I consider The Digging Women my first story, so how appropriate for it to finally appear on the 10th anniversary of its creation.
I wrote The Digging Women in another lifetime, during a series of half-hour increments in the lunch room of my old job in Regina, Saskatchewan, in 2010.
I’d written stories before, but at the end of The Digging Women I had a story I really liked, that was different from anything I’d previously created. For lack of a better phrase it felt like a “real” story, you know, the kind written by a “real writer”.
For years afterwards, The Digging Women gave me a great deal of encouragement. I’ve written nearly a hundred stories since then, and every time a new story felt like it wasn’t working out, or on the occasion I finished one that was awful (there’s a few real clunkers no one will ever read), I had the security of being able to remind myself, “It’s okay, you wrote The Digging Women, you must know what you’re doing.”
My writing time is split between three activities; drafting, editing, and submitting. Each one gives me a different feeling of accomplishment. 2010 was the first year I placed a story in a large yellow envelope with a SASE and submitted to a magazine. That year I made three submissions (I only had two stories and had yet to hear the phrase “simultaneous submissions”). The next year I submitted a dozen.
The first story of mine to be accepted for print was Only The Bear Survived, appearing in the glorious Taddle Creek, edited by Conan Tobias, in 2014. Since then, my work has appeared in 28 magazines or anthologies, 7 websites, and performed on 6 podcasts. These publications are from Canada, the US, England, New Zealand, South Africa, and one story soon to be translated into Japanese.
For year after year, The Digging Women remained in the same computer folder where all completed stories rest while awaiting publication. Some stories go in and out of that folder rather quickly, others linger in there for years before finding the right project.
The most useful thing I’ve learned during my time submitting stories for publication is to trust yourself when you feel pride in a piece. Whether or not it gets published depends mostly on finding the right place for it. The Black-and-White Dozen was made for Weirdbook, just as Grain’s Missus Leokadia wouldn’t have worked for The NoSleep Podcast, and The New Quarterly likely wouldn’t have read beyond page 2 of House Next Door To Me (that’s the part where the evil children force a man to drop a running chainsaw on his own neck).
The rejection slips I collect (nearly all e-mails nowadays) no longer sting, because I realize they don’t mean the editor thought my story was bad (except for that one time the editor did write a personal note to tell me a story was bad, we’ll have to agree to disagree). I no longer feel rushed to get a particular story accepted, because I have faith when the time is right it will meet its proper place.
I do sometimes “retire” a story from the submission queue, usually after recognizing the story doesn’t work as well as I thought, or sometimes I write a better story with a similar setting or character. I subbed The Digging Women to 66 different publications. Although it was rejected 65 times, it is the lone story of mine that consistently brought back personal responses from editors, praising the story, but alas, for one reason or another just didn’t fit into the magazine.
When I mentioned this tally to my friend, the screen-writer Colin McNeil, he asked, “Have you thought of giving it a re-write?” I told him No. Truthfully, after he said this, I went back and re-read the story, enjoying it, but when I got to the end, I decided the narrator, Kirsten, could walk a little bit further. The ending wasn’t changed so much as I let the final shot run a little longer, producing an ending that is more hopeful than the original’s. I think this new perspective is indicative of how I feel about storytelling now as opposed to ten years ago.
Did the tweaked ending make the difference, or had I just been waiting for S. Kennedy Sobol’s Hermine to come along? Guess I’ll never know, but that doesn’t matter. I’m very proud for The Digging Women to appear in the first issue of Hermine, which I wish great and long success for.
Fun Fact: The main characters of Kirsten and her daughter Abbie have previously appeared in Lies I Tell Taxi Drivers (available to read at The Humber Literary Review), and the ghost story Our Gentleman Of Blue Bay Massage in K. Allen Wood’s sadly defunct Shock Totem (available for purchase here).