How Loathing Travel, Public Transit, a Tuscan Residency, 24 Rejections, and a Writing Conference Led to My First Published Short Story

by Arthur Klepchukov

What happens when a luggage thief picks the wrong target on the early-morning airport train? Dive into the mind of a snarky antagonist in “A Damn Fine Town,” my first short story publication, available now in Down & Out: The Magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 4.

What amount of effort went into getting “A Damn Fine Town” published?

  • 1,600 words
  • 5 drafts
  • 26 submissions
  • 24 rejections, 4 encouraging rejections
  • 1 withdrawal

These are grueling numbers compared to how lucky I’ve been in earning relatively quick flash fiction publications.

I share blog posts like these because every story has a different journey. So if you’re in the doldrums between drafts or facing another rejection, may this encourage you. This process has taught me that publication is always more than one step away. Read on about this story’s journey and you may find what will get you over the next hump.

A Rainy Text to a Reluctant Friend

Early in 2016, I reached out to my best friend, Kyle Stout, about catching up. His response? He didn’t want to come to the city—San Francisco—when it was about to rain. But it’s a damn fine town in the rain. I jotted down what could be a phrase or a title and went about the next few months of my life.

Draft 1: Written During a Distant Residency in Italy

I’ve moved enough times in my life to develop a toxic relationship to most travel. But I still jump at unique opportunities to challenge that bias. In Spring 2016, I attended the Lemon Tree House Residency in Tuscany.

While my fellow writers were marveling at Italy, I began a story about traveling without traveling. Could one earn the perspective shift that most claim is the biggest benefit of traveling without going far from home? How far could I push the ability to perceive novelty? Kyle and I once brainstormed about making another short film in a limited setting, like our first one in a coffee shop. BART, the Bay Area’s subway system, somehow felt appropriately grungy and fitting. I had a theme, a setting, and a recent long trip—more than enough writing fuel.

In a few days, I had an ink-stained first draft ready to share. My fellow lemon trees enjoyed the heart of the piece but had a variety of suggestions about execution. I put the piece aside to incubate, because I knew it would need another serious draft before it was ready to submit.

Draft 2: Revised on the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)

By May 2016, I had returned to San Francisco and written a second draft. The changes largely came from feedback at The Lemon Tree House. I intentionally rode on BART to observe and pick details that reinforced the authenticity of my story and its tight setting. A much more subtle version of the narrative emerged. I ran the draft by my regular critique group—Allison Payne, Allison Landa, Kathleen Boyle, and Eric Chang. Their feedback made it clear that my clarity and theme were lost among the compelling details I added.

Draft 3: On a Submission Mission

In June 2016, armed with two rounds of critiques, I wrote a third draft I was happy with. It struck a balance between the explicitness of the first draft and the subtlety of the second. I began submitting it and collecting rejections.

Glimmer Train rejection, August 2016

55-day encouraging rejection:

Dear Arthur,

We got a wonderful batch of stories in for the May/June Short Story Award for New Writers contest, and, though it didn’t place this time, “A Damn Fine Town” was a good read–thank you so much for sending it.

We look forward to more of your stories in the future.

Best regards,

Susan & Linda
Glimmer Train Press

Los Gatos Listowel Writers’ Festival rejection, September 2016

15-day form rejection:

Thank you for entering the first Los Gatos-Listowel Short Story Contest.

We received a high volume of stories and remain impressed by the excellent quality of submissions. Your story was read with care and we’re sorry to tell you it was not selected as a finalist.

Because of the strong caliber of entries, many wonderful stories did not advance to the final round. We wish you the best of luck with this story, and with all your writing.

Sincerely,

The Los Gatos-Listowel Editorial Team

Zoetrope: All Story rejection, December 2016

74-day announcement of winners:

2016 Short Fiction Contest

Many thanks to all who entered. We received some tremendous work, and we’re grateful for the introduction to your writing.

