Time Lapse

by Arthur Pinte


I am a Philosophy professor at a college in Fairbanks, Alaska.

One summer my son shows me a collection of short stories he is reading, titled The Time Machine. The book is something of a literary sensation — the flavor of the season — having forged its way to the top of the best-seller lists and in the process beating out the memoirs of a well-known right-wing political blowhard.

The volume is a collection of stories, all by different authors, written on the common theme of time travel. The title is no doubt a nod to H. G. Wells’ famous work. My son keeps telling me I must read it, and eventually I do.

The anthology is, on the whole, very enjoyable. The stories are of varying quality, some excellent, some not so hot. I think maybe I can write something as good as some of them myself.

So one day in December, after the Christmas festivities are over and I’m sitting twiddling my thumbs — in truth there isn’t much to do in Fairbanks, Alaska between the December festivities and the start of the Iditerod other than thumb-twiddling and not freezing to death — I decide to give it a shot. Being of a philosophical bent and always having been intrigued by the idea of time travel — the grandfather paradox and all that — I think I can put together something halfway decent.

A few days later, there it is. “Time Lapse.” My first literary work. Not Kafka or Joyce, to be sure, but not bad nonetheless. If I do say so myself.

I should point out that I have no plans to publish the story at this time. I wrote it only for my own amusement — and that of my kids, if they ever deign to read it — and it has served its purpose well in that regard. My wife is not quite so amused, the poor woman having been subjected to a thousand revisions of the story, each more minor than the last. But that’s another matter.

Anyway, I send the story to one of my professional colleagues, a well-known figure in the world of Philosophy, who happens also to be a published science fiction writer. He reads the story, likes it, and, somewhat to my surprise, suggests that I try to publish it.

So, I think, why not? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I send the story to a slew of literary magazines: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Mystery, Mainstream, Serious, Wacky... Some famous, some obscure. Some highly-renowned, some not. Even a couple of gay ones.

And they all reject it! One after the other. The rejection notes run the gamut of political correctness and tact:

“Dear Mr. Pinte, Thank you for letting us see “Time Lapse.” We are not in the market for this type of material at present...”

“Dear Mr. Pinte, we have decided not to publish “Time Lapse.” Thank you for thinking of us, we do hope that...”

“Dear Mr. Pinte, we have read with interest your short piece. We enjoyed the story very much. However, due to the large number...”

Now, I’m not exactly devastated by the news. Firstly, as you recall, I hadn’t intended to publish the thing in the first place. Secondly, I’m well aware that writers of all stripes face rejection, the über-example being Stephen King, perhaps the most commercially successful writer of all time, who apparently papered his entire kitchen with pretty little pink rejection slips before receiving a contract for his first novel. Thirdly, I have a somewhat successful career as an academic, and I’m not about to give up my day job.

Also, having published several articles in my discipline, I’m not exactly a stranger to the pink slip. The R in my middle name actually stands for Rejection, though some people think it’s Raymond.

I dust myself off, go on with my life, and write a few more stories.

A few months later, I’m reading over “Time Lapse” for the umpteenth time, but the first time in a while, and I come upon a revelation: it actually kind of sucks! If I were an editor, I wouldn’t want to publish something like that, either.

So I sit down and rewrite the story. Big time. We’re talking major overhaul here, not minor fix-up. I revamp the stilted dialogue, show rather than tell, turn the static into the dynamic, add immediacy, vibrancy, and verve. (Of course, I thought I had done all that the first time around.) Anyway, it’s better now. Still not Kafka or Joyce, but what you gonna do?

I would quite like to publish it. But I’m faced with a problem. I sent the previous version to all the journals I could think of and they all rejected it. I don’t want to send the story back to the same places.

So I pull up a list of alternative literary journals on my computer and come across this obscure little magazine called The McMuffin, published out of a community college somewhere in the Northwest. Not oriented towards science fiction, but I think, what the hell, shouldn’t be too hard to publish in something like that, right?

I send the revamped version of “Time Lapse” to The McMuffin. A couple of days later, I open my Inbox and there is an email from the The McMuffin. Now in my — admittedly short and thus far unsuccessful — career as a writer, I’ve received a few of these quick responses from journals.

Usually, they inform that the journal is currently closed to short fiction and that the writer should resend his or her story at a specified later date. Sometimes they are ads offering subscriptions to the magazine at reduced rates. One was an announcement that the magazine was closing its doors.

So, as you might imagine, I open the email without a great deal of enthusiasm. It reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Pinte

Thank you for submitting “Time Lapse” to The McMuffin. Although we are unable to publish your work, we thank you for the opportunity to review it.

The McMuffin is a journal that lives beyond the edge, and seeks to explore the boundaries, of existence. Our editorial process reflects our unique character.

We have a thorough and vigorous review procedure. We read every manuscript with the utmost care and give each one the attention we feel it deserves. The process can be quite lengthy. This accounts for our inordinately long delay in responding to your submission.

Please be assured that our tardiness in this matter is a direct reflection of the respect we accord to those who grace us with their words. Those who have done so in the past and those who will do so in the future.

Sincerely,

Peter Spires, Chief Editor

Seeks to explore the boundaries of existence! Those who grace us with their words! Pretentious claptrap and silly overblown rhetoric.

And The McMuffin has evidently found a new angle on tactful: “We give each one the attention we feel it deserves... inordinately long delay... our tardiness is a direct reflection of the respect...

They have the nerve to send this out two days after submission!

I delete the email and vow to forget about it.

But I don’t. I can’t. As mentioned above, I’m used to this story being rejected, but this episode is more than a little irksome. It’s downright insulting! Are they extracting the michael? Poking fun at lil’ ole me?

I stew on this for a few days, then decide on a plan of revenge. Revenge of a literary nature.

I will prepare a little, thinly veiled memoir piece satirizing the treatment “my words” have received from The McMuffin, and send this piece back there as a new submission. I don’t expect them to publish it, of course, but I will have the last laugh. The editor will be mortified — or so I think.

I knock the story off in a couple of hours — it more or less writes itself. A triumph of irony and snide containing several pointed put-downs of The McMuffin and its editorial policy.

I’m sitting in front of my computer getting ready to send it. I go to the file of deleted emails and find the relevant item.

From
The McMuffin
Subject
Time Lapse
Date Sent
8/25/2002
Size
0 KB

Just as I’m about to hit the Reply button, I happen to notice the size of the file and the date on the email. Zero K’s? And August 25, 2002 was nine years ago! It has to be a mistake. How could that be, though? Those things are recorded electronically.

I read the letter over again and notice the peculiar emphasis. What struck me as pretentious before now seems strange — a journal that “lives beyond the edge of... existence”?

Out of curiosity, I decide to check out the journal’s website www.mcmuffin.org but the link doesn’t work. (Try it, you’ll see.)

Then I Google "The McMuffin". There are a huge number of hits but almost all of them refer to the breakfast sandwich.

Eventually, I come to a small Wikipedia entry for the magazine:

The McMuffin was an American literary journal published between 1996 and 2003. It was founded by Peter Spires, a professor of English at Burkitt Community College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The journal became defunct after Spires was killed in a car crash in September of 2002.

The dead evidently have no sense of time!

I open my database of Literary Journals and Magazines and scroll down to the appropriate section. Alternate Dimensions, Bedlamic Fiction, Bewildering Stories...


Copyright © 2012 by Denis Bell

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