Story Notes: The Ones That Got Left at the Altar

Though there will be a handful of brand-spanking new stories in I Have Always Been Here Before, most of them have been published in various places. Each of them had a long, twisted road to publication, garnering rejections and evolving through major revision overhauls along the way. Then there are those that got left at the altar. These four stories all found a home, only to have it disappear out from under them. Some of them are among my favorites in the collection, and they all represent hard lessons I had to learn about the publishing racket.

"No Harm At All" had perhaps the toughest luck of all these hard-knock stories. I wrote it over a decade ago, and it was accepted to one of the first places I sent it—an anthology about modern masculinity being published by a small but seemingly well-established publisher in the Midwest. I was ecstatic about this publication. Two of my favorite big-name (well, sort of) writers had stories in it, I was working closely with an editor on revisions for the first time, and there was some talk of royalties. But it never happened. The publisher went belly-up before the thing ever went to print. Worse than that, they never contacted the writers about it, they just disappeared. I was so disheartened that I put the story away and didn't think much about it until I dusted it off when I was putting together the manuscript for I Have Always Been Here Before. Naturally, there were times I cringed reading something that I'd written so long ago, but I still loved the two main characters, and I think I was finally ready to write it up to its potential.

The story opens with the middle-aged narrator, Stevie, tied to a tree. He's been put there by his best buddy, Bruce, whom he's known since kindergarten, because he may or may not have had an affair with Bruce's wife while Bruce was in Iraq getting his leg blown off by a roadside bomb. I wanted to write a villain that was scary and unhinged but still sympathetic, and I think Bruce is one of the best characters in this collection. I also like this story because it's character-driven but it also descends unabashedly into pulpy, noir-ish territory, which is where much of my writing has been going lately. I was so happy with the re-write that I recently submitted it to one of my favorite lit journals. I don't know if it'll find a home there, but I'm excited to have it out in the world when the collection comes out.

The other two stories in this group got left at the altar in a different way: they were published online but have since disappeared for various reasons. "Boris the Spider," which finds the voices in a mentally ill homeless woman's head leading her to vengeance against a possibly supernatural serial killer preying on vagrants, was my first conscious attempt to write a horror story. It was published in an online lit journal that soon found itself embroiled in controversy. A poet who's since gone on to make an ass of himself as a provocateur and all-around douchebag (if you've heard of him, it's probably because of his social media antics and defender-of-free-speech posturing) was published in the same issue. That issue was taken down amid controversy over his poetry, and the story is no longer available online. The editor of the journal is a writer that I respect a great deal, and I want to make it clear that I think he handled a difficult situation about as well as anyone could have. For the record, I don't remember much about the poem, but I do remember thinking it was self-consciously edgy and deliberately controversial and ultimately not very compelling, but perhaps not as awful as some thought. His later work has been lambasted as wildly misogynist rape-apology fare, and from what little I've read of it, that's a fair assessment. I don't mean to defend him or his work at all, but the whole sordid affair highlighted how ugly things like that can get in the digital age. Anyway, that's all in the past, and "Boris the Spider" will see the light of day again when the collection comes out, so this saga has a happy ending.

South of Heaven found a home here
in Derelict 
Another story that found a happy ending after getting left at the altar was "South of Heaven." It was originally published by Perversion Mag, but that journal has since gone away, leaving nothing but a 404 Page Not Found error message. It was later picked up by Malarkey Books, who published it in Derelict Vol. 1, which features a bunch of stories that got 404-ed. "South of Heaven" started as a creative non-fiction piece. For years, I tried to write about the Satanic Panic, a wave of paranoia about Satanism and heavy metal that swept through the South in the late 80s and early 90s, around the same time I was beginning to question my Southern Baptist upbringing. That CNF just never felt right, so I turned it into fiction, adding a purely fictional family background and story arc to what was otherwise straight from my memory of a seminar on the dangers of metal music at a church in rural South Carolina. You can buy the Derelict issue via the link above and you can read the story here.


Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out I Have Always Been Here Before, coming in Feb/March 2020 from Cowboy Jamboree Press.



Comments

  1. It's always interesting to me to hear about other writer's process and travails. I used to think all you had to do was write a good story or a good book for that matter and publishing would take care of itself. I sure was about as wrong as I could be about that, but it's not surprising a young writer might think that since you don't hear many of these sorts of stories and you're talking about several short stories. Every good writer I know has a few hair-raising stories it would be difficult to explain without it sounding like hyperbole. Thanks for writing this piece and I'm looking forward to your story collection.

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    1. Thanks for reading. Yeah, I think disillusionment with the publishing game is something all new writers have to navigate. I know I did.

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