From more than two thousand submissions, guest judge Anthony Marra has announced the results, which can be found on the magazine’s website.

Narrative rejection, December 2016

28-day form rejection:

Dear art van kilmer,

Thank you for entering “A Damn Fine Town” in our Narrative 30 Below Story Contest. We were grateful for the opportunity to read and consider your work, and we regret that your entry was not one of our winners or finalists this time.

We continue to look for engaging new works to publish, and we hope you will keep Narrative in mind for your writing in the future.

Again, thank you for your entry, and please accept our kind wishes.

Sincerely,

The Editors

The Missouri Review rejection, January 2017

100-day announcement of winners:

Dear Writer,

Thank you for entering the 26th annual Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. We received over 3000 entries and were delighted with the high quality of the pieces submitted. We’re grateful to you for trusting us with your work.

On behalf of the Missouri Review’s editorial staff and our contest editor Jennifer McCauley, I’m pleased to announce the winner, three runners-up, and ten finalists in each category:

FICTION
Winner:
“Instructions to the Living from the Condition of the Dead” by Jason Brown of Eugene, OR

Runners-Up (alphabetically):
“The Witness” by May-lee Chai of Wilmington, NC
“A Small but Perfect Happiness” by Edward Hamlin of Boulder, CO
“And How Much of These Hills Is Gold” by C Pam Zhang of San Francisco, CA

Finalists (alphabetically):
“Anorak” by Ed Allen of Vermillion, SD
“A Parable of Fausto Bruzzesi” by Robert Dorjath of El Dorado Hills, CA
“Coupling Is Not an Art Form, Children Are Not Art Supplies” by Mira Dougherty-Johnson of Southold, NY
“Fat” by Cai Emmons of Eugene, OR
“False Cognates” by Ladee Hubbard of New Orleans, LA
“Up in the Air” by Lisa Lenzo of Holland, MI
“Walter Bombardier Tells a Big Fat Lie” by Beth Mayer of Lakeville, MN
“Many Happy Returns” by Maia Morgan of Jersey City, NJ
“16 Days of Glory” by Jill Rosenberg of Montclair, NJ
“Other People’s Stories” by Carol Smith of Kirkland, WA

POETRY
Winner:
Karen Skolfield of Amherst, MA

Runners-Up (alphabetically):
Nancy Takacs of Wellington, UT
Heather Treseler of Newton, MA
Marcus Wicker of Lansing, MI

Finalists (alphabetically):
John Blair of San Marcos, TX
Tiana Clark of Nashville, TN
Cassandra Cleghorn of Pownal, VT
Cristina Correa of Ithaca, NY
Max Freeman of Brooklyn, NY
Emma Hine of Brooklyn, NY
Carol Quinn of Reisterstown, MD
Alison Rollins of St. Louis, MO
Safiya Sinclair of Lenox, MA
Patti White of Tuscaloosa, AL

NONFICTION
Winner:
“Swarf” by Tyler Keevil of Abergavenny, UK

Runners-up (alphabetically):
“The Cataclysm of My Mother’s Spine” by Jamison Rankin of Ladson, SC
“The Magic Show” by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers of Conway, AR
“Nemerov’s Door” by Robert Wrigley of Moscow, UT

Finalists (alphabetically):
“We Who Are About to Die Salute You” by Caroline Beimford of Fayetteville, AR
“Taking the Census in Rural Arizona” by Geraldine Birch of Cornville, AZ
“Y.O.L.O.” by Jacqueline Feldman of Brooklyn, NY
“Pork Stock, 2013” by Carly Fraysier of Laramie, WY
“Marriage Proposal for Bachcha Mashi” by Madhushree Ghosh of San Diego, CA
“The Epic Unnecessariness of #wejustneedtopee” by C. J. Janovy of Kansas City, MO
“Shine for Me” by Peter Lang-Stanton of Portland, ME
“Up Fox Mountain” by Sarah Neidhardt of Portland, OR
“Dim All the Lights” by Natasha Orlando of Mishawaka, IN
“Area Woman, or Netflix is the New Crack” by Maureen Stanton of Georgetown, ME

The winning entries and select finalists will appear in the Spring 2016 issue of the Missouri Review, which should be out in April. Other finalists’ pieces will appear in future issues. Thank you so much for sending us your work, and we hope to read more of your new writing in the coming year.

