If any of you are able to take a second look at your own work, and see ways in which to improve a concept so that it can be more successfully developed, the effort will be worthwhile.
Those of you who vote are allowed to assign a range of “0” to “3” points, per entry. Since challengers may not vote for their own stories, a bonus of 2 points is given to a participant's highest-ranked work, if that participant also takes the time to numerically vote on the other entries.
Official judges receive a 30 point allocation, to assign as they see fit. The only restriction is that at most, only half of those points may be given to any single entry, and there is no requirement for a judge to use the entire 30 point allocation.
Henry is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“Dear Mr. Hopkins, One of your children seems to have mailed us a thesaurus.”), but a little less sarcastic.
You're the Editor
Dear Talentless Hack,
Were you by chance going to the town landfill on the same day that you mailed your manuscript? We ask because it appears that you have gotten confused, discarded your story, and mailed your garbage instead.
In the future you may save yourself postage simply by not submitting to us at all. We will be watching for your name; rest assured that we will never forgive you for attempting to foist this load of pathetic crapola off on us.
With malice aforethought,
Henry: Yeah, your entry isn't supposed to count and all that. Great letter, though. I love the the suggestion that the "author" mailed his trash and threw away his story along with the threat to keep an eye out for future submissions. But I will honor your wishes and leave you out of the scoring.
Jack Calverley: 2 / miko: - / Vidad: 0 / xdpaul: 2
Henry: his entry does count and all that
Total: 4- (and the fact that it counts)
Dear Mr. Hopkins,
Wow... refreshing honesty! And yes, I shouldn't have this job. It was more of a dare, really. I just told my friends "I don't know anything about writing or editing, but I'm a great BS artist, so why not? 200 bucks says I can walk in there, insult the publisher, steal his cigars, and still talk enough game to get the job." So not only did I get the job, but I'm $200 and a few extremely smooth Maduros richer just for being such a prick. I called him an uptight old fart (I do it cool... people eat it up), so he said "You know... chutzpah like that is just what we need around here. You're hired!"
Feels good to get that off my chest. It's been bothering me ever since I got the job, especially since I schmoozed my way to a 25% pay raise. Oh, and I didn't tell you about lunch with Neal Stephenson. Coolest dude ever. Ahh, me... Anyway, on to business:
Since it pains me to think what you must be going through (the guilt is killing me), I'm going to do whatever I can to make it up to you. I see the genius in your story (well I trust your judgment since I don't know what I'm doing here), but what I want is more. More of whatever it is that you do in this story. I'm thinking an ongoing series in the magazine. Story in installments, whatever they hell they call it in this biz. But, since I don't understand this job, I need ammo to convince the boss. So here's the plan:
1. Make it bigger. MUCH bigger. You know... more boobs, more ray guns, scarier aliens, and make it big enough for 6 issues, and leave the ending a real cliff-hanger so you can get started on the rest of the year. Put everything into this one, man... it's your time!
2. I'm gonna need your help on the write-up for this, since I don't even know the lingo. Honestly, up until now I've been using an online writers discussion* to help me critique and choose the stories. Soo... how about YOU write up the critique and make it good. That way we're covered no matter what. I know a genius like you can make it sing and we'll be in like Flynn.
Oh, and one last thing: let's use a separate channel from now on. Keep this on the low-down. I actually talked my way into a 2nd editing job (I "telecommute" every other day). So I want you to send all future stuff to my alias at this publisher:
Bruce R. Bethke
Rampant Loon Press
Just to make it convincing, I'll write back saying I don't know what you're talking about. Play along, but keep feeding me stuff.
*OK, it's not even an online writers' discussion. They'd figure me out for a hack in no time. I actually use a service out of Taiwan that guarantees full anonymity and only costs $125/month. They're even working on my keynote speech at Worldcon, but enough about me now. Let's get your story polished up.
Ryc A. Mor
Editor in Chief
Astounding Stories of Amazement
Henry: Viscious, under-handed, snarky, and all wrapped up in a psuedo-complimentary manner which will probably leave freezer burns on the fingers of anyone who touches the paper this letter is written on. I just wonder what this poor Bethke fellow did to deserve such treatment. You may never hear from Hopkins again, but don't be surprised if someone named Bethke darkens your office door sometime in the future.
Jack Calverley: 3 / miko: - / Vidad: 0 / xdpaul: 3
Dear Mr Hopkins,
I read the manuscipt you submitted. After reading your manuscipt I was amazed and astounded at the depth and breadth of your submission. Fortunately for our readers. I am unwilling to subject them to the mental torture I endured as I read your manuscipt. May I suggest that any furture manuscripts be submitted to the DHS to be evaluated as potential torture material.
