I’ve been circulating my Fathers and Sons story “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” for several months now. (Actually nearly a year and a half, it turns out.) The story has stayed more or less unchanged since I reached what I considered the final draft, though I always looked for chances to bump up the verb power or create the perfect image. It’s my teenage sex story, so there is lots of opportunity to use strong verbs and images.
Early on I had sent the story to two readers, one of whom writes in a genre that indirectly matches what I was trying to do, and the other being far closer to the age range of my two characters. I wanted their insights, whether the story was “realistic” and whether it was “true.” I received a few comments/suggestions, and I made changes where I thought I could, but I believed in the story mostly as I had written it. So out it went.
According to my records, the story received 11 rejections. That’s hardly even a beginning for submitting a story, and I continued sending it out undaunted.
And then I received a response from an editor who said she really liked the story and wanted to publish it . . . if I changed the ending.
I have not had much editorial change done to my stories. One early story (“Race to the Summit”) did get muscled over to rearrange plot points and even change the title, but the basic story remained. In one case (“The Lonely Road”) the editor wanted two bits of punctuation added. And in another (“Velvet Elvis”) the editor suggested a change to the last sentence that really made the difference to the story. But aside from those three cases, my other stories have been published as I wrote them.
So I was a bit uncomfortable with the idea of changing the ending of “When We Were Young.” It ended the way it had to end. I wrote the editor and asked her what she didn’t like about the ending and what she thought needed to be done. She gave me some pointers that I mulled, but I was not much better off than I had been before. So I did what I always do when I need to muse. I went to my cabin in the woods for the weekend with the story on paper and a mechanical pencil in hand. I sat in the comfy chair on the shady porch and tinkered with ideas and sentences. Then I sat in the comfy chair before the campfire, with a mechanical pencil in one hand and a beer in the other and tinkered some more. But I wasn’t making much progress. I guess the problem was that I had been so close to the story for so long, I cold not get an outside perspective on it.
So when I got home, I did what I should have done from the start. I sent the story to a fellow writer whose opinions I respect and asked him what he thought. Thus began an exchange of emails with ideas and questions and comments. Oh, did I mention that I had to get the rewrite done in less than a week, and even then there was no guarantee of acceptance?
I took the insights my friend gave me and combined them with the tinkering I had done at the cabin, and I came up with a new final paragraph for the story. I think I more or less said the same thing I had said before, but I was far less direct about it, and the voice more closely matched that in the rest of the story.
I let the change stew for a day and then came back to it, fine tuning it, and finding places throughout the story where I could make minor adjustments to lead up more exactly to the new ending.
Then I sent it to the editor and began chewing my nails. Two days passed before I received a response.
She liked the ending and will publish the story.
So “When We Were Young and Life Was Full in Us” will appear in the Winter 2013 edition of The Fictioneer, which is the literary magazine of Unsolicited Press. It’s a print publication, but they generally feature one or two of the stories online. I’ll provide the link (if and) when it is available.