Without hesitation, my primary love language is words of affirmation. Today, I am feeling affirmed because of a personalized rejection letter I received from the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. The story in question is Exemplars , my pastor-meets-space-alien short story, and it’s a big deal because I usually get rejected by form letter.
Exemplars is, in my estimation, one of my best stories to date, and at three-plus years in the making, it was also one of my longest to write. Because of this extended duration, it has also provided me with a lot of experience learning how to edit my stories. In no particular order, here are a few things I learned — and implemented — while rewriting Exemplars.
- Less is more when it comes to characters. In my initial draft, I had no less than five different characters present in my story, with a sixth on the telephone. The story was stronger with only three present, even though it meant I had to cut what I thought were some of my funniest lines.
- Research matters, even when writing what you know. In this case, my need to rewrite this story required a research trip to a Reformed Baptist church in Massachusetts. Although my original draft took place in a church more like the one I currently attend, I felt I needed a church with more of a New England feel to it. I also needed the specific denomination because it tied better to the story I was telling.
- Painful edits can be essential. After its second trip through the queue at Critters, I decided that readers were being confused by the door on the pews of my fictional church. Pew doors are an authentic part of my New England setting — something I grew up with — but apparently they don’t exist anywhere else. I couldn’t afford to confuse my readers, so the pew doors had to go.
- Secondary themes matter, even in short fiction. The plot of Exemplars is relatively straightforward, but the struggles my protagonist faces while interacting with a creature he initially doesn’t believe in are reflected in the struggles of the church at large in its relationship to minorities. It’s an issue I know well, and I think it makes my story stronger.
As I mentioned in my opening, Asimov’s actually turned down this story, but I’m still feeling pretty good about it. Mostly, that’s because I feel it’s a strong story, and Sheila Williams affirmed that by telling me she looks forward to seeing my next story. Once I send Exemplars shipped out to another publication for consideration, I’ll get right on it.