I did this a while ago on Tumblr, made some weekly posts about my old short fiction, and a recent tweet reminded me that a lot of my readers aren’t aware of most of the short fiction I’ve had published. Which, I mean, if you’re not into short fiction, cool, scroll by, but just in case you are interested, well.
So, my very first SF&F sale was a story called “Hesperia and Glory” which appeared in issue number four of Subterranean Magazine. It was guest-edited by John Scalzi, so, yes, he was my very first editor. The entire issue was made freely available as a pdf, which is where that link goes. There’s a lot of good stuff there, including Rachel Swirsky’s first SF&F sale!
(My first ever sale ever was a story to True Confessions. It wasn’t spec fic, and since stories in TC were supposedly ONE HUNDRED PERCENT TRUE writers didn’t get a byline and all names in the ms were changed before publication. Trust me, you’re not interested in reading it.)
Anyway. Hesperia. I knew that John Scalzi was guest-editing an issue of Subterranean, with “science fiction cliches” as the theme. So while I was at Clarion West, I pounded out a draft and turned it in for the final week of the workshop. It had, at the time, the brilliant title “Help I Need A Title.”
Michael Swanwick was our instructor that week. Now, he put a huge amount of energy into teaching. Seriously, I don’t know how he did it. He read everything we’d submitted for the entire six weeks, plus our application stories, and gave us extensive comments on all of it. What a gift, right? It was amazing. And he had lots of things to say about my story for the week. All of which I duly noted down because I am no fool–if Michael Swanwick is going to give me writing advice I am damn well going to take it.
On the way home I was thinking hard about how to apply his advice, when I suddenly realized that in fact all the advice he’d given me was wrong.
See, he’d misread my story. (It was, as all my first drafts are, pretty awful, so that was no one’s fault but mine.) And he’d given me all that advice based on that misreading. But it took me several days and a long train trip to realize that. And to realize that what I needed to do was to re-write it in such a way that Michael Swanwick would not misread it.
Yeah, that took me some time, and some amount of banging my head on the desk, but eventually I ended up with “Hesperia and Glory,” buffed it all to hell, and sent it off. And nearly died of delighted shock when I got an acceptance back. Nearly died of shock a second time when Rich Horton asked to put it in his Years Best antho for that year.
In a lot of ways, that was one of the most important lessons I learned at Clarion West, and one I’m exceedingly grateful to Michael for teaching me–that all the best advice in the world (and trust me, it was fabulous advice for the story I appeared to have written) isn’t useful if it’s not for your story. And that in the end it’s you, the writer, who has to make that call.
So, “Hesperia and Glory.”
Dear Mr. Stephens,
It is entirely understandable that you should wish a full accounting of the events of the last week of August of this year. If nothing else, your position as Mr. John Atkins’ only living relative entitles you to an explanation.
I must begin by making two points perfectly clear. The first is quite simple. The account you have read in the papers, and no doubt also received from the chief of police of this town, is entirely false.
My second point is this: there is not now, nor has there ever been, a well in my cellar.
If you’re into audio, you can hear it read at Escape Pod.