changed the course of history by giving that man a good day. I mean, how can you spend your day foiling the plots of heroes when you're busy enjoying some nice dim sum? I suppose the story of Les Miserables would have been a lot shorter if someone had just given Javert a nice Bao in the first act, too.

But that's not the most important thing to say about this story. No, the big lesson of the writing of this story came not from the writing, but from what happened when I sold it.

I knew a wonderful amateur artist at the time, and Story Cards was open to submissions from him. So I gave him the story and let him see what he could do.

He did up a nice pen and ink drawing -- really quite beautiful. The business man in the foreground, just about to bite into the bun, as the wise old vendor watched over his shoulder. A lovely moment. Of course, since I had not specified the culture this story took place in, he dressed his characters a little differently than I expected. The business man was in a top hat and that worked, but the old vendor was Mexican. With a mustache.

Which surprised me, so I guess I made a face.

I didn't know I'd made a face. It wasn't voluntary and it certainly wasn't a comment on his work. I was just, you know, surprised.

But the next day I found out he went and destroyed that lovely first drawing. And he desperately worked on another which was not so inspired, but still pretty good, but when he realized that I'd liked the first one, he got depressed, and so he destroyed the second one and drew a more precise but only adequate one.

In the end, he didn't get the gig. Not because he wasn't good enough, but because he didn't have the confidence in himself to survive a momentary frown. He was like those authors I mentioned in the Leap From The Lion's Mouth post -- he had artist's remorse and he was too busy scrambling back to make the leap.

So that's another lesson. Don't worry about imperfection. And really seriously, don't worry about little frowns and negative comments here and there. If you keep correcting things you can end up with perfect mediocrity.

Remember: I life lived in fear is only half a life.

Be bold.

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