Tuesday, June 22, 2010


(Vacation Delay: I meant to post this over a week ago...)

Some standup comedian really should do a routine about writers.  The problem is, unless the audience consists of writers, people might not understand it.  

Take rejection letters.  Would a normal person get all excited and happy about receiving a "positive rejection letter" for which she has already, personally, provided the addressed envelope AND paid the postage?  The whole point of an oxymoron like  "positive rejection" is that it doesn't mean anything.  Yet this dry bone, tossed into the mailbox courtesy of a magazine or book editor, is enough to send a writer into canine paroxysms of hope.  Why?  There may yet come a time when someone--anyone--will actually read some damn story that's already been through 1,756 revisions and rejected by 37 magazines. 

In the days before email, most rejection letters from literary magazines were photocopied slips of paper with Readers-Digest-bland messages:  "While we receive many fine submissions, we can only accept a very few..."  DING! DING! DING! The You-Suck-O-Meter sounds its bell, and the Published Writers Club slams another door in the writer’s face.  I suspect that I'm not alone in trying to divine messages from these uninspired missives.  Did an editor scrawl his initials at the bottom?  Delete half a DING from the You-Suck-O-Meter. Did someone take the time to write "thanks"?  A whole DING gone, just like that! Did someone write on the back? (they never do)  If I stick the note back in the envelope and pull it out real fast, will the juicy words appear in some barely legible hand?: 

"Nice work. Send more."

And the filet mignon of rejections?  A personal letter, on letterhead, from the magazine's managing editor, saying that the story almost, just quite nearly, squeaked very close to actual acceptance.  SCO-ORE!!  Well, not exactly. These paper (okay, sometimes electronic) fans of the hope flame have a way of setting a person up for quite a sucko-punch.  Oh, boy! I've got an in! I'll send another story, this time personally addressed to my new BFF, the Managing Editor of Refinement Review (--what was her name?)!!!! 

So you prepare the submission, scan the story for typos, change the gender of your protagonist because you’re seized with the conviction that the magazine might "find it a better fit" (who knows), check story again for typos, re-print it, re-word your cover letter (a fine opportunity for creative writing since you have no new acceptances to add to your bio)…and you wait. And wait. And wait.  And six or ten months later, the hopeful selfaddressedstampedenvelope that you enclosed with story number two (without the SASE they won't get back to you at all) appears in the mailbox.

Don't think don't think don't think, you tell yourself as you enjoy a paper cut in the process of opening it- (maybe email is safer)-because from the skimpy feel of the envelope, your fingers already know that what you're holding ain't a full-sized letter.  DING! DING! DING! DING!  DING! The full Monty from the YSOM...Refinement Review has sent you a form rejection.  But there, on the desk in front of you, is the previous letter from their Managing Editor, whom you have recently added to the guest list to your wedding: "We strongly encourage you to send more work."

This M.E., you conclude, never saw the piece. Or maybe she did. Who knows?  Literary mag editors are, by definition, overworked and understaffed.

The really crazy thing? 

You’re going to keep doing it.  You’ll keep writing and sending out work, probably to that same magazine.  At least that's the kind of crazy I am.  

All of this does, actually, have to do with the promised blog post about how my novel got its name.  Not its title, but a name.  Like Fred.  The point is, writers are sanity-challenged.  After all, when I remembered I’d left my novel manuscript in a hot car in July, I panicked, fearing that it would suffocate.

Fortunately for us writers, most of us have friends who are also crazy.  I mean, friends who are also writers.  When I told my friend Andrew about the hot car incident, he patted the manuscript’s pink binder lovingly.  “Aww,” he said.  “You left Novelly in the car?  Oh, but he looks okay. He’s starting kindergarten this year, right?”

I’m happy to report that Andrew did not call DHS on me, and that a year after the Incident, Novelly is developing…slowly.   He’s going on ten soon.  By the time he’s fourteen, I might even have him in shape for his high school applications.   I mean, ready to send around to literary agents.  He’s leaner than he was, more focused.  Knows what he's about.  

If I keep my wits about me, he’ll grow up just fine.

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