Data Dive: "Twelve Years, Eight-Hundred Seventy-Two Miles"

Photo of the Arizona desert from the National Archives.

Photo of the Arizona desert from the National Archives.

Woe is the writer who happens to write a story that runs from 8,000 to 40,000 words!  The dreaded novella.  Dreaded only for the reason that there are so few markets who take them (I will shortly be adding another post detailing a non-exhaustive list of literary magazines that take novellas).  This is why you have to be twice as persistent when it comes to shopping novellas, and maybe come to the realization that some may only get to live on in a collection. 

"Twelve Years..." is a story about two brothers taking a road trip from LA to Arizona to see their father executed on Death Row.  That makes it sound darker than it is, as it's really a comedy with some dark undertones.  A road trip offers a unique setting where the characters are essentially trapped in a car for hours.  They will talk, and shit-talk, and argue, and tell stories. 

The idea for this story originally came to me when I was in graduate school in California.  I had driven across the desert to Las Vegas or to San Francisco more than a few times during my time on the West Coast.  There is something eerie about the desert.  When you stare out the window at this totally uninhabited land, it isn't too hard to think back to a time when it hadn't yet been explored.  It's beautiful, but desolate and terribly lonely.  I wasn't writing during that long stretch of time in CA, but some ideas for stories stuck with me, and I ended up writing this in 2013 when I was living in DC.  It was actually during that odd period of a few weeks of government shutdown when Congress was, you know, being Congress.  I was inhabiting coffee shops on the weekends, and would occasionally hear an odd tidbit like, "I'm just gonna break into that park man--what are they going to do, stop me?"  (They did stop people, incidentally.  I tried to go to Great Falls during that time and was turned away by a park ranger.) 

Day One had given me positive feedback about a speculative science fiction novella I had submitted in the spring of 2015, so I thought "Twelve Years" might have a decent chance.  I was surprised when four days later the editor sent me an email asking if she could call me.  (Call me?  Why??  To tell me that she liked the story, but that it was too long which is such a shame because she sorta liked it, which is what a couple other journals said?) 

No, she wanted to publish it.  I must have been grinning like an idiot during that phone call.  I love all the things I write in different ways, but there's something about "Twelve Years" that's always made it close to my heart.  Or maybe it's because each of my novellas is like a tender duckling with little hope of seeing the other side unless I tend, tend, tend to it to find it the right home. 

When this baby goes out--in mid-September, I'm told--it will have been the longest thing I've published, but not the longest thing I've written.  It will mean I have a product on Amazon that could be reviewed--yikes.  It will mean disseminating an awesome joke I once made about traffic in LA to an entire population of readers.  Score. 

Number of submissions: 12 (3 of these were contests). Ratio of positive feedback to number of submissions: 35%. Time elapsed between completion of story and publication: 1.5 years.