A Tale of 100-year-old Scotch

I published my first story on Smashwords* yesterday.  Woo hoo!  There are some things I wanted to note about the story and the process, but I figured most people wouldn’t want to hear me blah blah about them.  Where do you blah when you must blah and you have no other blah blah?**  On your blahg.

The story’s called A Fly in Amber. You can get it for free if you get it before March 1, using this code:  QN26W

It was triggered by a flash fiction challenge by Chuck Wendig to write about Shackleton’s Scotch, the whiskey left behind over 100 years ago when explorer Ernest Shackleton tried to reach the South Pole and missed by less than 100 miles.

Because I typed up the explanation in the beginning of the story, I’ll just insert it here to save wear and tear on my fingers, because you know I like to be terse:

In 1909, explorer Ernest Shackleton tried to reach the South Pole but failed. Oh, his expedition made it the furthest south of any expedition at the time, but they had to abandon the trek due to lack of food and other supplies, and Roald Amundson took the prize instead in 1912. On the reason why he gave up, Shackleton told his wife, “I thought you’d rather have a live donkey than a dead lion.”

In abandoning the expedition, Shackleton and his crew left behind Scotch (five crates) and brandy (two crates) under the floorboards in a small hut in the Antarctic. The Scotch was made by Mackinlay and Co., a distillery founded in Leith, now a borough of Edinburgh.

Shackleton, an Irishman, had asked Mackinlay to provide the Scotch necessary for the expedition, and the company kindly obliged. The crates were discovered in 2006 but couldn’t be removed due to being frozen in ice. It wasn’t until 2011 that three bottles of Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey had been delivered back to the current owners of Mackinlay & Co., distillers Whyte & Mackay.

Whyte & Mackay decided to try to analyze the blend and try to recreate the Scotch as a publicity stunt–the original recipe had been lost. It wasn’t just a bottle of Scotch, see, it was the chance to prove that even the Irish liked the spirits of the Scotch better than their own stuff. Of course Whyte & Mackay had to do it.

Because of the bad record-keeping at the time, they had no idea what kind of whiskey it would turn out to be, light or heavy or smokey or even blended. The stuff was shipped up to Invergordon, where the company’s laboratories were.

That much is true, at least, it’s as true as I could find out.  Whyte & Mackay have a great website; there will probably be updates on the real story at the Master Blender Blog link.  There’s a video up of the master blender, Richard Patterson, holding one of the bottles and telling the story of bringing it back.  There’s a lot of interesting information about the real story that didn’t make it into the fictional one.  It was a hoot to research.

It wasn’t the type of story that I normally write, but when I did the research, it was the one that I had to write:  what does the damned stuff taste like?  I read the rest of the entries at that point on tenterhooks that someone else had arrived at what seemed to me the only logical story to write.  One other fellow came close, but went in a different direction (phew).

I don’t want to blow the ending, so I won’t dither on about how I came up with that (in a time-stopping flash of inspiration, actually), but I started to think about how they might possibly recreate Scotch chemically, without a recipe–aha! It was the drinking man’s Jurassic Park.  But I threw out the dinosaur idea, and this other idea came along, but I liked the idea so much that I kept it in the title.

The main character’s name is Beckett, but it never did come up.

I decided I liked the story too much to just post it on my blog, as instructed, and I’ve been wanting to put something up on Smashwords, so there you go.  I think I need to put it up separately on Amazon if I want it to show up there, which I do, or at least I think I do.

Here are my time guesstimates:

  • Writing story – 1/2 hour (before research).
  • Researching story – 2 hours.
  • Rewriting intro – 1/2 hour.
  • Edits after reviewer comments – 15 minutes.
  • Researching Smashwords – 2 hours.
  • Applying formatting updates – 15 minutes (I’m good at MSWord).
  • Building cover (including taking photo of Lee’s new decanter.  Thanks, Kate!) – 1 hour.
  • Posting story, realizing cover ended up lopsided in story, reposting, etc. – 1 hour.
  • Dithering – 4 hours.

Total, less dithering – 7.5 hours.

Three free copies have been downloaded so far.  At this rate, I’ll be a millionaire!

I found myself much pickier with this story–less willing to take risks, too–than on the stories that I submit to magazines.  After all, they have editors who will just reject my story if it’s too stupid for words and will tell me if I have boo boos, right?  I’m thinking I’m going to have to start approaching stories as though I have no idea whether I’m going to publish them online or not until the last minute, so I can both take chances and put together something that I have to know someone will like.  Easy, right?

I’ll let you know how it goes.
*I keep typing it Shamswords.  It must be the whiskey I drank for research, right?

**New story idea: I Have No Blahg and I Must Blah. Hm. Nahhhh.

2 comments

  1. Cate Gardner says:

    “I’m thinking I’m going to have to start approaching stories as though I have no idea whether I’m going to publish them online or not until the last minute, so I can both take chances and put together something that I have to know someone will like.”

    YES!!! My gauge is ‘would I show this to a friend’ and if my answer is no, then it’s back in the editing pot.

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