New Fiction: La Femme and Dame Chance

La Femme, from Newcon Press

So, the Eastercon 2014 schedule is up! Amongst the usual round of book launches and publisher parties, Newcon Press will be launching a new dual anthology. La Femme and Noir will feature stories from Storm Constantine, Adam Roberts, Maura McHugh, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Jonathan Oliver, John Llewellyn Probert, E. J. Swift, Andrew Hook, Benjanun Sriduangkeaw…

And me.

Pleased doesn’t quite cover it. Stunned goes a little further. See, ‘The Honey Trap‘ was never even intended for this book. Released last year, Looking Landwards was an anthology produced by Newcon Press with the Institution of Agricultural Engineers, exploring how the ways we “make” food in future might impact our future lives. I’d submitted to it because I was looking for a theme I knew would challenge me… but not only that. I wanted Ian Whates to read my story.

Everyone has a list of writing goals – books they’d like to write, publishers and editors they’d like to work with. I’d known Ian for a little over a year at that point – a genial, friendly presence at cons, but also as an editor with a great eye for stories. You’d see it in the quality of anthologies such as Dark Currents and Hauntings. I always thought I’d have made it if he ever invited me to submit to one of these, but at the time I’d only had one story published. Figuring this was years off, I stuck it on my list of Writing Goals and kept on keeping on.

Then Newcon Press announced Looking Landwards would have an open call for submissions.

I got stuck into a story, but my wheels hit mud. Part of it was the plot – a world not fully realised, the technology too central, the comic angle wasn’t quite working – but the bigger problem was in my head. I didn’t feel I was entirely ready for this. I’d not had much fiction published – and look at the names in all their previous anthologies! How could I hope to fit in there?

Then it struck me. What if Newcon never ran another open call? Would I have missed my chance to get my work seen? Ultimately, if I submitted and I really wasn’t ready, I’d soon know. More importantly, I might find out why. After all, it’s every writer’s – scratch that, every creative person’s goal to seek out the most thorough, heart-rending criticism of their work, and then make it better. It’s the only way we grow, right?

I scrapped what I’d written, and started again.

A month and a half after submission, I got my answer. Ian Whates emailed me back, and, well, it was as I’d expected. ‘The Honey Trap‘ didn’t make it. At least I’d tried, I thought. Maybe I could get some feedback, and rework it for somewhere else.

However, there was more: “Don’t despair,” Ian went on. There was another anthology he’d be launching at the next Eastercon. He’d like to consider ‘The Honey Trap‘ for that, if I was willing to make some edits he enclosed, and change the sex of one of the main characters.

After the fog cleared and the feeling returned to my legs, I considered this over a cup of tea. Ian hadn’t just read my story, he actually wanted it. Not for that anthology, sure, but he still wanted it. He still thought it fit somewhere. And changing the sex of a character? Well, that seemed easy enough. As it turned out, I was wrong. The gender switch itself (in this case) didn’t cause as many problems as its implications for the text. Even something as slight as choice of pronoun led to entire sections being junked, rewritten, rephrased. After all, prose is composed of as much music as poetry is. The texture, the cadence of a sentence can arrest action, muddy meaning, rip the tracks from under a train of thought. Or, when the rhythm is right, lift you up like waves, carry you like driftwood… But that’s a tale for another time.

Back in January, Ian gave me the thumbs up on the final version of the story, and a few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in the old box room that is my office, putting my signature to glossy sheets alongside names like Frances Hardinge and Adele Kirby, thinking, “How bloody surreal is this?” I’m not expecting this feeling to quite go away by Friday 18th April, when I’ll be at the launch of La Femme and Noir – my first ever anthology signing – at Eastercon. But it’s slowly fading.

Signing Sheets for The Little Black Box

I think I might have forgotten how to write my own name, though.

It’s worth picking up La Femme and Noir regardless, there’s some cracking tales in both books. And if you do, take a look at ‘The Honey Trap‘. It’s a story I’m proud of, though mostly for what it’s taught me.

La Femme and Noir are available for pre-order now (Spacewitch | Amazon), alongside special edition The Little Black Box (La Femme and Noir, plus other goodies). Both anthologies will be launching at Eastercon (Satellite 4) in Glasgow on 18th April.

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