28 February 2011

"Personal Demons" -- the little story that could

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away—well, ten years ago on the Intarwebs, a small press put out a call for stories about the price of magic. According to the editor, fantasy writers should treat magic like any other force in the universe. If it was an energy, it needed a fuel, a power source. If it was an action, it needed a reaction. He used as his example Sokurah, the evil magician in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Every time Sokurah used his power, he visibly aged.

I figured a lot of people would take that course. The problem is natural forces aren’t necessarily so simplistic. Take athleticism. You’d think hard, sustained physical exertion would prematurely age a person. But since I worked in the personnel side of the Department of Defense, I knew, strange as it seems, the reverse is true.

Military retirees live longer with a higher quality of life than their civilian counterparts. Part of that has to do with lifetime annuities and health care. But even taking those benefits into consideration, retirees still live longer and stronger. Why? Because they were routinely pushed to their physical limits and beyond. Their career requires them to maintain peak physical condition into their fifties—sometimes into their sixties. That's the secret to their health and longevity. Why couldn’t magic work the same way, strengthening its practitioners over time?

Which isn’t to say there isn’t a cost to military life. But off the battlefield, the greatest cost of the military lifestyle is personal: broken families, broken relationships, broken lives.

Again, why couldn’t magic work the same way, exacting a price that was personal instead of physical?

So I wrote my story, but the editor rejected it. The note cited my ignorance of telepathy. Huh? Did I mention that before I worked in DoD personnel I spent a couple years answering the public’s questions about the military’s experiments in telepathy and remote viewing? My DoD career was…varied.

My husband Greg said my use of telepathy wasn’t the problem. The problem was my two main characters were lesbian, and the male editor couldn’t handle it. “But he said he wanted diversity!” I yelped.

Greg looked at me pityingly. “Unless you include hot woman on woman action, a guy isn't interested.”

Well, Greg would know. I tried a couple more markets. As it happened, all of them had male editors, and all of those male editors rejected the story for equally peculiar reasons. One objected to the way I had sensation traveling up a character’s spine. Another cited my disrespectful attitude toward pagans (did I mention my protagonist was a tantric sorceress, and she’s a really, really good person?). Then there my “inappropriate” use of irony. Finally, I gave up and consigned the story to the Save file. I believed in the story, but the time and the markets just weren’t right.

Fast forward to February 2010. Drollerie Press issued a call for stories about "queer women magic users". A couple months later I learned my little story, now called “Personal Demons”, had found the perfect home in the Drollerie Press anthology Hellebore & Rue. What made this even sweeter, was the editors, Joselle Vanderhooft and Catherine Lundoff, had won many awards for GLBT fiction. In other words, I’d gotten the relationships right. That was my biggest fear for the story: Did I capture my characters feelings? Were the emotions and non-magical situations realistic as well as real to me? The fact that I got it right had me happy dancing for days.

Hellebore & Rue, containing the little story that could, is now on the virtual shelves. Click here if you’d like a taste. But if you'd prefer to sample the whole dish—and see the fabulous company my little story keeps—downloads are available from Drollerie Press and Amazon.

Happy reading!

Jean Marie
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