22 April 2012

“The Black Cat on the Feast of the Eclipse” to Appear in Beyond Centauri

Some excellent news on the publishing front: my fantasy novelette “The Black Cat on the Feast of the Eclipse” will appear in the January 2013 issue of the magazine Beyond Centauri. I found out today that editor Tyree Campbell accepted the story.

This will be my first appearance in a print periodical. Previously, I’ve either appeared in online magazines (now the dominant medium for short fiction) or print anthologies. I’m pleased to know we still have the old-style magazines around. I’ll eventually make the short story available in ebook format when I start putting together a collection of my non-Ahn-Tarqa short stories.

Beyond Centauri is a children’s speculative-fiction magazine and part of Sam’s Dot Publishing, which also releases one of my favorite magazines, Aoife’s Kiss (Tyree Campbell edits that one as well). Beyond Centauri is a magazine “for the next generation [ages 10 and up].” I’m not the first Writers of the Future winner from my year to get in the magazine: Patty Jansen had her story “From the Parrot’s Mouth” in Issue #29. Laurie Tom, the Grand Prize Winner from the year before mine (and with whom I’ve paneled!) was published in Issue #7. Rachel V. Oliver, who is part of the Miracle Mile Writers group that I attend, has quite a run in the magazine, with stories in Issue #33 (“Rachel and the Giant Tomato Worm”), Issue #24 (“Slow and Steady Wins the Race…”), and Issue #25 (“The Spider and the Crow”). Bruce Durham, a friend from Black Gate, got his story “Upstream” published in Issue #11. So I’m in superb and familiar company.

I wrote “The Black Cat on the Feast of the Eclipse” in the style of classic children’s literature from the early part of the twentieth century. I didn’t at first envision that it would actually end up in a children’s literature magazine; actually, I didn’t envision it anywhere, since I thought it would never sell. I’m glad I didn’t listen to my own nagging internal censor and wrote the story anyway. Now it’s ended up at the exact right market for it. Let this be a lesson to all new writers: forget about “marketability” and write what you want to write. The “market” is what you make it!

I wrote the story—and picked its gargantuan title—last year based on a free-writing exercise in one of my hand-written journals. The 10,000-word sketch came from looking over The Halloween Tarot (read my post about it) by Kipling West, a charming deck that captures the spirit of a childhood Halloween in a way so perfect that I can no longer imagine my favorite holiday without it. One of the intriguing aspects of this illustrated deck is the figure of a black cat that appears in every card, eventually taking center stage in the final card of the trumps, The World. Over a few days, I wrote a plotless tale about a black cat wandering among the figures that appear in Kipling’s deck. I enjoyed the sketch so much that I decided to pluck out the best parts and form my own story. I imagined the figure of a black cat who lived inside a sprawling castle filled with all the wonders of the Gothic world, and used some of the vignettes in the sketch to plot an adventure for this nameless shadowy feline.

I planned to write the story in the style of some of my favorite children’s authors, particularly Edith Nesbit, who wrote such classics as The Enchanted Castle and Five Children and It. This “presentational style” of writing, where the writer makes direct address to the young audience, is uncommon today, but it seemed the only way to tackle the story. It was a great challenge, and an enormously enjoyable one, to write in this style. “The Black Cat on the Feast of the Eclipse” was one of the best times I have ever had writing and editing a story.

That I liked the story so much is one of the reasons I believed it would never sell. Other reasons for my pessimism: it was also too long (9,100 words, lengthier than any short story I’ve sold) and written from the POV of an animal who never speaks.

And yet… it’s hitting the newsstands (or I like to imagine that there are still newsstands around) on New Year’s Day of 2013. A nice way to start the year!

I’d like to thank Michael Anderson, my first reader, who gave me invaluable assistance in re-writing the story to make it the best it could be. I changed a large part of the ending because of Michael’s suggestions, and that shows the value of having a sharp reader to give you advice.