In preparing a bunch of old stories for publication here, on Substack, and on Medium, I discovered that WritersDB, the website that I used to track my story submissions back in the aughts, is somehow still around. I find this equal parts astonishing and encouraging. It’s such a simple tool, and its interface hasn’t changed in the twelve years since the last time I recorded a submission (of “Famine“, to someplace called “Verbumcavus,” of which I can find no trace on the web today).
According to WritersDB (and I have no good reason to doubt it), “Famine” went out to two places. The first was “On the Clock,” which I recall to have been an anthology put out by Bottom Dog Press. My submission record for “On the Clock” is flagged as “Withdrawn,” with an almost two year gap between its submission on July 19, 2009, and its submission to “Verbumcavus” on March 16, 2011. The email address I was using then is as extant as Verbumcavus, so I can’t find the history of my interactions with the publishers of “On the Clock”; the anthology came out in 2010, so my guess is that my manuscript was ghosted: not accepted, but not exactly rejected outright, just lost in the shuffle and slush, no doubt.
I also have no way of knowing what the interactions with Verbumcavus were, either, but it would appear that they gave up on publishing and I gave up on following up with them.
This story started out with the title “Harvest of Pencils,” a reference to Robert Conquest’s “Harvest of Sorrow” (which is referenced in the story). Indeed, this story nearly bookends my inglorious literary career, being the last thing I submitted but also one of the first. Fitting, then, that it launches this project of revisiting my stories.
It appears that it was actually picked up by a webzine called Facsimilation in June 2004, so it looks like Verbumcavus was doing some sort of reprint or anthology. Before that, this poor little story wandered far and wide trying to find a home. According to WritersDB, it went out to Red China (apparently no longer a literary journal, but still chugging along as a sovereign nation — we’re here all week, folks, tip the wait staff!) before landing with Facsimilation, and then went on another journey from May 2005 until March 2011, passing through Post Road, Cranky, VerbSap, The Rake, The Contrary, Toasted Cheese, McSweeney’s, Barrelhouse, Eyeshot, monkeybicycle, and KNOCK before changing its title and disappearing into whatever the heck Verbumcavus was.
That word salad of a list is quite the who’s who of webzines of the aughts — ranging from the quirky little single proprietor sites that were common at the time, to a couple that are still significant going concerns. It’s also a good indication of my scattershot “strategy” of submissions. That I thought a story was a good fit for both McSweeney’s and Eyeshot is a sign that (a) I had no clue what I was doing, and (b) it was a pretty wild time in the market, where a story probably was a good fit for a whole range of venues.
I was pretty burned out on sending stories to little journals by 2011, and also running headlong into a decade of writer’s block, during which I had a ton of ideas but was absolutely paralyzed when it came to starting on any of them. I felt stuck between genres, and fearful of any possible misstep in approaching established markets. A lot of the little webzines where I’d been publishing had disappeared by then, and I had no interest in the “platform” ecosystems that were starting to develop. (I still really don’t, despite my reliance on Substack and Medium for this little project.)
Since January of this year, though, I’ve had the opposite problem, an almost hypergraphic frenzy of composition having taken over. I’m not quite ready yet, though, to tell that story in full; I may never be. For now, I’m enjoying the resurrection of some lost stories and the archeology of my brief writing career.