Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Behind "The Lobster Thriller"

Searching for new markets to sell my short stories to, I stumbled across an odd little e-zine called The Journal of Unlikely Entomology. I perused their submission requirements, mentally checking off which ones I met. Speculative fiction? Check. Weird stories? Check. Avant-garde? Check. Reprints? Check. “Beautifully written fiction, characters that grab us by the throats and refuse to let go until their stories have been told, worlds that draw us in and demand to be explored?” Check. Bugs? WTF?

Ah, entomology: the study of insects. Houston, we have a problem. Did any of my stories have insects in them? I did a quick inventory and remembered my 2009 Christmas story. I write an annual Christmas story and that year it was “A Christmas Present For Ashley”, the crucifixion tale told from the POV (point of view) of a Madagascar hissing cockroach. Check.

What appealed to me most about the e-zine was its panache: a take-off on the haughty, 19th century style reminiscent of The AcmeNovelty Library. So, using my best Chris Ware impression, I dashed off an e-mail to the publisher:

I ran across The Journal Of Unlikely Entomology and thought it might provide a suitable home for "A Christmas Present For Ashley". Until now, I had categorized this as a Christmas piece, not realizing there might be a discrete market for tales of a Madagascar hissing cockroach. Note, this would fall under the heading of reprint rights, as it has appeared in two anthologies, but I am submitting it for your consideration because it seemed the perfect piece for The Journal Of Unlikely Entomology.

Should you by any chance start a sister publication, The Journal of Unlikely Crustaceology, please advise me, as I would finally have a place for my lobster thriller.

It was 3 a.m. and I was a bit tired and giddy, so I might be excused for the flippant attempt at humor. I presumed anyone who could craft The Journal of Unlikely Entomology would share my wry sense of humor and laugh at the concept of a companion journal for crustaceology (the study of crustaceans) and the preposterous notion of the genre of lobster fiction. A few days later, I received this reply:

Just found this in the spam folder, for reasons I can't fathom…

After all these years of writing, I’m used to my submissions landing in far worse places than a spam filter, so I continued reading.

We do have a policy of accepting a maximum of one reprint per issue, which does cut the odds. On the other hand, lobsters are bugs. Sort of…. We'd be happy to take a look at your lobster thriller.

They probably would not be interested in the story I sent, but might want to publish my lobster thriller! Omigod! I laughed until endorphins dripped from my eyelids. Then, I sobered up. I remembered I didn’t have a lobster thriller. I didn’t even know what a lobster thriller was! What to do? I considered telling them the reference to a lobster thriller was a joke, but in my experience, people only find jokes funny when they are in on them. If they missed the joke and later have it pointed out, they tend to be embarrassed and become resentful, if not rancorous. Not a good way to entice them into publishing my story.

There was only one option: write a lobster thriller in 24 hours. I can never resist a writing challenge. Now, what the hell is a lobster thriller? It should have the elements of a thriller and somehow revolve around a lobster, I concluded. There were two choices: (1) a story in which a lobster is the main character or (2) a Maltese Falcon tale, where the lobster is the object sought by the characters. Since I had already submitted a story told from a cockroach’s POV, I chose the second option. A friend had challenged me to write a Young Adult story, so I figured, what the hell. The next day, I had “The Lobster Thriller” — a 5,000–word Young Adult lobster thriller. I had not only crafted a new story; I had created an entirely new genre!

The following day, I was stricken with a life-threatening medical issue and “The Lobster Thriller” and everything else in my life got placed on the back burner for several weeks. When life settled down, I realized I had never gotten around to sending the “The Lobster Thriller” to the e-zine. Oops.

So, that’s how I came to write a story about Chinese spies, biological warfare, a Vietnamese fisherman, a lighthouse, and 16-year-old Wesley Snodgrass’ misadventure with a yellow lobster. Click on the cover below to begin reading “The Lobster Thriller”!

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