First Appeared: Metaphorosis
Also Appears In: Best Vegan Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2017
Published: August 18, 2017
Byline: Paul A. Hamilton
Edited by: B. Morris Allen
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Cost: Free
Content: Rated PG, Mild Terror, Thematic Elements

Behind The Story

A few years ago when I got laid off of my job, I was optimistic that the time I had in front of me to look for a new position would also afford me some additional time to get in a lot of quality writing. In practice, my time ended up being a lot less flexible and forgiving than I’d hoped. Some of that had to do with the fact my wife was pregnant at the time with our second child. But I also just underestimated how much time-consuming drudgery is involved with a focused effort to find employment.

Now, during that period I did get a few projects off the ground. One of them was an odd little story I wrote sitting at the kitchen table, under circumstances that almost never work for me.

Usually my stories start as a germ of a plot concept: a bit of setting, a world-building idea, a specific image from a scene, or an outline of some conflict. Until I have some kind of hook to start from, I usually don’t start putting words together. With this particular story I simply sat down and began to write, pulling details from the environment directly in front of me. Twisting my imagination as hard as I could to find images that felt arresting and odd, I worked backward to infuse them with some sort of structure.

Admittedly, the motivation for this was to crack a particular market which had just sent me another in a series of rejections. What I hadn’t tried with that dream market was to write to that magazine’s aesthetic specifically. This deep dive into discovery writing was my effort to meet the darkly beautiful style described in their submission guidelines (and confirmed by their available sample issues).

What came out of this experiment was a very peculiar story whose bones are fairly consistent with what eventually became Oven Game. Drea, Taka, the game and most of its rules, even the ending were all present in this initial draft more or less as they appear in the final version. I was surprised at the time with how happy I felt about that first draft. It felt like it met the aesthetic I was going for and had some pretty interesting moments. Of course it needed some clean-up, but after some revisions to clarify a few confusing sections and a bit of work to elevate the passage of time theme I read a couple of stories from the target market. Then I re-read this piece and asked myself, “would this story feel out of place alongside these others?” When I felt the answer was, “no,” I sent it in.

They rejected it. Too slow to get going, they said.

It was quite disappointing, I freely confess. So much so that I put Oven Game on the back burner for a bit and moved on to other things, perplexed that I had pointedly tried to give the market what they wanted and they’d not been impressed.

But something about the odd tale of Drea and Taka kept pulling my interest back. So I took it back to the workshop stage and streamlined the beginning. I submitted and revised it a number of times over the course of that year and into the next. I got even more feedback that the beginning of the story was still slow. The introduction was intended to be a bit slower while the ending was meant to feel more frantic (an intentional thematic parallel to the way we perceive time as children versus how we perceive time as adults). But I kept trimming to try and get to the inciting incident quicker.

In the end the story was rejected twenty-one times, getting a few “this was close but not quite there” notes along the way. And I gradually began to understand why this story was getting that reaction. It reads a bit like magical realism up front but then abruptly shifts to a modern sort of suburban fantasy until it finally reveals itself to be a time-travel story of all things with a very dark, almost horror-like ending. In short, other than that original magazine I’d intended it for, I wasn’t sure who would be interested in it.

When I eventually found Metaphorosis, editor B. Morris Allen was interested in the story but felt it had some structural problems. Specifically how Drea (as an adult) never made the connection between the Oven Game and her adult life. Mr Allen patiently worked with me through a few pointed revisions before accepting the story and confirming what I hadn’t realized I was hoping all along: that there was more than one audience for this story. Interestingly, I think the final version that appears in Metaphorosis is much improved and probably would have a better shot at publication in that original target magazine than the version I sent in over three years ago. But if they’d picked it up, it would never have evolved to the much stronger piece it is now.

The lesson here, then, is that there is an audience for every story somewhere out there. Even things don’t go the way they’re meant to, sometimes that’s ultimately for the best.