Submitting Part I

February 15, 2014.  

I’m listening to Passenger, a guy who sounds like he’s an old person, except you know he’s not.  Maybe it’s just because he’s british or welsh or something.  “you only know you love her when you let her go” seems like a pretty good lyric for the day after Valentines Day when you had the bad judgment to break up with that truly nice girl you were dating.  

This page, which I haven’t read in years, actually shocked me.  Who was that woman who had so much persistence?  That woman who found an agent and then parted ways but kept on with her search?  And let us not go into the volume of rejections slips I received for my first three short stories.  I don’t know quite what possessed me to document it, though.  But I’m glad I did.

You know, I’m still doing that persistent thing.  It’s just that I’m being persistent about different things:  about getting writing done, mostly. After the first agent went away, I now have the agent I respect and am proud to work with. His whole thing is that my job is to write good books, his job is to sell them and after a while, I will have an audience that follows me from book to book.  Awesome, right?  His name is Donald Maass and I like him a lot.

So, I have a pretty good book, The Secret War, one I must have revised 600 million times.  He might sell it.  He might not.  But I’m working on another book, Queen of Mercy, and you know what?  It’s good.  There you have it:  I’ve improved.  It’s because I didn’t give up.  I feel like a commercial for the Olympics or something.

By way of summary, I’ll just say that this page chronicles my experience submitting my first stories to literary journals.  It begins in January 2008 and ends in June 2008.  If you want to read from the beginning, you will have to begin at the bottom. If you want to find out what happened next, you can do that here.

June 30, 2008

Music Playing: Vienna Teng: City Hall. Me and my baby stand in line, you’ve never seen a sight so fine as the love that’s gonna shine at City Hall. (And now, it’s Gerry and the Pacemakers! Don’t let the sun catch you crying…  I don’t know why this is on my ipod, but I’m glad it is.)

Here’s a small visual aid to help you picture the last five days on the rejection front:

Prevailing Mood: For reasons most likely directly related to the stuff I pin up on my bulletin board and share with you here today: surly.

June 25, 2008

Music Playing: The Isley Brothers, For the Love of You. High school slow dance music.

In the pile of mail, one rejection from The Southern Review. For the story I sent in April. Yay Jeanne Leiby. You get stuff done, even if what gets done is rejecting me. And my first rejection of the latest thing I sent out, which is, essentially, the first chapter of my second novel, which does work as a short piece, although I’m not sure how well it works. From the Michigan Quarterly Review. I’d like to here note, for those who don’t know, that when the editor writes “sorry,” he might indeed be sorry, but he’s sorry about EVERYONE. I know that because I googled “Michigan Quarterly Review sorry rejection.” And that’s what I found out.

Prevailing Mood: Really fine. I seem to have no mood at all about these submissions.

June 24, 2008.

Music Playing. Duffy. Syrup & Honey. What is it with these young British women who sound like African-American blues singers? Why can’t we have actual African-American women singing this kind of bluesy stuff? Not that Duffy shouldn’t be allowed to sing what she wants, but who’s doing the choosing here?

Okay, so now that I’ve told you my feelings about current music, I’ll tell you that nobody rejected me today. They’ve stopped telling me no about my January stories. All right then! Let’s start saying yes, people!

Prevailing Mood: Caffeinated and, therefore, opinionated.

June 21, 2008. Music Playing. Girls in their Summer Clothes. I put this on, after searching for “summer” on itunes. The longing in this song is a little overwhelming. Do all men feel like this sometimes as they get older? Invisible? The thing is, you’re only invisible to some people, not to everyone. And I suppose it’d be interesting to think about who’s invisible to you.

Not a word. Of course — the reason I’m not getting word back on the stories I submitted in January is because by now the postage on the SASEs is wrong. And some journals won’t add the extra two cents it now costs to reject somebody. Like all speculation, this is deeply unsatisfying.

Prevailing Mood: I’d be disgruntled if I wasn’t away for the weekend in New England, visiting my friend Debbie, and having a little nostalgic morning in which I feel grateful to no longer be in college, to be an adult, to have the life I have, rather than the sort of scary, unsettled life I had when I was twenty years old So, let’s go with cheerily disgruntled.

June 19, 2008.

Music Playing. Etta James. I’d Rather Go Blind. (She’s not happy about seeing him with another girl, that’s for certain. I’m thinking, Etta, poke him in the eye with a big stick. It’s better that way.)

Let’s see, where was I? Oh, rejection. I haven’t heard a word for five days. I’m certain that’s because my stories are (a) lost; (b) great; (c) stunning, (d) under a rug; (d) wait a minute — did I forget to put stamps on my SASE?

Prevailing Mood: I’m going to New England tomorrow! I’m psyched! I’m going to see Debbie Freedman, my friend from college who is an amazing writer and illustrater and friend! I’m going to have tea with Sandi Shelton in New Haven! (Ditto on the amazing writer thing.) I’m going to go over to Wallace Stevens’ house in Hartford and GAZE at it. And then I’m going to walk over to Elizabeth Park, where many of his poems were composed in his head. I’ll be home Monday! I’m excited! Can you not tell!

