I’m revising a story that was rejected twice this summer—by NewMyths and Strange Horizons. Peculiar, considering the fact that it won first place in a college competition. But at the time, I was up against only five contenders. These sci-fi/fantasy magazines get hundreds of submissions a month, and mine is just one of many. So I’ve decided to make it stand out a bit from the pack. Instead of being a simple coming-of-age tale about a male protagonist in a sun-worshiping tribe, it’s now a coming-of-age tale about a female protagonist in a matriarchal, cave-dwelling tribe surviving what remains of a post-apocalyptic world. The original version included a whole lot of hubris building up to inexorable defeat; the current work-in-progress has all of that and more: cannibalism.
I’ll never forget reading The Hobbit with my 8th graders one year, and we came to the chapter where Bombur the dwarf accidentally drinks from enchanted waters and falls into a deep sleep. By that point, Bilbo and the others are nearly starving to death and stumbling along, barely able to function. Yet they carry Bombur. “Why?” asked a student. “Why don’t they just eat him?” Obviously, this led to a serious class discussion, the theme of which being: Cannibalism is not an option. Ever.
So here I am revising my story, and what do I intend to include? Cannibalism. Not glorified in any way, of course; but it’s going to be integral, nonetheless. The protagonist has ignorantly accepted the status quo her entire life without questioning it. But now she must face the reality of her tribe’s ways, and she must make a choice: turn a blind eye to evil, or make a stand against it despite overwhelming odds. And maybe scream, “Soylent green is people!” while she’s at it.