This is the story of how I submitted a substandard short story to an editor this week and am sorta proud of it.
It’s been a turbulent week, and it’s only Wednesday. You may know that my day job is animal (and human) behavior, and I have two dogs who are both family members and sort of business partners. Last week, I got a call that my sleek, shiny, very active Laev had tested positive for lymphoma. Monday afternoon, we met with the oncologist, confirmed Stage 4 (of 5), and had her first chemo treatment. On Tuesday morning, my other dog Shakespeare was diagnosed not with an infected tooth as expected, but with very fast-moving bone cancer, and he was given as little as 3 weeks to live.
Neither dog presented as anything close to a cancer patient. Even the vet was surprised. (You can read the details on my other blog.) I’m a writer, but I don’t really have a word for what I felt. But “devastated” is close.
I don’t handle limbo well; if something bad is on the horizon, I really need to be doing something. I needed to process and grieve, but not all face-to-face with the horrific news.
There was a proposed anthology, a collection of invented local myths, which I’d thought sounded interesting. The submission deadline was midnight Tuesday. I had a very rough story idea about the ruins at Holliday Park, but with travel and finishing up other submissions (I have three stories and a novel out right now, plus a novel in final revisions for self-publishing), I hadn’t gotten around to actually writing it.
But Monday night, I started writing, and I got about half of it done. Tuesday afternoon, I sat down and wrote the rest, totaling about 3500 words. I revised, put it aside, revised, went upstairs to watch some video with Shakespeare (one of his favorite places to snuggle a human), and then pulled it out for a final reread and edit. And then I submitted it with two hours to spare.
It’s not my best work. And if the editor is reading this after stumbling here wondering why my writing bio and my story didn’t quite line up, well, I’m sorry. But I’m glad I did it, because it distracted my conscious while my subconscious tried to grapple with reality. It showed I could work under pressure. I practiced grinding on, which I’m going to have to do both in Scrivener and in the clinic’s waiting room. And I went ahead and submitted to prove that yes, I was still functioning and still doing what I wanted to do. And because, you never know, maybe there was a shortage of submissions or something, and it wasn’t my worst work, either.
(I don’t feel bad about wasting the editor’s time because if he doesn’t like it, he’ll probably stop reading on the first page. So I won’t have cost him more than a minute or so. And my opening is kind of, well, rule-breaking, so he may not lose more than a few seconds.)
It’s not a story about illness or death, or loss, or grief; it wasn’t that kind of processing. It should have been a story of heart-pounding action, but I didn’t quite make that. Its best feature might be the evil politicking, and I’m not sure what that says about me.
But I did it. And it’s a potential rejection I’m okay with, because it wasn’t about a check. It was about a writer, under stress, writing.
UPDATE, 8-16-13: That story was just accepted for the anthology. :-) I guess it wasn’t quite so horrid an opening after all. Or maybe they just liked the Bob the Builder jokes.