June 17, 2008.

Music Playing: Neil Young, Long May You Run

Working late again, call home. Husband reports: not a thing, honey. Feel annoyed. Decide, okay, I’m going to e-mail someone who’s had a story for 150 days and maybe has lost it. Click the send button on that e-mail and immediately regret giving up fantasy that they have the story, and are thinking about which issue to put it in, which is why they’re a hundred or so days past the normal time it takes them to respond to submissions. Instead, realize I will have to accept reality, which is that they never got the story or, worse, got it, laughed a little about what a ridiculous story it is, thought they’d already rejected it, but since they haven’t, well, now they will.

Prevailing Mood: Not a hopeful hour here. It will get better. But it’s just not better at this exact moment.

June 16, 2008.

Music Playing: Dire Straits. Brothers in Arms.

Tin House (ding), Meridian (aw. no thanks.) About four days ago. For the story before the latest one to go out. The story I’ve rewritten but haven’t had time to send out in its rewritten version.

A funny thing has happened to this page — it’s now almost 18,000 words long and it’s showing its age. When I type, the letters sort of creep along the page, like they’re too tired to keep up with the keys. I’m afraid that, at some point, not too long from now, the whole thing’s just going to collapse. Maybe the answer is to start a part two. But to do that, I’d have to acknowledge that the page chronicling my submissions is going to be longer than all the novels and stories I’ve written put together. And I don’t know about you, but that just seems wrong.

Prevailing Mood: Creeping along.

June 12, 2008.

Music Playing: Coldplay. Fix You. When guys like this come on the radio William always looks at me and says, “Whiner.” That’s his name for a particular brand of music, not unpleasant music, and certainly , from all I can tell, not unsuccessful, but music with lyrics like these: “When you’re stuck in reverse . . . When you lose something you can’t replace . . .. Could it be worse?” Enough said about the whiners. In our family, whining doesn’t exactly put you at the top of the pantheon as an artist. We’re more into the screamers (the boys are anyway) like AC/DC. Me? Elvis. Bruce. Women with cool beautiful voices.

Okay. No Whining. It’s been ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY DAYS since I submitted some stories to really great places. Do you know how many of them have not yet gotten back to me? 25. Out of about 60. That’s a long time. In the last week I have heard from exactly none of them. That was easy to calculate. I’m not really complaining. I think what’s true is that there’s a kind of story pipeline that’s roughly the distance between Alaska and California. (Ah, a petroleum age metaphor.) My stories are mostly someplace in Washington State. Olympia, I’m guessing.

Prevailing Mood: No whining. I’d hate to have William (or you) switch the stations while I’m in the middle of talking.

June 10, 2008.

Music Playing: The Clash: London Calling.

It’s been very quiet out there in literary journal land, so I sent out a new story (actually, the first chapter of my second novel, the novel that has no name) to 26 literary journals today. In my view, the way to go about this enterprise is to have so many things out there in the world that you never run out of opportunities to have someone tell you no. And, who knows, maybe someday someone will say yes, on a day when they forget that their main purpose in life is to say no.

In other submitting news, I got a lovely e-mail this morning telling me that The Secret War is in the final round of the James Jones First Novel Contest. I submitted it three months ago and I’d quite forgotten about it. I’ve got to send in the next fifty pages (I think they give the award based purely on the synopsis and the first 100 pages — it’s for novels in progress, although I think many people who enter have finished their books already.) Thank goodness I’ve written a synopsis — because they want one.

Prevailing Mood: I believe this is the time to announce that I’m going backpacking this weekend with two women we refer to around our house as the “pixies” because they basically dance uphill, and although they’re carrying large backpacks, they look like they’ve got feathers in them. Two more beautiful, more in shape women would be difficult to find. No one has ever referred to me as anything even remotely resembling a pixie, — I’m more of a trudger than a dancer when it comes to dragging myself and a backpack up a hill. Which is a long winded way of saying that my prevailing mood is just plain happy.

**Aw. I can’t go on that trip. I’ve got to get those last fifty pages out and I have a huge work thing to do. Prevailing mood: slightly less happy. but — still in the happy range.

June 5, 2008.

Music Playing: Elvis. I Just Can’t Help Believin’ . Do you know this song? if you don’t, you should. My dad ‘s an Elvis guy. It might be because he’s from the south, or because Elvis was in the military too. Or it might be because he’s sui generis and my dad gets that kind of thing. So anyway, we grew up listening to Elvis, and going to see his movies, and I can’t believe I haven’t played him more than I have for my children, who’re going to need him someday.

Ding, ding, ding. Bird Dog, Seattle Review, Hobart (print). All my latest story.

Mood: I don’t care. I mean, would Elvis care? of course not. It’s Friday night and the reception of my stories in the literary world is just not that big of a deal. (Now go listen to Steamroller Blues.)

June 4, 2008.

Music Playing. Talking Heads. Take Me to the River.

