Maps in a mirror, p.112

Maps in a Mirror, page 112


Maps in a Mirror

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  Gert Fram had some space left, so she drew a picture of Susan’s rocket ship crashing into the sun.

  Then she got up (with dignity) from the desk and walked to her dresser, where there were a lot of things stacked. There was the china elephant with the broken trunk because she had dropped it. There was the library book that Mother had had to buy because Susan had dropped it in the gutter and the pages had gotten all thick and wrinkly even after they dried. There was the watch with the broken glass because Susan had accidentally scraped it against a cement wall during class break at junior high. There was a ripped picture of Jesus from Sunday School that the teacher had given her because after she ripped it Susan had felt so bad she had cried. This was when she was seven and sometimes let herself cry.

  Susan remembered that the Sunday School teacher had hugged her and said, “Hey, Susan, don’t cry like that. You’re sorry you ripped the picture, aren’t you?”

  Susan had nodded and said in her squeaky trying-not-to-cry voice, “I didn’t even mean to.”

  “I know you didn’t mean to,” said the Sunday School teacher. “And when you say you’re sorry about something, Jesus said that people are supposed to forgive you.”

  “I’m sorry,” Susan had said, and cried again, even louder.

  The Sunday School teacher gave her an even bigger hug. “That’s all right. I forgive you.”

  But Susan had cried even louder.

  “Why are you still crying?” asked the Sunday School teacher.

  “Because I ripped Jesus’s picture and he’ll be mad at me.”

  Susan remembered that the teacher had gotten tears in her eyes. “Jesus is never mad at you,” Susan remembered hearing the teacher tell her. “And to show you, I want you to keep this picture, and every time you see it, you remember that even when you make mistakes Jesus still loves you and forgives you.”

  Susan set down the picture on her dresser. If I say I’m sorry maybe they’ll forgive me, she thought.

  So she opened the door and started down the stairs. Then she remembered Vanessa and Raymond by the front door and she coughed. She kept coughing all the way down the stairs.

  “What is it, you got pneumonia?” said Jonathan, who was sitting in the living room. Vanessa and Raymond were gone. Susan chose to ignore Jonathan’s comment.

  Mother was in the kitchen. Father was in the den. Susan decided to go in and say she was sorry to Mother. Then if it went OK she’d go in and say it to Father.

  Mother was finishing up the refreshments for the party. She didn’t look up when Susan came into the kitchen, but that never stopped Mother, she always knew when somebody came into the kitchen. “Are you feeling better now, Susan, dear?” Mother asked.

  Mother sounded so kind that Susan ran right over and leaned on the counter and said, “Mother, I’m sorry I’ve been acting like such a creep and doing everything wrong and I’m sorry I pulled the stupid petals off the stupid flowers and spilled the lemonade and bought eggs and cut out the crossword puzzle and didn’t announce I was coming and everything.”

  Mother looked at her with horror in her eyes. “Susan, for heaven’s sake, look where you’re leaning!”

  Susan looked where she was leaning. Her elbows were crushing the jello and whipped cream and pineapple dessert that Mother had all ready for the party. Her elbows were covered with jello. The dessert was completely smashed. Susan looked up at her mother.

  “What in the world am I going to do now!” her mother said, wringing her hands. “They’ll all be here in half an hour and there’s not a hope in the world of making anything else! Susan, sometimes I think we ought to build a bomb shelter for all of us to hide in whenever you’re around!” Mother had meant that last sentence to be a kind of joke, but Susan didn’t notice that. She just stood there, deciding not to cry, and then deciding that she couldn’t help it, and then with tears running down her cheeks and her face all crinkled up she ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs and slammed the door.

  In the living room Jonathan said, “Well, that’s two slammed doors tonight, tying the world’s record. If we make three slammed doors it’ll be a new champion!”

  Mother said, “Jonathan, I’m getting very cross with you.” Then she went upstairs and tapped on Susan’s door.

  “Susan,” Mother said.

  “Go away and leave me alone,” Susan’s voice said. Susan’s voice sounded like there was a lump in her throat and tears in her eyes and a pillow in front of her face. Mother thought about going in anyway, and then she decided that it was not a good idea. Instead she went to the den and asked Father to go to the store and buy something for dessert for the party tonight.

  The party was fun and noisy and all the adults played games and talked and ate the store-bought dessert and said thank you for the wonderful evening and went home.

  Then Mother and Father talked quietly for a few minutes and they decided that Father would go up and talk to Susan.

  Father knocked on the door. “May I come in?” he asked.

  “Certainly,” answered a voice.

  Father came in.

  “Susan, I want to talk to you for a couple of minutes.”

  Susan turned around on her chair and looked at him in dignified surprise. “I’m terribly sorry, sir, but you must have the wrong address. There is no Susan here.”

  Father looked at her for a moment and said, “I’m afraid I must have been given the wrong address. Who does live here?”

  “No one lives here. This is the office and studio and den of Gert Fram, the world-famous author.”

  Father smiled. “I’ve never been in the office and studio and den of a world-famous author before.”

