Here’s another old post from my old blog. Still importing, and lots more posts from the vault still to come.
I take it as a distinctly good sign that the rejections I receive as a writer are getting more and more flattering. It’s just got to be good.
A few months ago I entered three things into the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) contest. I didn’t place in any of the three categories, but did receive two critiques on each piece, which offered some suggestions and things to think about, as well as some positive feedback.
The first thing I sent in was a story called “Lead Us Not Into Temptation,” (excerpt here) which I entered in the Children’s Short Story category, though I wasn’t sure it really belonged there. I wrote it for a creative writing class I took in college in Arizona, with one of my favorite college professors ever, Dr. Allen Woodman. He was hilarious and inspirational, and I wrote two stories out of that class that I still love to this day and would love to see in print. This was the second story I wrote for his class, and when we had our conference about it, he told me it was his favorite in the class. I’ll never forget that. Funny story, sometime last year I was at our local writer’s roundtable, a monthly meeting at the library, and they passed out a story for us to read, and it was a story by Dr. Woodman! Talk about small world!
Anyway, this story was a fictional tale of some young kids with a mean Sunday School teacher who tells them a scary story about what might happen if they misbehave, and how the children test that story. So it’s a story about children, but I wrote it partly as a story of religious hypocrisy in adults, and actually changed it some to try to fit it better into the Children’s Short Story category.
I got some great feedback on it, including some suggestions of possibly changing the ages of the kids (which has been something I struggled with myself, and am still not sure where I sit on that fence), but overall good comments, although one of the reviewers thought maybe children shouldn’t be learning about adults lying and that maybe it wasn’t a good moral to the story, hmmmm. That kinda made my day in a twisted way. Sometimes, as a writer, you take a little sick pleasure in rattling people who get easily offended. And well, that part of the story, I’m not going to change, because it was sorta the point.
The next story was called “Dark As Roses,” (excerpt 1, excerpt 2, excerpt 3) and is dearest to my heart. It was the first story I wrote for the aforementioned class. I remember starting it on spring break, visiting my friend Kelly and sitting on her front lawn while she was at work. I was just brainstorming then, something about a girl who sees auras, I knew her name would be Iris, after a song by Sinead O’Connor called “What Doesn’t Belong to Me” which had really affected me that January. Also, Iris was the goddess of the rainbow, and one of my favorite flowers. That’s all I started out with, her name and the fact that she saw auras. In the brainstorming, I realized she wrote an advice column for her college newspaper.
By the time I got back to school in Flagstaff, I only had a few days before the rough draft was due and I wrote like a woman possessed. It was one of those magical experiences as a writer, where I sat down to write and a story spilled out almost fully formed. I didn’t know any of the details until I wrote them, and there were so many. The story had layers, which is something I love as a reader, so I liked that. I had also just finished reading Angela’s Ashes during that same spring break week, and felt that some bit of Frank McCourt’s styles or sensibilities (in very subtle ways) had seeped into the story. Just in certain phrasings or expressions.
All in all, longhand, I wrote thirty pages. Then I had to type it up in a matter of hours to turn it in on time. I sat the notebook in front of my face and typed away, never once looking at the screen. Well, needless to say I think, after typing that many pages that fast, it was a grammatical natural disaster full of typos and mistakes, but I just didn’t have enough time to fix it all, so I printed out that way and turned it in. And it was okay. In class we laughed about it all and I explained myself. My classmates loved the story. I felt really awesome about it. One guy in our class, a cute boy with shaggy hair, wrote his email address on his critique when he gave it to me, which was cool. I have always really, really loved this story.
In the feedback from PNWA, again there were some great suggestions that made some things clear that I haven’t seen in the seven years since writing it. They pointed out some inconsistencies and extraneous details, which gives me some new insight that I think will help me make the story better. I also got this comment:
“This story has a wonderfully inventive plot. I don’t think I’ve read anything this original in a long time.” This, written by someone who has probably read dozens of stories for this contest. I don’t think any compliment could really warm my heart so much as that one. Isn’t that what every artist of every type really strives for, deep down, to be unquestionably original? It felt really fucking good to read that.