Wow. It’s been three days. Three days in which no one has said a word to me about whether or not they want my stories. Well, that’s not entirely true. I had a very friendly e-mail exchange with an editor at a journal — fairly new, very interesting — one that seems to get mostly online submissions. I mailed mine and it’s been way longer than they usually take, so I e-mailed him to make sure they had it. He’s sweet, this guy. He e-mailed me back and said they let the paper submissions pile up and then when they get enough of them, they go through them. Which is what they did this weekend. The name of my story sounded familiar to him, and he says that someone’ll get back to me pretty soon. I think that means the story’s being read, which is good to hear.

The thing is, though, that I completely re-wrote that story this week. I am not falsely modest or crazily confident about my work, I don’t think. All I do know about this particular story is that I (a) loved rewriting it; (b) think it is really good. Rather than wait to hear from people I’ve sent it to before sending it out, I think I’ll submit it to about half a dozen places this weekend — online submissions, I think.

Prevailing Mood: Meh. You know, this whole submitting thing is just hard sometimes. But I thought of a new story this morning, and I love the way the novel revisions are going, so I figure the answer is to focus on those and not get bent out of shape about the fact that getting my stories out there is likely to take forever.

June 1, 2008.

Music Playing: The sound of Jack, reading to William, some book called The Dragon Slayers Academy, in which Jack has assumed the cheesiest English accent of all time and William keeps yelling, “Jack use your normal voice! They’re American! Stop it!!” which is one of the soundtracks of bedtime around here.

It’s come to this: When the Western Humanities Review, a venerable journal (Stegner. Need I say more?) sends you one of those half slips of paper someone cut up from a bigger piece of paper with unsteady scissors and it says “Though the manuscript you sent has not found a place with WHR, the editors enoyed reading it and would be happy to see more.” and you can’t tell if that’s a big fat lie, or totally true, you eat a pack of M&Ms, which you don’t even really like, because the whole thing just makes you so anxious. To stop using that horrible second person, I’l record that my husband (aka Voice of Reason) says it must be true because anyone who said that to the thousands of contributors they have would be insane. Me? I just wish they’d had the good sense to take my story, which is a really fine story — funny, and true, and honest and even if it sags a little in the middle, I am totally able to make it not sag with a small amount of time and thought.

Prevailing Mood: Fine. M&Ms turned out to be a pretty good idea.

May 29, 2008.

Music Playing: Jack Johnson, Angel. “I’ve got an angel./She doesn’t wear any wings. ” Oh-Kay. I’m thinking that’s not an angel but a met-a-for.

So. I’m at work tonight. (It’s about 7 pm.) I’m doing something so unpleasant I can’t bear to even complain about it specifically. I call home.

Me: Who’s rejected me today, honey?

Him: I don’t know. I got some sheet music, though.

Me: Honey? Look at the mail and tell me who rejected me today.

Him: Let me look. Wow. We get so much mail. Oh, here’s something.

[long pause]

Him: Do you want me to open it?

[wife considers whether he’s trying to make her lose her mind, then decides that’s a little paranoid and anyway, didn’t he pick everyone up at school so she can work on her unpleasant thing?]

Me: Dude, if you don’t open it right now, I’m going to come home and kill you.

Him: It’s got a lot of stamps on it. …. The sun doesn’t need your story.

Me: Did they write anything on it?

Him: Well, he signed his name. Sy Safransky. Does that count?

Me: No. It does not count.

Now it’s back to the bad work project.

Prevailing Mood: Have you noticed I have a great husband? So, I’m okay.

May 28, 2008.

Music Playing: It sounds like Tom Petty. yes, it has to be. he’s going down south to see his daddy’s mistress, beg for forgiveness, and pay off every witness, and if that isn’t a great string of rhymes, I don’t know what is.

I would like to sugar coat this, but I find I cannot. Being rejected twice in one day with not a word of encouragement drove me to eat two bags of corn nuts in one sitting and I don’t even really like corn nuts. I will not name the journals, because I am too sad. I think the truth is that when I finish revising my novel I really need to sit down and figure out how to make my stories work better. I think I’ve said this before. But that’s okay, it’s another day, another rejection, another reiteration of what I already know. It’s not actually that the rejections make me think my stories are not that good. It’s that the rejection has made me look at them very, very closely. (Which is in itself a fine thing to do — the worse thing you can do in the face of rejection is stop working on your stuff.) They’re pretty good already, which is better than a lot of fiction. But what would happen if I actually really dove into them again — this summer — and used the things I’m learning from all the stories I’ve been reading and worked them over a lot? It would be fun, I think. And so much better than moaning around and eating corn nuts and making people be nice to me because they feel sorry for me. (The people to whom I am referring are my long-suffering husband and my children.)

Prevailing Mood: I think that’s obvious from the consumption of corn nuts thing.

May 26, 2008.

Music Playing: Simon & Garfunkel. Keep the Customer Satisfied. Okay, I was born in 1960. What do you expect me to listen to?

Flint Hills Review. No thanks. Glimmertrain. Nope.

And that’s it.

When I have time — in about three weeks when I’ve finished revising my novel — I’m going to rewrite the three stories I have out (and the one that’s about to go out). And then I’m going to send them out again.

Prevailing Mood: Pretty satisfied.

May 23, 2008.

