The one that got away

I want to tell a story, about my Hugo-nominated story “On a Spiritual Plain”. The idea of a story that features someone dealing with a trapped human soul has been kicking around in my mind for years. Some time earlier I had jotted down a note by way of a potential story title, “Asleep With Ghosts, a Tombstone As My Pillow”. I realized one potential set-up could involve electromagnetism trapping the soul. I recalled Michael Swanwick’s novella “Radio Waves”, which won the World Fantasy Award in 1996. It occurred to me an alien planet with an especially strong magnetic field might provide the setting to explore the subject. Science fiction – at least before it became overly politicized and literary – was always a good place to turn thought experiments into entertaining literature.

In February 2013 I was a guest at the GalaxyFest convention in Colorado Springs. The convention was kind enough to comp me a table. A few years ago I bought a Smith Corona Classic 12 manual portable typewriter. I’m old enough to have used a typewriter when I was in high school, and sometimes switching from a PC to typewriter seems to jump start my creativity. In 2012 I used it to type stories at two conventions, and I lugged it with me to Colorado Springs for GalaxyFest. I decided it would help me got off high center with my story idea. It worked. I banged out 13 pages in two days. That was about 2/3 of the story. I scanned and converted the text when I got home, and then finished it up.

Looking over the finished product, my first thought was that it was perfect for one magazine in particular – one of the top tier ones. F&SF, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Tor.com, etc. You know – the usual suspects. I won’t get more specific. But I knew they wouldn’t be able to publish it because of the blacklist against conservative and/or Christian writers. So I thought, I’ll send it to them anyway just to show them what they are missing because of the blacklist. This is a magazine that will return a rejection usually in 24-72 hours. It took them sixteen days to reject it, and they said “this was a close one.” So I knew it was a good story, as I originally supposed.

Now, you may ask, is there a genuine blacklist in science fiction literature? The feeling among writers ostracized because of their religion and/or politics is that Analog is the only major magazine that judges work solely on its merit. Many aspiring and struggling writers feel there is an obvious animosity expressed by key science fiction literary figures towards religion – any religion. These people also have a political spectrum that starts with President Obama on the right, and progresses to… who knows? Somewhere, Pol Pot and Robespierre are probably both shaking their heads. It’s hard to imagine as an author, who been outed as a Christian and/or – horrors! – a Republican, that your work will be judged dispassionately by an editor who elsewhere decries such people in terms Nazis would have thought intemperate to use against Jews. Whether there is an organized blacklist or not, the fact remains literary science fiction has become a boring repetition of dystopian slipstream pornography. The saddest thing is that, there probably is no need for a formal blacklist; this in-group is so small and inbred, they just all think alike.

I shopped around “On a Spiritual Plain” for over a year, and then noticed the first issue of Sci Phi Journal. I instantly thought, “A home!”.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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About Lou Antonelli

Lou Antonelli has had 91 short stories and three collections published in the past eleven years. SFWA-pro publications were in Asimov's Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction (2x), Buzzy Mag and Jim Baen's Universe. He has eleven honorable mentions in The Year's Best Science Fiction. He was a finalist in 2013 for the Sidewise Award in Alternate History for "Great White Ship" (Daily Science Fiction - 2012). His collections include “Fantastic Texas” published in 2009; “Texas & Other Planets” published in 2010; and “The Clock Struck None” and “Letters from Gardner”, both published in 2014. His steampunk short story, "A Rocket for the Republic", was the last story accepted by Dozois before he retired as editor of Asimov's Science Fiction after 19 years. It was published in Asimov's in September 2005 and placed third in the annual Readers’ Poll.