Wednesday, August 03, 2005

First Story Sale

Describe the first story you ever sold to any publication. What was the title of the story? The name of the publication? The plot? The public reception to your work?

Blame Doug.

My first story sale is not included in the bibliography you see to your right. (Scroll down a bit. No, further. See it? No, you don't. It's not included, like I said.) My first story sale happened back in the dark ages of the mid-90's, when I was a college dropout working at the Memorial Union Rathskeller and doing very little of substance. Mostly, I slept late, watched a lot of movies (King of New York, Evil Dead II, and the Bruce Lee collection were in heavy rotation), read a lot of Powers, Pynchon, Latin American literature and X-Men comics, drank a lot of beer and played lots of D&D. Evil Doug was the DM, and he had a subscription to Dragon, that crappy little mag that TSR used to hype all the games that no one bought. They also had fiction--one story per issue--and once in a while I would try to read one of the stories. I don't want to say they were bad, but at some point I spoke that ridiculous sentence. I said, "I could write a better story than this."

What I came up with was something blatantly based on a role-playing scenario, and even though it was one that I created for the story, that should tell you where my imagination was trapped at that point. I'd written a novel by then, but as I was later to realize, it was a bloated junk balloon with no tension, just a lot of fighting. (Which is mostly what I remember about our D&D sessions, that the combats were never-ending, apocalyptic, and in the end really damn boring. That, and the fact that caffeine + fatty food + late night gaming sessions inevitably = at least one uncontrollable giggle fit.) So I wrote a story about the master of a thieves' guild taking revenge on the city officials who had massacred his guild.

I sent it in, and Dragon's then-fiction editor Barbara G. Young wrote back and said, "I like this, but" and made some rewrite suggestions. I was caught somewhere between flattered and bewildered, but I tried to do as she asked. (I didn't know a damned thing about this business. I don't know if I even realized there was such a thing as a rewrite.) I sent it back to her, and she wrote back and said it wasn't quite what she had in mind, would I mind if she just rewrote those bits and printed it? Otherwise, if I was uncomfortable with so intrusive an editor, she'd understand--but it was clear that if I wanted the sale, I'd have to give up control.

So I did. I didn't know any better, and I got four hundred and fifty bucks anyway, which is still the most I've made on a single sale. When the story came out I showed it to my buddies, most of whom didn't bother to read it. One of them said it was OK. When I read it, it didn't feel like my story anymore. I still get a knot in my stomach thinking about it, which is sort of silly, but it's true. To be clear, I don't think Young exploited me or anything like that; she made an offer and I accepted. I got paid. But even if it had been a good story to begin with (which it wasn't), by the time it appeared it was something I had no connection to.

So, in case any of you would care to read my embarrassing juvenilia, see if you can dig up a copy of Dragon Magazine #202, which contains the story "Thieves' Justice." But if you do, please do me the courtesy of never mentioning it to me.


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