Publication Tales: Story in Moving Across the Landscape in Search of an Idea

Cover Image for Moving Across the Landscape in Search of an Idea. Looks like a bunch of opened books.

My most recent short story sale is a unique one. A little while ago, Air and Nothingness Press, a publication I have worked with before, put out an unusual call. Short fiction comprised of a really long title (250+ words) with a short narrative (250-800 words) and rounded out with lengthy marginalia (250-800 words), with the total ending up around 1500 words. Right away, I was drawn in by the challenge of it and wanted to see if I could put together a coherent story under these parameters.

With my background in academia, I already knew a thing or two about annoying long titles. I also was familiar with plenty of marginalia studying ancient languages. Oftentimes, the texts are published with more commentary than text. Using this background as a starting point, I knew mine would have to be some sort of textbook/research paper.

Pretty straightforward for this assignment, right? I figured I’d do some ancient text discovered by an archaeologist or something. But, that’s when my brain started to go off the rails, and I had a very different sort of idea.

If you know anything about my tastes, you know that I absolutely love time travel. I’ve been wanting to experiment with time travel in my stories, and I’ve always wanted to write a time loop story. That’s when the idea came - a manual about how to create a time loop and the person travelling through the loop can tell their story in the footnotes. 

I struggled with how to make an entire manual in only a few hundred words. I kept thinking about The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher. The main character travels to another world and finds an unusual bible there where a horrific story is told through scribbles in the margins. My story is very different, but with the memory of Kingfisher's book in my mind, my little time loop story idea took on a darker hue, and I knew what I wanted to write.

I always pour a bit of my soul into my stories and work hard at them, but this one took a lot of work, and work I was not used to doing. I needed to plan out the plot very carefully (not usually my style), and since this was a scientific text, I needed to learn some of the science behind time travel. I am a humanities major through and through, so that was a struggle for me. Let’s just say that Wikipedia became my best friend for a while.

While I was giving myself a scientific crash course on time travel, I also had to build my ridiculous title and have a compelling story woven in. If you want to know the plot details and how my story turned out, you’ll have to pick up a copy of the book, but I will give you one more hint: I took some inspiration from my day job as a legal assistant working in family law.

In the end, my story which I have nicknamed “Tithonus,” clocked in at 1547 words:
Title: 255 words
Text: 598 words
Marginalia: 694 words

I decided that even if my story didn’t make it into the collection, I had learned a lot, grown as a writer, and could probably edit down the title, boost up the narrative, and publish it elsewhere one day. Happily for me, AAN Press accepted my bizarre little tale and here we are.

Moving Across the Landscape in Search of an Idea launches on July 15, but is available for pre-order. AAN Press specializes in print copies in limited runs, so order it before it sells out.

Picture of me holding open the book to my storyClose up of the back of the book featuring the quote: "A colelction of stories with verbose titles, concise narratives, and copious notes, in multiple genres."


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