I just released what I feel might be my best work – the novella version of ODD MAN OUT. It’s a tale of jealousy and duplicity that leads to a nasty outcome, mostly set in a cabin in the North Woods of Wisconsin, probably. I say “probably” because although that’s the type of setting I was envisioning, there is no specified region in the story.
ODD MAN OUT started life as a short story, back in the 1990’s, when I was helping to run a Delphi forum called THE BOOK AND CANDLE PUB. We had a short story contest there, called the “Publican Brief” (paying homage to the John Grisham novel), and the challenge this time was to write a story around the provided opening sentence and six random words. I don’t recall what the words were, but I know the opening sentence was something like “The smell of pines invaded my senses…” It’s still in the story, but it’s in a different spot; it is no longer the opening line.
I published the short story with another story called “The House At The Bend In The Road.” Together they were less than 4000 words. I think the original “Odd Man Out” was about 1600 words. My friend Rich Siegle did a cover for it, and briefly we tinkered with the idea of doing a comic book treatment or illustrated version of the story. My feeling at the time was that it was only my second thing published, and I didn’t think it would be worth the time or effort we’d have to put into it. After all, I was going to sell it for $0.99.
Interestingly, it was the first thing I sold. Within hours of publishing it, a copy sold! I thought, this publishing business is easy and fun! I was right about the “fun” part, but the “easy” part really didn’t play out. I’m not a big seller. My friends, apparently, are not big readers, and even though I’m a member of several reader/writer groups on Facebook, I don’t seem to sell many books.
But that’s neither here nor there. At some point, I though, I have this great cover. And it’s gracing the front of a couple of short stories that don’t sell at all. Why not use it on something else? Could “Odd Man Out” benefit from a longer rewrite? I’d done it with another story, “Dead Or Alive,” and it went from about 2400 words to 7500 words, and spawned two more stories of 8500 words and 9600 words. (These became THE STRIKER FILES collection.)
So I started writing. The short story served as an outline, so to speak. I had my characters, I had my background and I had my setting. So it was just a matter of fleshing things out.
The story grew to something around 34000 words. No longer a short story at all. Now it was a full blown novella. Could I have made it even longer? Maybe. But I felt like I would have been adding for the sake of adding, not for telling the story I envisioned.
Rereading it, as I have been doing for the past couple of nights, has been instructive. I have never read something I’ve written so soon after publication and felt as positively as I did in this one. I hope it gets an audience. I hope it helps me get an audience. I think it is good enough to do so.