Acceptance Isn’t Always Publication, or How “Evergreen Promises” Got Published

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

When are traditions worth breaking? When can they heal other patterns that hurt? My latest short story publication, “Evergreen Promises,” explores these questions and appears in print in Palooka #12:

Evergreen Promises

“I’ll never buy a real Christmas tree again,” I say as I flip on the car’s emergency lights.
“Huh?” My stepdaughter looks up from the back seat. Pulls off her giant headphones, but someone’s still rapping. Probably about daddy issues.
“Didn’t you see what happened?”
“What?” Her eyebrows squirm like I’m still talking.
“Turn around.”
She does.

Read the full story in Palooka #12

My efforts to get “Evergreen Promises” published:

  • ~1,200 words
  • 3 drafts
  • 10 submissions
  • 2 acceptances (yes, more than 1)
  • 7 rejections, 1 encouraging rejection
  • 1 withdrawal

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 more steps away than we think. Read on about this story’s journey and you may find what will get you over the next hump.

Draft 1—Xmas Story in November

In December 2015, I jotted down an idea that left me curious—what would make someone abandon a tradition of buying real Christmas trees and switch to plastic ones?

The question grew in the back of my mind for almost four years, until the first draft took shape in November 2019 at 1,400 words (about 6 pages in standard manuscript format). We were on the cusp of a cross country move and the family reasons for making the leap informed my two main characters. I chuckled at the idea of the story being a Christmas-themed submission, maybe published in a Winter issue of some sort.

Draft 2—Reading and Revising for Submission

I was impatient and happier than usual with my first draft. I only gave it a month before revising it. My wife took a break from her story-in-progress to confirm that the current draft didn’t need a ton of work. Unlike most of my other stories, I skipped seeking another critique and dove into the next draft.

Because it’s so close to the flash fiction limit of 1,000 words, I use my flash fiction revision checklist to drive toward draft 2:

  • Decide theme. When deciding what to cut and what to save, decide what your story’s about, then proceed along that theme.
  • Review in Hemingway App. http://www.hemingwayapp.com 
  • Slashing, in which a whole paragraph may go if it’s just unnecessary background.
  • Cut weak constructions like “it is” and “there are.”
  • Replace dialogue tags with short action-verb sentences. Do you really need that ping-pong game of “he said, she said”? How many replacement verbs have you cooked up for “said”? “Fumed,” “sighed,” “stated,” “pronounced,” “averred”…Cut “he said” and, in its place, put a short action-verb sentence. That will identify the speaker and build some action. Not “I don’t like you,” she said. but “I don’t like you.” She yawned. That way, you can cut the next two sentences, which were all about how boring she found him.
  • Replace “very”, “only”, “just” with stronger verbs and adjectives.
  • Cut creeping A&B-ism. “I am sick and tired of your constant and never-ending fits and tantrums.” Nah. “I’m tired of your tantrums.”
  • Review adjectives (iA Writer)
  • Review adverbs (iA Writer)
  • Review verbs (iA Writer)
  • Review in Pro Writing Aid.

This cut down over 200 words, which is considerable for a 1,400 word story.

I make my first submissions at the end of 2019.

The Baltimore Review rejection, “Rituals” theme, January 2020

55-day form rejection

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for sending us your work to consider for our summer contest. Although your work was not selected for a prize, I want you to know that we enjoyed reading the many poems, short stories, and creative nonfiction pieces with the “Rituals” theme, and decisions were often difficult. 

I hope that you enjoyed writing on this theme and that you will soon be able to place the work in another publication.

See long lists of other publication possibilities at http://newpages.com/ , http://www.pw.org/literary_magazines?&perpage=* , https://www.facebook.com/groups/35517751475/, and https://creativewritersopps.blogspot.com/ .

Thanks again.

Sincerely,

Barbara Westwood Diehl
The Baltimore Review

“Rituals” felt like a strong theme for this story, but it didn’t earn an encouraging rejection from The Baltimore Review.

Electric Literature rejection, April 2020

121-day form rejection

Dear Arthur,

Thank you for sending us your work; while it was not a fit for Electric Literature, we appreciate the chance to consider it.

Sincerely,

Editors,
Electric Literature

Narrative rejection, May 2020

37-day encouraging rejection

Dear art: 

Thank you for sending your work to Narrative. We are always grateful for the opportunity to review new work, and we have given “Evergreen Promises” close attention and careful consideration. We regret, however, that “Evergreen Promises” does not meet our needs at this time. We hope that you will keep us in mind in the future. 

Sincerely, 

The Editors 

I’m always glad to see encouragement to submit again. Nice to know another person saw something in this draft.

The Harvard Advocate rejection, May 2020

82-day form rejection

Dear Arthur,

Thank you for your submission to the Harvard Advocate. Though we appreciated the chance to read your work, I’m sorry to let you know that your story was not selected by the board for publication or as a finalist for the Begley prize. We wish you the best of luck with your writing, and we hope the piece finds a home elsewhere.

Sincerely,
The Fiction Board

Ninth Letter rejection, “Debts” theme, June 2020

85-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

I thought the “Debts” theme might be a stretch, unless you consider the emotional debt we owe to traditions both good and bad. But Ninth Letter publishes solid stuff; I’m glad I tried.

Finding Palooka

I found Palooka through Jonathan Starke’s nonfiction in Gulf Coast. I found his nonfiction so enjoyable and emotionally resonant, I mistook it for fiction (as did Gulf Coast, briefly, when they published his work online). That mischaracterization led me to emailing him, finding Palooka, and enjoying the fiction he’s chosen to publish in the magazine. Across the previous three years, I’d submitted six stories—three separate short stories and a batch of three flash fictions. All came back with speedy, encouraging rejections.

