My Japanese-Canadian drag queen ghost story has sold to a Halloween anthology from MLR Press!
I was given some advice on how to write for anthologies from an old pro in the field. I had bought a few books by him as a teenager but never really finished any of them and he’s an old and bitter dinosaur with some really wrong ideas of what progress is, but he did give really good advice to young writers.
He said the most important thing was not to write the story that everyone else was going to think about and write. Which isn’t really shouldn’t be news to anyone. Every story consists of two parts. The idea or trope that you’re riffing on and the part of the story that you make unique. Vampires have been done to death, but vampires that stake their claim on ley lines and live in monosexual groupings where only the vampires with very strong talents rise to the top of the hierarchy is my claim to Masters of the Lines.
He also suggested turning it around so that the villain of a classical fairytale becomes the hero, but I think that that idea has permeated our world enough that it’s unfortunately one of the first idea about half the people have, so you’re still going to need to add that spin that makes your story unique.
I think performing surgery on a story, unless it already happens to all but fits but for one aspect of the theme, it’s obvious to the editors of the anthology that the theme has been attached to the story via obvious staples or glue guns, and it’s probably not going to sell. I have to confess I’ve done it. I had a quirky little story about a person in jail who was using his imaginary friends for parts as his organs kept falling out of him whenever he had a really bad cough. He had a leprechaun friend that he really liked, but his lungs were feeling loose and he wanted to staple the lungs down because he really wanted to keep his leprechaun.
An anthology called requiem for the radioactive monkey was asking for stories, and it didn’t really matter to the story that the imaginary friend was a leprechaun or a radioactive monkey and presto-change-o, it was a radioactive monkey. The story was accepted. But for most trunk stories not rewritten to make the story fit just doesn’t help.
Red Lettering went for an anthology that needed to have a main character hate Halloween. I immediately discarded any plot idea that had a supernatural creature dislike the holiday because of all the filthy casuals running around. Buffy season two made it clear they don’t. I was also not going to have the main character lose his lover on the day thanks to some horrible Halloween hijinx and ever since that day he vowed vengeance against the day.
But I’d just lost my cat and I was filled with grief and loss, so I made a main character whose boyfriend had died in the late fall, not through any huge dramatic circumstances but because of a heart problem. Still a tragedy, but a quiet one. By the time I got 1500 words into the story, I loved Ren, the drag queen biologist who loved his sea lion rooks almost as much as he loved dancing queens. Halloween was the last day his west coast town really was a tourist destination and all the touristy things have already closed down. The love interest was working for the hotel that was cutting their summer staff, showed up for work on Halloween in drag and Colin and Peter, despite both their best attempts, end up falling in love. It’s sweet, funny, and sad. Almost every story I write is my favourite story while I’m writing it, but this story will be my favourite for a good long time.