When editor Perry Terrell informed me via email that my short story, “A Stockton Wedding Reception,” will appear in The Ultimate Writer (September 2013) next month, I didn’t know anything about it. Neither the short story nor the magazine sounded familiar to me. The first thing that came to mind that this was a very old snail mail submission that sat in a slush pile for years before the editor got around to reading.
A virtual search of the old manuscripts—I’ve shredded the paper files months ago—turned up the short story. The opening line for the first paragraph was a writing prompt from The First Line magazine.
Paul and Miriam Kaufman met the old-fashioned way. They arrived in separate cars with their dates for a wedding reception at a community hall in Stockton, California, on a hot summer day where the heavy scent of cow manure hung in the air. The cavernous hall was cool inside despite being crowded with people dressed in their best clothes. The loud buzz in air was from people talking about the wedding and not the horseflies fussing over a cow pie. Paul and Miriam greeted each other when introduced by their dates, Jacob and Verde, who left them alone at their table to get some refreshments.
This particular short story was probably the last snail mail submission I made before switching over to email submissions two years ago. One short story, “The Unfaithful Camera,” was out of circulation when an editor accepted it for publication a year after submission. Several rejection slips arrived 18 months late since a putsch against the editor at a university magazine delayed sending out responses.
I’ve since rewritten and published “A Stockton Wedding Reception” as an original ebook, “Let Me Be Your Spook,” making the original version unavailable for first serial publication and the ebook version available as a reprint. I altered the writing prompt by replacing the period with a comma to extend the sentence and changing the names to make the story a prequel to my short story, “The Uninvited Spook,” about retiring old spies.
George and Gracie met the old-fashioned way in the mid-1950’s, arriving in separate cars with their dates for a wedding reception at a community hall outside of Stockton, California, on a hot summer day where the smell of cow manure hung heavily in the sweltering heat. The cavernous hall was cool inside despite being crowded with people dressed in their finest wedding clothes. The loud buzzing came from everyone talking about the wedding and not the horseflies fussing over the cow pies in the surrounding fields. They shook hands when introduced by their respective dates, Verde and Jacob, who left them sitting together at a back table to get refreshments.
Although the opening paragraphs are quite similar, the differences between the two stories are in the slant. Both have two people meeting for the first time because their dates were more interested in seeing each other in defiance of church rules on dating. The original version has the couple discussing church gossip and the theological implications. The ebook version has the couple discussing church politics in terms of a Cold War conspiracy, as both will become a future husband-and-wife spy team.
After trading emails with the editor, and reading both versions of short story side-by-side, I decided to let the original version be published after some minor editing. The editor has previously published my earlier flash story, “The Forgotten Sinner,” in Conceit Magazine (December 2009). The original version of the short story has the same spirit as that early flash story. Since the editor gave me a break, I’m willing to extend the same professional courtesy.