I want to talk a little bit about the story and about how it came to be, but also about the editorial process in general. It can be hard, but it doesn't have to be.
So grab your red pens--it's time for the Electric Didact!
The story is told by an unnamed journalist interviewing Hugh and his wife Deianira, former senior zookeepers, about the incident twenty years ago in which all the animals inexplicably stopped--no movement, no behavior. As the story gets told, the journalist learns less about the possible causes of the event and more about Hugh and Deianira's marital crisis going down simultaneously.
I was inspired by a story on NPR's program All Things Considered, which was covering a periodic and unexplained phenomena regarding the baboons in the Emmen Zoo (Netherlands). There's a couple stories on the site that describe the phenomenon (both in the wild and again in the zoo). You can find the story I heard HERE.
Over the next week, the baboons continued to behave oddly. They would sit with their backs to the public. They wouldn't make much noise; "it was rather silent, which is not normal for a baboon," says Landman. They were, in a word, looking rather sad. The zoo took to calling them "troubled."
By the time I submitted my manuscript to Liquid Imagination, it was already in its second draft. It ended with Deianira cutting back the bleeding heart (Lamprocampnos) around their mailbox--a choice made simply to put in the words "bleeding heart" at the end. In my mind, it was strictly metaphorical.
The editor at Liquid Imagination responded thusly:
"A larger issue is the matter of the Lamprocampnos. I hope that this is the crux. Have you uncovered any evidence that this would cause anything other than a contact skin-rash? If not, you should research for a substitute. Something along the lines of the Thorn apple should fit the bill."
I was thrown at first.
What's he talking about skin rashes?
Thorn apple (Datura stramonium), the plant that the editor suggested, is powerfully poisonous (causing hallucinations, delirium, potentially fatal).
But this wasn't what I wrote! That changes everything!What was I to do?
When you write, you necessarily invest a piece of yourself into it. For some this is more powerful than for others, but there's always an emotional investment. This will always come out during the editorial process. When someone takes a critical look at your writing, it may hurt.
If you submit your writing to critical scrutiny too soon, it won't get the attention it deserves because your emotions--your clinginess--will get in the way, saying things like "No, that's not what I meant..."
But here's the thing: your story will never see the light of day until you let go.
Stephen King (and others) strongly suggest putting aside a rough draft manuscript until you almost forget you ever wrote it. At this point, you, the writer can proofread and chop it up with some level of dispassion. Afterward, a third party can do the same much more effectively.
This is really important. If you submit your story to critical scrutiny too soon, it won't get the attention it deserves because your emotions--your clinginess--will get in the way, saying things like "No, that's not what I meant," and "It's fine the way it is," and "You're not reading it right," and "But I love that part!"
By doing this, you are denying your story from reaching its potential! Rough drafts are always bad. Even when they're good. For me, this means finishing a story and then leaving it alone for several weeks (the time varies) before editing it myself. My wife helps a lot too.
Remember this when you finish a rough draft. Revel in the satisfied glow of completion and invention--and then forget about it for a while.
Jedd Cole is a professional writer and author of short speculative fiction. He resides in Ohio where he is completing a degree in Rhetoric & Professional Writing, crafting short stories in every time-nook he can find, all while frequenting the pages of imaginary worlds with his wonderful wife, Heather, and no pets. None.