I’ve just had a really helpful talk with a guy who’s an amazing writer, a good reader, and a really fine teacher of writing. He’s the reason why mfa programs are a good idea. I saw two things when I spoke to him: first, a way to make my latest story better; and second, that my stories are already pretty good. It’s the first thing that interests me right now, though. I think I need to spend a little time this weekend thinking about how my stories work, and how to make them work correctly. I’m putting this here, in the page devoted to my submissions, because it reminds me that even when you have stories out in the world, you should still be working on them.

Prevailing Mood: Inspired. Surprisingly enough, having someone tell you how to fix your story is not a bummer. It’s actually really fun. (And, by the way, do I care that I was not a finalist in the Iowa Review’s annual fiction contest? Nope. I’m so over the whole contest thing. I just want to write better stories.)

May 22, 2008.

Music Playing: Everybody Hurts. R.E.M. Okay, I’ll go with that as a decent look at the human condition. But no, I’m not sure I’ve had enough of this life. I think I want more, much more of it.

Two days. No rejections. Instead:

I’d like to say that we don’t need two Campmor catalogues, but I can’t figure out how to get them to stop doing that. (I mean, yes, I could figure it out. But I’d have to stop living my life if I tried to figure out the six thousand small annoyances like this that occur pretty much every couple of minutes. JetBlue, I have no idea why you keep writing us. We flew on you once and it was okay, but we are southwest airlines people for much of what we do, and you don’t fly to Europe. Plus, there’s the whole carbon footprint thing, so we might have to stop taking flying trips. East Bay MUD, our water people, have written to tell us we’re in a drought and they’re going to start charging us a ton of money every time we take a shower. That will be good news to those who think showers HURT. Finally, I so am not interested in my rich neighbors, no matter how hard San Francisco Magazine tries to make me interested. What I am interested in is that nice brochure from the Berkeley Rep, where they have fabulous theater and the monthly thing from the Asian Art Museum where they know their way around art like nobody’s business.

And so, even if no one is rejecting me or accepting me, life is still going on, isn’t it?

Prevailing Mood: It’s a remarkably beautiful spring evening and I wish I could lie around and read, but I can’t because I have three children, two visitors, a dog and a lot of dishes to do. So I’ll do the next best thing which is drink a glass of wine and listen to good music and be happy that way.

May 20, 2008.

Music Playing: Prince, Raspberry Beret. I love Prince.

Okay, so nobody rejected me today. My latest fantasy? All the literary journals who have my stories have just folded. They’re not e-mailing me, or calling me, or dropping letters into my self-addressed-stamped envelopes because they’ve turned off the phones and cancelled their utilities and walked off into the sunset.

Prevailing Mood: Fine-ish.

May 19, 2008.

Music Playing: U2, Silver and Gold.

Nothing came in the mail today. When I opened the door to check, Archie escaped and chased the mailman halfway to the next house. Archie, obviously, feels my angst. (I feel compelled to link to a photo of Archie, so you know that he could do no one any harm.)

So, I offer you instead the words of Clive James, whose “The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered” seems to belong here today, maybe because James reminds me a little of Archie in his ferocity toward those who’ve made him mad.

Prevailing Mood: I am writing tonight in my beautiful office so I’m happy.

May 18, 2008

Music Playing: Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

Not a thing in the mail yesterday. Jade Park has a very nice collage of hers up. It heartens me to be in such good company.

Prevailing Mood: A little anxious. I have a lot to do and I didn’t write very well yesterday.

May 16, 2008.


Music Playing: Elvis. Big Boss Man. (You ain’t so big. You know you just tall. That’s all.)

The Missouri Review said thank you, but not this time about my latest story to go out into the world. And then somebody added a little handwritten note saying to try them again. Do they mean it? Why, yes, they do.

Prevailing Mood: Man, it is so hot here! I’m off to a school party and then coming home to a put a cold, wet washcloth on my forehead and read some Wallace Stegner short stories.

ay 16, 2008.

Music Playing: I have a fan on in my bedroom (I’m still not up and about and off to work yet, it being Friday at 8:09 a.m. and really I’ve got to get moving.) I suppose I could imagine I’m at the ocean, except out my window wisteria is blooming, and jasmine, and it’s incredibly hot in northern Calfiornia this week, and the ocean is usually not so hot.

Getting back to the carnage that is the direct result of submitting widely and often (to journals I respect and like, let it be noted!), two days ago a teensy rejection came from Cimarron and then yesterday its teensy cousin arrived from Pinch. These two are from my most recent story.

I’m trying to keep down all hope that the many, many journals who still have the two stories I sent in January are trying to figure out just how prominent a place they can make for my work in one of their upcoming issues. In fact, today, some editor is going to be digging around in the couch looking for the pencil she wedged between the cushions. She will come across the manila envelope containing my January story which someone shoved under a cushion because they were sick of reading stories (and also in order to keep the couch from collapsing.) She will pull it out and think, “What IS this old thing?” And then a teensy note will be slid into the SASE and that will be it for that.

Prevailing Mood: I am not in touch with moods this morning. I am more in touch with the fact that if I don’t get out of bed right now and get to work, I will not have a job to get out of bed and go to.

