…we're keeping our name but expanding our offerings!
When chatting with Shukyou about her work, she mentioned never taking 50 words to say something when she could take 500. That settled it for us. Who is better qualified to give you a little insight in how her stories come together than Shukyou herself? Oh, and while she’s at it, she points out a few of her favorites to get you started!
That’s right! I like to roll around in language, much to my word count’s horror, which is why sometimes these stories seem a little truncated—SSBB’s got a 128k character limit, done in two 64k entries, and there are times I’ve been cutting individual letters to make my stories fit. It’s a technical limitation, not a personal rule, or else as editor I’d bend it all the time. The reason stories like Sid Stills’ Blues and the White Palace are so long, though, is that once a year we lift the limit and do stories that span more than two entries (sort of a pain in the butt, which is why we only do it in December). I feel what I do well is voice, in that each narrator, whether first- or third-person opining, has a distinct set of vocabulary, idioms, observations, and unvoiced thoughts.
The other thing about my work for SSBB in particular is that, well, sometimes it’s NOT my best work. But that’s why I like SSBB as a project: it forces me to write, and then it forces me to move on. I can sit on a story and pick it to pieces if you give me infinite editing time, and have done so before; however, if a story’s been published, well, it’s been published, and there’s nothing for it now but to drop it, warts and all, and move on to whatever I’m doing next. Of course, I try to make everything as pretty as I can before it goes to press, but you know, sometimes I’m crunched for time or I’m editing everyone else’s stories or (as with Eve and A Prescription For Love) I last-minute wrote a story because I felt the issue was going to be too thin. And that’s okay! Sometimes I write stories for one person, and if that person was brought amusement and joy by it, to hell with what everyone else thinks.
But just damn WRITING has made me a better writer. I was a good fanfic writer, but that’s worlds different from being a good fiction author. My early SSBB stories make me cringe, because I could see how to do them better now, and at least one of them I really do want to go back and revamp someday. (There was also the problem that early SSBB stories were capped at 64k, period, but a lot of mine wanted to be longer.) So on the one hand, it’s kind of embarrassing to look back and see how crummy I was, and on the other hand, hey, progress!
And now on to my favorite stories! Please note: these are not necessarily the /best/ stories I’ve ever written, but they’re ones that are special to me. I think they’re all still pretty good, though.
Bodies in Space
This is the story that Goodreads latched on to, which is very gratifying, because most people there seem to like it. If you read the author’s notes at the end, you can see that it started out with an intensely stupid premise, but somewhere along the way, it worked into a story about love and different abilities. I spent seven years working with young people with mild to severe autism, and one of the thousand difficult things they had to manage was figuring out their own sexual identities, especially amidst parents and teachers who tended to treat them like children instead of near-adults. Truth be told, I think a bit of the story is lost out of context: I curate every SSBB issue very carefully, and this was the story I chose to close out the ‘Weasels Ripped My Flesh’ issue, a theme intended to evoke the campy hyper-masculinity of men’s pulp adventure magazines. If the story had been about Rick, it would have been much more like the wonderful high-spirited stories that preceded it in the issue order, but I took it somewhere a little different. I feel that move was successful, and folk seem to agree. (Plus, that issue has On Earth My Nina, perhaps my favorite Domashita Romero story ever)
Sid Stills’ Blues (Three-Quarters in the Bag in Alphabet City)
This is by far the longest thing I’ve ever written. It’s also the story that kept me going while I was dealing with my stepfather’s death from cancer. This started out as being something silly my friend Whit (Domashita Romero) and I could talk about to keep my mind off things, and would up becoming my symbolically saving my stepfather’s life, even after he was gone. I think of the tale of how Mandy Patinkin, during the Princess Bride, imagined that when Inigo Montoya stabbed and killed the six-fingered man, he was really stabbing and killing the cancer that had killed his own father. It is the epitome of what I mean when I talk about being self-indulgent with the beauty of language, and the last 60k words of it (or so) were written in a three-week frenzy, and by the time I was finally done with the lengthy mess, both Sid and I felt a lot better.
The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell
Ugh, nobody likes it when writers write about writing. So of course, I wrote a story about writing — or at least about how we narrate our own lives to make sense of them, even when they’re not as neat as fiction. I think (hope?) having a good narrator keeps it from being too insufferable. It’s probably objectively the best thing I’ve ever written for SSBB, but it’s an F/F story instead of an M/M story, so it gets a fraction of the recognition it would otherwise. It’s intensely personal, for all Dinah and I are completely unalike; the story starts and finishes in my hometown, and on the way it drives over some roads I know very well. And of course, Graceland is objectively the perfect road trip album, and I will hear nothing to the contrary.
Look, I wrote an entire story about how I think the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debates about sexuality are gross and reductive! I’ll believe there’s a large biological component to sexual attraction, but I know there’s also a lot that personal choice has to do with it. And I say this as a married lesbian on paper, but a sort of polywhateversexual in practice. I understand the point of concrete labels for identity formation and group solidarity (believe me), but I have also seen people’s perceptions of themselves get in the way of what they really want. (Bonus: I’ve had people who do science for a living tell me my science here was pretty good! Thanks, science fiction TV shows I stole it from!)
On the other hand, sometimes I write about cowboys who hunt ghosts. This story was absolutely envisioned as one of those USA Network series powered entirely by the force of bromance, except that in this case, the characters who would usually be gay-baiting are actually boning. I also like to make a point of keeping awesome female characters as important parts in several of my boyslash stories, and Bao Yu is one of my favorites.
Shukyou is the editor-in-chief of Shousetsu Bang*Bang, an online webzine of original gay romance short stories. Shousetsu Bang*Bang has an archive of somewhere between 600-700 stories — all absolutely free forever — and is always looking for new contributors.