The Surgeon Symphonies (Black Ice Magazine) and a valuable writing lesson learned

Plague Rave – Artwork by Alex Gavrilas

I am happy that my speculative fiction story, The Surgeon Symphonies, is part of the inaugural issue of Black Ice Magazine (John K. Webb Editor).  This new magazine is best described as cyberpunk: aggressively dystopian glimpses of the future where technology has advanced to the detriment of society.

The Surgeon Symphonies is written as a near future music article, in which a new genre of music has taken root.  It deals with themes of music as a philosophical construct, classism, the wage gap, runaway technology, and of course the existential angst of mortality, the underlier to many of our pathologies.  Thanks to Better Futures Press and Black Ice Magazine for publishing.

I first conceived and wrote this short story well over a year ago as I was first starting to write for submission calls.  Rejection followed rejection for this story, but I kept rewriting each time I sent to a new market.  As I was becoming a better writer, the story took better and better form and gained depth.  Still, I couldn’t get it accepted.

My initial submission to Black Ice Magazine was yet another rejection.  Like most, it was a supportive ‘good piece, but not right for this magazine; please send us more of your material in the future’. However, the editor did say that he honestly believed in the idea and that it absolutely could work.

Along with its heavy philosophical focus, my story is sufficiently weird and fantastical.  The editor, however, told me I was holding back—if it’s weird then make it mondo-weird and dispense with the subtleties.  He offered me a rewrite, which I had never before been asked to do.  I didn’t know if he was serious or if it was just some unknown industry pleasantry, so I emailed him back stating that I would consider following his advice and rework it.

The editor gave me enthusiastic enough response (with no guarantees, of course) that I decided to give it a major rewrite.  Knowing they wanted super-strange (I assumed in the visceral sense) I ended up adding about 500 words of futuristic motion tattoos, elaborate external scars, and Pinocchio’s Anguish (you’ll just have to read it).  It was enough for it to be accepted; the constant, frenetic weirdness equal to what the editor had imagined.

Hence the lesson learned.  Understand the story’s central appeal and don’t be afraid to give the reader exactly that.

Again, thanks to John K. Webb and Better Futures Press.  Click on the picture for ordering information and a free preview of Black Ice Magazine.

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S.E. Casey

S.E. Casey grew up near a lighthouse. He always dreamed of smashing the lighthouse and building something grotesque with the rubble. This is his writing method for his weird, existential tales. Published in many magazines and anthologies, links to his stories can be found at

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