Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I clicked the save button and was finally done. After five revisions and almost a ream of chicken-scratched paper later, I had a story. More than that, really (no need to be coy); I had a pretty good story. An elegantly worded, powerfully themed, engrossingly plotted story if you want complete precision. I dug up my Writer's Market, and soon the story was winging its way to the flagship publication of the genre world. I didn’t necessarily expect the piece to find a home there. That would indicate gross pride on my part. But such an esteemed market would certainly employ a capable slush reader, one skilled at plucking pearls from the mire. At worst, I could count on a letter from the editor (probably written in longhand on his personal stationary) remarking about the excellence of my short and saying that -- alas! -- if only Orson Scott Card, China MiĆ©ville and Neil Gaiman hadn’t each begged to serialize a novel over the twelve months, he would’ve had space to run it, try us again next time, we’re definitely interested.

The reality of it was a little less rosy. I received a form rejection in less than a week. In fact, quite a few more form rejections arrived in my mailbox over the coming months. They left me feeling unappreciated and vengeful, and I let the story drift off into the hinterlands of my hard drive, where it dwelt unmolested until about two weeks ago. The closing scene had, for some reason or another, popped unexpectedly into my mind, and it made me wonder if I ought to nip off some extraneous dialogue, tuck in a few of the looser characterizations and give it another go at prime time. I printed it out, read it over.

And did not like it.

No, that’s not quite right: I was embarrassed by it. Things had changed -- time and, with it, my perspective. Away from the fevered rush to completion and the delirious dreams of success that came with it, I could see that the story wasn’t all that good. It felt flabby, ill-executed, amateurish. It didn’t need cosmetic surgery. It needed evisceration. And so I took out my knives and started sharpening.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
Tambako the Jaguar)


B. Nagel said...


I remember writing a phenomenal paper on (maybe) Shakespeare's Othello. I crowed over that paper for weeks.

The next semester, I realized that half of my paper was excess verbiage, and one third was bad logic.

Loren Eaton said...

Hurts, doesn't it? My Shakespeare professor publically mocked my Othello paper. Not that I minded all that much, since he mocked pretty much everyone. (It was how he bonded with you.)

B. Nagel said...

I had two or three professors that were as rude as possible in order to provoke their students' interest. If you quipped back, you were their favorite.

Then there were the professors that hated teaching and resented you personally and specifically for taking their class.

They sucked.

Loren Eaton said...

I really liked the professor referenced above. If you came into his class late, he would stop speaking, turn to look at you and then start sniggering very quietly to himself. Finally, he would say something like, "Looking as if we escaped from the asylum this morning, aren't we, Mr. Eaton?" Only then would he go back to his lecture. Pure gold.

ollwen said...

I've very seldom poured over an idea enough to say any of the things you said about your submitted short. I do have some ideas I used to be deeply in love with, that now seem very un-original and derivative.

Reinforces some of the things you've said about getting criticism in a previous post, eh?

Loren Eaton said...

I'm learning it's a lot more fun to keep such topics in the abstract, though! They say a long rest period is supposed to help your projects. It's making me dispose of more-than-a-few of mine.

RC said...

Loren, I have one of those stories on my hard drive as well.

Loren Eaton said...

I think I'll decline the exact number of stories like this on mine. But I do have a zipped, passworded folder called "The Vault That Shall Not Be Opened." Lamentably, it has grown.

Chestertonian Rambler said...


For better or worse, I generally don't have time to finish most stories. So I have a hard drive full of outlines, central scenes, and first pages. Then I have a few stories (which I thoroughly enjoyed writing) that periodically quest in search of rejection form-letters.

One of those few survivors may be in the category of your "Vault" stories, but it'll take me a few more years to admit that to myself.

Loren Eaton said...

I like to think of TVTSNBO (see two posts above) as something like a hermetically sealed fallout shelter, built to withstand nuclear armageddon, an ebola pandemic, Y2K, et cetera, et cetera. Only, instead of locking something precious in, it's keeping something(s) awful from everyone else. I suppose I could just delete them, but some desperate part of my subconscious keeps holding on, even though I know they're (for the most part) unmitigated rot.

Alexander Field said...

Been there too many times to report...and yes, my harddrive is littered with stories as well...but hey, this post was an enjoyable read for me...though it's no small comfort, I'm sure. Great story though...: )

Loren Eaton said...

I'm gathering that the buried-so-deep-that-no-one-can-find-it-but-you-and-sometimes-not-even-then story is more common than I initially thought!