Sagar Megharaj: Creative Non-Fiction

Another Time

That’s it. I give up. I don’t want to, but I’ve spent two entire days now reading stories to spark an idea. But nope. I’ve got nothing. Nada. I guess sooner or later this was going to happen. I’d get excited by a concept, but won’t be able write on it.

To be honest though, I should’ve seen this coming. I mean, I’d never even heard of this particular genre before. I learned of it only two days ago when I was browsing through the list of journals and magazines currently accepting short fiction. Over the past year I managed to write three short stories, and I believe they’re polished enough that I can start looking to get them published. Each story is quite different, so with most journals I’ve been able to pick one that fits their requirements. I’ve submitted these three stories to about twenty journals by now, over two weeks.

With some other journals though, the requirements are far too specific, and my stories aren’t a good fit. These ones I skip.

At first, I’d decided to skip Riddled with Arrows as well, but my mind kept coming back to this strange idea of metafiction— “stories about writing a story” or “writing that comments on itself”.

Having never heard of it before, I decided to look up on Google, Wikipedia, and what-not, to find out more.

There were some familiar names from this genre that I came across, like Deadpool, which often breaks the fourth wall. But most were not familiar to me. Among them, one name stood out, a book called If on a winter’s night a traveler.

After reading just a few pages, my mind was blown. The author spends several pages having a casual conversation with the reader about how they must have ended up with the book. Later, when the story actually begins, he writes it in a way that describes what story elements a reader might find on the first few pages of the supposed book. And it only gets weirder from there. When he returns to his conversation with the reader, he pretends as if the story we’ve read wasn’t the story he’d intended. Are you with me? Not so much? Never mind. You have to experience it firsthand.

I don’t know how the author, Italo Calvino, wraps up the story, as I haven’t finished it yet. I had to get back to writing my own meta story, and this book made me want to write one just like it.

The problem was, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler set a gigantic benchmark. Soon, I realized my first attempt would never be even half as strange as Calvino’s.

I wondered if I could settle with a story where I’d only break the fourth wall intermittently, have characters speak directly with my readers to make them uncomfortable like they do in Deadpool, both the comics and the movie, and submit that to the journal. But they also wanted submissions to emphasize “the process and product of writing as art”, and be “demonstrably meta”. Intermittent-fourth-wall-breaking wouldn’t cut it.

For the rest of that day I decided to read more stories for inspiration. As often happens when I’m researching, I jumped from metafiction to postmodernism, then to magical realism, which brought me to the book One Hundred Years of Solitude and a Reddit page that draws comparisons between that book and Disney’s recent movie Encanto. Then last night, I frantically looked through blogs for some hack for putting “meta” into my fiction. With the deadline to submit less than two days away, and me not even having the ‘fiction’ part down yet, I looked for writing prompts to rattle my brain, for both plot and character ideas, hoping that at least one of them would align itself with the genre. But I found no such luck.

As a final attempt, I decided to revisit the topic once again this morning. Maybe my brain, having read so much on the topic and other unrelated stuff, could conjure up a meta dream and help me out. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t pan out so well, which brings us back to a few minutes ago when I decided to give up.

Sure, I have a day left before the deadline. But I still have to come up with an idea, then write a story, edit it, revise it, polish it and get it ready for submission. Ideally, I’d also run the story through my wonderful author friends on Critique Circle. But a day is nowhere enough time for any of this. I’m left with no other option than to move on. Maybe next week I could try writing a story with magical realism. Or just go back to revising my novel.

But I also need my shorter stories out there before I can start shopping for my novel—which will be soon. Last month, my sister-in-law, a published author, advised me that getting something published always helps a new author get noticed. And this morning, during my daily walk, I’d heard the hosts on Writing Excuses podcast say the same. Howard Taylor, Mary Robinette Kowal, and their guest author Eric James Stone all managed to get book deals thanks to the recognition that their shorter fictions had received.

I guess I just need to focus on writing a story without worrying about arbitrary restrictions and criteria. Besides, the inspiration or the idea for all the stories that I’ve written until now have all come to me out of nowhere. Maybe a meta story will be born out of me when the time is right.

As for Riddled with Arrows, I’m sure they must’ve already received tons of kickass stories already. I can always write something for their journal another time.

Sagar Megharaj

Riddled with Arrows 5.2: “Spotlight 2022”
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