It turns out that Octavia Butler hated writing short stories, but I’m glad she made the effort. Each story in this collection is accompanied with a short commentary by the author. The first two, ‘Bloodchild’ and ‘The Evening and the Morning and the Night’ are classics. The content of the former is pretty much my worst nightmare and my girlfriend had to listen to me shrieking my way through it. “Stop reading then!” she cried, “No, I have to find out what happens now!” If you are at all squeamish about insect life, beware this tale of very unusual love. The second story also veers into the territory of horror. It is set in a future in which a percentage of the population are infected with a disease that will eventually cause them to attack their own bodies. ‘Speech Sounds’, ‘Amnesty’ and ‘The Book of Martha’ are also strong stories. Butler had a very clear writing style and a real gift for playing on our fears.
The two essays about writing included here are also interesting and useful. ‘Positive Obsession’ recounts her own development as a writer and ‘Furor Scribendi’ contains refreshingly direct no-nonsense advice for aspiring writers. In summary:
- Read everything you can get your hands on and never stop learning
- Take every opportunity to attend writing courses and workshops
- Write every day
- Revise constantly
- Submit your work for publication no matter how much you get rejected
- Forget about inspiration and talent – writing is about habit and hard work
Finally, don’t worry about imagination. You have all the imagination you need, and all the reading, journal writing, and leaning you will be doing will stimulate it. Play with your ideas. Have fun with them. Don’t’ worry about being silly or outrageous or wrong. So much of writing is fun. It’s first letting your interests and your imagination take you anywhere at all. Once you’re able to do that, you’ll have more ideas than you can use. Then the real work of fashioning them into a story begins. Stay with it.