W. P. Johnson

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

House of A Thousand Rewrites Part II

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2012 at 4:33 pm

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            October of 2010 marked my first acceptance of a story. Since then, in the past two years, I’ve managed to get a few more acceptances as well as one story that earned close to professional rates as determined by the HWA (I believe an affiliate only needs to sell a story for twenty dollars, but don’t quote me on that). Recently I told a friend of mine that the goal was to sell thirty stories within a year, and after that I would begin to work on my novel.

His response was, “Yeah, I don’t know about that dude…”

But thirty stories a year is only 2-3 stories a month. A tall order, sure, but not completely crazy. And lets say you spend a week writing a first draft, let it sit for a month and work on two other stories until coming back to it, then polish it and send it out. That’s roughly, 2-3 stories being sent out each month. I mean, it’s a no brainer right?

Which brings me to today’s entry…

Around the time of my first story acceptance I wrote a short bit on rejections and then following that a bit about rewriting. I had titled the latter “House of a Thousand Rewrites”, and am considering this it’s shinier sequel, and in this instance, better than the original. What follows below is an email correspondence between myself and a genre magazine entitled Pulp Modern that specializes is more post modern takes on traditional genre tropes. I’ve put the emails in italics and my own personal comments in… not italic, or however you’d like to label it. Just as a caveat, I asked the editor of Pulp Modern if he/she was okay with posting these, and they said it was fine.

As an additional preamble:

I wrote a story entitled “White Light, White Heat” about zombies. The idea was to take the running gag that hipsters make of the zombie apocalypse and turn it on its head. You know what I’m talking about… the jokey conversations of how to best survive, the quips that they’d just hold up in a bar so they could at least have a cold beer while the world was ending, etc. Zombies taking over the city? Awesome! Let’s have a warehouse party and order some pizzas!

In effect, I was taking the piss out of this trope by having it transition from jokes to a more serious situation involving starvation, violence, jealously, paranoia, and the eventual death of every character involved.

It was first written back in October of 2011, work shopped, and then sent to Spinetinglers, where it got no response whatsoever. The following is the submission process that took place between myself and Pulp Modern, minus specific details regarding the plot to avoid spoilers. Enjoy!

Feb. 3rd,

Editors,

Attached is a original short story “White Light, White Heat” with a word count of about 4,990 words. It is only being submitted to you at this time.

“White Light, White Heat” is a zombie story from the perspective of three twenty-something slackers holed up in a apartment building in North Philadelphia. While these slackers jokingly decide to ride out the zombie apocalypse by drinking beer, watching horror movies, and composing top ten lists of everything from their favorite band to their favorite fast food place, their situation quickly becomes dire as they run out of food and water, prompting a top ten list of things they will eat and drink if they absolutely have to.

I believe that as a horror story, “White Light, White Heat” suits the needs of Pulp Modern in that it approaches the traditional trope of zombie story by focusing on survivors dealing with one another. It is, in some ways, a post-modern zombie story as well as a jab at hipster culture.

Previous publications include “Skin” at microhorror.com, “Her Lovely Skin” and “The Collector” at snmhorrormag,com, “The Last Round” at solarcide.com, and “The Stench” at kzine.com.

Thank you for taking the time to consider “White Light, White Heat”. I hope you enjoy my work and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Concerning the first email- at this point I was listing ALL the publication credits I had, just so I didn’t look like a complete nobody. Now that I’ve got a few more I don’t include the microhorror one anymore, though this isn’t a slight on them so much as it is a matter of having a acceptance list that doesn’t go on forever and includes as many professional markets as possible. In fact, given the opportunity I would only include the markets that paid (sorry Solarcide, though you guys were good to me).

Feb. 4th,

Hello,

This is just a note to let you know your story has been received and will be considered ASAP.

Thanks,

A.C.

Editor

Feb 24th,

Hello,

First of all, congratulations.  I am a big zombie hater and you managed to hold my interest throughout this story.  I would love to publish it but I have one big stipulation: I think the ending is entirely too predictable.  If you decide to take another stab at the conclusion, I’d be more than happy to give the story another consideration.

Thanks,

A.C.

