Mar. 1st, 2018
The fifth story was an exploration of dragons.
The first thing the buying editor admitted to was the fact that she did not articulate what she wanted as well as she thought she had. Unfortunately, that wasn’t apparent until she got the stories and it was too late to do anything about it. This brought up another important point about things that influence editorial decision-making. When they get a lot of stories that aren’t quite right (for whatever reason) the pressure on their time increases. They need to keep an eye on these time pressures, so they are more likely to buy stories that don’t need work.
So, one editorial lesson learned was that articulating the requirement/expectations for the stories is critical to not getting a bunch of stories that are an automatic no. For example, clarifying that the dragon be essential (rather than incidental) to the story would’ve avoided some automatic no’s; another element that should have been clarified was the requirement that the story could not be one where it was just a human in dragon form.
We also found out that sometimes a rejection is more about what’s going on in an editor’s life at the time than anything else. One editor had just lost a friend to cancer and could not bring herself to read any stories involving hospitals. Another editor was too close to a national disaster and could not read anything related to that disaster. The details don’t matter, just know that sometimes your story may hit a note or a chord that is too painful for an editor to endure and your story will not be read. Nope, there’s nothing you can do about it, and no one is going to put all their issues into a submission call for the world to see.
There is also the chance that an editor knows too much about a subject and will reject your story because it’s their area of expertise and something in your story didn’t work for them. A non-expert, on the other hand, would never get tripped up and think it worked just fine. The area of expertise could be anything from actually having lived in a town you described, the editor writing in that historical period or sub-genre, or being a subject-matter expert who did their thesis on the subject.
As far as my own story for this anthology, I knew right away that I wanted to do something Arthurian. I loved The Crystal Cave and the movie Excalibur. One of the elements I wanted to use was the idea that the Land was the Dragon. I loved the scenes where Merlin calls forth the breath of the Dragon (the fog) to stage Arthur’s conception. But I also wanted to twist it and not make it about Arthur, but about Merlin.
Summary: Zimeu—a dragonkin—travels to Alwion (Britain) in disguise, to help save mankind from a coming dark age, but he arrives too early. On his way back, he crosses paths with a woman who is about to die in childbirth, and uses his magic to save her and her son, leaving mankind with a guide (Merlin) rather than the leader (Arthur) he’d originally intended.
- Editor 1: Doesn’t read dragon stories (If you’re wondering why some editor who hates dragons was reading here, it’s because they each were part of this workshop, but were not buying for this anthology.)
- Editor 2: Despite hating dragons and dragon stories, pulled in by dragon in lab/library; quality of the writing pulled him through the rest of the way; loved element of shift and balance; loved tension and dialogue; loved birthing scene; strong maybe.
- Editor 3: Loved the dragons; loved Arthurian overlay; writing felt rushed; needs more emotion; would’ve sent it back in for rewrite for emotion.
- Editor 4: It was great; liked idea of dragon culture as root for Arthurian legend; intellectually appealing; maybe pile after 1st read but read for emotion; would need to take the context of entire anthology into account to see if it could fit.
- Editor 5: Not up on Arthurian legend; still liked it without recognizing references.
- Buying editor: Agrees with Editor 3; minored in Arthurian legend; no because dragon could have been a mages and the story still could have worked; needs to be more fleshed out.
I was not surprised to hear that the writing felt rushed (it was) or that it didn’t have enough emotion. These deadlines were just brutal. I came in under 5000 words and had a 6000-word limit and should’ve pushed up against that limit and given it another pass. I should’ve written a clearer ending.
Emotion in fiction:
One of the things I’m reluctant to write about is the definition of what passes for “emotion.” There seems to be a preference for characters who are overly dramatic, who are damaged and traumatized on a deep level (preferably on multiple levels). There is almost no recognition of the fact that some people just get over it and move on (or aren’t overly emotional in the first place). Emotion is, after all, a spectrum. But if you’re going to require that the story NOT have a human disguised as a dragon/alien/monster, then it does beg the question, wouldn’t the emotions of the non-human be NOT human or at least different than ones you’d expect from a human character?
I think this is why aliens (or any other non-human creature) whether anthropomorphized or not, really is just human, with one exaggerated attribute. The best analogy I can think of is Star Trek. Exaggerate logic in a human and you have a Vulcan. Exaggerate aggression in a human and you have a Klingon. At the end of the day, whether the Hollywood prosthetics come off or not, we relate to a disguised human trait.
Would an alien based on broccoli be anywhere within the realm of our experience?
This is a separate issue from emotional impact to the reader.
The lack of character emotion was discussed in the context of some military stories, bringing up the same question: are military people so used to dealing with traumatic things that they don’t react emotionally? I think the answer is “yes” in some cases. In real life, people distance themselves and build up emotional callouses in order to be able to function. But in fiction, the preference seems to be for people who don’t do that, even when the story context calls for it, as in a military piece. I suspect that some editors get that and the standard for a military-themed anthology might be different.
Yes, genre matters. A lot.