2.2.21 How to spend 25 years getting one story published (or) the “Rough Beast, Slouching” story

A little bit of fanfare, if you will. Dim Shores Presents: Volume 2, featuring my novelette “Rough Beast, Slouching,” is finally shipping copies!

This is a milestone for me for a couple of reasons:

1) It’s the longest story I’ve ever had published (9,700 words give or take)
2) It’s the oldest story I’ve ever had published.

And that second part is what I want to tell you about here.

“Rough Beast, Slouching” was actually born as “The Fairy Mistress” roughly 25 years ago. I was half as old as I am now. I was living in Boston. I was a temp who came home after a day of temping (and writing my stories, which I emailed to myself every night) to have dinner and go back and rewrite those stories. I did a lot of fanfic writing. And I also wrote a novel based on my fascination with Irish fairy and folklore, which I’d learned from reading W.B. Yeats’ Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland – for good or ill.

In that book, I wrote about a “fairy mistress” – a leannán sídhe. Yeats had described a succubus-like character who inspires the poets, then drains them of their life force. Years later – with an internet to scour and some experts I could readily access – that this was, essentially a whole-cloth invention. But back then, I was deep into being a music journalist, and I was intrigued: today’s poets were rock stars. Easy pairing to make.

The novel – well, that wasn’t ready for prime time. But I got a wild idea that hearing a shorter, more condensed version of a Sheerie story (that’s what I named her; super literal, but I kept it) placed in the indie rock world of Boston I was then steeped in might get me more traction.

Then I interviewed the authors Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner for The Boston Phoenix. At that point they were living and around Boston, and for a short period they adopted me into their gang. I learned of an anthology they were working on, The Horns of Elfland. So I screwed my courage to the sticking post and asked if they might be interested in my short “Fairy Mistress.”

Considering I hadn’t had anything published in the fiction world before then, considering I had no beta readers or other writers to bounce it off of – remember, we had email but not a whole internet community then; Facebook was nearly 10 years off at that point – it was a classic rookie move. I still have that letter to Delia, asking if she might consider my story; it’s dated December 11, 1995.

At that point, “Fairy Mistress” was a monster, and an ill-formed one at that. There was a whole diversion of a secondary invented fairy story about lovers separated for generations who could only sing to one another; my main character was male altogether. At 16,000 words, it was also not ready for prime time. I have a memory of Delia kindly saying she’d look at it, then getting back to me to say it was too long for their purposes. Or maybe she just saw the letter and said, “16,000? This chick is nuts.” (Delia would never say that. She’s too good-hearted.)

Over the years, I took more stabs at “Fairy Mistress.” I have versions from 1999 (still 16,000 words) and 2009 (down to 9,000 words). By 1999 it was largely in the shape it would become: Nevada’s voice, Nevada’s gender, the opening lines. I began being able to receive feedback as an author, primarily from one of the first editors who liked and published my work: Kevin Colligan, on his podcast Well-Told Tales. I have critiques from a three-person writers group I was once in from 2015.

And then something amazing happened: Inkception Books wanted to publish the story, all 9,000 words of it! They took it through an editorial process, suggested changes that I actually thought helped the story, and got me to a slightly different, darker ending than originally planned. It also changed Nevada’s motivations and character, and I really like this version of the story better now.

Then the Inkception contract arrived and … was really not what they had put forward: It was to be in a different anthology, and we’d have to buy the books – not at a discount, even – and then we could sell them at whatever price we liked and that would make us the money! I refused to sign the contract (with regrets) and spelled out the whole shady process right here.

“Rough Beast, Slouching” would have to live to fight another day. And let me tell you, finding a spot for a (now) 9,700 word story is not easy. That’s a big chunk out of any anthology, and I’m not precisely a known writer. But in September 2019, Dim Shores put out a call for stories – and accepted “Rough Beast”! The idea was it would come out in 2020, but then 2020 happened and … well, the long and the short of it is that it is now published and those pre-ordered copies are winging their way to those who pre-ordered them.

That’s a long way to go to get a story born. Obviously, I’ve done many things in my life and my writing since then. I’ve gotten an agent. I might actually get a novel published one of these days. But “Rough Beast’s” rough entry into the world is finally complete.

Why spell all this out now? Because if that story can live for 25 years and get cut in half (or about that) and endure countless rejections (13 since 2016, when I started keeping better notes about this stuff) and still not wither on the vine/get trunked/die completely, well – there’s hope for any writer. And any story. Just bear in mind that what comes out in the end might not look a whole lot like what it started out life as.

But that’s true, I think, for any of our expectations, hopes and dreams. The key is to knowing what you want – and knowing that sometimes, what you want, shows up in a different outfit than you’d imagined.

I’m super happy with this one’s clothing, and ecstatic to be able to present “Rough Beast, Slouching” to you. Copies can be purchased here.

If you get one and like any of the stories in there, mine or not, please let us know in reviews and on social media. One day, I hope more readers than critics will lay eyes on this story!

Hey, as “Rough Beast” has proved, anything is possible.