May 15, 2008.

Music Playing: Lucinda WIlliams. Words.

John Baker makes some very useful observations about the perils of being a prize winner.

He also gives us some wonderful and provocative excerpts from Doris Lessing’s Nobel prize acceptance speech:

On writing:

Writers are often asked, How do you write? With a processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand? But the essential question is, “Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write?” Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas – inspiration.

And on publishing:

We are in London, one of the big cities. There is a new writer. We, cynically enquire, How are her boobs? Is she good-looking? If this is a man, Charismatic? Handsome? We joke but it is not a joke.
This new find is acclaimed, possibly given a lot of money. The buzzing of paparazzi begins in their poor ears. They are feted, lauded, whisked about the world. Us old ones, who have seen it all, are sorry for this neophyte, who has no idea of what is really happening.
He, she is flattered, pleased.
But ask in a year’s time what he or she is thinking: I’ve heard them: “This is the worst thing that could have happened to me.

May 14, 2008

Music Playing: Hungry Heart. Bruuuuce. And now? I Wanna be Sedated. The Ramones. Pretty much sums up many things.

This morning, I drifted over to the internet and found something via jadepark that made me shake my head, like I’d just narrowly avoided an obstacle I didn’t know was even there. It’s here, at Salon, the story of a mid-list author whose heart has been broken because, as far as I can tell, she expected more from her career than she’s actually gotten — the “more” being that her books would sell more copies and she would earn more money and it wouldn’t always feel so hard to sell the next book.

The thing I take away from this piece about the pain of being a semi-successful writer is that the writer has failed to define success properly, and that is most likely because she has failed to define her job properly. Basically, your job as a working person (which would include being a writer) is to be good at the stuff you can control and to develop a sense of humor about and appropriate amount of distance from the things you cannot control.

So, my job as a writer is to write well, which is the thing I can control, and to keep the things I can’t control from hindering my ability to write well. the closer I come to achieving that, the more of a success I feel.

I’m not saying it’s easy. For one thing, it’s a big job — writing well involves things like learning to write well, which means getting help with that learning (help that really helps you rather than leaves you feeling bathed in acid). Writing well also involves figuring out how to submit properly, finding friends who help you along the way and being that sort of friend for other writers (because writing well means making room for other people too), and a lot of other things besides.

I haven’t sold a single book or placed a single story in a journal and I think I am doing pretty well in the success area. I write well, and am getting better all the time, I have reached out properly to get help with my writing, I help people if I can, and I have a submission strategy that I think is a pretty decent one, although I’m not averse to changing it as I get more of a sense for how it’s going.

Which brings me to the success equals money equation. How you do in the business of writing is so out of your control, so much the subject of accident and chance, that it simply cannot be an acceptable measure of whether you are a success. Although it all looks very objective — amount of advance, number of books sold, Amazon numbers — in the end, these measures mask the incredible chanciness that underlies the path to each of them. Of course I care about this stuff — who wouldn’t like to be handed a nice check for the book they’ve loved writing? It’s just not where I’m putting my sense of myself as a successful writer.

And yes, I’m aware that I’m writing this on a page dedicated to getting my work sold (okay “placed”). I don’t see that as inconsistent with my sense of what I need to do to be a successful writer. In my view, a successful writer writes for other people — people I want to entertain, and delight, and reach. You have to get your stuff out there if you want to do that. And that’s what this project is really about — how you get it out there and how you shift your strategy to reach readers in response to information you get back on those teensy rejection slips.

Sending my work out into the world in the direction of people who’d enjoy reading it is the newest skill as a writer I’m working on. It’s a lot more interesting and fun than I thought it would be. Which is why I write here about it as often as I do. The thing I want to think about now is that writer-reader relationship. Sure, I want to reach a lot of people — but maybe it’s true that once you reach out, you must leave it there, without worrying too much about who and how many pick it up. That, I’m pretty sure, is where I’m headed with the submission thing. My thinking on this isn’t yet fully formed, of course, but I’m enjoying figuring it out.

May 13, 2008.

Music Playing: Suzanne. Leonard Cohen. The first time I heard this song was in the spring of 1969. I was nine years old. It was coming out of the window of an apartment house in the little German town where we lived. The apartment was part of block of similar apartments that had been built after the war, to replace a block of bombed out houses. These apartments were already falling apart, even though they hadn’t been built that long ago. I thought the song was old too, because it seemed to be something I’d heard before.

The rejections I’m getting now are mostly for the story I just sent out. I’m certain that the thirty or so journals who still have the stories I sent out in January are holding on to them and crafting their e-mails to me about how much they love them and want them. This is a dangerous fiction to harbor. I confess it now, in the hope it will go away. For penance, I’ll recite my recent rejection (yesterday’s, in fact):

Conjunctions. Super fast turn around time for that story I sent out about five weeks ago. It was on heavy, nice cardstock. Like a wedding invitation. Except, obviously, not. I decided to turn it over and use it to write a nice to-do list on. Somebody should write on my rejections, even if it’s me.

