Several years ago the orbits of Earth and Mars came closer together than they had been in almost 60,000 years, and the planet was actually visible to the naked eye as a very large orange star. Viewed through an average telescope, it appeared about the same size the full moon does to the naked eye. There was a good deal of attention paid to it by the mainstream press, and one of the articles I read (in a magazine whose name I’ve long-since forgotten) was a piece about a professor teaching astronomy classes in a penitentiary, and they were studying the Red Planet.
As interesting as it was that Mars was so close, the idea of a professor studying it along with inmates was too compelling to ignore, and I wrote “Breakout” in one rapid burst. I do my best work when I write the first draft quickly , and was pleased with the way it turned out--except for one thing: In the first draft, the main character gets taken away in the end by aliens. Given the way the rest of the story went, I thought that was way too obvious. My favorite kinds of endings are those that make perfect sense, yet at the same time take the reader by surprise. So after a little thinking/tweaking, I hit upon an ending I thought was better (I’m not going to give any spoilers here; you’ll have to read the story yourself), and I showed my results to Orson to see if he had any suggestions. He liked the story and his sole piece of advice was to send it to Stan Schmidt at Analog. He said Stan liked stories with a sense of humor, and my quirky little “Breakout” (it’s only about 3,500 words long) would appeal to him. Stan did like “Breakout,” but not quite enough to buy it. He sent a very nice personal note, but that was as far as it went.
The next place I submitted it to was Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. From time to time I also write mysteries, and since “Breakout” was set in a prison, I thought it might appeal to them. Actually, I thought that the SF twist might make the story more appealing to them than a straight-up mystery, and although it took them three times longer to reject it than anything else I had ever sent them before, in the end rejection is what came.
I still felt good about the story, but at that point a lot of other things came up that demanded my attention and I all but forgot about quirky little “Breakout”…
…until a few months ago, when David Lubar emailed us at IGMS to say that he needed skip one turn in his usual rotation. Orson had arranged with David several years ago to write a short YA story (or two) for every issue of IGMS, and even though we switched that arrangement up when we moved from a quarterly to a bimonthly production schedule (at that point he started writing stories for us in every other issue), it’s still understandable that sometimes even that could be too much.
So what were we going to put in the magazine to replace David’s story? The issues when he’s not normally scheduled to appear are the issues when we have our audio features, but we didn’t have anything in hand that was short enough to fill that bill (audio pieces, for a variety of reason, rarely run over 4,000 words, and I prefer for them to be even shorter than that).
That’s when I remembered “Breakout.”
Normally I’m very hesitant to even suggest running my own material in IGMS. In fact, I’ve only ever done it once before (under very similar circumstances), and even then, I only suggest it; I never unilaterally decide. So I sent “Breakout” to our managing editor, Kathleen Bellamy, and to Uncle Orson, and with their unanimous consent, the story was then forwarded to Stuart Jaffe to record as an audio feature. Stuart did a great job, and frankly I was tickled to have another audio piece to add to my library. Publication is always welcome, but there’s something about having a story performed by a voice actor that really appeals to me, and “Breakout” is the third of my stories to receive the audio ‘treatment.’
The moral of this story? Well, let me put it this way: Mars may need women, but IGMS needs short science fiction and fantasy stories under 4,000 words. If you’ve written a good one (or more), please submit them to IGMS.