November 20, 2021

Vegvísir in Clarkesworld on December 1st

I am absolutely positively delighted to announce that I have successfully sold a short story to a pro genre magazine! My debut short story Vegvísir (Wayfinder) will be published by Clarkesworld Magazine on December 1st.

Image credit - Curiosity, NASA

Vegvísir is set on Mars at least a couple of hundred years from now and follows a lone geological surveyor who gets stuck in a sandstorm with a broken rover and must try to get to shelter.

It was incredibly fun to write and involved a bunch of research, since the character, Gunnar, is a geothermal specialist of Icelandic descent and a second generation Martian. I wanted to explore how our mythologies and beliefs might travel with us to new worlds, which is why I was checking the spelling of extracts from Old Norse poetry with the good folks on the Iceland and Old Norse subreddits.

This was also one of those stories that just came together incredibly well, after an idea I had been mulling for a while (mythology in the future) combined with a random tweet from fellow Edinburgh author Charlie Stross about proposed lunar landing pad creation. Suddenly my story had a potential location and a cool detail to add and within a couple of days I had a first draft.

It just felt right, so when I saw the editor of Clarkesworld mention on Twitter that they had fewer than 15 stories in their queue (they are known for an incredibly systematic process for reviewing submissions and turnaround times often under 48 hours), I ran through a final edit and sent it over.

I have been writing seriously for the best part of twenty years, and I’ve had a (very) longstanding ambition to make a professional short story sale. However, there’s a necessary pre-condition to getting a story accepted, which is actually submitting them.

The last time that I tried submitting any short stories, it was around 2005 and most magazines only accepted paper manuscripts, along with a SASE (a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope for the kids) that they would post back to you with a rejection slip. While there was a minor visceral thrill associated with seeing your own handwriting on the SASE when it came back several weeks or months later, I got roundly and soundly rejected with the four or five stories I submitted.

Reading them back sixteen years later, I can see why - they’re simply not very good. I was reading a lot of Ray Bradbury and Hemingway short stories back then and I learned precisely the wrong lessons from both of them - mixing the sparse style of Hemingway with the more outlandish imagery of Bradbury is not the winning combo I thought it was, especially when it’s combined with meandering, aimless stories with no real plot.

But two things have changed since then. First of all, I’ve done a lot of writing. Mostly novel length, but I think you can’t write longer stories without also learning a few lessons that can be applied to a short story.

Secondly, it is much, much, much easier to submit your work. The vast majority of magazines are online submissions now, which makes it really easy and fast to send things in. While that doesn’t always mean a quick response, it allow you to submit more systematically. Here’s a great Twitter thread by John Wiswell of amazing advice about submitting to genre magazines these days. While I feel bad for the vast avalanches of slush editors are dealing with, now that the minor barrier of actually having to post things has been removed, I’m also selfishly glad because it means I’m submitting again. And now that I’ve had the massive thrill of having something actually get picked up, I’m hooked.

What has it been like actually having a story accepted? I was sitting watching TV with my wife and feeling pretty rough after my annual flu jab when my phone buzzed with the acceptance email from Clarkesworld. I had been trying really hard not to get my hopes up too much. The story went to the second round in the online submission system quite quickly, but then spent several days at number 3 in the queue. The longer it sat there, the more I steeled myself for a rejection. So I may have screeched with relief and excitement when I read the email.

Since then I’ve had the amazing experience of working with Neil, the editor and also going back and forth with the Icelandic and Old Norse speaking contacts I’ve made to ensure everything in the story related to those cultures is as accurate as I can make it. That included the fantastic moment where Reddit user herpaderpmurkamurk shared a picture of the specific stanza of the Hávamál book of the Poetic Edda that features in the story. Spoilers if you can read Old Norse, I guess:

I cannot wait to see this story out in the world! And Clarkesworld also produces an audio version of every story, so I’ll get to hear the amazing Kate Baker read out my words. WHAT.

There have been… other things also going on this week which I can’t talk about quite yet. Put it this way - when I got the acceptance for this story I was pretty sure I’d just had the absolute highlight of my year. I was… wrong about that. Getting Vegvísir published is an incredible feeling but this week has also featured some potentially life-changing writing stuff. Oh man I can’t wait to tell people about it.

But for now, stay tuned to my Twitter account to get text and audio versions when they go live.

Clarkesworld Magazine is free to read and listen online, but they are supported by subscribers (which is why they can pay pro rates and produce amazing audio versions of their stories). There’s about a million ways to subscribe starting from 3 bucks a month and subscribing gets you lovely eBook versions (and print if that’s your thing). I’ve subscribed (it’d be rude not to I think, since they’re publishing me) and I’d love it if you did too. Support what you want to see more of in the world.

What a week! I might have more updates next week. We shall see my friends, we shall see.

fiction short stories publishing upcoming news clarkesworld

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