How a College Freewriting Prompt and Being Woken by a Downtown Songbird Led to My Shortest Publications

by Arthur Klepchukov

Small bird perched on wire in the city

Small bird perched on wire in the city

A brief conversation with a lone songbird in San Francisco. A vulnerable state before free fall. I explore these ideas in my latest flash fiction publications “Dawnsong” and “lying is the girl” out now in KYSO Flash, Issue 10 (Fall 2018).

What amount of effort went into getting these two stories published?

My statistics for “Dawnsong”:

  • 100 words
  • 1 draft (I know, I know, I’m surprised too)
  • 10 submissions
  • 6 rejections, 1 encouraging rejection
  • 3 withdrawals

My statistics for “lying is the girl”:

  • 100 words
  • 3 drafts
  • 6 submissions
  • 4 rejections, 2 encouraging rejections
  • 1 withdrawal

These are lucky numbers, especially given just one draft of “Dawnsong” and the small number of submissions of “lying is the girl.” Read on about my process.

“Dawnsong”: Waking Up to My First 100-word Story

When I lived in downtown San Francisco, I grew accustomed to noise. Cable cars rang outside my window looking down on Powell Street just two blocks west of Union Square. Tourists wandered up Nob Hill. Weekend revelries, tire-eating pot holes, illegal turns, honks and more honks. But every morning I woke up unusually early, before the city’s soundtrack roared, even before the trash trucks, I heard a single bird chirping the loneliest song. He sang his way into “Dawnsong,” my first 100-word story.

I let the piece incubate for a week or so, before running it by two friends, neither of whom read or critiqued work that brief. Nothing onerous stood out, so I began submitting.

Wigleaf rejection, August 2017

95-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur,

We’re passing but thanks so much for giving us a chance here.

All best,
Wigleaf

Short & sweet.

Indiana Review rejection, August 2017

29-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov:

We have carefully considered your submission, “”Rivet Here”, “Duskwing”, and “Dawnsong”,” for the 2017 1/2 K Prize and regret to inform you that you were not selected as a finalist. We received many exceptional submissions and the competition was fierce.

Thank you again for your support of and interest in Indiana Review. Your participation helped to make the 2017 1/2 K Prize possible and we are honored to have read your work.

The Editors

Crazyhorse rejection, October 2017

92-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for submitting “”Rivet Here”, “Duskwing”, and “Dawnsong”” to the Crazyshorts! Short-Short Fiction Competition. Unfortunately, our editors have decided not to publish your work. This was a competitive year, with many exceptional entries to choose from. After much discussion, our editors have made the following selections.

Wishing you the best of luck with your writing,

The Eds.
Crazyhorse

SmokeLong Quarterly rejection, December 2017

I submitted “Dawnsong” to the Kathy Fish Fellowship along with “fresh scar,” which went on to be accepted and published in Third Wednesday. so my original entry had to be withdrawn. I resubmitted again and got this 40-day encouraging rejection:

Dear Arthur,

Thank you for your interest in the Kathy Fish Fellowship. The pool of applicants was absolutely amazing this year, and while I’m sorry to say you were not the winner of the fellowship, your application did make it to our second round of 62 applicants. Out of more than 200 applications, this is truly a great compliment to your writing and talent.

We appreciate your interest in SmokeLong Quarterly, and we do hope that you will apply again next year or submit to our regular submission queue.

Thank you for being a writer and supporter of flash fiction.

Sincerely,

Tara Laskowski
Editor

Given that I submitted four flash pieces, it’s hard to attribute the encouragement to “Dawnsong.” But I embraced the overall positivity as a reason to keep submitting.

Five Points rejection, April 2018

346-day form rejection—yes, almost a year to reject a 100-word story like this:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for sending us “Dawnsong”. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.
Sincerely,
Five Points

I followed up twice for a status update on this submission but to not avail. I never expected to wait this long for a response on a piece of flash, especially given that Five Points specifically asked for stories under 250 words.

Popshot rejection, July 2018

43-day form rejection came in a newsletter email about the Dream issue:

We’ve now been in touch with everyone whose work we’ve been able to include. Don’t be discouraged if yours isn’t in the mix… we have another issue after that. Our submissions window re-opens shortly. We will be announcing our theme by email and through the glorious expanse of social media.

I wanted to get to 10 rejections before doing another draft of “Dawnsong”, so I kept submitting. Meanwhile, let’s consider the other story…

“lying is the girl”: My Introduction to Freewriting 11 Years Ago

In my sophomore year at U.C. Berkeley, I took an excellent course on the introduction to short story writing taught by Professor Melanie Abrams. We explored the wonderful resource that is Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway—a book still proudly on my writing shelf today. One of the techniques we learned and practiced was freewriting, the concept of continuously writing for a short burst of time without your pen leaving the page. Professor Abrams once gave us this prompt—”Lying is the most fun a girl could have without taking her clothes off.” I wrote a response, chuckled at the ending, and filed it away—for over a decade.