That was yesterday’s mail. Today’s mail: not a jimmy dean breakfast sausage.

Prevailing Mood: I cannot even begin to describe how tired I feel in the morning. It has everything to do with having an enormous amount of work to get done on a very unpleasant case. Pretty soon, though, it’ll be over.

And here’s something new: Statistics, for those who like to have their rejection quantified in excrutiating numerical detail rather than described in excrutiating detail:

The Pornographer: Sent out January 31, 2008. 28 journals got this one.

11 journals have replied, on paper of varying quality and size with pretty much the same message, although with slightly different wording: “No. Uh-uh. and Uh-Oh!”

2 journals said no, but don’t go away forever.

The Makeover: Sent out January 31, 2008. 29 journals got this one. Why did it go to one more place than The Pornographer? No idea.

12 journals couldn’t seem to find a place for a funny and insightful story of a woman who gets a tummy tuck.

4 journals said no really nicely. And one of them even said my story made them laugh.

The Centerfold Club:

Is it possible I sent this one to 40 journals? Oh god, how embarrassing. Anyway, the high number is because this one went to some contests quite a while ago and then about 30 of them went to journals in early April. I am done with contests. They’re too expensive. Okay, that’s a lie. They’re too sad. I don’t like finding out who else won.

12! My good heavens. Already, 12 rejections.

1 person at a journal said the story was good. And sad. And they couldn’t use it. Which made me a little sad.

Looking at my little statistics thing I see that I’m going to have to think up some clever, Short Story 2.0 titles — You know, the kind of title that goes on & on and on and is sort of offhand and cryptic and sounds like a quote from something smart. The article and the noun title? Not so cool. But really? Least of my problems.

May 10, 2008.

Music Playing: Neil Young. Unknown Legend. Lovely song.

Not a peep today.

Prevailing Mood: Weary. Up early, and then I spent most of the day doing maybe more revising than is good for one woman’s brain.

May 9, 2008.

Music Playing: Only the Lonely, the Motels. SO 1982. Next thing you know the Go-Go’s are going to be going on and on about how they got the beat.

Okay, then, on to rejection. Green Mountains Review is not really able to use my manuscript. Maybe they’re looking forward to reading my work in the future, as they say. AND MAYBE THEY JUST SAY THAT TO EVERYONE. Sorry. I’ve got to stop hitting the caps lock key because it is VERY IRRITATING. I’m even irritating myself.

Allrighty. Agni sent me another “not our customary rejection slip” rejection (in bold!) and somebody signed it. I think that means it’s okay to send them something else, as soon as I write something else I think is even better than the last something else I sent them.

Prevailing Mood. I’ve got to get to work here. The weekend is short and my list of stuff to get written is long.

May 8, 2008.

Music Playing: Vienna Teng. Nothing Without You. I went through a huge only listening to Vienna Teng phase, and then I stopped. I like her a lot. I saw her perform in San Francisco last year, and was so impressed by her poise, and her lovely calm.

The Berkeley Fiction Review DISSED ME! I can’t actually believe it. I mean, I LIVE in Berkeley for heaven’s sake. I WENT TO SCHOOL at UC Berkeley. Not just once, but TWICE — once to English grad school and once to law school. Do my labors at Cal COUNT FOR NOTHING!? And my story is good, too. I’m outraged.

Okay. Not really. I just thought I’d do something with that caps lock key.

Prevailing Mood: Mellow. I like Vienna Teng. I don’t really care that much about BFR.

May 7, 2008.

Music Playing: I’m not really sure what impulse is behind my decision to download Madonna’s Hard Candy. I’m not even really sure I should be admitting that I own this. But I do. And I am listening to She’s Not Me, a song that has going for it the singer’s observation of losing her lover to a woman who’s becoming her doppleganger. (She started dressing like me and talking like me…She started reading my books and stealing my looks and lingerie.) Now if I could just do something about Madonna’s insistence that it’s okay to dress in leather underwear. It’s not. Okay?

Is it true that every rejection puts you that much closer to acceptance? Of course it isn’t. Every rejection is pretty much just another rejection.

Anyway, after that tsunami of rejection over the weekend, the journals are taking a breath, before doing whatever it is they do over there at literary journals.

Prevailing Mood: I’m just glad I have a lot of writing to do. So that means my prevailing mood is: determined.

May 5, 2008.

Music Playing: Michael Jackson. I Can’t Help It. From Off the Wall. I can’t help it that this was the album played over and over again at a time in my life when I knew so little about anything but still managed to be absurdly happy.

Ding (ninth letter), ding (Kalliope), ding (Denver Quarterly), ding (Virginia Quarterly Review), ding (Passages North — ouch. I still love them though).


Prevailing Mood: My work doesn’t suck, doesn’t suck, doesn’t suck, doesn’t suck. It’s, you know, just not right, doesn’t meet needs. At this time.

May 2, 2008.

Music Playing: Jack Johnson. Sleep Through the Static. OMG. I think this is an ironic, antiwar song by a guy who sounds like he’s still asleep. Waiting for things that never came.

Black Warrior Review. Doesn’t want my story. I’m not weeping. I’m trying to come up with something ironic, but I’m still sort of asleep.

