I always go into these things with a mixture of hope and dread. Hope, in that the people there will confound my self-doubt and extol the genius in my work. Dread, in that my biggest fear is that they'll ferret out the very inadequacies in my prose that taunt me mercilessly. With "Rubber" I entered the critique particularly exposed, as I'd originally conceived the story as a 5,000-word jaunt and it ballooned on my uncontrollably. It became progressively more difficult to write as the deadline loomed closer, and there was a lot of literary flailing about as I crammed everything but the kitchen sink into it in an attempt to work through various plot and character deficiencies. The ending, in particular, was a mess--not one I wanted, but one I settled for because I couldn't think of a poignant, against-the-grain resolution that satisfied me.
The other writers jumped all over that stuff. It seems that the places I were unsure of myself and story were pretty transparent to the readers. The elements of the story with which I was most confident were the ones that worked best for everyone else. Which makes sense, but is interesting nonetheless. The happiest revelation came in that the bat cave scene--which I'd worried muchly would be derided as tacked-on and out-of-nowhere--proved the most popular sequence in my story. In fact, Bruce Sterling, who so laser-like identified what I was trying to do with my previous Turkey City submission "Europa, Deep and Cold," why I failed and what I needed to do in order to fix it did the same thing here again with "Rubber." This time, he distilled my problems with five straightforward words: "The story ends with guano." Which, in hindsight, makes a whole lot of sense, and lends itself to my desire for a conclusion that finds some measure of victory in failure. Bruce described the story as "a business caper" which hadn't occurred to me, but is true, since the economic element is the whole plot motivator. Chris Nakashima-Brown called it "an Aggie version of Mad Max" which is indeed true, although the only A&M connection is the fact I graduated there. It's more of a Tejano Mad Max, but however you define it, there are Mad Maxian elements in the futuristic dystopia.
Other positive comments focused on the economy and the decaying future I'd constructed for the story. Often, money is a mere MacGuffin, but I succeeded in showing the desperation, the hardscrabble need for it and where the green stuff actually goes. It's a scavenger economy where the deck is stacked heavily against the little guy, but one I succeeded in pulling off, even if one reader remained unconvinced by my underlying assumptions. My story's biggest failings (beyond the universally-reviled ending) were character and motivation. Which I can't argue with. Motivations changed several times as I was writing the piece, and the result is inconsistent at best. That will be a challenge to fix, but it shouldn't be insurmountable.
My biggest problem to tackle is the ending. Using the bat cave as a climax makes sense on many levels--particularly since it got raves because of the tension it evoked. I can't follow that with anything that isn't anti-climactic. But turning that "failure" into an inadvertent win is going to take a lot of work to keep it from coming off as a Deus ex machina or a "Why didn't they just do that years ago and avoid all the crap they just went through?" kind of ending. I guess challenges like this exist for me to prove my salt as a writer.
For anyone who's interested, I published more pictures from the workshop over at the No Fear of the Future blog.
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