Editor

I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “tell Pulp Modern to shove the new ending up their asses. You know what’s best for your story and they can go fuck themselves.” True. But in this case they were right. Having work shopped the story at Litreactor.com, the one criticism/debate that came up again and again regarded the ending itself, wherein I had the main character die exactly as the main character did in Night of the Living Dead (I even had one of the soldiers say “there’s another one” before having the bullet hit). I thought it was rather clever to have a story go as dark as it did and reference the film which created the zombie genre as we now know it. Others, however, did not agree. Or maybe they sort of did but still felt gipped at having a story end in a clever way rather than an interesting/new way. Hence it was time for me to stubbornly swallow my pride and accept the fact that while I wasn’t a hack, the ending to my story was a little hacky. And sometimes the truth is you don’t always know what’s best for your story, or you sort of do but don’t want to let go of this other idea you had because there’s a part of you that likes it. In short, that the ending just wasn’t resonating with people.

A random note to new writers- always be professional in email correspondence. While I could have argued with them, I decided to just treat this like a job. They wanted a different ending, so I decided to give it to them.

Feb 25th,

Pulp Modern,

Thank you for the kind words and for your interest in my work. I’ll maul it over and see if I can come up with a different ending. I have an idea that might work and it would be a different take on the genre, at least, one that I’ve never really come across.

I too am a little burned out on the whole zombie thing so I took this story as a chance to see if I could do something different with the genre. I’ll try to have something to you within a week.

Thanks again,

-Bill

Mar 2nd,

Pulp Modern,

At your request, attached is a revised version of my short story “White Light, White Heat” with a new ending (the file name is White Light White Heat (new ending)). The original draft was at about 4,900 words and the new draft puts it at about 5,100 words. I hope that you’ll give it a chance regardless of the fact that it exceeds the word count listed in your submission guidelines.

In addition to this, consider the idea… (omitted to avoid spoilers). This would give it more of a horror feel while the new ending I wrote gives it something that’s a touch more cyclical and humorous.

Thank you again for considering my work and I hope you enjoy the changes I’ve made. If it doesn’t make the cut, I understand and appreciate the chance to submit it to your publication regardless. I look forward to your response.

-Bill

Mar 4th,

Hello,

Here’s my suggestion: I like your idea… (omitted for spoilers) [but could you try this with that idea…]

If something like that sounds good, give it a go and send me the story and I’ll definitely consider it for the spring issue.

Thanks,

A.C.

Mar 4th,

Sounds good. I’ll have something to you in a few days.

Thanks again for the suggestion. I was sort of toying with ending it like that but it seemed too easy. Then again, sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.

-Bill

After this email I had a bout of insomnia and wrote the new ending at three in the morning. Another note to new writers- always give yourself the time to edit a story. Never rush something! Afterwards when you send it out you’ll end up spotting a change you’ll have wanted to make and you’ll start to hate yourself for not taking your time.

Mar 5th,

A. C.

Attached is a revision of “White Light, White Heat” with the new ending. Its file name is “White Light, White Heat (new ending 2). Its shorter now and finally references the song the entire story is named after.

Let me know your thoughts.

-Bill

Mar 10th,

A. C,

Just following up on “White Light, White Heat”. Was wondering when I would know if it was accepted or not? If its still under consideration, please take your time. If it’s not quite right for you, no worries.

Thanks again for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.

-Bill

Ugh, what a needy zero I am.

Mar 10th,

Hello,

I haven’t gotten to read the last version you sent just yet.  I am intending on publishing it in the next issue, so it’s just a matter of making sure the end works.

A.C.

Mar 11th,

A. C.

Oh, okay! No worries. I misunderstood and started to get anxious that it might not be right for Pulp Modern and that I’d have to send it out again or something. Consider it yours under the condition that the current ending is more or less what you had suggested!

-Bill

Ewwwwwww. How many fucking exclamation points can I use to show how happy I am to do whatever it takes? I might as well have just sent back a giant smiley face while I was at it.

Mar 23rd,

Hello,

I think this story would end effectively (I hope that’s the right effect/affect) if the protag… (omitted for spoilers)

The reason is this… (omitted)

See if you can come up with something like, something that will punch the reader in the gut while suggesting there is just a bit more story after the story ends.  Just to reiterate, I would like to publish this in the spring issue, I just want to make sure you get the best possible end on the story.

Thanks,

A.C.

Mar 25th,

A. C.

Attached is the third revision, as requested. The file name is “White Light, White Heat (new ending 3).