R Aset Editor
Henry: It's great to see an entry from you again! This one was short and to the point and left no doubt as to your opinion of the material. I'd suggest not using the word "torture" twice. At the end of the letter, something like the phrase "enhanced interrogation material" would have carried the same meaning without duplicating the word. Also, unless something has a well-known acronym — such as the CIA or FBI — I'd suggest writing out Department of Homeland Security.
Jack Calverley: 1 / miko: - / Vidad: 0 / xdpaul: 1
Dear Mr. Hopkins:
Thank you very much for your submission to Astounding Stories of Amazement. I don't think I've ever received a submission quite like yours, and that's saying a lot.
Unfortunately, I fear that my little rinky-dink magazine just doesn't have the appropriate level of gravitas required to host such an amazing story. So, instead, I'm forwarding your submission to one of our subsidiaries, a publication called Raging Bull Dyke. I'm sure they'll love your beautiful, large-breasted female characters. I'll even encourage them to include your address in the publication so that all of your new-found fans can shower you with their praise in person.
Henry: So, are raging bull dykes more or less likely be offended by larged-breasted female characters? I guess I need to get out more, since I have no idea. As threats go, I think this one is probably too subtle for someone of Hopkins' density. You'll probably get at least one more submission from him, likely filled with rants that you're not even qualified to edit magazines for Raging Bull Dyke magazine.
Jack Calverley: 2 / miko: - / Vidad: 0 / xdpaul: 2
- Jack Calverley
Dear Mr Hopkins,
I have to report that someone interfered with your postal submission before it arrived at our office.
It seems all your communications are being monitored. Your speculative fiction inadvertently made reference to some items of science fact which the authorities are unwilling to have released to the public.
I cannot tell you which aspects of your story aggravated them (they would not tell me) but they made it perfectly clear that neither this magazine nor I, in any future role, may ever publish any of your work.
The inane drivel which they substituted for your piece read like an early reject from the recent attempt to simulate a million monkeys writing Shakespeare. In fact I was reminded of those X-Factor competitors whose total lack of talent is apparent to all the world except themselves. I guess you've seen them too. Sadly from time to time the occasional ignorant narcissist with pretensions to write submits to us!
But I do resent the arbitrary imposition of authority as, I expect, do you. And despite your doubts about our editorial policy I feel a personal duty to warn you that if they have not already interviewed you: they surely will (unless they are content just to watch you. For now).
They didn't actually tell me that I couldn't contact you, but I probably should not be writing this. So this had better be our last ever correspondence.
I'm not sure whether Mexico would be a safe bet, but I guess Europe or Asia ought to be - if you make it across the border.
Henry: Welcome to the Friday Challenge, Jack! While it's not certain that Hopkins is a conspiracy freak, it does seem well within the realm of possibility. I like how you played up to potential fears while also slagging his story without appearing to slag his story. I doubt you will receive any more submissions from Hopkins.
Jack Calverley: voted! / miko: - / Vidad: 0 / xdpaul: 3
Participation bonus: 2
Thank you for your letter of the 30th ultimo. I am indebted to you for your frank appraisal of my editorial competence; a spur to self-examination and re-dedication is always welcome. Doubtless there are better editors than I, so I have forwarded your letter to the publisher for reconsideration of present staffing.
Thank you also for your accompanying submission. I accept with full confidence your contention that this is your "finest story". It is apparent you have taken our publication's title quite literally, for I do indeed find your story astounding and its content amazing.
In my judgment as editor, however, I have concluded that your submission is not right for this magazine. Consequently, I have decided to decline the opportunity to publish your story. I trust your evident awareness of this department's deficiencies will mitigate any disappointment you might feel.
I encourage you to submit your story to other publications as their responses are certain to be most edifying. Do write back when you meet with success, for to watch the forgone acclaim of a roused readership accrue to a competitor will be a gratifying lesson to us all.
Thank you for your interest and good luck with your writing.
Editor (pro tem), Astounding Stories of Amazement
Henry: Your letter has a very professional veneer covering some seriously high-level snarkiness. What I like about this letter is how you've managed to thoroughly insult Hopkins in such a way that Hopkins probably won't realize he's been insulted. It's much too subtle for the likes of Hopkins, but your fellow editors will enjoy it a lot. Well, up until they start receiving submissions from Hopkins as a result of you encouraging him to submit his stories to other publications.
Jack Calverley: 3 / miko: voted! / Vidad: 0 / xdpaul: 1.5
Participation bonus: - (The lone "Grand High Exalted Mystic Pan-Galactic Non-Scoring Non-Vote Bonus Point" you awarded was not a number, so you don't get a number.)
Congratulations! In what is, I am quite certain, the finest story that ever leaped, fully formed, from the mortal confines of what surely must be the largest and most misshapen cranium (due no doubt, to such intense and fevered content) since that estimable literary inspiration Joseph Merrick breathed his last, I can do little else but marvel.
