Unpublished–WTF? (Part One)

I haven’t blogged in a while. My apologies. There was the run-up to the holidays, the holidays, a six-week-plus bout of the flu, then a set-back in my writing career which had my finger hovering over the “delete all” option in my Writing folder on my hard drive. Then, I realized the only way to cope with that set-back was to write about it.

Once Upon a Time

Anyone who writes knows how hard it is to send stories out into the world of contests and literary magazine publication. Most of the time, those stories get rejected, some with a modicum of hope (“send us something more”); some with not so much as an acknowledgement of receipt. The rare time something gets accepted is such an ego boost, we can live off it alone for months. This is the validation every writer craves.

I recently had a two-fer: I wrote a story for a contest, and it not only won but earned an offer of publication. Double validation.

BTW, I’m not mentioning the name of the contest (to protect the innocent) nor the name of the magazine (so I don’t give the guilty any inadvertent publicity).

I said yes to the offer of publication, of course, because I’m not at the point in my writing career where I can casually turn such things down. If I’d known then what I know now… Except, well, I did my research. Not only did I discover this particular online magazine had a low acceptance rate, i.e., difficult to break into, according to Duotrope, but publication in it was a qualifier for membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America. The positives were adding up, and I was looking forward to my story being published early this year.

The Story

Sometimes when you’re writing a story, you get a feeling about it, that this is one which has a future, one which is special. I had that feeling as I wrote “Dreamtime,” a 500-word story for a flash fiction contest and based on a photo prompt. The photo itself was of the interior of a didgeridoo, a unique perspective, to say the least. I researched the history and manufacture of the didgeridoo, and at some point the unnamed narrator of my story began to speak to me. This is the first thing he said:

“In dreams on walkabout, my ancestors in the rock paintings come alive and descend to my camp.”

Yeah, I know. Pretty amazing. He continued, telling a story of playing a didgeridoo passed down over the generations, then getting the idea to look at the stars through the didgeridoo. He imagines another dreamwalker on another planet doing the same thing. When he returns to his day job at a radio telescope installation, he “listens” for that other’s song, and he also realizes he is the perpetual outsider there, being the only one of aboriginal descent. He understands as well, that one day, he’ll die and return to the earth. When our sun expires millions of years from now, his atoms will be scattered to the far ends of the universe to create another dreamwalker ancestor, who will be painted on rock. He finished his story this way:

“Then, in dreams on walkabout, I will descend and dance around a fire.”

I set it aside for a while, mindful of the contest’s deadline; then, I dusted it off and did some editing. This was a story which resonated strongly for me, but I researched to assure I got the history and the culture correct. (I have a degree in history; research is my be-all and end-all.) If something was slightly off, I realized that in writing fiction, I had a certain amount of dramatic license, especially for a piece which had both a fantasy and a sci-fi tone.

I was happy with it, happier than I’ve been with a lot of my short stories. As I said, I thought this story had a definite future. I submitted the story. I knew it was strong enough to be a finalist, and it was. What I didn’t expect was to win, but I did. The offer of publication was icing on the literary cake.

What could possibly go wrong?

Apparently, everything.

To be continued in part two.

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