Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My first time was a fluke: My First Published Story by Ada Hoffmann


            My first time was a fluke. There, I said it.
            Actually, my first three times were flukes. Three acceptances in three months, all for stories on their first submission, which is just not supposed to happen, even with small press. Then nothing for eight months, and not because I wasn’t trying. They don’t tell you about this in “how to be a writer” lectures. They don't say that there are flukey good times and flukey bad times, and all you can do is work hard, keep improving, and keep some perspective.
            They also don’t tell you, at least not often, that flukes happen for a reason.
            I did a lot of research when I was starting out. I looked on sites like Ralan and Duotrope, made notes, and read the submission guidelines. All of them. To get a feel for what was out there, I guess, or maybe I’m just compulsive at times.
            Some places have really short guidelines. “Write a science fiction story. Put it in standard manuscript format. Email it to us. The end.” And some places have guidelines longer than their actual stories. Expanded Horizons is the latter. They explain at length exactly what they want: Strong female characters. Racial diversity. LGBT (and asexual) characters. I could go on – they cover a lot of topics – but you get the idea.
            And then there was a category I didn’t expect.
            “We want to create a story-telling venue for those with rare and unusual sensitivities and awarenesses. Uncommon sensitivities and awarenesses (sometimes called psi, intuition, etc.) are a popular theme in speculative fiction. We aim to... show such people in a realistic and respectful manner, to publish stories that feature such characters in their normal lives. We look for stories which are not primarily “about” these awarenesses and abilities, or even about them at all.”
            What a cool idea, I thought. I knew what they were talking about, but it had never occurred to me before to use it in a story that way.
            So I tossed around the idea of a psi character in a story not “about” psi. It’s not the only idea that went into the story, of course. But what came out – after due diligence, editing, and a trip to a writer’s group – was “The Chartreuse Monster”.
            Expanded Horizons seemed like the right first choice. I almost thought I wouldn’t get in; I worried that the female protagonist was too passive, for instance. But I steeled myself, said it was worth a try, and sent it in.
            This is where the fluke happens. Unknown to me at the time, the editor of Expanded Horizons had been craving exactly the kind of story I’d just written, and had been in a state of despair because no one was sending in psi stories that actually fit the guidelines. Unknown to me at the time, I’d gotten it right. I had no way of knowing this at all. Well, except for the part where they said so on their web site.
            I got the fastest acceptance ever.
            I don’t have much to say after that. It was a great first time. We talked about the subject matter, made some minimal edits, I got paid, and the story went up online. My family and friends were impressed. I was happy. So, it all went well.
            I guess I didn’t learn any lessons, overall, that aren’t the basic platitudes you get from everybody. Guidelines matter; read ‘em closely. Know the field and know where you’re submitting. Be open to new ideas. Write what people will want to buy.
            Then be prepared for flukes, and don't let them get to your head.

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