The Whether Here


Entries in Rachel Swirsky (1)


Cati likes science fiction? Or, the First Sentences Project, part 1

Happy day after Independence Day!

I hope you made it through unscathed. Last evening my family celebrated our independence by eating at El Torito, and I celebrated my own by being the only drinker at the table, because who can eat chips and salsa without a margarita? We then watched the big fireworks display over Mt. Rubidoux (also dubbed "The Annual Mt. Rubidoux Fire") and ate watermelon and played frisby in the parking lot and made tiny sparks of our own with the only legal "fireworks" allowed in our city, purchased at Target, though if the parade of fire engines and dog howls throughout the night were any indicator, we weren't the only ones who made our own, independent sparks. 

Today, I celebrate the day after without a hangover and with some fun writerly news to share.

For some time now, I have been very occasionally helping a friend with his short fiction. While I have not to date written what I consider a successful short story (let alone published one) I have always enjoyed short stories, especially ones that might be considered speculative or magical realist. My poetry often ventures far out into the realms of the unreal, and I even devoted an entire issue of Poemeleon to that broad category of poetry, so reading and commenting on his short fiction has helped me move toward my own goal of writing publishable fiction.

Flash forward to AWP in Los Angeles. There were lots of panels and readings that I wanted to see and people I wanted to meet, but because I was there representing Inlandia, I didn't get away as often as I might have if I hadn't been tethered to a table. Add to that that I was also co-in-charge of the WordTech table, the press that published my last book, and you can see how my hope to do anything other than meet and greet might vanish. Given all of that, I had a great time, and I still was able to get out and do a few things. One of those things was to attend a panel discussion on Women in Speculative Fiction, where I met Rachel Swirsky, author of some very cool stories like Tea Time, Grande Jete, and If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love. I was a total dork and had a picture of us taken together. Her husband very kindly obliged.

Flash forward - again. After that auspicious meeting, and after we became friends on Facebook, and after after having inquired of her if she'd ever be willing to make a trek to the I.E. to be a part of a Women in Speculative Fiction event I'd like to host here, maybe as part of UCR's Eaton Conference, an idea was hatched.

Rachel posts a lot about process, and she wrote something on her blog about analyzing her own first lines. The very next day, she posted a follow-up analzying the first lines from other stories she'd read. This was then followed by her analysis of what first lines can do. Meanwhile, these links were being shared via social media, and my aforementioned friend, Eric Schwitzgebel, suggested that maybe a fun project could be analyzing just the first lines, without any knowledge beforehand of where the story might go. They both thought that was a great idea and recruited a few others - myself, Ann Leckie, and Aliette de Bodard. Rachel contacted the editor of Lightspeed, and received the go-ahead to use the July issue's stories, released incrementally for free online throughout the month. 

Today, the first of those stories went live: Magnifica Angelica Superable.

Simultaneous with the release of each of the stories whose first lines we analyzed, a group post of our guesses and some ensuing analyses will be posted on The Splintered Mind, Eric's blog.

Here's how Eric has framed the project: 

How much can you predict about a story from its title and first sentence alone?  Aliette de BodardAnn LeckieCati PorterRachel Swirsky and I aim to find out! We have taken the first sentences of five stories from July’s issue of Lightspeed Magazine (kindly provided to us in advance by John Joseph Adams) and attempted to predict the plot of each story. [Note: Ann and Rachel attempted to predict based on the first sentence alone, while Aliette, Cati, and I also looked to the title for clues.]

Our first story is “Magnifica Angelica Superable” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz:

A woman from the street came in laughing from the cold.

From these eleven words (sixteen if you include title and author name), do you already have a sense of tone, character, setting? Are you already starting to form a conception of how the plot might go? I’ve pasted our guesses below. But first, you might want to make your own guess.

At the end of this post I’ll link to the story (available for free online), so you can see how the story actually unfolds. 

This has been a super fun, enlightening project. I enjoyed imagining where the stories might go based on that first line alone. This story in particular feels especially apt for an Independence Day post. I hope you'll take a few minutes out of your day to go guess with us