I wrote a little story entitled, “I 35” mostly in my head on my way to visit my sister in law in Bisbee, Arizona. By the time I got there I had the plot worked out, a couple of catchy lines and knew all there was to know about the characters. It was pretty easy. The story actually happened almost like I planned to tell it in the living room of my 1950’s childhood home.
Write what you know right?
My parents, my dog, Baby Doll, and I were watching Texas Wrasslin’ on the black and white TV. Gorgeous George was just getting around to faking a heart attack and it looked like Vern Gagne was buying it so nobody wanted to answer the door when someone knocked.
All three of us yelled, “Come In” and Baby Doll started barking, the way she always did. The door opened and a large drunk man staggered into the living room. He pulled off his hat and started slapping Baby Doll with it, laughing madhouse style while he did it. My Dad got out of his recliner and moved toward the stranger’s direction. His fists were doubled up and he had a grim look on his face but his attitude changed when he recognized the drunk man.
He said, “Perry? Come on in and sit down. How the hell are you any way?” The wild drunk in our living room had been in a rangers’ unit in World War II. We’d say he was suffering from PTSD these days but in the fifties nobody knew anything about that. We did know Perry was a stone cold killer already suspected of a couple of unsolved murders in the county and he looked like he might be in the mood to do another one.
Aren’t you just dying to find out what happens next? I could hardly wait to send that story off.
The first two places I sent it were prestigious contests (Thomas Wolf Literary Contest and Glimmer Train Very Short Story) where I knew I probably didn’t have a chance. I wasn’t too disappointed when I didn’t win.
The Crab Orchard Review was my next target, they were doing a plains state issue, and I thought for sure “I 35” would fit their needs. The name not withstanding, Crab Orchard Review is a respected literary journal associated with Southern Illinois University. At the time they didn’t take electronic submissions and they didn’t notify authors that submissions were received. They promised to send early rejection letters out within three months but if they liked the story they would review it longer. If you didn’t hear from The Crab Orchard Review within three months you didn’t know if they’d lost the story, never received it, or really liked it a lot.
Six months after the short list deadline I got a letter telling me what a great story I had written, how they’d struggled trying to decide whether to accept it but finally decided not to. They ended the letter by asking me to please submit again. This is called a positive rejection in the trade.
The story starts off funny but takes a dark twist about half way through. I entered the funny part in the OWFI prose humor category and won third honorable mention. A little like a kiss from your sister, but I suppose it wasn’t bad for half a story.
I sent it to a literary magazine called Fandango and got an email rejection with one word written by the reviewer: “Close.” The shortest positive rejection ever.
Gargoyle rejected it with the standard, “not a good fit for us,” notification.
JMWW decided to pass on it but solicited future submissions.
Blank Fiction Literary Magazine rejected it in the old fashioned non-positive way.
Midwestern Gothic rejected it on Submittable without any other notification.
Kansas City Voices sent me a very nice letter telling me how much they liked the story and how it had been a very close vote but someone else’s story was selected over mine.
Nashville Review rejected it neutrally—“So many submissions, so little space.” So did the For the Road Anthology.
It all sounds pretty hopeless by this time doesn’t it? Well after eleven rejections my story, I 35 was accepted by the new magazine Phoenix Photo & Fiction.
Just like our parents always told us, “If at first you don’t succeed . . .” You know the rest. The moral to this blog post is this: Get ready to absorb a lot of rejection if you are going to write short fiction. It only makes the successes sweeter.