On the subject of what goes on behind the scenes at lit journals, the Virginia Quarterly Review has posted on its blog comments — both negative and positive — its readers have made about short fiction and poetry submissions. I think you can tell a lot about a person by how certain they are that those negative comments were actually about them. Or whether they read the positives and are completely sure they are about their most recent submission.

Me? Oh, I know they loved my most recent thing and that EVERY SINGLE ONE of those great comments was about me, me, me. Okay, it’s true that half the glowing positives were about poetry, and I’ve never submitted poetry to the VQR, and some of them were about subjects I haven’t written about (New Orleans) or points of view I don’t use (the first person). Still.

As for the barf-this-is-so-bad comments — I don’t like that sort of thing, and don’t allow myself the considerable pleasure of a good put down all that often because I think it’s bad for the soul. When I was younger, and had less of a sense for how HARD it is to write well, and a far greater sense of myself as a smart as a whip Yale-educated English major, I was mean, mean, mean about things that fell short of my very exacting standards. I don’t know when I stopped being like that. All I know is that it’s important to be generous about the work of other writers, while not telling big lies either.

Prevailing Mood: I’m going away this weekend to Sonoma with a bunch of women friends. John Gardner’s very nice book on writing is in my bag, and so is Junot Diaz. So is a lot of wine. How can a woman be anything but happy?

April 30, 2008.

Music Playing: Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris. Rollin’ On. Put ’em up, tear ’em down.

Oh, I’m so sad. Subtropics does not want my story. It took them a little over three weeks to reject me rather than the usual one. I feel pathetic and sorry to even have been hopeful. Really, I think it is a mistake to track this kind of thing and an even bigger mistake to care. And that is all I have to say about that.

My father-in-law, who is my chief publicist these days, forwarded the manuscript of The Secret War to a friend of his who teaches in the English department at Dartmouth. (MY FIL lives in Hanover — a place where there’s so much fun stuff going on. Yes, it snows a lot, but he is Swedish-American, and the snow doesn’t bother him.) Anyway, his professor friend, who is a smart guy and knows his writers, being an expert on 19th century poets, really liked my book. Now, it is true that he could hardly tell my FIL he hated it, but then again he didn’t need to say he liked it either. I’m going with believing in praise today, rather than doubting it, just to balance out the ouchiness of being rejected by Subtropics.

In the end, there is the pleasure you take in making your stories and novels. Yes, there is also the pleasure of making other people happy with your work. But that’s not really in my hands, is it?

PREVAILING MOOD: I feel the way I do when I get bad news, the kind of news that makes your heart sink. I don’t generally feel this way about rejection, so I’m going to try not to let this feeling take up residence.

April 28, 2008.

Music Playing: Indigo Girls. Closer to Fine. I love this song. There’s more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line.

I got THE best personal rejection in the mail from Potomac Review. It says this: “The Makeover made me laugh but wasn’t quite tight enough. Try us again in the fall.” I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. Maybe it is a little saggy in its middle, that story. No telling what could happen if I got in there and told it to stand up straight and suck in its gut. It is, after all, a story about a woman who has a tummy tuck. Best thing of all, though, is the laughter of someone I don’t even know. That, dear reader, is why I write. That and the possibility that someday I’ll be really rich. I even took a picture of this, for those who like that kind of thing:

A couple of new rejections to report: Willow Springs and Louisville Review apparently found better fiction than mine to publish. sniff. Okay, then. At least I made somebody laugh.

Prevailing Mood: Mark Knopfler and Emmy Lou Harris are singing to each other about being Belle Star and Jesse James. And that is how I feel. Like Jesse James. Except he had a six shooter and I have, like, a million bullets, aka, stories. My aim is not bad. I have a lot of stamps. I am not giving up. And now I will stop this metaphor before it kills some poor lit mag editor.

April 26, 2008.

Music Playing: Eagles. Peaceful Easy Feeling. A nice song for a Saturday afternoon.

Nada. I looked up “nothing” in my Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms and came up with: “not a thing, zero, nowt, zilch, not a dicky bird [swear to god that’s in there], damn all, not a sausage, zip, nada, diddly-squat.”

Not a sausage of a rejection today, or yesterday.

Prevailing Mood. Just fine, thank you. Happy to have found a use for my dictionary of synonyms and antonymns.

April 23, 2008

Music Playing: The Dixie Chicks. Not Ready to Make Nice. I love songs about people who won’t back down.

The early rejectors for my latest story have begun to weigh in. The Threepenny Review is just sorry not to be able to take it. Or something like that. You know what? I like that journal. And maybe some day they will take something, if I just keep right on with what I’m doing.

Prevailing Mood: Totally hopeful. I read a great Roald Dahl short story this morning and realized that the more I read, the more I see how to structure a story, how to raise the stakes, how to make the characters’ actions — weird, stupid, angry, joyful, whatever — make some sense. I think when you’re really learning how to write, good writing is just enormously exciting to read because it points the way for you. I love that. It makes my reading so rich and so fun.

