Rejection → Rewrite

A torch burning in the dark

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!

Pho­to by Igor Lep­ilin on Unsplash.

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.