An Ocean the Color of Bruises: story journey notes

Earlier this week, my story An Ocean the Color of Bruises went live on Uncanny Magazine. It's about a group of recent college graduates from Manila who visit a beach. Inevitably, weird things happen. It's also available in a podcast, as read by Amal el-Mohtar. The podcast also has an interview with me conducted by Deb Stanish, where we talk about the ideas and themes that went into this story, and also touch on writing about the Philippines and exploring the millennial experience.


Some interesting writing-process things relevant to this story:

  • I wrote the first draft in September 2013. It was the first story I finished after Clarion, and it was absolutely a slog to write. I forced a deadline on myself and stayed up til 2 AM to finish it, but I was determined to "prove to myself" that I could get a story done even outside of workshop. 
  • I started sending this story out in January 2014. This story was rejected eight times. I sent it to most of my favorite pro/semi-pro markets and to a themed anthology.
  • My ninth submission was to Uncanny Magazine in November 2015. In January, Lynne and Michael asked if I would be open to a revise-and-resubmit; I got the revisions done in March, and the acceptance in April. It took nearly 3 years from finishing the first draft to the story being published! (I don't think that's unusual - but it reinforces that this writing business takes a long time.)
  • The first draft was 7k+ words. I cut it down to 6.3k, sent that draft out to a few places. When I submitted the story to Uncanny it was 5.9k long. The piece that got published came out to 5.3k.
  • I workshopped this story during FogCon and got input from Jed Hartman and my workshop group. Their feedback made me confident about certain parts of the story - the first-person-plural-narrator, for example - but also reinforced that it was a weird story and potentially a harder sell. I didn't seek out additional external feedback on this story after that. I'm not sure why I decided that; I think a part of me had a certain desire to keep the story close to what it originally was. Maybe if I sought other feedback I could have gotten it right sooner - OR maybe I would have revised away the things that made it good. It's hard to tell!

Revising this story was a really interesting process. In the personal rejections I received, a lot of the time the reader had difficulty with the pacing or the story's big twist - the speculative element, which comes very late in the tale. I understood the concern, but for a long time I felt that the story needed to open the way it did - with a car sequence and then an airport sequence, to introduce the characters and set the mood. Ultimately I found a way to cut those parts and start the story at the hotel, but it took me a while to be able to cut that introduction.

I remember feeling a blind spot with regard to revisions ("I have no idea what to change!"). Then one time after a rejection I read the piece and thought ah, okay. It's not quite there yet. There were some gaps I needed to plug better, and some weirdness I needed to punch up more - but I wasn't sure how. So I shelved it, stewed on it, read Kelly Link's Get In Trouble to absorb more weird, and wondered if this story would make it out there, or if it just wasn't quite competitive enough for today's short fiction markets. 

Eventually I worked on the draft again by outlining all of the changes I thought might help the story, and clarifying to myself what the themes were, what I wanted it to accomplish. I didn't need to over-explain the weird parts of the story, but I could certainly try and tweak elements so that what happened became more inevitable. 

I'm really glad this story ultimately found a home. Hopefully sharing its journey is helpful for some of you! I hope you give it a chance and read it. Also, if you haven't yet, do check out Uncanny Magazine's Year Three Kickstarter campaign - there are lots of great backer rewards, and most importantly, you are supporting amazing and diverse short fiction/poetry/nonfiction! :)