In 1994, I wrote Outerspace, a sci-fi short story that went on to be lauded by 9’s of people. It was green-lit for printing by my elementary school’s very own in-house publishing program. And while it is important to note that all manuscripts that landed on the publishing desk were put to print, I think it is just as important to note, that had this not been a mandatory assignment, I am confident that the story would have been just as successful had I decided to disseminate handwritten copies during lunch or recess.
In what was a very non-fictional/autobiographical time for the Bartlett Elementary Publishing Program, Outerspace, was an outlier.
I rediscovered this short story 20 years later while visiting home. Here are my thoughts.
Why is there no dedication? No foreword? No introduction? I admit that I am a bit confused as to why I would open a story this way…
But the Imagery here is powerful. Rather than depict the Earth in its traditional oblate spheroid rendering, I opted for an uneven, egg like depiction. At the time, I thought the world to be an unfair and asymmetrical experience, because if other kids could drink soda, then I was going to drink goddamn soda too.
You can also tell that years of pledging allegiance to the flag resulted in a very strong nationalistic viewpoint, so much so, that I am not at all concerned about illustrating Canada. Or Florida.
On second thought, I’m wondering if maybe this entire page is my own way of dedicating this story to the people of Earth (except Canada)?
Either way, the ambiguity of the first page does succeed in adding a sense of mystery.
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, Hemingway was and still is a huge influence in my literary approach. I’ll own up to that one all day, though I am concerned as to how I could be influenced by an author I wouldn’t read until many years after writing Outerspace. Spooky, I know.
I don’t even know what to say about the accompanying image. It’s haunting and violent, but also sad in a very familiar way, a lot like ordering a large meat lover’s pizza for one.
Character building is important. It’s very important in sci-fi stories. You need to find a way to imprint the human condition into the bones of the story. Even though this story is set in space, it very easily could have been translated into a medieval tale, a western, or a roaring twenties piece. By giving these characters the love of sports and physical activity, we are able to understand them a little bit more. Except, Wolf Fang, what happened to that guy? He was literally there a page ago. 20 years later, I still regret allowing a character to slip through the cracks like that.
One thing I learned at a young age about writing, is that if you’re having trouble with navigating a climactic scene, cause a natural disaster.
Girl can’t get the guy to notice her? Avalanche.
Don’t know where the bomb is located? Flood
What was behind the secret door? Sharknado.
This little trick will propel your story forward ten-fold.
If the third act doesn’t make sense, it’s more than likely that the real problem is in the first act. But sometimes you’ve gone too far to go back and fix the foundation. Or in the case of Outerspace, I had already drawn all of the artwork, so re-illustrating everything after rewrites would not have been feasible.
Luckily, there’s another tool in the writer’s toolkit that is useful in situations like that. And that is to use a little deus ex machina. It might be a crutch, but at least our story is still standing. Use it only in case of emergency.
This is probably my favorite page in the entire book.
On the illustration:
Wow, just wow. The story ends with Saturn (and an entire, previously undiscovered alien species) in complete disarray. Perhaps that ferocious two-headed winged beast at the bottom of the page is what tore Saturn a new B-hole? I must have had plans for a trilogy…
On About the Author:
Why did they put my address on there? Was it for fan mail? Or maybe it was there incased I got lost, didn’t know my own address, and could use this short story as a means of finding my way home? Was the school concerned that its tiny authors were getting lost a little too frequently? We’ll never know.
I also like that the publisher states that I have “four fishtails” instead of four “fish.” It makes me sounds a bit sinister and probably gave me some street cred among my peers. It gets even better when you realize they only chose to release 3 of the 4 names like that fourth fish didn’t matter. It didn’t.
And perhaps the best part of all this is that my about page closes with the line “likes to eat meatball subs.” I like to imagine that if I ever wrote something that got published, that part would read “Yes, Tim still likes to eat meatball subs.”