The Ruined Man’s Postmortem

I’m sharing the short story below, The Ruined Man’s Dream, because I’m done with it and somebody might enjoy a bit here or there. It deserves something, but not overmuch. The story’s story may be the best part of the story — I think at least there’s a chuckle in it for other writers.

A listing on Duotrope for a short story (under 2,000 words) based on a tale from the Thousand and One Arabian Nights caught my interest. I love fairy tales, tall tales, and interesting challenges. The deadline was two weeks. I can usually come up with a title in a fortnight, but that’s about it. Despite this, I committed and got right to work with research.

With so many stories to choose from, I finally settled on “The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again.” Anything Aladdin or Ali Baba related seemed too obvious. And, considering the word count restriction, I needed something simple but punchy. Since the original title gives away the twist, I switched that up and moved the whole adventure from Bagdad to the inner planets of our solar system in the mid-future. This may seem risky, except an editor’s interview on Duotrope led me to believe a more adventurous interpretation would be welcomed. The timeline was tight, and I’d developed the locations and some characters in this story-world before in a couple different short stories and a novella — short-cut tip there =)

After a couple drafts I shared the story with my inner circle, pretty happy with it. The feedback wasn’t great. Maybe fast writing wasn’t for me? I had struggled with resolving the archaic story structure, which pivots on the inescapability of fate, with modern expectations for a character with agency. Even worse, it lacked tension and my main character came off flat. The interesting part came too late to be worth it. Ugh…

The deadline was a day away, and in the middle of the night it hit me — restructure the timeline and change the point-of-view. It would echo the story-in-a-story convention found so often in the original tales. Of course, that would solve everything.

Actually, it did. Mostly. The details of the reveal/twist at the end had to change, as well as the clues in the beginning paragraphs. Most of the story switched to dialog. I ended up with a fluid sort of first/third/second person POV that hopefully feels natural. In hindsight, the punctuation is anything but. It was a heavy lift, but I revised, edited, edited, edited, and submitted by midnight.

If you’re a writer, you know how the next part went. It didn’t. Not for weeks. After a bit, the publisher extended the deadline a month. Hmm. Maybe not enough submissions? Then after an expected sixty day wait… nothing. Another month down the road, and finally something definitive arrived by email.

Accepted?

Rejected?

Nope, the publisher went out of business.

No regrets here, it was really fun to take on as an assignment. I recommend it if you’re feeling stuck or uninspired. After I submitted it, I ran the story through my writers group and they found a bunch of things I wish I’d changed. The version below is what I submitted, so there are issues with it. I’d love to hear your take in the comments. Ultimately I think it is good for a two-week effort, but I really need it to be just good good, regardless of time restrictions. Next time!

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