So far my observation is that a writer should not allow any given story to become too important to them. I think it's a form of obsession.
But it has happened to me anyway. And that story continues to exercise its thrall on me.
Over 20 years ago, I wrote I novelette called "Masks of Flesh and Sanity." Even while I was writing it I felt that this was the story that defines me. In 20 years, it's gone through probably 20 versions, five different titles and a dozen endings. Every time I reread it, I think, "this is a major story."
I felt that way about "Labour Relations" - which became my first story sale and first appearance in a well-known magazine. I felt that way about "The Onion Test" and it was sort of an underground breakout story for me. I felt that way about "Fourth Person Singular" and received validation from the award nominations and great reviews and resales of that story.
Of course, I also felt that way about "Lifestreams" - which turned out to be a bit of a dud in the marketplace, but finally got published in a cool little cult magazine.
No such luck for "Masks of Flesh." In 20 years, I have not been able to sell it in any form, with any title or any ending. Not as "Penetration Dance", not as "A Valence for Violence", not as "The Blue Butterfly".
And yet, I have continued to believe that it is the work that defines me. I will concede that I may not have found the right way way to tell the story yet, but I still believe it is the story I was born to tell.
Yet On Spec and Tesseracts have rejected it; David Morrell and Karl Johanson have rejected it; Gardner Dozois and Gordon Van Gelder rejected it. How can I continue to have faith?
Dean Wesley Smith almost bought it once - way back in the beginning. But then didn't. That was when It was still over 12K - back when I still believed in it. Then it shrank, to 8K, to 5K....
I couldn't understand why people weren't willing to mortgage their houses to publish it! But clearly, they weren't.
Just last year, I read it again, revised and retitled it again although I didn't send it out anywhere.
When I started putting the story collection together, I realized one thing above all others: whatever I call it - "Masks of Flesh" has to be in there.
And now...I finally think I got it. When I started to serialize it on Wattpad, I got feedback about the first 2/3 of the story. And people went on and on about it's overwhelming creepiness, And I realized that I had allowed that creepiness to disappear as the story went on. So now, it's there all the way to the end. It's been up on Wattpad for awhile as "Masks of Flesh" and it's getting really good feedback. It grabs people and drags them kicking and screaming to the ending – despite its overwhelming darkness. If "Masks of Flesh " hasn't achieved the transcendence I feel it was meant to achieve, it's darned close.
But more importantly, I'm pleased, because it will finally be "published" – whatever the fuck that means – and maybe it will finally get out from underneath my skin where it has been living for so long.
If you want to read the current version at Wattpad, you're more than welcome.