Jonathan Starke’s heartrending novel, You’ve Got Something Coming, has a father and daughter at the core of the story. I imagined that after all the time he spent with his pair of characters, Jonathan might be receptive to my very brief take on another father/daughter dynamic in “Evergreen Promises.”

Palooka Acceptance #1, August 2020

67-day response

Hi Art,

How are you doing?

“Evergreen Promises” is very good. Is it still available? If so, there are some slight line edits I’d like to make to tighten it up (nothing major). It’s something I’d do and send it over to see if you’re agreeable before accepting. Does that work for you? I’m offering this now rather than later because this piece is brief and already very tight. I also know you’re particular with what you do, so if we can come to terms on the changes beforehand, that’s better than concerns later.

Best,
Jonathan

After his previous encouraging rejections, I was excited to work with Jonathan. I accepted and withdrew my one outstanding submission of the story to The Sea Letter.

I agreed with almost all of Jonathan’s line edits. We had a good back-and-forth over email about clarifying the relationship between the main characters—and settled on the daughter being a stepdaughter instead of adopted to heighten the threat of abandonment. He challenged me to rethink the title given the closing lines of the draft, but I kept it, instead rewriting the ending to reconcile the real and fake trees and what they both imply.

This part of the process is wonderful when you get a strong, thoughtful editor. Even the line edits made for a stronger story. I’ve had similarly great experiences with revisions after an acceptance.

Draft 3—Back on Submission

Unfortunately, soon after Jonathan Starke and I wrapped up edits on “Evergreen Promises,” his printer of ten years went out of business. Thanks 2020.

Instead of leaving my story (and presumably others) to wait in limbo, Jonathan suggested:

This is discouraging, but I’ll hopefully figure something out in time. In regard to your story, it’s tighter now, and I like what you’ve done. I’d suggest continuing to submit this around and see what happens. It’ll definitely get picked up. Sorry about this, but I hope my edits were at least helpful. 

That email saddened me, not because I wouldn’t see my words in Palooka as soon as I’d hoped, but because we may not have Palooka to read. I’d seen a handful of journals permanently close their doors since I started submitting, but I hadn’t been this close to one that was threatened by circumstance.

I wished Jonathan luck, thanked him for his edits, called that draft 3, and got the story back out there with a hint of sadness. Acceptance doesn’t always mean publication. I reflected on the same question I ask when I get a rejection—where will I submit this now? (And occasionally, does this need another draft instead of another submission?)

Washington Square Review rejection, December 2020

103-day form rejection

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for submitting your work to Washington Square. We appreciate the efforts that have gone into this piece. Unfortunately, it is not a fit for our upcoming issue. Please be assured that your story was read thoroughly and given careful consideration by our editorial staff. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for it elsewhere.

Sincerely,
The Editors
Washington Square Review

Epiphany rejection, December 2020

89-day form rejection

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

Thank you for submitting your work, “Evergreen Promises.” Regretfully, we cannot find a place for it in our upcoming issue, but we wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.

At Epiphany we are committed to evaluating every submission we receive thoughtfully and respectfully. Many issues factor into every decision we make either to publish a piece or pass on it, from its consonance or dissonance with other work we’ve accepted to the simple issue of personal preference, which cannot be anything but subjective. To familiarize yourself with the work we do (and some of the work we’ve loved best), please consider subscribing to the journal at http://epiphanyzine.com.

We value long relationships with the writers and artists who entrust us with their work, and hope you’ll keep us in mind for other submissions in the future. Until then, do join our communities on 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/epiphanylit
…Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/epiphanylitjournal
…and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/epiphanylitmag

Thanks again and we hope that you are staying safe and sane out there and that all is well for you and yours in these horrific times!

Sincerely,
The Editors

Palooka Acceptance #2, February 2021

A few months after Palooka’s printer went out of business, Jonathan Starke wrote back that Palooka had found a replacement. Was “Evergreen Promises” still available? Yes, but I was still waiting on Washington Square and Epiphany to make their decisions. Jonathan encouraged me to wait for their responses. When they passed, I resubmitted to Palooka.

Dear Arthur Klepchukov,

I love the strength and authenticity of this voice and story. The father-daughter dynamic speaks to me as well, especially given that they’re thrown together, chosen, not biological. This feels raw and tender. I’d like to publish “Evergreen Promises” in Issue #12 of Palooka. Thank you for submitting such wonderful work.

What you need to do:

[ Steps omitted for succinctness ]

Congratulations! I’m excited to publish your story.

Best,
Jonathan Starke, Founding Editor

[ Terms of Publishing Agreement omitted for succinctness ]

Jonathan said ahead of time it may be a while, even as long as a year, before he had enough material for Issue #12. I appreciated that Palooka emphasizes quality instead of sticking to a traditional publishing schedule.

In the meantime, I got to brag about my mug on the “Future Palookas” section of the Palooka web site:

Screenshot of "Future Palookas" section of palookamag.com before Palooka #12 publication with Bianca Rivetti, Deven Philbrick, Kaitlinn Rose, Troy Schoultz, B. B. Garin, and Art Klepchukov
Screenshot of “Future Palookas” section of palookamag.com before Palooka #12 publication with Bianca Rivetti, Deven Philbrick, Kaitlinn Rose, Troy Schoultz, B. B. Garin, and Art Klepchukov

In Print, March 2022

“Evergreen Promises” finally found a home and after a patient year, my beautiful copies of Palooka #12 arrived. The new printer did a fantastic job.

Bianca Rivetti Burattini’s art is great inside as well. So far, I really dug B. B. Garin’s “Retrograde” story and both of Kaitlinn Rose’s poems, especially “Enough to Build Your Castle.”

Read “Evergreen Promises” in Palooka #12.

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