It's a quirky story of a boy named Matthew who has a second person rattling inside his brain, in this case, a middle-aged woman named Suzanne. She's there like some people might be born with an extra finger, not really malignant, just one of those things that happens from time to time and makes Matthew a little different. She sometimes takes over Matthew and does things an older woman would do. She and Matthew have some dialogue between them. But she's not always there, which is why Matthew says "sometimes" he's Suzanne. But sometimes, he's just himself. On his own, he's not particularly effeminate. His father, who had daddy issues of his own, eventually hates the girly behavior of Suzanne so much he leaves.
The thing is, I knew I'd read this story before. I just couldn't think of where.
Finally, it struck me. She submitted it to our journal, the one where I'm a volunteer editor. I remember it because we, the editors, talked about it a lot. We very nearly said yes to it. Two editors said yes, two said no, one said maybe. While we were kibitzing over it, the story got accepted by Prairie Schooner.
How did I vote? I voted no, with a great deal of hand-wringing. It was one of the first stories with a split vote I'd weighed in on. Might have been the very first. Here's my note in Submittable:
I see why there's division on this. It's witty and quick and ultimately kind of sweet, but it hits a few wrong notes. Beyond "fell into a sar-chasm" (wah-wah) there's the tell-not-show of "Kev could never escape his dad's Stockholm Syndrome-clutch." I'm voting down, although it feels like in doing so, I'm voting against moms.A few days later, the story was withdrawn when it was accepted elsewhere.
The "sar-chasm" joke, by the way, is still there in Prairie Schooner, so I guess they liked the joke that I didn't. The line about Stockholm Syndrome is there, too. I feel some parts are edited somewhat from what we read, but I'm not sure. One of our other editors mentioned that Kevin, the father, seemed like something of a cut-out, just a one-dimensional boorish lout. I feel like the version that's in P.S. draws him a little fuller, but I might be totally mistaken about that. Maybe we just thought one thing about him and the editors at P.S. thought something different.
In any event, this story really proves what the WIHPTS series is supposed to prove: that fiction editing by literary journals is far from a science. I guess it's not a total crapshoot: the story did get our attention, so we treated it with more care than most of the stories we get. Both we and P.S. realized we had something worth taking a closer look at. But we still ultimately differed on whether it was "good enough."
Three other things to think about: 1) This story ended up getting accepted by a top 50 journal, so just because an "easy" publication turns you down doesn't mean a "hard" one will, too. There's a good deal of luck involved no matter where you send it. 2) The first two votes on this story were yes for us. The third was maybe, which led to more editors taking a look. If voter #3 had just said yes instead of maybe, our chief editor very likely would have accepted the story then, and we might have gotten it before P.S. The difference for one editor between maybe and yes ended up leading to two more no votes, which, had P.S. not accepted it, might mean Jones would still be trying to get it published because of that one near-vote. 3) I think I'd maybe vote differently on this story now than I did then, after more than six months on the job. You can't control as a writer how experienced or smart your fiction reviewer will be. So just keep submitting.
It's also possible to draw this conclusion: what the fuck do I know?