Stories are not like children; you do have favorites. “Far from Home” is one of mine, so forgive me in advance if I have a lot to say about this one. I am so, so pleased that it’s published and out there in the world. If you like the story, you can go and vote for it to win Story of the Month at Bartleby Snopes by clicking here and scrolling down to the poll at the bottom of the screen.
First draft written: September 2013
Number of drafts: maybe 2
Number of rejections: 17
From submission to publication: 3 days (which is amazingly fast)
We were driving home from Louisville–my husband, step-daughter and I. If you’ve driven this way, you know that when you come up 421 from Bedford and you’re paying attention, you can spot the power plant stacks in the distance a good ways before you head down the valley into Madison. You know then that you’re getting close to home.
The idea came to me not during my most intense period of post-apocalyptic thinking, but I’ll confess there are times when I’ve hoarded winter squash and done a mental accounting of the skills I have that would be valuable if civilization just happened to collapse. Hasn’t everyone?
If you didn’t have cars and the main roads were too dangerous, I thought, you could use the power plant towers to guide you home. The three stacks in Madison are somewhat unique–two skinny ones and a fat one in the middle. But you’d have to climb up somewhere tall to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. Maybe a water tower.
That’s the post-apocalyptic part of the story. The part of the story set before the apocalypse came from a friend’s father, who did die in a place where he had just moved. He happened to have been close to the town where I grew up, so the visitation was at the funeral home that has hosted almost every funeral I have ever attended. My grandmother. The classmate who died in a boating accident in 8th grade.
I was really struck by the weirdness of attending a visitation at a place that was meaningful to me, but not at all meaningful to the person who died and the people who loved him. He had probably never set foot inside the place. Why would he?
It occurred to me that one of the worse things I could imagine happening would be to die somewhere no one knows me. To have the funeral in a strange place. To have to import a community of mourners. It is a terrifying thought, and perhaps explains part of my anxiety about traveling. My husband has very specific instructions that if I die someplace else, make sure to bring me home.
There is also, of course, the fact that I am obsessed with the stacks. I love them. I think they are beautiful. I’ve written about them before. I’ll probably write about them again. I have wanted to put them into a story ever since I moved to Madison. I love the way they follow you around the landscape of this place. They are always there, watching over us, I like to think.
This was one of those stories–the rare ones that seem to emerge fully formed. When I read it again, I’m still a little amazed by the voice of the narrator. Who is he? Where did he come from? I picture him clinging to the side of the water tower and my hands start to sweat. He is that real to me, but I don’t even know his name.
I did very little in the way of editing to this story after the first draft, which is a very rare thing, but sometimes happens. Perhaps especially with a story on the shorter side.
I felt pretty quickly that this was probably one of the best stories I’d ever written. So at first the only place I sent it was Structo Magazine. I love their slipstream stuff and I thought this was right up their alley. They do not accept simultaneous submissions, so I had to wait without sending the story out anywhere else. They didn’t accept it, but I got a very nice personal rejection:
This decision came after quite some discussion and review, and while the quality of your writing is obvious (the juxtaposition of the everyday and the fantastic was very nicely done), in the end we decided that this particular story was not quite right for us.
This kind of feedback is heaven to a writer and kept me going 16 rejections later.
This story also got me accepted at the Tin House Winter Writer’s Workshop, so it was bringing me good luck even before it got accepted.
Bartleby Snopes is a great online and print literary magazine, and among the many things to recommend it is the speed with which they turn around pieces. I submitted this story on a Monday, it was accepted that Tuesday and up on their website Thursday.
Some perspective for those of you not in the submitting trenches–when I withdrew this story from consideration at another literary magazine, it had been there for 286 days or 9 ½ months. While that’s not average, it’s not really crazy, either.
Bartleby Snopes posts so many stories a month online. Then at the end of the month, anyone can vote for their favorite story, which makes it into the print version. So, through the end of the week, you can go vote for my story here.