Kill your darlings

I think it’s safe to say that we all have that one story that has gotten numerous rejections but we just can’t seem to let it go.  Chances are that if it’s been rejected at least 6 or 7 times, the story itself is flawed in some way.  I am speaking from experience, of course.  Since I have started sending short stories out (about three years or so), there have been two stories that I am very close to that keep getting rejected.  I sort of cheated and used one of them (“Golden Debris”) as the closing tale in Debris.  I feel justified in putting this often-rejected tale into the mix; it has been heavily edited and rewritten and, I think, makes for a nice closing story to the collection.

The other story that I keep getting rejection upon rejection for is a very odd horror/sci-fi effort called “An Untold History of Cats”.  I received rejection number 6 for this story over the weekend and yes, it still stings.  Look, I know that the premise to this story is ridiculous.  In fact, I rewrote the story several times because the plot wanted to be almost comical at first, but then the story went WAY off the tracks.  Then, when  I attempted to make it straight out horror, it was just ridiculous.  So I found what I thought was the middle-ground…but I am apparently wrong, if all of these rejections are any indication.

But the idea is just too weird to kill off.  Here’s an example of the narrative:

Two blocks over at a four-way intersection, he saw what appeared to be a moving quilt spread across the road.  Nick stared at this in the same stupefied manner as Anthony and it took him roughly five seconds to realize what he was seeing.

There were countless cats strutting across the road, walking through the intersection and heading east.  The stream of cats seemed to never end and even as Nick watched, the beginning of the line disappeared behind the last house on that block while the end of the line never appeared; it kept going and going, a horde of cats walking together as if they had adopted the flocking mentality of birds.

There were easily three hundred of them from what Nick could tell.  Probably more.  And they kept coming as he watched.  Tabbies, calicos, Persians, Himalayans, Siamese; a wave of muted colors with endless legs, marching with intent.

Nothing really scary there, unless you’re allergic to cats.  However, later on, we get this glimpse at the weirdness going on in a quaint suburb:

The sloping hill that separated the street from the flat and empty field below came to an end about twenty yards out.  There, where the grassy hill stopped and the open field began, were roughly two thousand cats.

They were still clustered together closely, as they had been while marching across the street minutes ago.  Some of them were looking around curiously while others bathed themselves.  Others sat on their back legs, sitting rigidly and not making any movements.  None of them were playing with one another or really even showing any interest in those around them.

Now, already I think we can see why this story has been shot down so many times.  I really do think this is an idea that seemed very creepy in my head but just didn’t make a successful journey to the computer screen.  And, in the event that any editor was enthralled up to this point, here’s a lead up to a climax that will most likely have anyone cringing:

The large obstruction in the sky seemed to be nothing more than a shadow at first glance, but large and with a solid shape to it.  It was cylindrical in shape and it moved like a windswept cloud.  Nick did everything he could to deny the first thought that popped into his head.  But the thing was at least half a mile wide and he was unable to think of anything else.

A spaceship.

The fact that he didn’t believe in that sort of thing didn’t matter all of a sudden.  On a morning where all of the cats in the county had herded themselves together into the largest open area in town, none of his logical beliefs of the world seemed to matter.

Now, I won’t spoil the ending in the event that this sucker is ever published.  But as you can see, there’s a lot going on there and it has been very hard to admit that this story might just suck.  Perhaps I should just kill it, butt here is a small little chunk of story right at the end that delivers that gut punch that I love to try to put into my stories.

For now, I think “An Untold History of Cats” will live to fight another day.  After all…it’s only been 6 rejections and cats have 9 lives, after all.

Please feel free to share your own murder attempts at our own stories.



  1. I have one story, a crime story, that I adore. It has been rejected 5 times so far and these markets (good ones) hold on to it forever. It is at it current market for 315 days so far. If I ever put out a collection it is going in it because it is a good story, dammit!

  2. From what is excerpted here, I think I can assure you that it’s not just creepy in your head (first time I ever recall cats flocking like birds in fiction, not that I read a lot of cat fiction) and it did indeed make a successful journey from your brain to the computer screen. I would certainly read more.

  3. I’m thinking leave this story as is and shoot for nine before making any changes or retiring it. It’s an omen . . . meow.

  4. It’ll go somewhere– I like the idea of shooting for nine 😀

    I have one that was accepted to the first place I sent it… and then that place closed. Now it’s orphaned and has been passed on by four other markets. Granted, not all were ideal for the piece, but it still stings.

  5. I’ve only just learned to kill my darlings. Once I give it six months, they weren’t as darling as I thought.

    Of course, you have something weird with the cats. Just sayin’.

  6. Maybe its just me, but are cats really that scary? Difficult to tell without reading the whole story. If you can make cats scary (and I think it’s a tough sell) then your surely onto something and it’ll find a home eventually.

    Good luck with the subs. If nothing else, you’ve piqued my interest and I’d have to read the piece if it lands somehere just to see how you did handle it.


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