First three pages of a story I wrote about four years ago and I’ve been sending out to anyone who allows a story submission:
In the middle of the night, nine p.m., while Morris was in the living room reading The Systems Revolution and drinking a glass of beer, and while Truman knit a sweater from yarn he’d salvaged at a yard sale and listened to the BBC news, someone knocked on the door. “Morris?” Morris didn’t answer Truman. Morris didn’t want to get the door. Truman asked, “Who do you think that is?” This meant Morris was supposed to get the door. A scraggly creature stood on the stoop. Her neck came out of her torso like a tree trunk listing in a muddy hillside. Her hair hung over her ravaged face. Something had flattened her nose. The skin looked as if it had been soaked in battery acid; it was mottled with pink and peach colors, pitted, and shaped like a crushed rubber duck. “Can I look in your garage?” she asked.
Morris had forgotten about the outhouse. He’d already replaced it in his mind with his planned remodel. The outhouse rotted under a thicket. Morris assumed the outhouse had fallen over, and the only reason it retained the appearance of an erect building was due to the abundance of weeds holding the walls. It hadn’t collapsed merely because it lacked the space to fall. Morris had put some things for lack of anywhere else to put in there covered under a tarp. It was a dry, if musty, space.
“Tina and Tim’s Love Wagon,” she said. “We were T&T. That’s dynamite.”
“I’m sorry,” Morris said. The poor woman was lost and didn’t know where she was. “But it’s late.”
“There’s no need to come out with me,” she said. “I just want to look. I just want to see it. T&T, man.”
“I’m terribly sorry,” he said.
She blinked at him. She raised a hand. She had normal looking hands. Neatly cut nails, smooth white skin, with faint blue vein. She had pretty hands. She brushed her hair from her face. “No?”
“Goodnight,” he said, He closed the door and then peeped out the peep hole. She stood on the stoop for a full minute staring at the door. He thought she started to cry, but he couldn’t tell looking through the tiny fisheye aperture. He wanted to open the door then and comfort her. Why not take her into the musty old place? There was nothing to steal. He didn’t know her, though. He didn’t know what designs she had. Truman and he had just moved in. It was still a strange place to them, and anyway something about her bothered Morris.
Morris wanted that outhouse replaced with a new building of his own design. He wanted the roof shingled properly. He didn’t care what was there before he was here. Now this was their house. He had consulted with some friends in real estate. They said it doesn’t matter what is standing on a lot, when you purchase a lot; you purchase the possibilities of the lot. This was a good lot, a double lot, a corner lot, a lot near shopping, near several parks, a lot, apparently at the source of the Piper’s Creek. In buying the lot, Truman and Morris had bought their future.
And here was this person from who knows where? Who knows what she’d done to get to the state she was in?
Tina, if that was her name, moved down the steps and stood under the street light on sidewalk and she started to walk around the house.
“What is going on out there?” Truman asked him.
“There is some woman looking to get into the outhouse.”
Truman scuttled beside him, and they watched her walk around the house. She looked around and apparently didn’t have very good eyesight because she couldn’t see them standing in the living room window looking right at her. She crossed the yard and stood in front of the garage.
Morris rushed to the back door. He had truly lost his temper now. She wouldn’t listen. “Goodnight!”
“I just want to look into the garage. Just a single minute.”
“Have a goodnight,” he said back into the house.
“Fuck you, mister,” Tina said. She turned and walked down the sidewalk. Morris waited on the back porch, listening to the leaves rustle in the alder in the back lot until he was certain she as gone.
“Did she need help?” Truman asked.
“I’m very unsettled,” Morris said.
“Let me make you a cup of green tea.” […]
Received this note recently from a small lit mag, Our Stories:
First off, thank you for submitting to Our Stories, we’re always excited when new material comes to us and we like to take our time going over it.
At Our Stories we do something unique, we give each person who submits to us some feedback about your story. Please know, what follows is just our opinion. It’s all subjective type stuff, what works for one journal may not work for another. The bottom line is keep working and keep writing.
gosh, I’m just so lost on the first four pages that I had to read it three times. So help me out, we got two guys sitting in a house. Woman comes to the door and says, “I wanna see your garage” and then the guys are like, “no!” and they’re talking about how they don’t want anyone near the outhouse, I got all that? It’s just unclear here to me, Is the garage the outhouse? What is going on? It’s quirky but I don’t believe quirky is quite enough here. My suggestion would be to try to make some of this clearer, you may detest this advice, but for the first couple of pages is crucial.
Right now we’ve decided that the piece isn’t right for us.
Alexis E Santi
The late Alice Adams wrote about women magazine editors in her introduction to the Best American Short Story’s in 1991 [although I think this could be applied to more generally]:
They have always wanted stories, and especially the endings of stories to be spelled out, explained, as though the women who read the are wholly uneducated and/or mildly retarded, incapable of appreciating a subtle or, God help us, an ambiguous ending. My own recent encounter with one of these magazines was so appalling — I was pelted with questions like “Why are they drinking Perrier?” and “Why does he kiss her just now?” — that I had to withdraw the story. For me this whole bout was extremely annoying and time- and energy-consuming; it surely would have been far worse for a younger, less experienced writer, say a young woman with a couple of part-time jobs and/or baby sitters to arrange for and pay. For such writers it must indeed be simply discouraging to send out stories, knowing how extremely poor their chances are. In a way I do not wonder that fewer and fewer good writers seem to be writing short stories.
Of course there is an entire site dedicated to sharing rejection woes. It would be better if there was a site that showed which magazines were reading and what the comments were like so writers could figure out where the intelligent readers were actually reading work. I’ve read slush piles and I’ve never found it that difficult. I’ve also written my share of cryptic and of no use notes trying to be helpful.