I recently announced that a story of mine will be published in an anthology in October. It comes out later this month. Here is the story of how I wrote it and grappled with it.
Almost two years ago, I was a high school senior in an AP Literature class. My teacher, Mrs. Jenkins, asked us to read Genesis and Revelation in order to help us better understand references to the Bible in works of literature. While I was reading Revelation, I was fascinated by the ambiguity and mysterious aspects of the language and of all the interpretations that have been made about its verses over the years. I started to imagine the Whore of Babylon as a person instead of a symbol, and “Babylon” the character and the short story were born.
Around six months later, in January or February of 2015, the Twitter account of the website Submittable.com retweeted a call for submissions for “dark, Biblical YA fiction.” I thought, “Well, I’ve got something that fits that description; I may as well submit.” So I did. And, to my surprise, about a month later I got an email from Laureen Cantwell, the anthology editor at Month9Books, telling me that she wanted my piece in the anthology!
In 2015, I submitted about twenty individual short pieces to various venues. Two of them were chosen for publication; the rest were rejected. That’s a success rate of about 10%, which is probably better than most people manage. The few pieces that do get selected are so important to writers because they are what keep us going.
Almost a year after I got that original yes, Laureen sent me and the other authors an email we’d long awaited: the one that told us we could finally tell the world about this “secret project.” Even as I posted the good news on my social media, I felt a twinge of fear.
“Babylon” was written two years ago, a piece of “dark, Biblical” fiction that reflected what I can now realize were insecurities and questions I had (and still sometimes have) in my own faith. The God that exists in the world of “Babylon” is not the God I believe in now, at least not in my better moments. For a few hours I was worried–worried that the world would see my anxiety and my doubt, and worried about what they (my friends and family) would think about it.
As a writer, you have to learn to overcome the fear of baring your soul for public consumption. You have to accept that the people who read your fiction will be seeing a face of yours that may be truer than the one you wear on your body.
My doubt and the weakness of my faith are not parts of me that I choose to display to the world when I meet it face-to-face. But my doubt and my weakness are a part of me. “Babylon” tells the truth about them. It may not be a pretty truth, it may not even be a truth that still exists, but it is a truth, and I believe it is a truth worth telling.
The other slightly nerve-wracking thing about this piece is that, in only two years since I wrote it, my writing has changed so much. If I had written that piece today, I would have made so many different style choices. This, I think, is a continual battle that we writers face–the battle of being constantly dynamic, of changing quickly, while the molasses-slow world of publishing trickles onward. By the time one thing is finally out into the world, we have changed so much that we are hardly the same writer all!
So. In the Beginning will come out in just a few weeks. My friends and family will (I hope) read my story in it, and they will learn things about my writing and about me that they did not know before and that they might not have known otherwise. Things that may change how they see me.
And so it will be, for as long as I choose to keep writing, or for as long as I live, which will probably be the same thing.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Because I’m hosting a giveaway! Go on over and enter to win one of three copies of In the Beginning.
Title: IN THE BEGINNING: Dark Retellings of Biblical Tales
Editors: Laureen P. Cantwell and Georgia McBride
Author: Stephen Clements, Nicole Crucial, Mike Hays, Sharon Hughson, Marti Johnson, Elle O’Neill, Lora Palmer, & Christina Raus
Pub. Date: October 25, 2016
Format: Paperback & eBook
In the Beginning (Oct. 25, 2016) –Eight authors come together to build a powerful collection of dark young adult short stories inspired by the mysteries, faith, and darkness found within the Bible. Old Testament and New Testament, iconic and obscure figures alike are illuminated, explored, and re-envisioned throughout this charity anthology from Month9Books.
Find the full cover reveal and all excerpts here.