Recycling Samurai

>> Thursday, January 5, 2006

I guess I just wasn't ready to let Samurai Shortstop go.

More particularly, I wasn't ready to let go of the world of Ichiko, the First Higher School of Japan. Okay, yes, the book hasn't even come out yet, but the writing on it has been done for a few months now, and it's too much fun to riff on variations during those short trips back and forth to the hardware store or the farmer's market.

What if my story had been a murder mystery, I wondered, rather than a baseball/family relationship story? Ichiko would make a fascinating arena for a murder mystery. I remembered from my research that a number of students actually died each year in the early days of Ichiko. Weird, but true. Donald Roden's terrific Schooldays in Imperial Japan even had a table that listed the number of students who died by year! What they died of varied - including the occasional suicide - but what if one of those deaths had been a murder? How would the Ichiko students - charged by the headmaster to govern themselves - handle a murder on the sacred grounds of Ichiko?

The idea excited me, and visions of a short story danced in my head. It's been some time since I attempted a short story. They are tricky creatures, and I have the utmost respect for those who can write them well. Two of my most recent attempts - and when I say "recent," we're talking at least a couple of years ago - were real stinkers. They had good ideas, but terrible execution. They languish in my file cabinet to be recycled at a later date. I think I was actually better at writing short fiction back when I was in college. I wrote a great many short stories for classes then, and had ample opportunity to hone that craft. (I even sold two stories to Confrontation: The Literary Journal of Long Island University. What can I say? I started alphabetically with the A's and made a sale in the C's . . .)

Regardless, I had just finished the second of two novels that my new agent hasn't even read yet, so I figured I had time to take a break from long fiction and give it a go. It took me a little while to plot the thing out to my satisfaction while keeping it short enough to be sold, but I did it. The final result is called "To Honor Ichiko and Defend Japan." The story has none of the same characters as my novel, but the three main characters have their roots in the character work I did for Toyo, Futoshi, and Junzo from Samurai.

I've been through the story a few times now, wielding the backspace key with as much abandon as I can bear. Today I excised the first 5/7 of the first page and started the story that much sooner, cutting out a bit of preamble that I realized unnecessarily slowed the story down. Wendi has yet to read the final version (she's my in-house copy editor, and always gets final approval) so it isn't out the door yet, but I'm very happy with it. I expect to package it up here in the next day or two and submit it somewhere.

Where to submit it is the current question. My theory about slush pile submission is to start at the very top. What do you have to lose? Dial was one of the top publishers on my list, and I made a sale with Samurai. (This time I did NOT start alphabetically.) If you never try for the top, you'll never know if you could have made it. Besides, if the top magazines don't take it, I'll submit elsewhere.

So my two leading candidates are Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I decided to go for magazines that focus on mysteries, rather than try magazines that print young adult fiction specifically, mainly because there are more opportunities in mystery magazines. They also have a wider readership, and given the mystery element to the stories, the fact that they have a YA protagonist doesn't really matter.

EQMM and AHMM are published by the same company, but are different entities with different editors, offices, and submission policies. It would be uncouth to submit to both at once, and their response time isn't so outrageous that exclusive submission is really a problem. So - which do I try first?

I've read both magazines. I think "To Honor Ichiko" would fit nicely at both, so there's really nothing to tip the scales there. I think EQ might have a slightly higher subscription base, but both magazines are readily available at most bookstores. This afternoon I was leaning toward AH, but now I'm swinging back toward EQ. Maybe I should just pull a copy of both off my shelf and let my three-year-old daughter Jo choose one. (She's remarkably good at making arbitrary decisions.)

If I never sell the story, I'll have wasted no more than a couple of weeks' writing time, which I can spare right now. Even then, I might print a dozen copies up on nice paper in a little chapbook and offer them as prizes on my website to anyone who read Samurai and stops by to say konichiwa . . .

UPDATE: "To Honor Ichiko and Defend Japan" went out today (1/5/06) to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I'll let you know when the rejection letter arrives. :-)


Anonymous,  January 5, 2006 at 10:33 PM  

Congrats on your upcming novel, Alan. ted Hipple would be proud of you.

David Gill

Alan January 6, 2006 at 12:18 AM  

Thanks, David! Glad you stopped by!

And yeah, how much does it pain me that Ted Hipple isn't still with us? One of the first things I said to Wendi when I sold the book was, "I gotta tell Ted Hipple when this comes out!" I never got a chance. I was grief-stricken to read of his death. YA lit never had a greater or more passionate champion than Ted Hipple, and I wish I could share SAMURAI with him.

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