Please consider submitting to our 10th Annual Miller Audio Prize, which you can check out here. The deadline is March 15, 2017.

Best regards,

Speer Morgan
Editor, The Missouri Review

San Francisco Writers Conference Writing Contest rejection, February 2017

30-day rejection after a nudge:

Hello,

The list is in the Contest section of the website: https://sfwriters.org/contest-finalists/
Best,
Tricia Skinner
Contest Coordinator

The Southampton Review rejection, April 2017

12-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for the privilege of considering “A Damn Fine Town” for our review.

We read your submission carefully and we regret to inform you we have decided to pass on it for publication at this time. We wish you luck in placing it with another outlet and wish you well in all your writing endeavors.

Sincerely,
The Editors
TSR: The Southampton Review

Boulevard rejection, May 2017

133-day announcement of winners:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for submitting to the 2016 Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers. We received many excellent entries this year, and we have selected the following winners:

Contest winner: Anastasia Selby
Honorable mentions: Dan Reiter and Faith Merino

We will publish Anastasia’s story in the Fall 2017 issue.

Sincerely,

Jessica Rogen
Editor, Boulevard
www.boulevardmagazine.org

Indiana Review rejection, May 2017

30-day form rejection:

Dear Art Van Kilmer:

We have carefully considered your submission, “A Damn Fine Town,” and regret that we do not have a place for it in Indiana Review. We appreciate your support and wish you luck placing your work elsewhere.

The Editors

2017-05-01 13:47:46 (GMT -4:00)

Ninth Letter rejection, July 2017

141-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,
Thanks for submitting your work to Ninth Letter. We’re sorry this submission wasn’t right for us. We appreciate your interest in our magazine, and wish you the best of luck placing your work elsewhere.
Sincerely,
The Editors
Ninth Letter

Gulf Coast rejection, August 2017

163-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for sending us “A Damn Fine Town”. Ultimately we didn’t feel it was the right fit for Gulf Coast at this time.

We’re sorry that the number of submissions we receive makes it impossible to respond in great detail. Good luck with all your writing endeavors.

Thanks again.

Sincerely,

The Editors
Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts
https://gulfcoastmag.org/

Copper Nickel rejection, August 2017

135-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for sending us “A Damn Fine Town”. We appreciate the opportunity to read your work, but unfortunately this submission was not right for us.

Thank you for thinking of us, and—

Best wishes,
The Editors of Copper Nickel

Willow Springs rejection, October 2017

168-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for submitting “A Damn Fine Town” to Willow Springs for consideration. We have decided against publishing your submission, but we wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.

Sincerely,

The Editors
Willow Springs

Draft 4: Revision Inspired by San Francisco Writers Grotto Class

I signed up for a class at the San Francisco Writers Grotto with Laurie Ann Doyle called Revising and Submitting Your Story for Publication. Laurie spent most of the class on the revision aspect and that gave me some necessary fuel. She encouraged us to never begin a revision without knowing the heart of the story. I did several freewrites focused on my protagonist from “A Damn Fine Town” and his desires. This helped me discover which desires were grounded in my story’s action, dialogue, or gesture and which were unexpressed. I wrote an enthusiastic fourth draft and got thoughtful critiques from Sean Marciniak, a new friend from Laurie’s class, and Erika Franz, a writing friend in Baltimore. I resumed submitting.