Banned Words Inspired a Second Draft

Flash forward almost 11 years. New Flash Fiction Review hosted a 7 Banned Words Microfiction Feature in January 2018. The main criteria was flash that contained one of the words reportedly banned at the CDC:

  • diversity
  • entitlement
  • evidence-based
  • fetus
  • science-based
  • transgender
  • vulnerable

Rather than craft a new piece or shoehorn a word into an existing story, I wondered if I’d already used one before. “Vulnerable” felt like something I might drop in. Though I didn’t find it in my original freewrite, “lying is the girl” felt like the perfect piece to house that word. Thus, I added “Vulnerable state before free fall” to a lightly revised second draft.

New Flash Fiction Review rejection, January 2018

I was rejected in just 1 day, but with this encouraging response:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you so much for submitting your work to New Flash Fiction Review.

Although your story is not right for our upcoming issue, we want to let you know that we are grateful for the opportunity to read your work, and hope you’ll consider submitting to us again during a future open submission period.

Sincerely,
New Flash Fiction Review Editors

Cutting Down to 100 Words

Despite the encouraging rejection, I felt the 135-word story could be really strong if it was only 100 words. I did have the 100 Word Story journal in mind as I recalled hearing Grant Faulkner speak years ago about the agony and joy of being able to pare something down that much.

I pulled out every contraction, apostrophe, rephrasing, and truncation I could think of. I reread the piece dozens of times. I questioned every line and then every word repeatedly. This was the kind of work that wears me out with a short story longer than 5,000 words or a novel. But here, it felt like a calling. It all added to the main character’s urgency. And my third draft of “lying is the girl” was exactly 100 words.

Vestal Review rejection, March 2018

I was again rejected in just 1 day, but with a form response:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for sending us “lying is the girl”. Unfortunately we will not be able to use this work for Vestal Review. We receive many well-written, compelling stories, but can only take a very limited number due to constraints of space and style. We wish you the best of luck in placing your story elsewhere.

I really wanted to like the fellow immigrant’s story.

Sincerely,
Mark Budman
Vestal Review

Electric Literature rejection, May 2018

30-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur,

Thank you for submitting your story, “”The Price of Chivalry” and “lying is the girl”,” to Electric Literature, though it was not chosen for publication in our journal. We appreciate the opportunity to consider your work.

Sincerely,

Editors,
Electric Literature

100 Word Story rejection, June 2018

36-day encouraging rejection from the market I most had in mind:

Dear Arthur,

Thank you for sending us “lying is the girl”. We appreciate the chance to read it because we believe that making art is such a daring, wonderful act.

It’s difficult for us because despite the number of great pieces we receive, many of them don’t quite fit into our editorial needs. We’re glad you thought of us, though, and hope that you’ll submit again. We receive too many manuscripts to make individual comment possible, but we do wish you luck in placing this with another magazine.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.

Sincerely,
100 Word Story

KYSO Flash acceptances, July 2018

I had a great time working with Clare MacQueen on “bleedin’ peach,” which appeared in Issue 9 of KYSO Flash. This made me happy to submit more work to her fine journal.

“Dawnsong” was accepted without revisions. After nine acceptances, this is only the second time that this has happened. I promptly withdrew the piece from New Flash Fiction Review and the Museum of Words Flash Fiction Competition. I also withdrew “lying is the girl” from Willow Springs.

Clare gave me the option to cut four words from “lying is the girl,” to get it down to an even 100. While Grant Faulkner’s 100 Word Story doesn’t include titles in the word counts of their submissions, KYSO Flash does. So if I wanted it listed as a 100-word story, my brief piece had to become even briefer. One writing friend later proposed cutting the very last line, but I’m glad I left it intact. To me, it’s the most honest part of the story and provides a sense of closure for the main character’s intentions. Clare even looked at my original draft— the Berkeley freewrite—but we felt the slim version was stronger.

I also re-evaluated and ultimately kept the title of “lying is the girl,” strange syntax and all. This was how I justified it:

The word “lying” hits me on a few levels: it reminds of the horizontal position of free fall, it implies a distant connection to lying in bed and making love and conceiving a child, and obviously, whatever is motivating the girl to not be forthcoming about the pregnancy test and still go skydiving—a life of exciting activities, an unfinished thesis, a tumultuous relationship. Maybe that tension translated into the syntax of the title?

It’s these kind of questions and revisions that make me appreciate editors and what they bring to the process. The challenge of answering brought me closer to a piece I already felt intimately familiar with.

I’m proud to share this process and the final stories. Read “Dawnsong” and “lying is the girl.”

Want a remarkably thorough exploration of the fundamentals of fiction?
Check out Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft.

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