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Story and comments by Bruce Bethke
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APPLIANCÉ: Author’s Commentary
by Bruce Bethke
It’s fun to look back on your successes. It’s more educational to look back on your failures, provided you can avoid that whole “wallowing in hopeless despair” thing.
Regarding this story, I wrote the original version of “Appliancé” sometime in 1982. I can’t say exactly when, except to say that I wrote it sometime after “Cyberpunk” and sometime before I started keeping detailed submission logs. From the records I’ve been able to exhume, it appears that it took me 25 tries to get this one published. Why?
Well, for one thing, this story wasn’t always exactly this story. The story as I originally wrote it had much in common with the one you’ve just read. It began much the same as you saw in Part 1, developed much the same as you saw in Part 2, came to a crisis almost exactly as shown in Part 3, and took the same neck-snapping shift into Barbara’s point-of-view at the beginning of Part 4.
It was the rest of the denouement that was always the problem. That, and the title.
In the original version, John was human, and after he stormed out Barbara wound up having a heart-to-heart with her bathroom mirror, which had a voice not unlike that of Joan Rivers and a nasty, manipulative personality. In the final paragraphs the mirror convinced Barbara to dump John. The original title was something that played off the Black Queen’s enchanted mirror in Snow White, and while I can’t remember the exact title now, I do remember that it was remarkably lame. Fortunately, I can’t find a copy of the Ur-story at the moment. The more I remember about it, the less inclined I am to look for it.
Between 1982 and July of 1984, that version of the story was rejected with little or no comment by ten different magazines—including, now that I look at the list, seven that have since gone out of business. Serves them right.
In 1985 I gave the story a complete rewrite, generally tightening and tuning the first three parts, but unfortunately giving it an entirely new ending, in which John was still human but Barbara ended up tossing him out and replacing him with a, er, “personal massage unit” with the synthetic voice of Barry White. That version was retitled “Murder in Barbie’s Dream Kitchen,” and in the next two years I shopped it around four magazines, one of which lost it for ten months. Luckily, in March of 1987 an editor who kind of liked me took the time to tell me the ending was not merely bad but repellently tacky, so I put it back on the shelf until I found time for another rewrite and retitle.
[Nota bene: In today’s market, I think that ending would sell!]
A few months later the story reappeared as “Mirror, Mirror,” and the manipulative bathroom mirror was back, albeit this time with a superficially nicer personality and the synthetic voice of Garrison Keillor. This version ended up being a quarter-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and started coming back from magazines with rejections on the order of, “Real close, kid, but the title is a dead giveaway.” So I took it back into the rewrite shop again, and this time emerged with a story titled “Appliancé,” which was exactly the same as the story you’ve just read up through the beginning of Part 4, and in which, for the first time, John was an android—and so was Larry, but an earlier model. This version got bounced by five magazines with ever more encouraging rejection letters, including an “I would have accepted it but I have one too much like it already in inventory” from Stan Schmidt at Analog, before I finally hit on the idea that “John” and “Larry” were simply different software packages installed on the same android chassis. I wrote the final version of the ending in the Spring of 1988, and immediately sold the story to the next magazine to which I submitted it.
Equally immediately, that magazine went out of business without either paying me, publishing the story, or canceling our contract. It took me until January 1989 to recover the rights, whereupon I submitted the story to Charlie Ryan at Aboriginal SF, who immediately bought the story and published it in the January 1991 issue.
By any reasonable standard, this was an unreasonable amount of work to put into a single short story sale. In the end, though, I think it paid off. People who read this story generally seem to like it.
Are you a published author with a Learning Experience you’d like to share? We’re looking for writers who are both willing to let us reprint their previously publishing stories and brave enough to dissect their own work for the educational benefit of the audience. Does this sound like you? Send QUERIES ONLY to brb[-at-]rampantloonmedia[-dot-]com.