Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Forgotten Story

In 2003 I wrote a quiet horror story called “Martin’s Walk” about an old man who loses his wife, then tries to hold on to part of her by continuing the long hikes they used to take in the woods behind their home.

It was rejected a few times for being too sentimental or for an ending that was hopeful. I couldn’t argue with either of those assessments. Despite my best efforts, a certain percentage of my horror output seems to offer up the possibility that there may be something in life worth celebrating or that the universe occasionally doesn’t loathe us.. That’s probably a big reason I haven’t been more successful.

Finally in late 2004/early 2005, the story sold to a magazine called Strange Pleasures. After a year or so it had not appeared in print, and I contacted the editor, who told me – well, honestly, I can’t remember what he told me. The publisher was having money problems or the magazine was switching publishers. But he assured me the story would appear.

I moved on, and ultimately forgot about “Martin’s Walk”.

Until a few days ago.

I received in the mail a book called New Writings in the Fantastic, edited by John Grant. I assumed this was a book someone wanted me to review for Pod of Horror. But, folded up inside, was a letter from the editor who had accepted “Martin’s Walk” for Strange Pleasures, the real guy behind the John Grant pseudonym (or, as an old friend on mine calls it, “pseudo-name”, which I kind of like).

The letter apologized for the delay in getting the book from The United Kingdom to Kentucky. Apparently it was published in 2007. Sure enough, “Martin’s Walk” was included in the book. How it went from a magazine to anthology I can’t really say. I’m also not very happy with the lack of communication regarding the story’s eventual publication. But I read “Martin’s Walk” again and I liked it.

It has its rough patches. I would loved to have had the opportunity to polish it up and cut about 700 words from it. Still, it came from the heart, and the characters still feel as alive to me as they did when I wrote it. It remains one of my wife’s favorites among my stories.

If I ever have another collection of my short fiction I’ll probably give the story a wash and wax before including it. For now, I’m fairly happy with it, even if I didn’t know it had been published.


Ron Fortier said...

Sounds really fascinating, Mark. Keep my fingers crossed you can do that tweaking and find an American anthology to pick it up. Sounds like something all of us would love to read.

Anonymous said...

Um, I have much of the e-correspondence on file, and of course your signed contract for the publication of your story in New Writings, Mark!

I'm just back home from hosp after a triple bypass to find the book's been longlisted for a BSFA Award.

Gotta go crash . . .

-- All best, John Grant

Mark Justice said...

Hi John Grant.

Sorry to hear about your health issues. Hope you're doing better.

As I mentioned in the essay, I don't recall correspondence regarding the switch in publications, but my memory could be at fault.

If you have a contract on file, I'd like a copy. If I ever had one it has vanished.

Anonymous said...

If you have a contract on file, I'd like a copy.

I'll dig it out . . . though not now, as the chore'll involve heaving and lifting as I find the file of NWitF contracts.

For the record, the original publisher of what was to have been the two anthologies Strange Pleasures #4 and #5 was Prime. The editor there, Sean Wallace, waited until I'd assembled both volumes and then abruptly, without having seen the texts, dumped the books (also Strange Pleasures #6, which Dave Hutchinson was just finishing putting together. By very lucky chance, I'd been across at Eastercon and talking with the UK small press Pendragon about the possibility of doing stuff; they've produced a infinitely better book than I can imagine we'd ever have seen from Prime. All authors were informed every step of the way, and the transfer of publishers was not effected until I had the agreement of all.

You will have gathered that the anthology was a hell of a lot of work for me. But I did not wish to see it die and to let down 40+ contributors who'd already been told their stories had been accepted.

As I say, we got a far better result than the original could have been. A further bonus was that, within days of Pendragon taking over the publication, one of the contributors won the Orange Best New Writer Award -- a major international literary laurel.

I'm sorry I've spoiled your anecdote.

-- John Grant

Mark Justice said...

"All authors were informed every step of the way, and the transfer of publishers was not effected until I had the agreement of all."

I'm sure that's right -- and if the aliens hadn't sucked the memory from my brain, I'm certain I'd remember the correspondence.

Anonymous said...

Them damn' aliens! They do the same to me!

I'll dig out and copy your contract when I'm allowed to shift heavy files. As this is a chore I may forget to do, feel free to nag me in a couple of weeks, if you've not heard anything, at dragonsofmanhattan //AT// hotmail //DOT// com.

-- Paul (aka John Grant)