An extraordinary work, this "Twin Dawns on Za'atar."
I'm sure you are well aware that no published author has ever intentionally named a planet after oregano.
Even more stunning is that you so cleverly use the motiff of the twin suns to subtly suggest the budding sexuality of the bioengineered twin heroines, Dawn One and Dawn Two, as well as their most prominent physical features, respectively known as Dawns 3 and 4 and Dawns 5 and 6.
My favorite line comes when the heroines realize that the sheer fabric of their form-fitting space bikinis are nanometers too thick for them to squeeze safely through the pneumatic bank teller tubes in order to orally deliver the urgent message to the President of Za'atar because email hasn't been invented yet due to the rip in the space time continuum.
"As the clingy fabric released its tender hold when the women simultaneously tugged at the material, the twin dawns of the twin Dawns dawned in the autumnal summer glow of the twin dawns of Za'atar."
It is as if you have invented a new language that holds a warped mirror up to English and mocks it openly.
The only thing I will change slightly in the story is the presentation of the hero, Ttereve. Not only is the obvious sexual subtext between himself and his alien sidekick Shep the Space Sheep too subtle for our readers, it is almost to the point that it is hardly apparent at all! Let's change that, shall we?
Nothing drastic, just a punchy, torrid and explicit scene of raw and naked passion between Ttereve and the Sheep. Perhaps Dawn Two should walk in on the affair, and run off in tears, finally realizing that his macho rebuffs of her advances have complex roots in his secret proclivities.
Also, instead of single-handedly defeating the villain's army with a space pinecone and a waffle iron, it seems a more natural creative choice for him to use subterfuge. I believe he should borrow Shep's space suit and pass himself as an ovine temple priestess, and sacrifice his body to the lusts of the enemy soldiers, thereby passing on his debilitating venereal disease to them, securing victory.
Of course, that means the inevitable elimination of the consummation scene between Ttereve and the twin Dawns, but it is a minor loss, I'm sure. It could easily be replaced in a later, collector's edition with an "author's cut" fondling scene betwixt man and sheep that would be too avant garde for even our progressive family magazine.
I have spoken with the publisher, and his recollection of you is such that you must be an incredibly busy and important person to give such a personal impression. It is, in his words, as if, "he has never met you in his life."
With that in mind, to spare you from the annoying details or distract you from more important ventures, I have taken the small liberty of making the above edits, and have demanded a rush on the publication calendar.
Your story will be in print and distributed electronically worldwide by the time you receive this letter, which I had to send via media mail in order to return the wonderful DVD you sent of yourself reading your unpublished poetical odes to the yttrium mines of Jupiter.
I have also included a payment check. It is, by far, the most pleasant 2 and 1/5 pennies per word (rounded up for your benefit!) with which I have ever had to part. I did take the liberty of discounting the slightly padded word count by eliminating from the final text all conjunctions, articles, pronouns and references to cybertechnology. They hardly affect the meaning, and saved me a whopping $7.32 (rounded down for your benefit!)
Finally, in the process of assuming the editorship at ASoA, I have discovered that we have a unique glitch in our spell-checking process. Our printer, unfortunately _reversed_ the name of your hero from the original. I will include a correction on the back page of the following issue, but I'm sure it won't affect the pleasure I will derive from being the first professional publisher to, at long last, expose you to the light of day.
Again, congratulations, Everett. No one in the publishing industry will possibly forget your name after this.
X. D. Paul
Astounding Stories of Amazement
Henry: I laughed out loud several times while reading your entry. Dawns one through six are inspired, as is Shep the Space Sheep. I should probably reduce your score for making me laugh, since the Boy cannot hear me laugh at anything without asking, "What?" followed by insistent requests to have the amusing text read aloud to him. Since I managed to avoid doing that, I won't hold it again you this time. On the surface, receiving payment for his submission seems likely to bolster Hopkins' resolve to continue writing. But distributing the story electronically is actually a far more cruel fate than that suggested in any of the other entries. Somehow, I think getting what he wanted will not make Hopkins happy.
Jack Calverley: 2 / miko: -+ / Vidad: 4 (I'll allow it. He used a number.) / xdpaul: voted!
Participation bonus: 2
In a cruel twist, the winning rejection letter is the one that accepted Everett Hopkins' submission:
1st Place: 16-+ points — “...the twin dawns of the twin Dawns dawned in the autumnal summer glow of the twin dawns...” by xdpaul
Congratulations, xdpaul! As a previous challenge winner, you have the option of proposing another new challenge, scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 14 October 2011, or passing the “Editor Hat” to the challenger of your choice so that you may more quickly participate again.
So what was the lesson of this challenge?
M: As a writer, you will see rejection letters. Cherish the good ones, learn from the kind ones, and try not to earn any that could have been mistaken for an entry in this challenge.