Why I re-wrote a years-old short story nobody reads.
Keep editing, or shelve it? Whether a story is a success or forgotten, writers should enjoy storytelling.
In 2018, I wrote two short YA pulp stories for a now-defunct publisher. I also wrote about some lessons I learned writing pulp.
Pulp is quick-written ephemera. It’s designed to sell well at the front-end, then never again. It’s entertaining, then forgotten. I succeeded by these metrics.
Three years later, I regained the rights to my stories. By then, they had run out of gas and I’d moved on to write other things.
Then, Francis Ford Coppola happened.
The Godfather, Part III — a movie by an auteur that never quite fired on all cylinders — always fascinated me. Coppola re-edited his sow’s ear of a film and re-released it last year, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t better. He’d done the same thing with Apocalypse Now. It surprised me, too.
George Lucas tinkered with Star Wars long after its release and made it worse. Coppola, though, showed that a creative never has to finish their work until they’re satisfied and can indeed improve it.
Relic of the Damned!
In 2018, I churned out the first draft of a short story, Relic of the Damned! in about three days. I got notes back in 24 hours and delivered a final product 24 hours after that. It went to publication two weeks later. It surprised me to find people liked it, but I found it mediocre. I shrugged and moved on.
Relic was to be young adult fic, but I didn’t want to write earnest, kind, coming-to-terms-with-identity stuff. That’s fluff. When I was a kid, I wouldn’t have wanted to read it. The real YA drama was on YA Twitter, where people were getting pilloried and having their careers ruined over who could write what, and shouting about what was “harmful” for young adults to consume.
I wanted to write something for teens who were laughing at that while smoking fruity vapes.
In a back-and-forth with my editor, things got watered down. I enjoyed having an inconclusive gay coming-of-age theme, but my editor thought a fat boy with body image issues would connect with some segment of the market. We both agreed it would be fun to have meta-arguments between secondary characters about “problematic” issues, and that leaving the debates open would be unusual and challenging and dyspeptic to people we don’t like. Finally, I never liked the MacGuffin — a meteorite — nor some villains’ motivations.
The only question was, what value would a re-write hold?
A second edition for an audience of one
I hadn’t looked at the Relic of the Damned manuscript in years. Over eight days — twice as long as it took me to pen the original — I red-inked everything I hated. Quite a bit of it, really. There was too much sappy kindness. Pulp’s gotta be a little more hard-boiled. I added some atrocity because atrocity entertains people. It entertains them twice as hard when they’re told it isn’t appropriate.
Maybe I should have been writing other stuff — stuff that would sell — but I was having fresh ideas and a good bit of fun, and before I knew it I had a solid rewrite in hand. I fleshed it out, ran it past some beta readers, and published it in place of the former version.
It hasn’t sold a single copy since.
So what was the point?
Some things we let go, and others are a bee in our bonnet. This stuck in my craw, so I rewrote it for me. I’m a better writer now than I was in 2018. Ideas baked, and I could include them. I had fun moving the pieces around the board. Now, it’s where I want it to be.
Hitchcock revisited The Man Who Knew Too Much but not Torn Curtain. Gore Vidal released a second edition of The City and the Pillar. Some things nag at creatives more than others.
What did I gain from it? Inspiration for a third story in the series which I’ll publish under the Rot Gut Pulp banner this summer, hopefully. Maybe an anthology, even. Best of all, an end to writer’s block. That’s winning. There are different reasons we write and revise and create. Not all have to be for audiences, for sales numbers, or for anything at all.
If you want to give the second edition a spin, you can find Relic of the Damned! at this link.
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