Writing “Disappearance of A Serial Spouse”

Submitting short stories to markets and getting the right story in the hands of the right editor at the right publisher to fit with other stories in a given anthology or magazine is like tossing dice. Or maybe I’m throwing proverbial spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. No matter the figure of speech, only a few of my stories have been accepted on their first submission. Many are submitted and resubmitted several times before they are accepted for publication. Such is the nature of the short story world. As a result, I may write a story for one call for submissions only to have it published somewhere else.

“Disappearance of a Serial Spouse” is one of those stories written for a specific anthology call, but published somewhere else. So what was the initial call that inspired this story? Way back in the middle of the of the pandemic, a slew of short mystery fiction writers were discussing the many anthologies inspired by music on a groups.io list. (In case you weren’t aware, you can purchase crime fiction inspired by the music of Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Buffet, Paul Simon, and many, many more.) Someone suggested the need for an anthology based on one hit wonders. An editor liked the idea, and soon a call for submissions appeared. (Yes, this is unusual. Remember there was a pandemic on.)

I loved the idea of the anthology and went to work quickly to find a song that might inspire a story. And I found a song, one that played over and over on the radio around the time I got married. I’m ninety-nine percent sure that the DJ played the song at my wedding reception. I had my song, next I needed a protagonist.

The protagonist ended up being inspired by the news. I had read story after story on cold-cases being closed by genetic genealogy work. A serial killer was caught because of his daughter’s DNA. Bodies long-buried as John Doe and Jane Doe are finally being identified thanks to genetic database comparisons. Families are getting closure, finally learning that a missing loved one is dead, finally knowing their relative’s burial place. All of these cases inspired an idea for a new detective, someone who used genetic genealogy to solve cases. And so Maya Laster, a chocoholic, former school teacher and genealogy hobbyist turned genetic genealogist detective was born.

In my story, a client comes to Maya seeking family connections and hoping to discover why her father vanished during her childhood in the 1970s. Maya quickly discovers the client’s father was not who he seemed to be and that he had a very long history as a bigamist. Determining what became of the man required far more than Maya’s usual archival research.

The story also required research into 1970s era matters, since the disappearance happened then. I blogged about the research in a previous post.

I completed the story and submitted it to the anthology call, hoping for an acceptance. But then life troubles, business challenges, illness, and other complications interfered with the editor and the publishing company. Those who submitted stories were told that the anthology was delayed and that we were welcome to submit the stories elsewhere, but to let the editor know if it was accepted anywhere. Still I waited on resubmitting, hoping that the situation would resolve as the editor hoped it would. I heard nothing for months. The story had been submitted for over 500 days before I decided I should submit it elsewhere. So I sent it off again. And it got rejected. So I submitted it again. And it was accepted for Black Cat Weekly #79. AND it’s the “featured story” mentioned on the cover!

What one hit wonder song inspired my story? Mambo #5 by Lou Bega.

A note: I heard recently that the one hit wonder anthology is still pending. I’m hoping it gets published eventually. I’d love to see which songs inspired crime stories for other authors.

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