Spawn of Mars
Characters and a situation are a story only if by the end something changes or something is revealed.
Submission Guidelines Are a Bother
Writing Something Good Is Never Enough
Saturday, July 31, 2021 1:21 pm
So I heard that Pulp Modern was taking submissions tomorrow, for one day only, as they do twice a year. I've never submitted to them but, heck, why not? I even had something that might do, a pulpish bit of urban fantasy.

Then I check the submission guidelines.

First, Pulp Modern wants stories between 3,500 and 5,000 words. My candidate is 2,900 words. This happens to me all the damn time. I cannot seem to write for this middling length that so many magazines want. My stories are either under 3K or well over 5K. It's weird. Seriously! Of all my works written over the past forty years, only three are between 3,500 and 5,000 words.

Second, for this go around, Pulp Modern wants stories set in 1981. Huh. 1981? Well, that's weird and arbitrary. I feel compelled here to deploy some WTF emoji.

Okay. But perhaps a challenge was manifesting. Sure, why not? Add 600 words to my story to get it to 3,500, and use those 600 words to recast the tale for 1981.

Now, I didn't want to do the lame thing and pepper my tale with references to time-specific consumer products or trends. Nor did I want merely to mention events of 1981. Rather, I wanted to ask: What was it about 1981 that would feed into the tale as it is? What from 1981 would be relevant?

The original story is fairly timeless. It just has phones, hired guns, and criminal mobs. Being explicit and placing it in 1981 is possible. And as I did a little historical research into mob stuff from ca. 1980, I discovered an absolutely relevant theme of everything falling apart.

Here's a passage I drafted.

He used to be an assassin. An instrument of the Families. A shadow in a realm of shadows. He had killed whom they wanted killed and with impunity, as the State, when not corrupted or cowed, could never pierce the omertà. Naively, perhaps, he hadn’t been concerned when that Kefauver mischief lit the scene, with Senators opining on sinister criminal organizations; but later, in ’63, that rat Valachi finally gave the Feds his precious testimony, and now, not twenty years later, the shadows were gone and RICO was picking away at it all.

Gideon had been freelancing in Vegas when sinister capital organizations – with the collaboration of the State of Nevada – had begun legitimizing the casinos, using lawful money to push out the thugs. He had retreated to New York and, for a time, joined the war in Hell’s Kitchen, eliminating the Irish for the Italians. Something had soured, however. For all their bluster the Families seemed in their dotage. The Feds were getting too good at snaring and turning bosses. And Gideon was worn out.

My idea was that, in this milieu, Gideon has been reduced to what, in the story, he is: a babysitter to a demon that has usurped his role as assassin. The old shadows of omertà have been replaced by those of Hell.

And so on.

But in the end it felt like what it was: contrived padding. The story I had written was complete and whole. It didn't need 1981. It didn't need another 600 words. Since I couldn't see stretching the Kefauverish stuff to 600 words (that chunk above is only 176), I soon found myself re-implanting phrases and descriptions I had once deemed superfluous. I was ruining the story.

So I stopped.

Maybe if I had more than two days — I only learned of this opportunity on Thursday — I could properly twist things to meet Pulp Modern's guidelines without breaking my tale. But I doubt it.

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