Workshopping the Reject

Well.

Since last February, I have been trying to get my sci-fi short story, “Conference,” published. So far, the score is 0 for 4.

Asimov’s Science Fiction sent me a form-letter rejection.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction sent me a personalized letter. The editor wrote that “this tale didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid,” and thanked me for sending it along. I appreciated the thought, at least.

Analog Science Fiction and Fact sent me a two-page form letter containing, basically, their submission guidelines. The editor scrawled a note at the bottom in blue pen, though: “PS: Present-tense narration tends to call excessive attention to itself and is generally best avoided unless a particular story requires it.”

I just heard back from Strange Horizons. They sent a short note that said thanks, but they decided not to publish the story.

I happen to really like this story, and I’d love to see it published. It takes place in the Cathedral Galaxy, a universe I hope to expand with many more stories, but it grew out of my experiences as a grad student. The mundane bits of researcher life. Giving a presentation to a research community. Camaraderie among grad students. Taking advantage of conferences to go sightseeing – and grinning at the crowds of other scientists doing the same. Research advisors, good and bad; on-the-ball and absent-minded. Having different impressions of a scientist from reading their papers and from actually meeting them. Reacting to the presence of the “big names” in a particular field. Even finding love within a technical community – though it certainly didn’t happen to me the way it happened to Ceren Aydomi.

So, readers, since I like this story so much, I’d like to workshop it a little. If you can, take a look. Is it too long? (It’s almost 10,000 words, which is on the big side for a short, but when I read it, it doesn’t feel too bad to me.) Does the present-tense narration bother you? Is the action too slow or too fast in places? Are the characters strong enough, and do they interact naturally enough? If you’ve been to a research conference before, how does this feel as a depiction?

I’m all ears!

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