As noted in the introduction, which I posted on April 25, I plan to blog about the contents of my forthcoming anthology Alien Contact -- one story each week, in order of appearance; my first post was last week and I will continue through the next 24 weeks. Assuming all goes well, I hope to complete this project by the end of October, just in time for the anthology's publication in November from Night Shade Books. Here is the second story in the anthology:
"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" by Neil Gaiman
This story was originally published in 2006 in Neil's collection Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, from publisher HarperCollins/Morrow, and is approximately 5,100 words in length.
"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" was a "gift," so to speak, from Neil Gaiman to his readers and fans -- a time-honored authorial tradition of including an original story in a short story collection or with a previously published novel.1 Sort of like the bonus track on a CD, or a DVD extra.
I first read this story in the year it was published, two years before I had even proposed the Alien Contact anthology; but it was one of those stories that stuck with me, so -- two years later, when I was brainstorming stories for the anthology, I immediately recalled "How to Talk to Girls at Parties." I had worked very briefly with Neil Gaiman a few years earlier, when he wrote an introduction for me to George Alec Effinger's story "Seven Nights in Slumberland," which was included in George Alec Effinger Live! From Planet Earth -- which I acquired and edited for Golden Gryphon Press.2 And I was hopeful that Neil would grant me permission to use this story.
So why did this story resonate with me? I spent three years at UCLA, before transferring to the University Without Walls program at UMass in Amherst, where I finally graduated a year and a half later. While at UCLA, when I wasn't in class or attending a musical performance (I'm sure I spent more time at rock clubs and concerts than I did in class -- and, during my freshman year, I also did the 10pm-2am radio show Friday and Saturday nights at the campus radio station, KLA), I was usually out partying, or at least looking for a party. Oh, and I did a bit of studying, too.
There were quite a few times when a bunch of us would pile into a car (often borrowed) and head to a part of West L.A. or Santa Monica where we knew a party was going down, only we didn't quite know exactly where. Maybe we knew the neighborhood or street, but not necessarily the specific house address. We would cruise down the street, all the windows open, radio turned off, listening for loud music while looking for a lot of parked cars. If I recall correctly, there were at least a couple occasions where we never did find the party -- after which we usually ended up at Zucky's Deli (which has since closed) on Wilshire Blvd. at 5th. I loved their chili omelets.
And, of course, in any group of college guys -- jocks, freaks, or geeks, it doesn't matter -- there's always one who seems to always have a girl friend. Am I right?
So when I read this story, it was like Neil knew, like he had been there in the car with us, looking for one of those parties -- and Neil was undoubtedly the one who was always with a girl, too. From the story:
"Come on," said Vic. "It'll be great.""No, it won't," I said, although I'd lost this fight hours ago, and I knew it."It'll be brilliant," said Vic, for the hundredth time. "Girls! Girls! Girls!" He grinned with white teeth.[...]"It'll be the same as it always is," I said. "After an hour you'll be off somewhere snogging the prettiest girl at the party, and I'll be in the kitchen listening to somebody's mum going on about politics or poetry or something.""You just have to talk to them," he said. "I think it's probably that road at the end here." He gestured cheerfully, swinging the bag with the bottle in it."Don’t you know?"
Vic and his friend found a party -- but not quite the one they were expecting.
She began to whisper something in my ear. It's the strangest thing about poetry—you can tell it's poetry, even if you don't speak the language. You can hear Homer's Greek without understanding a word, and you still know it's poetry. I've heard Polish poetry; and Inuit poetry, and I knew what it was without knowing. Her whisper was like that. I didn't know the language, but her words washed through me, perfect, and in my mind's eye I saw towers of glass and diamond; and people with eyes of the palest green; and, unstoppable, beneath every syllable, I could feel the relentless advance of the ocean.Perhaps I kissed her properly. I don't remember. I know I wanted to.And then Vic was shaking me violently. "Come on!" he was shouting. "Quickly. Come on!"In my head I began to come back from a thousand miles away.
"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" was a finalist for the 2007 Hugo Award, and it won the Locus Award in the short story category. Thanks to Neil Gaiman, the story is (and has been) available on line for your reading pleasure, if you haven't read the story as yet, and you'd rather not wait for Alien Contact to be published in November.
[Continue to Story #3]
Notes and Footnotes
Blogger was down for maintenance on Wednesday evening, and at some point on Thursday the powers that be realized the application was completely hosed. They rolled back to a backup point at approximately 7:30am ET on Wednesday, May 11. Fortunately, I hadn't posted anything between Wednesday and Thursday, as all posts during that time period were "removed." Until sometime this morning, Blogger was available for read-only.
1. I've been fortunate to have been involved with a number of book projects in which the author included a "bonus" story: "Concrete Jungle" in Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives went on to win the 2005 Hugo Award for best novella, and Jeffrey Ford's "Botchtown," included in his collection The Empire of Ice Cream, won the 2007 World Fantasy Award for best novella -- and that's only two examples that quickly come to mind.