The last thing I submitted to the contest was my book, Moonchild. They asked for a synopsis and first few chapters, totaling 28 pages. So I sent just that, and in both of these critiques, there was very little suggestion or critique at all, and the ones there were were so minor. It really made my day to read these, even though I didn’t place in the contest. Here are some snippets: “Imagery through metaphor is especially strong and insightful.” “Beautiful title and deeply symbolic.” “This is courageous and honest writing with painful memories, but described with painful beauty.” “WOW! What a wondrous mix of teenage angst and original experience.” And my favorite, “This is a work of art and a pleasure to read.”
Yeah, like I said, I’m just floored, in a good way. Reveling in rejection. Who knew that was possible?
- Another Rejection Letter
- Unbidden Praise
- Constant Eclipse
- An Amazingly Awesome Weekend
- You’ve Been Rejected – Now What?
- My WiP is Making Me Fat (& Other Writerly Truths)
“…one of the reviewers thought maybe children shouldn’t be learning about adults lying and that maybe it wasn’t a good moral to the story…”
Must’ve been one of the editorial staff at God Damned Fucking Shithead Monthly.
Of course kids shouldn’t learn about adults lying. Why, the next step would be to start noticing the way all people in authority lie, and how all the institutions that ostensibly exist for our welfare actually serve the interests of the people in charge of them. And we can’t have that.
Oh yes, the good old GDFSM.
But that’s exactly why I get a weird sense of satisfaction out of reactions like that. It was written to rattle a little, so in a weird way I hope that person was offended by my totally non-offensive story, because maybe it messed with their worldview a little bit. I wasn’t going out of my way, at all, to be controversial but it feels kinda good.
Am I making any sense or am I just weird? It’s okay if it’s the latter :)
No, I totally get what you’re saying. I love giving Mrs. Grundys something to clutch their pearls about.
I think your reviewer was the kind of person I was taking a poke at here:
Yes, I’m glad you got where I was coming from. Of course, everyone has their own place they’re coming from, but I imagine that reviewer as overly prissy, offended by curse words, okay with banning books that are too “inappropriate.” I mean seriously, kids discovering that adults lie is pretty tame.
I feel that there are writing communities where there are unwritten rules that things have to be very family-friendly and appropriate, and that always bugs me.
By the way, great article – I never saw that one before.
The ’80s were the absolute nadir of insipid, mindless “pro-social values” cartoons like The Get-Along Gang [squeaky voice]: “Ooh! Our friend is about to try drugs! Let’s help her in a non-violent way!”
I have not had a chance to read all of your writing that I’ve received so far. I want to take the time (hopefully tomorrow) to really read what you have to say. I have absolutely loved your writing on Breaking Bad, that’s how I found out about you. I am someone who loves to write but over the years have done everything I could to avoid submitting anything. I take writing courses on line and continue to tell myself to submit some essays, articles and short stories. I don’t think I’m afraid of rejection, I’m kind of used to that in other areas of my life. One reason I am so happy to have run across your writing, of course in addition to loving Breaking Bad, is that you have given me the nudge I think I needed to keep writing and submit for publication. You are a hero to me and I really don’t know much about you. What I do know is that you are a superb writer and that’s what I want to have in my life.
Enough for now. We just got home a while ago from a football game (my team lost). So I am relaxing a bit, no Breaking Bad to look forward to tonight, I’m going to try to get a good night’s sleep and start fresh tomorrow. Thank you so much for being you.
First of all, sorry for the delay in reply. Been swamped with school and work which started up the day after BrBa ended.
Second of all, DO IT! Submit your writing! There’s really nothing bad that can come of it except rejection, and it sounds like that’s not a big worry.
I totally understand where you’re coming from though. I hate submitting my writing. I hate writing cover or query letters. I hate it all, anything that feels like the sales and marketing side of things. Sometimes I even have decent marketing ideas…I just don’t want to actually do them. I always think that if I ever have money, I will just hire a PR person or something. I just want to write, you know?
So I usually don’t submit. I post on my blog here and then every once in awhile I’ll go and submit to a bunch of things. But the problem is, because I do it so sporadically (like once every other year), I often miss deadlines, or find out about stuff in time to submit but realize my piece isn’t ready yet, needs more editing, etc. I think if I was playing the submitting game more regularly, I wouldn’t keep missing all these opportunities. But it’s not easy.
Still, DO IT!