The Scribe’s Arcanum:
Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 3
Just about to give up hope on my vampire short story, “Despair,” I spied a contest at Dark Recesses Press. Time was growing short for getting a sale that would qualify me to remain a member of the Horror Writer’s Association.
Dark Recesses Press had their 2nd annual Deja Vu Horror Contest coming up. This contest was all about familiar horror tropes. For a small entry fee, I could submit a story that was either a parody of a genre trope or do something new and unique with the trope. I had just the story… or so I thought!
I had no illusions of winning this contest, but with the story off working in the background at least I could dream. As such, I gave it a quick read through and sent it by email to my wife for a quick proofread.
My wife reviewed the story. Having grown as an editor since her last revision, she realized I had a character who served no other purpose than to die. She advised me to extricate the character from the story.
Impossible! There was no way I could remove the character. She was integral to the story. I was overtaken by frustration. I had a novel to get back to and new short stories to write. I didn’t have the time to complete a total rewrite nor did I have any way to get rid of this character without the structure of the story collasping.
Deciding to sleep on it, the next morning I awoke with an answer. It was certainly one of those eureka moments.
I realized I could employ a technique filmakers use when adapting a novel. They take two or more characters, and make them into a composite. In this way, they’re able to have one character do the work of two or more. This is necessary sometimes when condensing a long novel into a two-hour movie.
The reduction of this character would shorten my story, but it would still be well within the bounds of the required word count. I went to work in earnest.
In the process, I had to revise and rearrange the story, making it much tighter in the process.
Patty read my new version and completed another proofread. We were both happy with the final results. Essentially, with all the changes, it was a new and improved story.
Now, not only would I be breaking the rule of sending to the top markets first, I was also going against the advice of paying a fee to enter a contest. Money is supposed to flow to the writer. But the entry fee was small ($11.00 I believe), and I had interacted with the publisher, and one of the editors, on a horror message board. They were good people, and I knew their hearts were in the right place. In the coming months they were bringing Dark Recesses Press from a micro-zine to a semi-pro web magazine. They were doing everything right, and I wasn’t going to let any well meaning advice get in my way of getting another rejection. No, sir! Not me.
With nothing to lose, I paid my fee and sent the story off through email. Then I tried to forget about the whole thing. There was no way I was going to win, anyway. I just wanted to keep up my momentum. Maybe someday I would make a sale. Either way, I couldn’t stop writing. I had the bug, and I had it bad.
One night in 2006 my wife and I were sitting on the couch with our laptops, the TV buzzing white-noise in the foreground. The phone rang and I got up to to check the caller ID. To my surprise, someone was calling us from Canada. Who the hell was calling us from the Great White North? Most likely a wrong number, I thought. Yet, I wondered if it could be some long lost family member, my dad has people in Canada. I had also interacted with some Canadian writers on the horror message board. Why would they be calling me? I could daydream about someone wanting to collaborate, but the idea seemed absurd. I didn’t even have a first sale yet. It was fun to dream, though.
I returned to the couch, and then I heard the chime of an email notification. I clicked through to check it. Both the phone call and email were about to change my life.
I’ll tell you about it next time.