Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Albatross

Remember the story of the intrusive old woman who went on a B&E and vandalism spree, breaking into the Three Bears’ home and trashing their stuff?* Not long before she was brutally punished for that series of offenses, she discovered that some of the Bears’ food and furnishings were not too big, and not too small, but just right.

That’s how I feel about Redemption Road, a story I have come to think of as my albatross, a story I may never be able to sell.

I just sent the albatross off to another publisher, but I’m not holding my breath that they will take it.

Redemption Road is as dear to my heart as it is a hard sell, because [1] it is a mix of surreal horror and Christian mythology (think LOST if written by Stephen King for the tone of the story), and [2] it has a plot line that is hard to to summarize (what the hell is that squiggle up in the sky, and what is the deal with the three-legged dog?) which would make selling it to an anthology with a set theme a real challenge, and [3] it has a 42,000 word count, which means it was born in an unincorporated part of Storyland on that dangerous turf between Novella Town and Novel City, and that has always been a troublesome place. For a lot of publishers it isn’t worth the work that would go into a full novel, but it would take a lot more commitment from a publisher and a reader than a short story. There is also the chance that Redemption Road is a steaming pile of human waste, but positive feedback from complete strangers makes me doubt that.

I could have cheated and padded the story with pointless bullshit (I’ll pause for the inevitable shout of, “Isn’t that what you do with all of your stories, Swain?”), or cut out material I thought was important (“Let me be the judge of that,” said every editor ever), but in the end the story is its own thing. It ends when it ends, and there isn’t a whole lot I can do about it.

And as much as I bitch about it, I truly love my albatross. If I didn’t love it I could have cut it down or overworked it until it conformed to a certain standard, but I didn’t. It’s pure story, and since I write for me first, it’s a part of me; the gruesome deaths, the bizarre landscape, the unanswered questions, and even that goddamned rocketship.**

Do you have an albatross? If so, let me hear about it – and let me hear if you’ve had success selling novellas too!

Don’t Ignore that bird hanging around your neck – wear it with pride! And keep trying to sell it every chance you get.

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Gustave Doré, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1876).

*This is referring to the original version of the story we know as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Eleanor Mure’s 1831 tale that ended with the disgruntled ursians trying unsuccessfully to burn the old woman alive, and then drown her, and in what can only be seen as a final act of frustration, flinging the intruder into the air and impaling her on the steeple of St. Paul’s. Jesus!!!

*The rocketship is the power of hope, the last thing an artist will ever let go of.