  “Well, you needn’t ask for an autograph,” Gert Fram replied. “I gave up signing autographs years ago. It was such a bother.”

  “I don’t want an autograph,” Father said. “I think I want an exclusive interview.”

  Gert Fram tilted her head. “For that, I’m afraid you’ll need to consult my agent. I never grant interviews on the spur of the moment.”

  Father looked at the floor. “You’re not making this very easy for me,” he said.

  A funny look passed across Susan’s face, but it was Gert Fram who answered him. “That’s because it shouldn’t be any easier for you than it is for me,” she said disdainfully. “Fair is fair and right is right. Besides, I know what you’re really here for.”

  “Do you?”

  “Of course. You’re like all the others. You want a sneak preview of my latest novel.”

  “I don’t really think that’s why I came up here, Susan,” Father said.

  “Oh, you’ll definitely want to read it when you hear the title. It’s called Susan the Jerk.”

  This time it was Father’s face that got the funny look. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “I really do want to read it.”

  Susan handed him the book with a shaking hand. Gert Fram’s voice was steady, however, when she said, “I knew it would work. My titles are irresistible.”

  Father sat on the bed and read Susan the Jerk from the beginning, to the end. He looked at the picture of the rocket ship crashing into the sun for a long time.

  When he looked up at Susan, he saw Gert Fram watching him carefully, one eyebrow raised. Father sighed.

  “Gert Fram, you’re a fine author and I’m very impressed with your book. But there’s been a terrible mistake made here. I really came to this address to see somebody else. You see, I respect you and admire you but you’re just not in my class, Miss Fram. I was looking for a woman named Susan Parker. I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry that I’ve been cross with her. I wanted to tell Susan Parker that her father and her mother love her so much that when they know she’s unhappy and it’s their fault, they feel terrible until they can make it right. Can you pass that message along for us?”

  “I hardly run a messenger service here,” Gert Fram answered. But then her voice cracked and she said, “But I’ll try to let her know. I don’t thi
nk she’ll believe that message, though.”

  Father bowed his head. “I hope she believes it. Because Susan just might be thinking right now that she’s a jerk. And it just isn’t true. She’s a wonderful person. It’s just that her parents and her brother and sisters are so used to having her around that they forget how wonderful she is. They forget to treat her like a wonderful person. But oh, Miss Fram, if they ever lost Susan they’d miss her so much—”

  And suddenly Susan realized that the reason that Father had stopped talking was because he was crying. She had never seen her father cry before. And he was crying because he loved Susan Parker so much and right then Gert Fram disappeared and Susan Parker was back and she was crying and hugging her father but mostly letting him hug her. He was saying, “My little girl, my little girl.”

  Finally Susan said, very softly, “I’m not a little girl, Father.”

  Father took her by the shoulders and held her away from him a little and looked into her eyes. He looked a long time into her eyes and then he smiled, even though he still had tears, and he said, “You’re absolutely right. And to think I didn’t realize it until this moment.”

  Then they both said a lot of things and didn’t say other things and went downstairs for family prayer. Then Mother and Father kissed Susan good-night and she went back upstairs. She undressed for bed and said her prayers and got under the covers and turned off the light.

  A few minutes later she turned the light back on and got up and went to the desk. She picked up the book Susan the Jerk and turned it over and on the last page, in little letters where there was still some space left, right after where it said, “boy that Susan is sure a jerk,” she wrote:

  “But whenever they said that, Susan’s father said, you better watch it, that’s my dauter you’re talking about, and they didn’t say it anymore.”

  That was a better ending to the novel. Susan turned off the light and went to sleep. In the morning she would realize that she had never washed the jello dessert off her elbows and it was now all over her bedroom, but tonight it didn’t matter. It didn’t even matter in the morning.




  These works share a common fate—they were killed commercially by the publication of a novel that superseded them. Not long ago I wrote an essay about this process for Foundation, a British literary journal about speculative fiction, and that essay will serve as a complete afterword to those stories in this collection. So here it is:


  I never set out on a regular program of turning my old novelettes and novellas into novels. At the time I wrote most of my shorter works, I thought they were just right at that length. Yet somehow the expansion of old stories has become a regular feature of my career.

  My novel Songmaster was built from the novelette “Mikal’s Songbird.” Hart’s Hope began life as a novella of the same name. Wyrms was originally written as the novella “Unwyrm.” Eight years before Ender’s Game was published as a novel, the novelette of that name was my first published science fiction story.

  In fact, I’ve gone even further—I find myself revising my old books. My first novel, Hot Sleep, and my first book, the collection Capitol, were replaced by the 1983 novel The Worthing Chronicle; it, in turn, will be included in the megabook Worthing Complete sometime in the next few years. Recently St. Martin’s Press brought out Treason, a reworking of my second novel, A Planet Called Treason.

  What’s going on here? Is all this meddling with dead works a sort of resurrection or is it literary necrophilia? Am I making silk purses out of sows’ ears, or am I so short of new ideas that I have to go back to what I did in bygone years? Am I a modest fellow who, in learning new skills, discovers the inadequacies of early work and tries to repair them, or am I so narcissistic that I find my past works too fascinating to ignore?

