It was only yesterday that I wrote a blog post about the UFO slush pile and had this to say:
This doesn’t mean that you can’t sell us a zombie reality TV story about a road trip in space. But it won’t be easy.
Challenge accepted! Less than 24 hours later, this story showed up in the UFO inbox.
Unfortunately I can’t include it in UFO2. A certain level of familiarity with the slush process is necessary to appreciate it. And reading the previous blog post is a must for an even better experience. But I thought it would make a perfect blog post, and also serve as a warning to all those who would submit real zombie/alien/reality TV stories to our slush pile, or any other. So I offered to buy the non-exclusive rights to post the story on this blog.
This is the author’s first story sale, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that.
Without further ado, presenting
IT CAME FROM THE SLUSH PILE
By Rachel Winchester
“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Dr. Rostrum. It’s hard to find a psychiatrist who’s taking on new patie… — of course, I can call you Bob. No problem.
“But, this gets a little personal, and if I could call you Doc– right, yes, I guess you’re used to hearing personal stuff. OK. Bob it is.
“Right, 50 minutes. So…it all began when I was reading submissions for a short story anthology. Science fiction stuff, supposed to be funny. You wouldn’t think there would be that many people willing to put in that kind of work for a shot at $100 or so, but there were thousands of submissions.
“I drank coffee and read manuscripts and drank more coffee and read more manuscripts until my eyelids felt like thresher blades and my eyeballs throbbed with each of their harvesting passes. I divided the stories into piles: FUNNY and NOT FUNNY. Then, to my horror, I realized I had to add another pile.
“I mean, I like some zombie movies, but I don’t get why they’re a thing, you know? They’ve got to be a symbol for something. Maybe because no one owns zombies. I mean, Lucas, or I guess Disney, isn’t going to sue anyone over zombies.
“And the submissions kept coming. Story after unfunny story about zombies, Bob. ‘I Was Married to a Zombie’, ‘Road Trip with a Zombie’, ‘We Can Zombie It For You Wholesale’, and ‘Do Zombies Dream of Electric Brains.’ And the worst part, Bob? The absolute. Worst. Part? The zombie stories with bonus-gratuitous-rape.
“It was a veritable Penthouse Forum for Zombies.
“But I’d promised the editor I’d read them all. I didn’t even consider stopping.
“Then I got one in Comic Sans.
“What? No, I’m okay, I’m good…it’s just that…thinking about that font…I can see it…and…
“I’m good, seriously. Right here. Right here on the couch, Bob. See? Breathing normally. But thank you for the water. I think I’m ready to continue.
“Yes, there’s more. I know, you’d think it couldn’t get any worse than Com…that font. But it did. It did.
“Something about seeing a manuscript sent in looking like second-grade teacher’s syllabus jerked me awake, that’s the only way I can explain it. It made me realize how completely irrational it was to be living on coffee and Luna bars, reading slush. It made me realize that I’d been a total bitch to my partner every time she came in to suggest I take a shower or change my clothes. It made me realize that in the background, I’d been vaguely aware she was talking to a camera crew in the other room. About me.
“I know, I know, it sounds like paranoid delusions. But trust me, it wasn’t. It was much worse. You see, I realized then that I was on a reality show.
“Something called True Lives of Starving Writers. They were inter-cutting shots of authors slaving over pirated copies of Scrivener on refurbed laptops, voiceovers about how one guy had to switch to generic beer because he couldn’t afford MGD anymore, not until some magazine accepts his zombie porn story. Then they’d show me just shredding the submissions, and, God, they would even show my relationship coming apart. As you probably know, Bob, my partner had been telling the viewing audience about how she was trapped in this totally loveless marriage.
“I was mortified. I would never…I mean, sometimes I get into my writing, but I never thought I’d cut into our time together, and certainly not for slush.
“Also, and I have to explain this, the inner workings of the slush pile are sacrosanct. I’m doing this to pay my dues too, and learn from the submissions to make me a better writer. I would never go on a reality show and talk about it. And Darla…Darla would never go on one either.
“That’s when I knew something was really wrong. I knew it like I knew the sensation in my a–… my posterior–wasn’t from too much coffee and Luna bars. And I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but–
“Heh, yeah, I guess you would hear that a lot, Bob. But really, the pain in my…posterior, what I thought was the pain of reading a story with too many zombies and a vampire thrown in for good measure? That pain was actually a probe. An alien anal probe.
“Aliens had kidnapped me, beamed me up, and were making me believe I was on a reality TV show about science fiction writers, and they were doing it because they were on a road trip and they were bored.
“You got that, Bob? I was a goddamn travel game some alien teenagers had picked up during a road trip pit stop on Earth.
“As I realized my plight, a gizmo on the aliens’ space-van dashboard started to beep. It got louder and louder…the aliens started to run around the van, tentacles flailing over their heads. But I knew that sound. I sat straight up in bed, my alarm clock beeping at top volume. I was in my own bed, and whole thing was a dream!
“But, Bob…waiting for me, on the desk in the corner, were all those unread submissions. And there, on the floor next to the desk, were three piles of manuscripts: FUNNY, UNFUNNY…and ZOMBIES.
Rachel Winchester (@RaqWinchester) was born in Roswell, NM, and believes her love for science fiction was inevitable. She has lived and worked around the world, including in Bucharest, Kuala Lumpur, Sana’a, Athens, Caracas, and Los Angeles. She now works as a government consultant. This is her first story sale.