I have to say though, it isn’t terribly different from ending 2. It’s slightly bleaker, a little more claustrophobic, visceral. As far as character arc, I’d argue that in this particular ending, it succeeded in doing what the second ending did as well.

In the end this is a story about a socially awkward “nerd” putting himself in a situation he’s unable to really cope with. Zack and Katy are expressions of your typical hipster (at least, as I’ve known them in Philadelphia). They cope with the situation through a series of your typical hipster tropes (top ten lists, drinking games, snobbish musical tastes, and a ironic love of cheesy movies). Just to put it out there- I’ve sort of done all of the things these people have done, ha ha. So like your typical hipster, I’m making fun of the idea of being a hipster.

Another trope of hipsters is the discussion of a zombie survival contingency plan. This story was my attempt of taking the piss out that conversation, wherein a group of slackers jokingly start out their survival plan by just drinking beer, listening to music and eating pizza, only to have all of this slowly fall way to starvation, forcing them to abandon the jokes, the top ten lists, the frivolous behavior of your typical trust fund hipster (as most people see them at least)… (omitted)

So I don’t know. I appreciate all the time you’ve given me and your suggestions, but if you feel this ending just isn’t right, if it doesn’t hit the reader in the gut like you want it to, I don’t know if I can really do much more to it.

I’ve give the whole story an overall touch up (minor stuff)… I think it’s as close as I can make it to what you’re asking for. If it still isn’t right, then maybe it’s just not right for Pulp Modern. Which is fine. However, with all due respect, I don’t know if I can rewrite it again beyond fixing basic grammar issues, or other minor changes. I’m totally for making this the best story it can be for Pulp Modern and respect the expectations you have of it and me as a writer, but like I said, if this doesn’t do it for you, I don’t know, maybe I’m not able to deliver the goods.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the new ending. Let me know your thoughts and whether or not its right for you guys (I hope it is!). If not, no worries, I won’t take offense.

-Bill

By this point… you can sort of see that I’m getting a little frustrated. I basically wrote an explanation of what the story was about and why the ending worked. In effect, I argued for the ending I wrote because, to be honest, I just wasn’t sure what more I could do to make it what they wanted. In fact, based on what they asked for I believe that the ending I gave them was exactly what they wanted.

In addition to this, I also said, in so many words, that I wanted to be able to send this elsewhere if it wasn’t right for them. But I didn’t want sound like a guy leaving his girlfriend because she wouldn’t put out. I wanted to make it clear to them that I was perfectly fine rewriting, but that this draft was it and if it didn’t cut it, I was also fine with just being rejected and moving on.

Mar 26th,

I woke up this morning with one last idea id like to include in the final draft… (plot point omitted). That to me will really bring it all home. So when reading what I currently sent you, also consider that minor detail to be included in the event that its published.

Sincerely,

Bill

As I said earlier- give yourself the time to edit/rewrite properly, lest you avoid rambling emails like the one I wrote above. And since it was sent from my phone I couldn’t even write it grammatically correct. Then again, after more than a dozen emails I figured by this point it was probably okay to just write them without being completely professional.

Mar 29th,

All right.  We’ll go with what you got here, plus your idea about (omitted).  When you get that part written into the story, send it over.

Thanks for putting up with my suggestions,

A.C.

So there you go. The first draft was written in October, rejected by Spinetinglers around January, then accepted by Pulp Modern in February under the conditions of a rewrite, and an email correspondence that lasted for months. In fact, there’s not even a hundred percent guarantee that they’ll publish it, though I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they’re sincere in wanting it for the spring issue.

Was it worth all the trouble? To be honest, yes. They pushed me to write something better and when I finally was convinced that I had given them the best I could do I pushed back a little and they accepted. Six months from draft to acceptance. In other words, my whole 2-3 stories a month bullshit means I have a lot of catching up to do if I want thirty stories sold within a year.

In other news, my short story “A Song For John” was accepted by Dark River Press (that means two acceptances in March!). Check out their site- their stuff is free and they do a pretty good job. Also they accept longer work, which is rare as far as online zines go. Also check out Pulp Modern. Their past two issues got really great reviews on amazon.com and I’m excited at the prospect of being featured in their spring issue.

Until then, here’s to being scary.