Frayed began as flash fiction.1 What is that, you ask? Flash fiction is an extremely brief story, typically of a thousand words or less. It is written for those who like to read, who often don’t have time to. The sort of story you could read in a single bathroom break. (Maybe it should be called flush fiction?)
Shortly after Amish Vampires in Space was released, the editor-in-chief of Splickety magazine, Ben Wolf, encouraged me to write a story for his speculative fiction magazine, Havok. He stipulated that the story had to be a thousand words or less.
The challenge intrigued me. I hadn’t written a short story in quite a while, but I was a little stumped with how to start. A thousand words wasn’t a lot of canvas to work with. It certainly didn’t lend itself to another Amish story. Every time I go into that universe a ton of characters come out, bringing wagonloads of words with them. I can’t go low tech and not use a lot of words. Strange, but true.
Kerry Nietz, author of Frayed, is this week’s featured novelist in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about this story. You can also join our ongoing book club selection this month, reading through James L. Rubart’s novel The Man He Never Was.
So where would my flash fiction story come from?
The only thing that felt right was to craft something in the world of my first novel—A Star Curiously Singing (ASCS). Written in first-person-present tense, and centering around a single character, those books tended to be smaller. Plus, since much of that trilogy was set in space, there was still a good deal of its future Earth left unexplored. There had to be a million short stories there.
I didn’t want to use the characters from that series of books, though. The story of Sandfly, HardCandy and DarkTrench felt complete in my mind. Well enough, and best left alone.
So who should the story be about?
The debuggers of the DarkTrench Saga are, to me, the most interesting part. Techno-slaves fully connected to their information stream and to each other through an implant in their head. They’re introspective, sarcastic, and able to fix nearly anything. Fantastic and fun.
I needed another debugger. Someone equally intriguing, and with an equally cool name.
I read through the first chapter of ASCS and discovered this young, troubled debugger named ThreadBare. Perfect! Then I got to thinking about what Thread did when he wasn’t out in a storm with the rest of the debuggers. I saw this dim, smelly garage on the edge of a dusty battlefield. Then I realized Thread worked on battlefield equipment (heavies) and wished for a better life. I had the makings of a story. I started to write.
Twelve hundred words later I was done. I figured it was close enough to a thousand. Shouldn’t matter in a magazine, right? They can squish it all in somehow. Use a smaller font.
Nope. The editor of Havok, Avily Jerome, told me the story had to be under a thousand words or they couldn’t use it. Being the sensitive writer that I am, I threw my hands up in disgust, and went back to work on another Amish book. Who needs that sort of pressure! All my words are important!
Finally, I finished the second Amish story (Amish Zombies from Space…because, why not?) and had a chance to look at ThreadBare again. I started trimming—a couple descriptive words, a backstory sentence there—and slowly marched my way to 1012 words. And the story still made sense!
Wasn’t quite short enough yet. Argh.
I went over it again and again. I’d already cut nearly two hundred words. Everything that remained seemed essential to the story. Then I found a sentence that referenced HardCandy and Sandfly. I liked that sentence because it showed that Thread wasn’t alone. That there were other debuggers in his world with him. But for the purpose of the Havok story, it didn’t add much. I selected it in my word processor to get a word count. It amounted to 14 words.
I sent my flash-sized story off to Avily and it was published in Havok a few months later.
I couldn’t leave ThreadBare like that, though. All alone on the edge of Delusion? I had to know what happened to him. What was his life really like? He started in a garage and went…where?
A few years back, I read a book entitled I Was Saddam’s Son. It is the memoire of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier who became the body double for Saddam Hussain’s son Uday. It gives a unique glimpse into that brutal and dictatorial regime. It is fascinating reading, but also unsettling—like the story of any tyrant. It stuck with me, and in many ways its portrayal of Uday inspired the prince in Thread’s story. (Uday would eat Aadam for lunch, however.)
ThreadBare was also inspired by a fan question. A person once asked me if I ever intended to tell the story of the “remnant” that survived on Earth following ASCS. Many significant events had to happen, and while later books touched on some of those, there was still plenty of details to fill in.
Frayed is my attempt to start doing that. I hope you find it enjoyable.
“This slow-burning psychological drama holds rich rewards for those who unravel its thematic threads.”
— Lorehaven Magazine
Explore Kerry Nietz’s award-winning newest novel Frayed in the Lorehaven Library.
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- This article is edited from Kerry Nietz’s afterword from Frayed. ↩