Life Cycle of a Drabble

On July 23, 2018, Martian Magazine published my piece entitled “To Be Human,” along with an author spotlight about me. Martian publishes drabbles (100 word short stories) exclusively, so it’s right up my alley. I’m in good company, too, with authors like Lou J. Berger and Steve Rasnic Tem also making sales to that market. Working with editor Eric Fomley was a good experience; he even worked with me to resolve a misunderstanding about my submission, for which I’m grateful.

“To Be Human” has always been microfiction, but it has both grown and shrunk over the years. The names and genders of the characters have changed, as did the nature of the relationship between them. I originally wrote it in 2005; the first version was about 500 words and written for a different magazine, which rejected it. I tried a couple of other markets, unsuccessfully, and then shelved it.

In 2010, I revised it and sent it to a different magazine for a flash fiction submission call. This time, I got a more personal rejection and compliments on it, but it was still rejected. A couple of months later, I tried the original market again, since I had revised the story, but they still didn’t want it. Back on the shelf it went.

In 2016, I revised it up to about 1,000 words and sent it to a flash fiction contest. Same story; the editors liked it, but it didn’t win. In 2017, I tried again, this time for an anthology with very specific requirements that fit the story well, but apparently it didn’t fit the editor’s needs as well as I thought. Back on the shelf, permanently this time. If half a dozen markets didn’t like it, I figured there must be something wrong with it, and I should stop wasting time on it.

Then, in June of this year, I heard about Martian Magazine’s call for submissions, shortly before the end of their submission period. I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to come up with something, so I looked through the archives in my Google Drive (my “shelf”) and found “To Be Human.” It was still in its heavyweight 1,000 word form, but I’m pretty good at revising to reduce word count, so I figured I’d give it a shot. (Revision is actually my favorite part of writing. It’s creating the content in the first place that slows me down.)

It wasn’t easy to cull 90% of the story and still keep the core intact, but it was fun. It was similar to revising poetry, actually, with my brain performing mental gymnastics to find just the right word, or to figure out how to change the context so I could use fewer words. In the end, the story is very tight, and I’m proud of it.

So far, my favorite interaction with readers is this one, from Twitter user Marc Criley:

Yes. Yes indeed, Marc.

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