The inspiration for my short stories often comes from going over a list of themed anthologies soliciting material and seeing if any of them spark an idea. Sometimes it's immediate. Sometimes it takes a while. And, of course, once the story is done and submitted there's no guarantee it will be accepted.
I have four stories in the pipeline (i.e., due to be published) and each got there in a different way. “The Burning of Atlanta” appears in “On Fire,” which will be released Dec. 1. (A great stocking stuffer but, at over 400 pages, a mite hefty.) I came up with the notion of a film director who makes a deal with the devil, wrote and submitted it. Months later I got a letter that wasn't an acceptance or a rejection. They liked the concept and the characters and the writing but didn't like the ending which they found too obvious. Of course the devil was going to win. That's the nature of such stories. Couldn't I do something different? Some ideas were thrown out and one of them struck sparks – no pun intended – so I ripped out my ending and wrote a new one. A much better one. And the editors agreed. This is the sign of a good editor. No, not merely buying my story, although that's always a plus, but helping me and other writers be the best we can be.
Three other stories do not yet have publication dates, but will be noted here when they appear in the months ahead. “A Scandal in Chelm” is for the second volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, “Baker Street Irregulars: The Game is Afoot,” where writers were invited to reimagine Holmes in some other fashion. I chose to do a story as if it were written by the Yiddish humorist Sholem Alechem. My first attempt was to adapt a famous Talmudic legend into a mystery story, but it turns out if you're not Jewish (and even if you are) it may not all that familiar to you. Without that recognition, it was a hard sell and the story was rejected. However I was invited to try again, and my second attempt was accepted. Someday that first story may see the light of day, especially if I get wind of a JEWISH Sherlock Holmes anthology.
“Finals Week” was inspired by a quote provided by the publishers: “Life asked Death: ‘Why do people love me but hate you?’ Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie and I am a painful truth.’ ~ Anonymous. In it a man on his death bed is visited by the Angel of Death in the form of his high school geometry teacher. It will appear sometime next year in “Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths, Volume 2.”
Finally – well, for the moment, as I await word on six more stories – I just received word that “Father Russia” has been accepted for “No Sins,” a collection of alternate history stories where they challenged writers to tackle different times and places than might be expected. I had written the story about Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko applying his grafting techniques to Josef Stalin for a collection of mad scientist stories. It was rejected. Not every rejected story is one that I keep submitting, but I knew this one was special, and kept trying to place it. As with two people falling in love, it's hard to explain, but when a story clicks with an editor it's gratifying. I was pleased that it finally found an appreciative home.
Now I have to nudge my publisher to read the manuscript for my new novel, and finish up a short story for a collection of New England SF authors where, I can only hope, it finds favor. One good sign for more short stories to come: for the first time the editor of a future anthology solicited my contributing something. It's things like that – and the stories to be published listed above – that make the rejections easier to take.