In 2021 my friend A. R. Frederiksen set up a Secret Santa short story exchange. I signed up with a lot of writing friends and many great stories came from it. Also, Adding Up. Though it never made it into the exchange proper.
The system was old as time. Send a prompt, name the no-gos and let Amalie hook me up. In a stroke of luck, my prompt ended up in the capable hands of my digital Grandma Elisabeth Anderson. The resulting story, THE RAISING OF HESTER MACRAE, also didn’t make it into the free world because it was really good, so good indeed and got published. 🥳 (available in Dark Horses: The Magazine of Weird Fiction No. 4 )
I fully intended my story to be a free read dedicated to my prompt giver. I loved my prompt immediately. Amalie made a pretty graphic of it.
With the lab implied in the prompt, my first instinct was to go with sci-fi, the second love of my life. I had some ideas but not really led anywhere. Maybe one day the poor sod donning the lab coat like armour to go through the gauntlet of scientific challenges to – well that was the core of the problem. I didn’t know where they were going.
And then Doran turned up. Doran with that Chayne-shaped hole in their life and me with no clue how come or why. It was fun finding out what was going on with Doran. The relation to Chayne took some unexpected twists and I had to redo the beginning several times to adjust for that. When the reveal happened, I was as surprised as my protagonists.
But everything made sense and I got them to their deserved end. Then I edited and slapped the title on it and called it a day. I was so happy about my story that I commissioned a little art to go with it and post on my website alongside the story.
While I prepped the page for launch, I looked at the prompt again and that was when it all went – well, not as planned. I read the prompt again and the triggers and had to realise: I hadn’t manage to avoid the suicide subject completely.
My first thought was to just edit the half sentence. Couldn’t be that hard, could it? Unfortunately, the reveal and final twist relied heavily on the mentioning of suicide. It was, unfortunately, load-bearing.
So I did the hard thing. I put ADDING UP aside and sat down to write another story. I picked up the sci-fi idea again. But again I got nowhere with it. In the end, I go the opposite way. Where ADDING UP was contemporary fantasy at best, MISTAKES AND RESOLUTIONS would be devoid of any speculative elements.
I don’t really do that. I love my spec elements. Still I “swapped” the protagonists names removed the last speculative elements and wrote another short story about being angry and in love. MISTAKES AND RESOLUTIONS went up on my site as planned. It is still up in case you wanna compare. It’s quiet and soft and hopeful. A real Mel-story.
But now I was stuck with another homeless short. I was already shopping around a couple I wrote without much success. I even took up slush reading to try and understand why my stories didn’t get adopted. (that kinda somewhat helped). And now I had another one.
I really love Adding Up. It has a non-binary protagonist, my first enby protag to see the light of publishing. Since I wrote the story myself, the emotional punches hit just right. Doran gets to eat some of my favourite food. I wove my feelings through their emotional journey and put myself into so many of the details.
I wasn’t wild on racking in more passes, but if you wanna get a story out, that’s what you gotta do. I sent Adding Up to places I thought it’d fit. I sent it to the usual suspects with fast rejection times. And the passes kept rolling in from all directions. Well, I sent it out seven subs over six months and then shrugged.
I don’t have much energy to submit. (I don’t have much energy most of the days but that is a different story.) Submitting a story always involves a degree of research. There’s anxiety to get names wrong (including my own) and the deep-sitting unease traditional formatting causes me. The urge to get the story into a decent, readably shape is strong. Shunn formatting makes me cry inside (and die a little but that is also a different story).
I had no idea what genre ADDING UP even was. Urban fantasy? Contemporary fantasy? Could I sneak it into fae territory for one side character that might fit if you squinted ferociously? In the end, I decided to let it lie around with the others and throw it at calls that looked like a good fit if they came my way.
I watch open markets mainly over twitter and mail subscriptions. When I was less resigned about my results, I also used the Submission Grinder and websites. But energy is sparse, so now the opportunities need to come to me 😅
And come, it did. When I saw the call for Kaleidoscope, ADDING UP was the short I thought of immediately. I hadn’t sent it out for four months then and all submissions came back as passes. (Except one, but I assumed it was a pass because I was way over time.)
I can’t describe how excited I was. I had sold my first short to a paying market recently, so this was unexpected and exhilarating. I accepted and sent the assumed pass an official withdrawal. (To which they replied saying the pass should have gone out way ago.🤷)
I can’t believe how fast things went ahead for Kaleidoscope. Tumbled Tales went at a much slower pace – acceptance, edits, cover. My part was done (except for marketing, which I am bad at, ngl) before ADDING UP was accepted, so I felt a little prepared for the process.
Reader, I was not prepared.
When the file with the edits came, I downloaded it and let it sit for a day. “Minor changes” was what INSIDE JOB got for the other anthology and that one had edits every other line. I prepared mentally for opening that file for a whole day. I was ready to give it a glance and let it lie for another three days so I could calm down.
That didn’t prove necessary. When I opened the file, the edits were, actually, minor. I think I accepted them all, because they all made sense to me. I found a few more issues when I got the proof copy but that’s what you get for not reading your own stuff carefully. Or maybe just having read it way too often and not seeing small stuff any longer.
I didn’t expect to get to read all other stories in advance either. Still haven’t read any from Tumbled Tales. It was a very welcome treat and an excellent holiday read. I love so many of the stories in there. Some of them hit me hard. Others were on a different wave length than I am. And while I marvel at the variety, I am proud to be in this company.
I don’t have a conclusion. Writing shorts is some kind of roulette and a journey. In the unmitigated pain that is the querying trenches, it sure is a beacon of light and a reminder why I even bother to put down my words.
Buy the book, maybe? 🤷♂️