Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Learning to Double-dip

Back in the days, when I was a lowly staff accountant hitting the audit trail, I was exposed to countless stories from other accountants who had preceded me in experience. One of those stories came from an auditor who told me how they went to a restaurant and watched as a busboy cleared a table and poured the salsa remains back into the tub used to refill other patrons’ bowls. Personally, I think the whole thing was a hoax—those guys were always spinning stories just to see how gullible the newbie was—but the memory strikes at the heart of today’s posting: Double-dipping. We’ve all seen it before. That one loser who dips his chip into the salsa, takes a bite and then dips the same chip back into the same salsa. As far as eating protocol, this one probably makes you fight off the gag reflexes. As far as writing goes, however, it should be as appetizing as a banana split with tons of whipped cream on top.

Currently, I’ve been trying to focus my energies on writing crime/suspense stories. These are not so much mysteries as there is nothing for the reader to solve along with a detective or an investigator. Rather, these stories delve into the crimes and their perpetrators, exploring the reasons and the outcomes. As part of my endeavor, then, I’ve pulled off of novel reading and targeted some collected works. Learning to Kill by Ed McBain, a collection of his short stories, is one of them. Born Salvatore Lombino, the author was published under the names of Ed McBain, Evan Hunter, Hunt Collins and Richard Marsten. He garnered his first publication back in the 1950s, and his last work was published in 2005, the year he passed away. Spanning five decades, he had one of those careers that many writers can only dream of.

In writing about one of the short stories, “See Him Die”, the author noted the following:

“See Him Die”—in a greatly changed and expanded version—was later retitled See Them Die, and published in 1960 as the thirteenth novel in the 87th Precinct Series.

While looking at McBain’s bibliography, I also noted another 87th Precinct novel was titled Sadie When She Died. This was the same title to a story in the Alfred Hitchcock collection of mysteries (published by Barnes & Noble).

You know how you remember something, but can’t quite place your finger on it? This is what happened to me when I realized what McBain did with his short stories. Somewhere deep in my stack of collected issues of Writer’s Digest magazines, there was an article about reselling work. The article was targeted toward nonfiction writers who had resubmitted a previously published article, but with a different twist on it. Say the writer sold an article about the struggles of getting kids off to school in the morning. The writer might change the focus just slightly and write some extra stuff about the benefits of timetables in the morning—breakfast from 7:00 to 7:15, getting dressed from 7:15 to 7:25, brushing teeth & combing hair from 7:25 to 7:30, and so on—and then resubmit that piece to a different magazine. The idea behind the WD article was to wring more juice out of your work. As I read McBain’s commentary before “See Him Die”, it dawned on me that he did the same thing, only forty-plus years ago.

That revelation brought me to a new awareness about my own writing: If he could do it, then why can’t I?

One of the problems I have as a writer is that while I’m working on a short story, I have this tendency to expand things in my mind. “This could be a great novel,” I might say. And then I start to believe myself and decided to explore the possibilities, failing to just submit the darn thing as a short story. So far, I’ve placed stories in an either-or scenario, either it will be a novel or it will be a short. Now, after seeing what McBain did, I realize that I can have it both ways. As such, I’ve gone back to a short story that I had placed on the exploratory shelf. I dusted it off and started working on it again. Hopefully, within the week I can send it out as a short that in time could be expanded into something else.

What is more, there are snippets from novels that started and failed, which I now believe are worth consideration. Like a doctor trying to salvage vital organs from a fresh cadaver, I can excise those viable parts and give them a new life. So, all is not lost.

When it comes to writing stories, I’m learning that double-dipping is not only done, it should be a regular tool we can pull out of the box.

3 comments:

  1. http://www.gooblink.comFebruary 18, 2009 at 9:50 AM

    Neat! I recently had the same revelation. I've been on a novel reading blitz - 2 novels per week - and noticed that a couple of my favorite authors (Joyce Carol Oates and Anne Tyler) have had chapters of their novels published as short stories.

    I have a flash piece I wrote a long time ago that I've considered as a basis for a novel, as well.

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  2. Thanks for stopping by, Cindy.

    This revelation was one of those V-8 moments, where I thought, "Stephen, you dummy! Why haven't you been doing this all along?"

    Oh well. Life is a journey worth learning. And if you're not learning, then it's time to clock out.

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  3. Double-dipping. Love it. I do it all the time, just not in restaurants.

    EVERY one of my published fiction works can be found in one form or another somewhere else: extracts of novels, the basis of longer works, and even poems. Indeed, my SIX pubbed yesterday is also related to a poem I'm working on. My second novel double dips characters from my first, and a couple of longish shorts I'm wrestling are from BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT. My poems appear in my novels.

    Double-dipping = efficiency. Write what you know, know what you write. Different forms also provide different perspectives on the same subject matter.

    Super post. I love 'voila' moments. Peace, Linda

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