Slice rejection, July 2017

30-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur:

Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to consider “A Damn Fine Town” for Slice. Due to the high volume of submissions we receive, we regret that we aren’t able to respond to each submission personally. Unfortunately, your piece isn’t the best fit for our upcoming issue and so we’re passing. We wish you success placing it in the right home and hope you’ll consider submitting to Slice again in the future.

Best wishes,

The Editors
http://www.slicemagazine.org

Though the final sentence is hopeful, Rejection Wiki tells me that’s a standard in all of Slice’s rejections.

The Common rejection, August 2017

95-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for sending us “A Damn Fine Town.” We have read it carefully and decided that, unfortunately, this piece does not fit our current editorial needs.

Thanks again for submitting. We wish you the best.

Sincerely,
The Common

The Georgia Review rejection, September 2017

115-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

We are sorry to report that your manuscript has not been selected for publication. We thank you for letting us consider your writing, however, and we wish you the best in placing it elsewhere.

The editors of The Georgia Review
http://thegeorgiareview.com

Fiction rejection, October 2017

120-day encouraging rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov:

Thank you for letting us see “A Damn Fine Town.” We very much enjoyed reading it. Despite its many fine qualities, in the end we felt that the piece was not right for Fiction.

We hope this encourages you to keep writing and submitting. We’d like to see more of your work if you would like to submit again.

Sincerely,
The Editors

“Fine qualities” is a lovely, unintentional pun.

PRISM international rejection, January 2018

65-day encouraging rejection:

Dear Arthur,

Thank you for sending “A Damn Fine Town” to PRISM international for our themed issue, “BAD.” Unfortunately, after careful consideration and reading all the submissions we received, we will not be accepting your submission. It is worth noting that a rejection is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of your work, as there were many things that factored into our decisions regarding this issue, including the variety of ways writers interpreted this call and how best we could represent that diversity in the issue. We received many excellent submissions and are unable to publish them all.

While we can’t use your work at this time, we’d like to thank you for thinking of us, and we encourage you to submit again in the future.

Warm wishes,
Kyla

—-

Kyla Jamieson
Prose Editor
PRISM international
http://prismmagazine.ca

 

Draft 5: Theme Freewrite and Travel Research

I reviewed my submissions for “A Damn Fine Town.” After 18 rejections and 4 drafts, only 1 rejection was encouraging. Other pieces had earned more encouraging rejections with less overall submissions. This isn’t the fairest comparison, but it spurred me to do another draft. I returned to Laurie Ann Doyle’s advice about not revising until you understand the heart of your story. I did a 1,000 word freewrite about traveling without traveling. I also searched online for reasons why people travel in order to write how my protagonist would respond. It’s always fascinating to listen to my characters and let them get opinionated and judgmental. No one has a subtle or boring internal life. I shared a new draft with Kyle and a writer from my recent One Story class. I resumed submitting.

Ninth Letter rejection, November 2017

24-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,
Thanks for submitting your work to Ninth Letter. We’re sorry this submission wasn’t right for us. We appreciate your interest in our magazine, and wish you the best of luck placing your work elsewhere.
Sincerely,
The Editors
Ninth Letter

 

Lumina rejection, December 2017

33-day encouraging rejection:

Dear Arthur,

Thank you for submitting to LUMINA XVII: Resistance. Regrettably, it wasn’t right for us at this time, but we’re thankful to have had the chance to read your work. We wish you the best of luck in finding a home for your writing elsewhere.

We appreciate your time and your interest in LUMINA Journal, and encourage you to submit to LUMINA again in the future.

Warmest Regards,
The LUMINA Team
http://luminajournal.com

Black Warrior Review rejection, January 2018

71-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur,

Thank you for your interest in Black Warrior Review, and for taking the time to send us your work. Unfortunately, after careful review, we have decided the submission isn’t a good fit for us at this time.

We wish you the best of luck placing your work elsewhere.

Sincerely,

Black Warrior Review
bwr.ua.edu

The Nottingham Review rejection, March 2018

25-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for providing the opportunity to read ‘A Damn Fine Town’.

