At the start of December I heard about an anthology looking for stories on the theme of “Derelicts”. The deadline was tight—stories had to be submitted by Dec. 31st—but I realized I had a story and so I slammed it out. I wrote 7,500 words about a colony world with a medieval-Iceland–influenced society—stratification into thrall, carl, jarl, and royal classes, for instance—that had been settled by a swarm of faster-than-light colony ships. They were surprised when, two centuries after the colony was established, a very old, slower-than-light vessel showed up. They were even more surprised to discover this new ship was empty, except, perhaps, for a ghost.
I sent the story off on about Dec. 29th, and this past week I got the rejection note. The anthology received 1,400 submissions, and could take only 20 stories. The odds were not in my favour.
But—after a few minutes of unhappiness—I’m OK with this situation. The story was a tight fit at 7,500 words. There’s more to tell, I think, things I was forced to elide to fit the word-count limit. And I was never really happy with the title, either. I called it “The Smoke” but that felt like a placeholder title.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire, as they say, and I’ve decided to dig into that. The new title is “Praise the Torch When ‘Tis Burned”, which ties into the Icelandic/Norse feeling I’ve got going on: One of the poems in the Poetic Edda is the Hávamál, the “Sayings of Odin”, which features a stanza that I’ve loved since I first read it:
At evening praise the day, a torch¹ when burned,
A weapon when tried, a maid at wedlock,
Ice when over it, ale when it is drunk.
It’s a very “don’t count your chickens till they hatch” piece of writing. I have adopted “Praise ice when over it” into my list of preferred proverbs, partly for its wisdom and partly because, where I live, you’re driving on ice at least four months of the year.
So my plans for the next draft of this story:
- New title
- New focus
- Improved world-building
Wish me luck!
¹ Some translations have it as “a woman when burned” or “a woman on her pyre”, and I don’t feel I’m the author to explore that.