The latest, "3 Tortoises," I submitted to a website for publication, as I do with all my short stories now. I won't name the publication, because I'm not trying to pick a fight with them, but I will share the rejection they gave me:
Hi Briane This doesn't appear to really be speculative fiction, so we can't accept this submission. cheers
The rejection itself didn't surprise me; despite a run of success in which I had three stories published for pay in June 2014, rejection is still the norm for most of my stories. (Actually, the norm is not hearing back from people for a long time.)
But I was surprised that a story about talking, thinking tortoises was deemed to be not really speculative fiction, and so although ordinarily I would publish the story somewhere down the line on my own blog, I am going to share it with IWM readers to help decide just how speculative fiction must be to qualify.
|The cover took me WEEKS.|
So literary stories aren't spec fic because they are, um, what? You're not also Margret Atwood are you?
And P.T. sided with him, pointing out that things like The Lovely Bones might be considered literary rather than spec fic, and then, much as I had with my ongoing internal debate about what really separates a poem from a short short story (someday I'll do a post about two things I wrote that were both at the same time and discuss that) I began thinking about just how speculative fiction must be. In Just Exactly, after all, I have cowboys roaming endlessly in a desert, but there's no overt speculative aspects to the story. Another story in that book, God Shrugged, has God as a character, so I guess that is speculative? And there's one where scientists meet in a secret cabal to decide how to lie to the public and get people interested in science again ("Quantum Everything" is the title and spoiler alert!) which seems fiction-y but not speculative.
So I don't have a clear answer yet. I mean, lightsabers, superheroes, wizards, dragons, ghosts: those all seem speculative. But tortoises deciding on what to do? Seemed spec fic to me, but you decide:
3 tortoises appeared on the edge of a clearing. In their whole lives none of them had traveled more than a quarter-mile, and their whole lives, so far had been 70, 50, and 57 years.
Are we now to come closer? The 70-year-old said to the two young ones.
Or shall we turn away from each other? The 57-year-old said.
The 50-year-old ate a leaf and watched the other two. It was up to him. He felt it. What he did next would determine the fate of these three, a fate that might last another one hundred years.
If he stepped forward, the other two would also, and the three of them would remain in this clearing for five, twenty, seventy years, maybe never leaving each other’s company.
If he stepped backwards, each would turn away and over years would slowly (oh so slowly) drift apart, until several decades hence they might be separated by as much as 200 yards, each aware of the other two back behind it, moving away, each conscious of the proximity that for every other animal might be no big deal, but which for them was the chasm of time, of momentum, of the past.
When you live as slowly as we do, the 50-year-old said, you can afford to mull over your next step. He proceeded to do that.
The sun set.
The sun rose.
The sun set again, rose again, and so on for many nights.
The rains came.
The rains left.
The three tortoises had not moved.
The 50-year-old one morning, as the dew settled on the blades of grass around him, said let us meet. They were the first words spoken in that clearing in 2 years, but they were the right words, and a year later they came true.
Briane Pagel also publishes short stories on lit, a place for stories, where you can submit stories and get paid!
If you're looking to read clearly speculative fiction, check out the IWM Time Travel Anthology: 15 time travel short stories in one book! Features the Best Time Travel Story 2014!