Ragnar's Saga

The Story Behind the Story

The Sobriety Test

Posted by Christopher Hivner on April 15, 2010 at 1:45 PM

The Sobriety Test is the old man of my stories, the first draft was written in 1984. I was only a year out of high school and my horror stories up to then were light on plot, nonexistent in character development and heavy on description scribed to be as disgusting and gut-wrenching as possible. This, as it turns out, is a pretty common starting point for the writer of horror. The Sobriety Test was one of the first stories I wrote where I tried to really get inside the character’s head and realize what made them do what they did.


I didn’t start with a fully formed idea either. All I had was a picture in my head of a man driving and hallucinating that he had run over his boss in a drunken rage. I wrote this scene with a descriptive passage I really liked and created the story from this scrap.


Several years and drafts later The Sobriety Test was a young buck, confident and ready to go out and conquer the world. Or so I thought. I started submitting the story and it began collecting rejections in plain white envelopes. Taking punches as if it were the Bayonne Bleeder, The Sobriety Test crawled back home battered and bruised. Two people helped me clean it up and re-shape it to make it better.


The first was the editor of Redcat Horror Magazine whose name I unfortunately can’t remember. He had rejected plenty of my early stories but was always friendly and explained why he rejected it. I didn’t always agree with his assessment but I did with The Sobriety Test. He showed me that it was unfocused and had some scenes that were like uninvited party guests: they were distracting from the real story. So I did a complete re-write.


Newly gussied up like Aunt Martha going to town on Saturday night, The Sobriety Test was put back out on the market. But the rejections kept coming, flying into my mail box like mosquitoes, sucking the life out of me. The story got compliments but no one wanted to take it home. Then I got another suggestion, this one from my friend Rob, to make the cop in the story a bit more of a hard ass when dealing with Cliff the drunk driver. I didn’t go quite as far as Rob suggested but did give him more of an attitude and consequently increased Cliff’s belligerence which made the story livelier.


To quote ZZ Top: “With its New York brim and gold tooth displayed”, The Sobriety Test sauntered away from home the epitome of cool. This was its time; someone was going to make it a star.


Or not.


The Sobriety Test was rejected again and again and again. And again. To go along with its record as my oldest story it is also my most rejected, having had the door slammed in its face 21 times. No one ever completely trashed it and many had nice things to say but no one was interested in publishing The Sobriety Test. Not Haunts, 2 A.M., After Hours, Glimpses, Hor-Tasy, Unreality, or Palace Corbie. Redcat said no as did Night Terrors, Twisted Magazine, Musing Magazine, Talebones, Nocturnal Mutterings and Lathered in Crimson. Going Postal wasn’t interested, nor was Vampire Dan’s Story Emporium, Brutarian, Genre Tango, Happy or The Unknown Writer.


After every rejection I would re-read The Sobriety Test trying to find the missing ingredient but it finally seemed right to me, so I would send it back out. Finally, after 7 years of trying, The Sobriety Test was accepted by Bare Bone. Unfortunately Bare Bone didn’t get a chance to publish it before I put my collection together so The Spaces Between Your Screams was the first time the story was printed.


The Sobriety Test is finally at peace with the world that kicked it around.

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