Throwback Thursday – How the West Was Weird (Vol. 3)

This book came out before I started this blog! So since it didn’t get promoted here real-time, I figured it was worthy of the retro spotlight.

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My contribution to the anthology, “Ellie Froggett and the Charnel Pit”, is more or less the culmination of my authorial origin story. So to provide some context, I have to back up a little ways.

I wrote stories for the amusement of my friends, family, and most of all myself, for as long as I could remember. My first experience with submitting something to a publisher was in a high school creative writing class, when navigating that process was part of an assignment. Considering I was an unpolished sixteen year old and sent my work to a well-known magazine, my subsequent form rejection was not entirely surprising, though it did perhaps put me off submitting for a good while. That, and the fact that my dream was to be a novelist and I spent years beginning and abandoning epic-scope works rather than finishing anything of any length which might be submitted anywhere.

I rediscovered short stories sometime in the mid-aughts, probably inspired by a Neil Gaiman collection or something similar. I tackled writing more of my own as a worthy challenge, cranked out two or three in quick succession, and started sending them to likely markets. Not every publisher responded, and those that did unanimously passed on my work, so once again my enthusiasm cooled a bit.

But in early 2011 I got an e-mail from someone who introduced himself as a friend of a friend. Our mutual friend was someone I had gotten to know over various internet channels related to writing and genre fiction. The e-mail was an invitation to submit a story for an anthology of Weird West tales. Under any circumstances, the role reversal of a publisher reaching out to me for my work would have seized my attention, but this was especially fortuitous because it just so happened that among the stories languishing on my hard drive since the most recent Great Publication Attempt of Doom was, in fact, a weird west vignette. So I was able to not only reply to the publisher expressing interest, but to attach a story manuscript for his review. He liked it well enough to accept it on the spot, and later that year I finally had my first table of contents entry in a real, honest-to-ISBN book: “The Demon Wrestler” in How the West Was Weird Vol. 2.

The thing is, “The Demon Wrestler” was in my mind a bit of a trifle. I had begun it as more of a stretching exercise than anything. It’s written in second-person future tense, which I admit is completely ridiculous. But by the time I finished it, I really liked the way it turned out, so I was proud to offer it up. I have always suspected, though, that one reason why the publisher accepted it so readily was precisely because it was so odd; he was putting together an anthology which already had plenty of straightforward, pulpy tales of cowboys and robots or cowboys and dinosaurs, and my little oddity gave the overall collection a bit of spice. So be it, since obviously I wasn’t going to complain about finally getting my work out there any way that I could.

But, when the publisher announced a year or so later that there would be a third volume in How the West Was Weird, I took to the opportunity gratefully. I wrote a much longer and, yes, more traditional cowboy and monster story, although I did shake things up a bit by making the protagonist a cowgirl, and making her Navajo guide a young girl as well, and even the homesteader they encounter who provides exposition an old woman. (I had a daughter by then and wanted her to be able to see herself in my stories, too.) And sure enough, “Ellie Froggett and the Charnel Pit” made the cut, such as it was.

That’s the crucial part of the story, I think. I knew I was writing for a specific anthology, and I knew because of my previous history with that publisher I had a relatively secure shot at being included. That confidence boost not only made writing the story in question easier, it encouraged me to flesh out other ideas for other stories. I had been published once and assumed (correctly) I was going to be published again, and it seemed a manageable enough thing to expand from there into being published again and again and again. Writing for How the West Was Weird Vol. 3 got that ball rolling, and here we are today.

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