The Astonishing Case of the Zombie Sub

Publishing news and updates by K.A. Wiggins

30 Mar 2023

I’ve got some amazing news, but first: a quick heads-up on a super short #IndieApril Sale April 1-3 at Narratess!

And, in other news, I’m excited to have just been accepted into The Writers’ Union of Canada! Check out my new speaker’s profile here. I’ll be eligible for funding going forward under the Ontario Writers-In-The-Schools and the National Public Readings programs, so schools and organizations interested in booking an author visit, presentation, or workshop, please get in touch!

And finally, the contract isn’t actually signed yet, but I’ve just had an offer on a short story I never thought would actually find a home, so buckle up for . . .

The Astonishing Case of the Zombie Sub

If you’ve ever tried to create something, you’ve probably realized in pretty short order that a gap (ahem: yawning chasm, void, black hole, unscalable cliff of doom) exists between what you envision and what you’re able to create.

This is true regardless of the form your creation takes and, to some extent, regardless of skill level, experience, talent, etc.

That’s not to say that you can’t get better at narrowing the gap. A baby artist takes time to gain mastery over her tools. But even a master has that final thread of uncrossable, unscalable, ineffable something more to keep her awake at night.

Every story is, at some level, a battle to translate as clearly and completely that perfect, unattainable vision into imperfect words on a page.

Case in point: in 2019 I set out to capture an idea about a girl who chose to silence herself in order to win her heart’s desire.

It was loosely inspired by Scottish folklore—Thomas the Rhymer, cursed to speak only the truth, The Fiddlers of Tomnahurich, lost from their own time and stranded in a future they didn’t choose or understand, Tam Lin, stolen away by the queen of fairies, or maybe the stealer of virtue himself, destined for sacrifice—and set in a remote corner of modern Scotland where slow decline and struggle for survival roils beneath an idyllic tourism-oriented veneer.

My first attempt was the lyrical, folkloric “A Song of Dark Things,” a longish short story that sold immediately to Unknown Realms: A Fiction-Atlas Press Anthology.

But it didn’t fully capture the depth of what I wanted, the underlying motivation and tension. So I tried again. And again.

The third attempt was something new, something vital and alive and completely different from anything I’d written before. It switches perspectives, introducing an outsider’s view and voice, along with a whole new set of problems and possibilities. And it ended up being the start of something far bigger than I could finish back in 2019. You’ll get a look at it one of these days—it’s now the first chapter in the series I’ve been referring to as Songstress WIP.

But let’s circle back to that second attempt. The weirdest one in the Songstress triptych of tales about fae and rockstars and tricksters breaking barbed promises.

“Calloused” was the shortest, strangest, most difficult story of the three by far.

It jitters between past and present from one scene to the next. It’s entirely narrated, the “action” hinging on quiet, fierce interiority of purpose. While it racked up its share of wonderfully encouraging comments (and took a Silver Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future Awards last year), it was rejected so many times (59!) that I’d put it through over a dozen revisions and finally resigned myself to releasing it as a subscriber exclusive, or maybe as a launch bonus, when a submission I’d thought was dead came back to life.

This is not an Easter metaphor in disguise, in case you were worried. Short fiction submissions usually have a projected response time. When you don’t hear back by that point, you can contact them for an update or assume (as I generally do) that they’ve either run out of time/money/interest, lost your work, folded, hated what you wrote, and/or all of the above. In this case, the zombie sub popped back up with a vengeance.

The contract isn’t actually signed and there’s always the possibility of things falling apart in negotiations, so I’m not going to share the market yet, but I’m excited—at this point, astonished—to announce that a Canadian small press has accepted “Calloused” for a pro-rate themed anthology this fall.

So this is a tale about persistence, and not self-rejecting, and putting weird stuff out into the world, and keeping at it whittling away at that gap between the thing you want to create and what you’re able to create. You never know what will happen. ^_^;

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