After an absence of sixteen years, Ed Wyrick (who formerly wrote as E.L. Wyrick) returns to EQMM’s pages with stories in our upcoming December 2015 and January 2016 issues. The Georgia native is a retired high-school counselor and the author of the novels A Strange and Bitter Crop and Power in the Blood. His most recent book, My Reclaimed Life, is nonfiction and is due to be available in e-book format from Amazon next week. In this post Ed writes about an experience I suspect every writer has had at some time or other. —Janet Hutchings
After all these years, I was hoping The Kerplunk Syndrome was dead and gone.
Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web the same year I began seeking publication. That was in 1989 and the term “snail mail” didn’t exist. That’s all we had. Writers mailed queries and manuscripts via the United States Postal Service, and I discovered the Kerplunk Syndrome during that process.
I mailed about a hundred query letters for my first novel before Ruth Cavin, the legendary mystery editor at St. Martin’s Press, bought it. After about every tenth rejection from my query letters, someone asked for the full manuscript. I was continually working on the novel, so none of them received the same edition. I would reread my latest effort, being careful to keep the pages pristine, then put the five hundred double spaced pages in one of the special boxes I’d bought and apply the postage. I’d been rejected often enough to know how much postage I needed without using scales.
Then, I’d head to the post office.
These were the days before 9/11, so we could still put heavy packages into USPS drop boxes. I would take one last look at the address to be sure it was correct, make a sign of the cross over the box, even though I’m not Catholic, pull the little door down, and push the manuscript into it.
It happened every frigging time. The moment I heard the box hit the bottom of the bin, bells would ring and lights would flash, and I would suddenly realize why my novel sucked and what I needed to do to fix it. Because the manuscript was so heavy, it always went straight to the bottom. Believe me, once the manuscript is in there, it’s impossible to get out again.
So, I would go back to my front porch, drink my vodka, smoke my cigarettes, and wait for the mailman to deliver the next rejection.
Then came the big day. A phone call came instead of the “Sorry, it’s not for us” letter. It was Ruth Cavin and she made an offer. I said I’d get back to her after I talked to my agent. Problem was, I didn’t have one. I’d seen Robin Rue, who’s now at the Writer’s House agency, at a conference, so I called her even though the agency where she worked then had rejected my novel twice. This time I asked her to handle my contract and she agreed.
A month later, I was standing before the drop box again, only instead of a manuscript, I was mailing the signed contract. I dropped it in the box and . . . just damn!
The Kerplunk Syndrome.
It wasn’t nearly as loud as with manuscripts, but I heard it nonetheless. I suddenly panicked about all the details in the book. Did I get them right? I hurried home and began double-checking everything in the novel. It all looked good until the next day when I called a geology professor from the University of Georgia.
The setting of the climactic scene where the murderer was revealed was a cave in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains. I knew of several caves in Tennessee, but didn’t know of any in Georgia, so I had called the professor to verify they existed. I was absolutely certain he’d say the cave scene was just fine.
Not this time.
This time he said that while it was theoretically possible to have such a cave in Georgia, he knew of none like the one I described. And, since that was his area of expertise, in all likelihood there wasn’t one.
I was a high-school counselor at the time and was at school when I made that call. I hung up and hurried to the cafeteria’s mop room, a screened area on the loading dock, and smoked a pack of cigarettes while freaking out about the implications of having a climactic scene in a setting that didn’t exist. As usual, smoking cigarettes didn’t solve the problem.
As I was shuffling back to my office, head down and hands in my pockets, a teacher, who was also a friend, stopped me and asked if something was wrong. After I told him my problem, he said, “Make it a gold mine.”
“A gold mine?”
“Yeah. There used to be lots of them up there.”
I stopped at the library on the way home and found my friend was right. The north Georgia foothills had a bunch of abandoned gold mines. I rewrote the climactic chapter, made a few necessary corrections to set up the new venue, then mailed off the new manuscript.
This time, I didn’t want to take any chances. I went inside and handed the box to the clerk.
I anxiously waited for Ms. Cavin to call the whole thing off because she didn’t want to work with an amateur writer who’d sent her a flawed manuscript. I was pretty sure that would be considered a breach of contract.
The call never came and the manuscript with the collapsing gold mine was published. In the next three years, St. Martin’s Press published another novel, short stories appeared in EQMM and literary magazines, and I was on the cover of Writer’s Digest magazine.
Then alcoholism killed my burgeoning writing career.
Happily, I finally hit my bottom and got sober in 2002. Writing and alcohol had become intertwined, so it took a decade in sobriety to start writing again. When I began submitting queries after a fifteen-year hiatus, I found myself in a totally different world. Over the transom submissions to editors at major publishing houses were dead, and agents not only published their email addresses, most preferred using them over snail mail. Manuscript boxes are never sent through the USPS.
So is the Kerplunk Syndrome dead, too?
EQMM bought a story last fall, so I wrote another one and when I clicked the send button to submit it, there it was again—that moment of clarity when I realized the story must have a different last paragraph.
Yep, the Kerplunk Syndrome is alive and well.
It just sounds different.
The Klick Syndrome is as exasperating as ever.