Dr. Slushkill (or) How I learned to stop worrying and love the rejection letter.

This is a story. It’s a true story about how I learned something important about publishing, and seven years later (or so) I sold my first pro story.

Way back in the dim mists of history, before the beginning, when dinosaurs roamed the internets (this was before stew, but after dirt), I was a wee bit of a scrap of a thing who wanted to be a writer. (It was 1994, 1995.) And so I read a bunch of articles on how to be a writer, and got the SFWA guidebook on how to submit things (in those days it was an actual book, not a collection of articles on their website, because we were just getting to the whole website thing), and I wrote and sent out some stories.

One of those stories was a very early version of “Gone to Flowers,” the first Jenny Casey story.

One of the places I sent it was to Tomorrow, which was in the process of becoming tomorrowSF and one of the earliest webzines. It was edited by one Algis Budrys, who you should go look up if you don’t know all about him.

He sent me a rejection letter.

It read, and I quote–from memory–


Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you for your submission. This is a good story, but it fell apart at the end. This made me sad.


At that moment I became a real writer, rather than somebody who types words on pages. Because I realized that the editor was on my team. That he was pulling for me. That he was not some adversary, some guardian I had to defeat, but somebody who desperately wanted me to send him a story he could publish.

That I just had to not make him sad, or at least not accidentally, and I could sell stories. Maybe many stories!

And so was the student enlightened.

And thus I abandoned my search for the magic Get Published button and turned my passion and attention on learning to write.

In 2002, I started making pro short story sales. In 2003, I sold my first novels.

In a rare moment of poetical appropriateness, they were the Jenny Casey books: Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired.

The amazing thing is that in sixty years, the Canadian Army will have gone to an entirely purple-space-pleather uniform aesthetic.

Posted: Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 @ 10:39 pm
Categories: Blog, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Novels.
Tags: , , .
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2 Responses to “Dr. Slushkill (or) How I learned to stop worrying and love the rejection letter.”

  1. SF Tidbits for 6/13/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog Says:

    [...] Elizabeth Bear on Dr. Slushkill (or) How I learned to stop worrying and love the rejection letter. [...]

  2. Anne Lyle Says:

    Great story – I had a similar reaction to an early short story rejection, although in my case the result was to make me go away and write novels instead!

    Re the Canadian Army uniform, I don’t imagine olive-drab camo would be much use in space. Maybe the purple colour indicates its ability to reflect short-wavelength, high-energy beam weapons? But I’m only a biologist, what do I know? :)