Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Long Road to Menistaria

I wrote "A Summary of Menistarian Law, Composed for the Citizens of Olakia, in Response to Our Present Crisis by Dr. Clemons Indement," early in the year 2014. It was just published in the "Trades" issue of Lackington's (No. 16). I will hold off from talking about what inspired the story until more people have had a chance to read it. For now, I will take a page from my issue-mate Alexandra Seidel and tell the story of the story, some of the reasons why it took so long to find its way into print.

I thought the story was funny--I still do--and Unidentified Funny Objects was open to submissions. The slush readers evidently disagreed; it was rejected within 3 days. From there, things went a fairly standard route--customarily swift rejections from Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld--until I submitted it to an online publication called LORE. There it sat for eight months, until I heard through the grapevine (that is, through one of the "Codex" discussion boards, not from the publishers themselves) that LORE was shutting down.

By then, Unlikely Story, which had previously published by story "The Joy of Sects" as part of the The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, was seeking submissions for a Journal of Unlikely Academia. Perhaps Dr. Indement came across as too likely an academic; once again, the story scored a speedy rejection.

My next attempt was to the journal Sci Phi, which bills itself as publishing stories that highlight the philosophical dimensions of science fiction. Since that seemed to describe this story even more than most of my stories, I submitted it. It was only after the submission that it became evident to me that the journal aligns itself with the revanchist right wing of the genre, but given the journal's insistence that they wanted stories from all points of view, I kept up my wager.

The short version of that part of the story is that the editor-in-chief seemed to like the story, but it never got published. First, after six months with the story in the queue, he suggested that I "Make it an essay exploring the different national law. Sort of like you have done. Give me a couple of days i'll make some suggestions if you like, if you don't already get what I meant. Upside, it would run a lot sooner." I replied, "I think I'll wait for your suggestions. My concern is that, if I'd wanted to write an essay arguing for a particular point of view, I'd have done so, and most likely would have posted it on my blog. The benefit of a story is that it can be read various ways, depending on the philosophical and political lenses the reader brings to it. But I'll keep an open mind, and look forward to your suggestions."

Three months later, with no editorial suggestions forthcoming, I received a mass e-mail (sent, I believe, to everyone in the Sci Phi slush pile) indicating that they were going to move to a royalties-only model for paying writers--with no guaranteed minimum. To which I replied politely, "I would like to withdraw my story. Good luck with your endeavors."

After that, Dr. Indement's reflections upon Menistarian law got another swift rejection from a venerable digest--Asimov's this time--and then I tried my luck with a short-lived literary magazine, now "on hiatus," that expressed openness both to experimental work and to multiple submissions. Before their current hiatus, they at least had the decency to reject all my stories.

Then a slow rejection from a journal that reads blind, and a quick one from F&SF. I submitted it to a couple of new journals to which I thought it was a match, illusions of which I was swiftly disabused. I even rolled the dice on Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, a publication that is usually not my style, after reading a few stories by authors whose work I like and respect in there. By the end of 2016, I was beginning to despair that this peculiar bit of literature would ever meet the public eye.

Then in March of this year, Lackington's, a publication I had read with pleasure, and which I had tried and failed to crack into with other stories on other themes, announced the "Trades" theme for No. 16. Having taken a few licks, I did ask, "If a story has more 'trades' in the sense of exchanges than in the sense of m├ętiers, worth a shot or no?" Ranylt Rachildis gave an encouraging response; though perhaps I need not have even asked. After all, if there is anything about which Dr. Indement is forthright in his narration, it is the means by which the various figures whose misadventures he recounts have secured their daily bread, regardless of what a reader may think of the legitimacy of their various occupations.

Usually when writers give these sorts of embarrassing, behind-the-scenes details of how hard it can be to find a place for a story, the intention is to send some rousing message of inspiration to other would-be writers: "Don't give up! You never know!" I actually think art and literature can benefit, however, from well-timed forfeitures and acts of despair. Some stories merit patience and reward it for both writer and reader, though the monetary rewards are almost never sufficient to the labor entailed. I think Dr. Indement's essay, to which I have given fictional existence, has found an appropriate site for its public manifestation. I encourage you to subscribe to Lackington's, and read it.