Monday, December 26, 2011

Short SF Review #21: You Source of Tears

"You Source of Tears," by Andrew Barton
Appeared in On Spec, Fall 2011

Once he acknowledged and the radio cut out, there was only the sound of his breath, his heart, and the rumbling fans that kept Giordano Bruno from becoming his grave. If he'd truly comprehended what had really awaited him so far from home, he'd have never left in the first place. He was no gallant spaceman, just a simple raumfahrer.

Before I start, there's one thing you need to know: this time, the title lies. This isn't a story review at all, for one very simple reason: I wrote the story in question. "You Source of Tears," which appears in the latest issue of On Spec Magazine, was my first sale to any market, and you should totally read it and On Spec in general, also. In the meantime, I thought I'd take this opportunity not to review the story, as such, but provide a little background as to my experience of the process from beginning to end; it's something I was always interested in when I was just an aspiring wordguy, and it's something I'm uniquely qualified to write on.

The story itself is simple - it's about European astronauts who travel to a comet and what they find there. To get to that point, however, took some doing.

"You Source of Tears" was one of the first stories I wrote with an eye toward publication, and honestly it's the earliest one that's actually any good; even though I'd already been writing short stories for years at that point, and had already completed the first draft of a serially-posted novel that may, possibly, eventually see the light of day, changing gears from "writing for the Internet" to "writing for magazines that pay dollars for stories" was a big psychological leap for me, and in retrospect I did have to do a lot of scrabbling at first - not quite re-learning the craft, but looking at my process and product with a far more critical eye than I'd ever employed before. YSoT was the result of that.

The idea came to me in the late summer of 2007, during a point in my life when I had just recently started working an overnight shift, waking up at 8:30 PM and going to sleep at one in the afternoon. At the time, the kernel of the story was a simple idea - what if the consciousnesses of nearly every human who'd ever lived had somehow been saved at the moment of death and uploaded to a computer? I think it may have been inspired by Mark Twain's comment about how he had come in with Halley's Comet, and expected to go out with it, to the degree that this story was originally set there; it wasn't until the fourth draft that it was changed to the wholly fictional Comet Veale, in honor of a fellow scrivener. This is also the source of the title - a quote from Eilmer of Malmesbury, back when comets were still seen as omens and portents.

For the rest of the summer and into the winter, the story percolated while I took down notes and ideas, evaluated potential plots, and worked on other projects. Work on the first draft started on December 13, 2007, and it was completed on December 18 with a word count of 3,224.

These are my preliminary notes for "You Source of Tears," the earliest documentation for the story that I have in my files. Very few of them actually entered the story, but they were important for informing my own understanding of it.

Subsequent work didn't go quite as fast. Drafts went back and forth between me and brave beta readers willing to tear the thing apart, and it was not until November 2008 and the fourth draft that I thought I'd beaten it into publishable form. My first target was Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, out of Australia; their submissions method is one of the best I've encountered among SF markets, in that even when you're rejected you're likely to get valuable commentary back from the valiant slush readers who looked it over. Even then, the story wasn't rejected; instead, the editors at ASIM were unable to find a place for it in their pages within their standard story retention time. The positive feedback comments from the readers who'd given their thumbs-up buoyed my spirits, so I turned it around again: this time to Fantasy & Science Fiction.

They rejected it in six days. So I sent it to Asimov's. They rejected it in January. At the time, On Spec was open to submissions, so I sent it their way and didn't hear anything until May 2009, when it was rejected - with reservations. I've seen it said that editors, on finding something that is very nearly publishable, are known to give suggestions and advice with an eye toward getting the story over that bump, and those at On Spec did just that. The story went through two more drafts through the rest of May. When I returned home from a visit to Chicago on October 4, 2009, there was a thick envelope waiting for me. I still have it today.

After that it was just a matter of waiting for the story to be committed to print, and worrying whether events in Europe would mean that my references to euros and the European Union would already be dated before the story was released. The version printed in On Spec does differ in some very minor ways from the seventh draft manuscript I have of the story, as there were a few tweaks made on the production side that I still need to integrate into my files. Being that it's already found a home for now, though, that's strictly a low-priority endeavor.

So that's how this particular story went from loosely drifting concept to something you can now find between covers. My recommendation - buy On Spec and read it, and also buy subsequent copies when they come out - help support the Canadian cultural sector, even if it does include things like stories about European astronauts who travel to a comet and what they find there.


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