Terminal Romance is my second short story collection. Twenty interlinking stories about virtual relationships, reoccurring characters, connections and disconnections, unfulfilled romances, online chats, serial blind dates, and the exploration of what is real and what is simulated.
Over the years the book has taken on various forms, starting life as a single story, then morphing into a novel, then becoming a hybrid-novel-slash-stories (inspired among other things by David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten), finally ending up as a collection of short stories.
Novel versus stories
One of my problems was my struggle with disjointed narrative and structure. Characters kept recurring, themes were prevalent, timelines were similar; I thought I should put it all under a single umbrella.
It was necessary to attempt to write the book as a novel first, before understanding that the voices, timelines and points of view, no matter how interlinked, were better told as individual stories. It was certainly a lesson.
You may put in all the effort and have the best intentions, but sometimes it really is the material that determines how the story is told.
At one point there were dozens of index cards strewn across the floor, tables and chairs of my house. They occupied every surface. Hundreds of potential ways of ordering the book. For months I lived among the cards, carefully moving them when I wanted to watch television or have dinner, then carefully placing them back again. I finally got fed up and threw them in the trash.
I decided that chronology was definitely not something that played a major part in the narrative. For one, it was driving me crazy. Also, it forced me to add sections that didn’t sound genuine. I found myself inserting obvious plot points like breadcrumb trails all over the manuscript.
When I decided to make Terminal Romance into a collection, the chapters had to be whittled to be sleeker, smarter, and to stand alone, which meant I had to remove the bridges and deflate the fatty material.
I'm all about the non-linear narrative. That's not something I'm saying to make me seem quirky. I genuinely believe stories almost never occur in order, and often there are more than a few characters speaking at the same time, challenging the notion of truth. This may be due to my Latin American upbringing, where storytellers are always competing with one another - and let me tell you, everyone, from the youngest member of the family to the eldest, is an expert storyteller.
Writing dialogue the way you hear it in your head can be tricky. It can come off as too chaotic and confusing for the reader. To some degree it has to be clear and accessible for people to relate. It's something I've really had to work on. In some stories I wrote the dialogue as straight out chat, with the aim of getting the reader to feel as if they were overhearing part of the conversation. If you are doing virtual you want the experience to feel intimate and immediate on the page. It’s almost a different way of writing.
Hemingway's fishing rod
Halfway through the stories themes started to emerge. It's really exciting when that happens organically, without too much interference from the writer. However, I'm not going to go into what those themes are, as I feel you, the reader, may see different things when you read the stories.
The writer explaining their viewpoint is like an English Lit teacher I once had, who insisted that Hemingway's fishing rod was symbolic of his - well symbolic. There is only so much a writer can do and then it really is up to the reader to bring in his own experience.
I want people to enjoy the stories even if they aren’t familiar with virtual relationships. One of my characters says that it isn’t so much about the Internet, as it is about the way people use technology to connect to one another. I don’t want to provide answers or tell people what is normal or acceptable. Hopefully, by the end, the themes will raise more questions.
For Lovers of Cortazar
Originally my table of contents was too traditional, given the playful and experimental nature of the narrative. Beta readers kept flipping back and forth between chapters and getting lost. I wondered if I shouldn't employ some sort of character site map, like at the start of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I also wanted something that was a nod toward hyperlinks.
I'm a huge fan of Julio Cortazar. The non-linear way he suggests reading Hopscotch is brilliant, so I borrowed that idea and did something similar in Terminal Romance, suggesting to readers how they may want to read the chapters.
Hopefully it doesn't come off as just a clever stylistic device, but a refreshing (and more helpful) way to look at the stories. I mean this isn't rocket science. Kindles and iPads are proof that there is no one-size-fits-all way to read a book.
And speaking of…
Terminal Romance will be published as an ebook in various formats. It will be out in May 2011. Keep up-to-date by following my facebook page www.facebook.com/nikiaguirrefanpage or visiting my blog www.nikiaguirre.com