Monday 7 January 2013

A snowflake, rejected.

I started submitting fiction to SF mags - primarily Interzone - in 1986. I often hear of people submitting hundreds of stories to various markets, but it was nothing like that for me. With access to a typewriter confined to short breaks at home between university terms, my writing only took place in concentrated bursts. I would finish a typewritten story, obtain a photocopy, submit it, then get back to my studies. IZ seldom took less than three to four months to reject my pieces, and I saw no sense in overwhelming them with multiple submissions. I was aware of a handful of other fiction markets (although at that point I had yet to see a single example of an American fiction magazine) but IZ was really the only one I had serious designs on cracking. I must have, somewhere, the rejection slips I acquired from IZ through the years between 1986 and 1989, where I suppose I submitted around five or six original stories. At least, I can't imagine throwing them away. But I do have this, which is the rejection note returned to me upon submission of my story "A Snowflake of Nunivak". My wife has kindly scanned it for me:
The interesting thing, at least to me, is that I was sufficiently moitivated by this rejection (which is what it plainly was) to attempt a redraft of the story. "Deserves another look, and an encouraging letter", wrote Lee Montgomery. "Very promising," said Simon Ounsley. LM and SO were part of Interzone's editorial triumvirate, along with David Pringle, who would go on to edit the magazine singlehandely and play a large part in establishing my career. My redraft, retitled "Nunivak Snowflakes", became my first sale and went on to appear in IZ in 1990. Not long after the sale of Snowflakes, I placed a second piece with them, although this time only LM and DP commented:
This was an acceptance provisional on a rewrite, a much happier state of affairs. Not long after, I met DP and he told me that he considered "Dilation Sleep" to be by far the better of the two stories. Not that he thought it was any kind of classic, mind - just marginally better than the first, and evidence that I might have more than one type of story in me. For me, though, it all hung on "A Snowflake of Nunivak". Had I not managed to sell that piece, who knows what would happened? I felt that I had already given IZ several of my best shots, my PhD studies were taking up more and more of my time, and perhaps this "being an SF writer" lark was something best put on the back burner. Fortunately - for me at least - and with thanks to LM, SO and DP, I had that note of encouragement at just the right time.


  1. Very nice to see these, I used to get Iz regularly in the 90s but I havent seen it in a while since moving up north. Do you read it at all? Also is there a list of issues containing your stories?

  2. You gave it a crack, the rest is history! I wonder how many writer's got to this point, then decided to say stuff it, and did something else!
    Glad you persisted!

  3. Interesting to see some of the details of becoming a successful writer. Also, wow, handwritten letters!

  4. Extremely interesting to see the personal comments back on early stories straight from the editors. Something alot of non-authors don't get to see, and gives some fascinating insight to not only their minds, but also the trepidation you must have been feeling when submitting those two stories. Glad you shared!

  5. Thanks, Al, for posting those. The thing about handwritten letters, of course, is that I didn't keep copies, so they come as a surprise to me after 20-odd years! Anyway, thank goodness we accepted your stories back in 1989.

  6. Larry - yes, I still get IZ, and it's still a very impressive package. I'm "behind" on my reading, though. In fact I have a complete run of IZs from the very first issue.

    Here's a complete list of my stories, from Greg Egan's IZ index - still online at TTA Press, if you dig around.

    Reynolds, Alastair: Nunivak Snowflakes #36, Jun 90
    — Dilation Sleep #39, Sep 90
    — Enola #54, Dec 91
    — Byrd Land Six #96, Jun 95
    — Spirey and the Queen #108, Jun 96
    — A Spy in Europa #120, Jun 97
    — On the Oodnadatta #128, Feb 98
    — Stroboscopic #134, Aug 98
    — Galactic North #145, Jul 99
    — Hideaway #157, Jul 00
    — Everlasting #193, Spring 04
    — The Sledge-Maker's Daughter #209, Apr 07

    David - lovely of you to comment, and glad the letters were appreciated. I'm sure I have the others somewhere else, although of course by the mid 90s we tended to communicate more by email than letter. And, of course, thanks for taking a chance on a young writer back in 1989...

  7. You're welcome! Oh mean the other Dave! Oops! :)

  8. Ohhh, the joys of eBay. InterZone 36 and 39 for a combined £1.98 plus postage :)

  9. Thanks for sharing. It's good to know someone has a complete run of iz. I've got a few box files but nowhere near comprehensive. I wonder if David Pringle, TTA or someone else has them digitally? I suspect there'd be some interest in buying old editions that way. Otherwise I wonder if a scanning effort could/should be organised for historical preservation purposes.

  10. Yes, I have one of those long, thin IZ rejections. I always thought they wrote them on toilet paper, just to reinforce the point.

  11. A Spy in Europa remains one of my all-time favourites.