  Maybe all of those things, or none of them. Each one of these expansions and rewrites came about in its own way, not because of any plan of mine, so I doubt they have any meaning in the aggregate. But perhaps an account of how these stories were transformed over time will have some value in understanding why they are the way they are.


  Barbara Bova had just become my agent, and I hadn’t sent her anything of novel length to sell. She was not deterred—I got a phone call from her saying that she had just received a decent offer from a publisher for the novel version of my novelette “Mikal’s Songbird,” which was at the time nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards.

  “What novel version?” I said.

  “Well, that’s the problem,” said she. “I need a few paragraphs from you telling how you’ll change it to make it a novel.”

  “But it’s a novelette. It’s finished.”

  “Think about it for a while, dear. Maybe you’ll find a novel in there somewhere. If you don’t, I’ll just turn down this very nice offer.”

  Now, you must understand—I don’t automatically say yes just because I’m offered money. I had already turned down a request for a sequel to A Planet Called Treason because I couldn’t think of an adequate storyline, and I fully expected to do the same with this proposal.

  I thought back over what happened in “Mikal’s Songbird” and tried to find a hook where I could hang new story elements. I rejected at once the idea of using the same plot and simply taking more words to tell it—I loathe excess description and empty writing. Besides, the world of “Mikal’s Songbird” was very sketchy and not terribly interesting. Nor could I think of a subplot that would add meaningful pages.

  Then I realized that there might be something worth exploring in how Ansset became a Songbird. The Songhouse might be developed into a strange and fascinating milieu. I knew at once that it should be a sort of medieval monastery, a retreat and a school, a place where souls are saved—and, in the struggle, hurt.

  Looking back, I can see now that part of my fascination with the Songhouse was a desire to explore the relationship between the individual and a highly demanding and rewarding community, which in my case meant the Mormon Church. While Mormonism has no monastic tradition, a good case could be made for the idea that the whole church is a kind of monastery, insulating its members from the world behind walls, not of stone, but of culture.

  At the time, however, it just seemed like a pretty good science fiction idea—one that I could hang a novel on. At the same time, it involved a structural insight that I have used to good effect many times since: When expanding a short work into a long one, the place to go for a new material isn’t after the initial short story, but before it. By starting much earlier, and explaining how the characters got to where they are at the beginning of the short story, the milieu is much richer, the cast of characters much fuller, the characterization much deeper than it was in the original story.

  Much outlining and map-drawing later, I sat down and began writing. The first section, in the Songhouse, grew to be much longer than I had expected. When it was done, I realized that it could stand alone quite nicely, so I sent it to Barbara, who sold it as a separate novella to Stan Schmidt, then quite new as editor of Analog. Word for word, it was identical with the opening chapters of Songmaster; as with the recent publication of sections of the Tales of Alvin Maker as separate stories, the novella “Songhouse” was a case of excerpting from a novel, not expanding a short work after the fact.

  By the time I got to the events of the original novelette the milieu and characters had grown and changed so much that hardly a word of “Mikal’s Songbird” was usable. Events had new meanings; characters had different things to think and say. This first time, it was quite wrenching for me to throw out the entire text of a story that had been, after all, quite successful. But it had to be done if the novel was to have any integrity.

  Songmaster ended up with some serious structural flaws—for instance, the “Kyaren” section lags quite badly a
nd the novel seems to end when Ansset becomes emperor, so that readers often find it hard to figure out why there are still so many pages left. But these are the product of my unfamiliarity with the novel form, not the fact that Songmaster was an expansion. Despite its flaws, in fact, Songmaster is my earliest novel that I am willing to stand by in its original form, so that the editing I did in preparation for Tor’s recent reprint was on the level of tinkering with style. The structure has problems, but I’m willing to live with them, because the story still feels true to me as it stands, even if it isn’t as artful as I’d like.


  In a way, “Mikal’s Songbird” was an adaptation right from the start. The novelette was only my fourth science fiction sale. “Ender’s Game” had been the first, a story that was quite easy to write. My next story died instantly; my third and fourth, “Follower” and “Malpractice,” sold—but only with strong editorial suggestions from Ben Bova at Analog. The next few stories I wrote, however, went nowhere—they were so bad that not only did no one buy them, but also one editor sent me an incredible two-page letter that can only be classed as hate-mail, and followed up by reviewing one of those unpublishable stories in a fanzine! These stories were so bad that someone had to drive a stake through their hearts, just to make sure they didn’t rise again.

  And I was afraid. Though I had done quite well as a playwright in the Mormon theatre scene in Utah, I had no guarantee that I’d have a career in a genre that actually paid writers enough to live on. To me, at that bleak moment, it looked as though “Ender’s Game” might be the only successful story I’d ever write.

  But I was determined to try again. This time, though, I went back to “Ender’s Game” and tried to determine what it was about that story that worked. In my ignorance, I saw only the most superficial strengths of the story: The hero was a child with extraordinary ability, who goes through a great deal of personal pain inflicted by adults who are trying to exploit him. Maybe this was a pattern I could use again, thought I.

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