After careful consideration we have decided not to accept this for publication.

Regretfully, the volume of submissions we receive does not allow us to send a personal response every time. This is one such non-personal response.

Reasons for passing on a submission can vary greatly, and I know that phrases like ‘This didn’t work for us’ or ‘This isn’t a good fit’ are unhelpful. Sometimes, however good the writing is, a story just doesn’t grab the editors enough to want to publish it under the name of their publication.

We consider it a privilege that you thought of submitting your work to us, and we wish you the best of luck placing this elsewhere.

Regards,

Spencer Chou
Editor

Epiphany rejection, March 2018

29-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for sending us your submission, A Damn Fine Town. We look forward to considering it for our fall issue. You can track your submission here: …

Sincerely,
The Editors of Epiphany

The Normal School rejection, April 2018

128-day form rejection:

Dear Arthur,

Many thanks for submitting “A Damn Fine Town” to the The Normal School Online. Unfortunately, it doesn’t serve our needs at this time.

Best Wishes,
Krystal Cantu
Co-Online Managing Editor
The Normal School

 

Maryland Writer's Association bag and 2018 conference booklet

Finding Down & Out: The Magazine

I met Rick Ollerman, the editor of Down & Out, at the Maryland Writer’s Association annual conference in March. I quickly understood that he worked in crime fiction (most of my stories are literary). This took some of the pressure off when I picked his brain about writing. I admired how hard he worked for his magazine. He was knowledgeable about the genre and eager to recommend what to read to experienced readers and those like me, who’ve only enjoyed the occasional Lawrence Block Keller novel. At his seller’s table, he sold his own books as proudly as issues of Down & Out. And I watched him solicit a bestselling author for a potential story in the magazine. I commented that as someone actively submitting unsolicited stories, it was fun and humbling to see the solicited side. Rick turned to me and said, “Send me a story!” I mentioned that I don’t write crime, but would keep it in my back pocket. I went home and read the debut issue of Down & Out. Not only did I dig most of the stories and appreciate Rick’s intros as to why I should read each piece, but two of them reminded me of the style and tone of “A Damn Fine Town.” If it didn’t have a home in a literary journal, what was there to lose?

Down & Out acceptance, July 2018

85-day acceptance:

Hey, Art,

… I’d like to publish your story, “A Damn Fine Town.” Attached is a version with a couple of notes in red. If those are okay with you, just let me know and I’ll send you a contract. …
Rick

I agreed with Rick’s minor edits, withdrew my one outstanding submission to Witness after 123 days, and signed the contract. When the issue arrived in the mail, I rejoiced at my name on the cover with a very serious photo:

down and out hiding.jpg

Rick mentioned that Down & Out was able to offer “only” the Mystery Writer’s of America (MWA) minimum payment. This was still more than any of the token payments I’ve received for my published flash fiction. I joked with Rick and Kyle, “who says crime doesn’t pay?”

These 1,600 words are my first published short story. It’s a nice way to cap off a year of mostly flash fiction acceptances. Here’s how Rick introduced the issue on the back cover:

Issue four closes our exciting first year with the very talented debut of Arthur Klepchukov. His intelligent “A Damn Fine Town” is followed by film director and writer John Shepphird and a prequel to his award-nominated “Shill” trilogy, a bit of a teaser for those of you who may not have discovered Jane Innes…yet.

And it was flattering to read Rick’s intro above the story, the same kind I admired in the first issue I read:

Down and Out - A Damn Fine Town intro

Kyle was the first person I told about “A Damn Fine Town” being accepted. I’d still love to make a short film version of it on the grungy BART trains running to the SFO and OAK airports that inspired the story. So on your next early morning airport train, keep an eye out for Mr. Suitcase or Kid Cape. And keep an eye on your luggage.

I’m proud to share this process and the final story. Read “A Damn Fine Town” today.

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