April 22, 2008 (evening)

Music Playing: It’s raining. Good heavens. And windy. And cold. What happened to spring?

Today, I got what I thought was a rejection letter from Indiana Review for the story I sent them about two weeks ago. In fact, it was a notice that I’d gotten their reading period dates wrong. Everyone in the kitchen thought this was funny. And Charlie nicely pointed out that the form says, “We hope you will consider sending us work when our reading period reopens.” Oh, they are such sweet children.

Prevailing Mood: A little embarrassed and sort of weirdly glad not to have been rejected … not yet, anyway.

April 22, 2008.

Music Playing: Latin Girls. Black Eyed Peas from Elephunk. This CD is on my ipod because the boys love it. I myself am sort of a fan of the Black Eyed Peas, as long as I don’t actually listen to the lyrics of most of the songs which, I’m afraid, need to be thought through in terms of their sexual content and, in the case of this song, sort of positive sounding sexual stereotyping which, in the end, is probably sexualizing Latin women in a way that is not okay, but might be, because sex is, after all, fun too. I don’t do any of this thinking for very long though because, well, I’m busy.

So, what’s up with all these journals? I have roughly 60-some submissions out there, and many of those were sent in mid-January. Not a word for the last four days.

April 18, 2008.

Robert Stewart of New Letters has some good things to say about writing. I particularly like this:

Art doesn’t need the university system to be meaningful and important, but we live in a time of generic, mass-media popular culture; and popular-culture language, gimmicks, hyperbole and video distract the general audience from good art. A writer who reads and thinks deeply, who has talent and vivid experiences does not need university training to create great new fiction or poetry; but the chances are far better that artists will develop with university training. Or, develop sooner.I don’t want to overlook the fact that academic study probably also has ruined some poets. Pedantry does exist at universities. Finally, it’s important for any writer to do some real work somewhere, whether in a factory or in a law firm, so he or she is writing about something other than the nuance of syntax and philosophy.

He also talks about essays in a way that makes me want to write something for New Letters.

And no — no one has rejected me today.

April 17, 2008.

Music Playing: None. William and Jack are tearing around the house with Archie, getting him very, very excited. Now they are wrestling. Good grief.

Wow. That was fast. The Centerfold Club, the third of my stories and the one I submitted to a bunch of good places two weeks ago: Ding. Pembroke Magazine. Smallest rejection slip of ALL time. The Borrower’s tiny cousin sent that one.

Prevailing Mood: All I can say is that there’d better be some good news around here pretty soon or the trajectory of this blog page is going to be all wrong.

April 16, 2008.

Music Playing: Amy Winehouse. Wake up Alone. Anyway, “at least I’m not drinking,” as she says in this song.

Zilch. Not a word of response.

Prevailing Mood: Is it possible my stories are actually, like, really bad? And no one is telling me because they’re afraid I might keep trying? At least I’m not drinking and/or wearing an astonishing amount of black eyeliner. Not yet.

April 14, 2008.

Music Playing: The sound of husband, and two children making a half-pipe (a thing you skateboard on — and yes, I know our neighbors are really going to LOVE that) in our back yard. I just heard him say, “Your entire mission in life is to hold on to that board and not let go.” There is a lot of pounding and excitement out there. It is also 6:48 p.m. The sun is about to go down, but right now it is illuminating the sky and the clouds in the most beautifully dusky way.

I would just like to note that my 100% rejection rate remains intact. My third short story just received its very first rejection, albeit a personal rejection. My other stories? Total silence.

Prevailing Mood: Pride in my utter consistentcy? Well, in fact, no. I am very tired, having woken at 4:30 this morning to write. So, I am not going to take any mood seriously at this point.

April 12, 2008.

Music Playing: The fan on my ibook is making a weird noise. It’s hot out. I wonder if maybe it just needs to lie in a cool room with a washcloth on its head.

A simple report. The mail came. My husband got a Golf Digest, despite the fact that he is the furthest thing from a golfer you can imagine. He also got a fundraising appeal from Dartmouth, where he went to college. They are really good at keeping in touch. He gets mail from them three times a week. Did I get anything other than the Boden catalogue? Nope.

Prevailing Mood. It smells like jasmine all around me. I love living in Berkeley.

April 11, 2008.

Music Playing. To be perfectly honest, which is what I’ve promised to be here, I must report that the sound in my house right now is that of four boys, indulging in a Friday afternoon xbox orgy: this involves a lot of machine gun sounds, a lot of yelling, a lot of pretending to have a foreign accent. And now? The dog is barking on top of that. Good God. This is the soundtrack of my life sometimes.

I feel like I should say that we didn’t have a television at all — and certainly not any of those suck-your-brain-out game things — until I got breast cancer two years ago. And then, while I was obviously not my right self, I bought a huge television and allowed Santa to give my children pretty much every electronic thing they’d ever been denied. It was a little like the whole “Make a Wish” thing — except my kids are and were perfectly healthy, and I’m pretty sure the kids who are making wishes that are being granted get to do that because they have been tragically stricken with something awful. I guess I was too tired from being radiated to realize that I was the one who was supposed to be making the wishes. Anyway, my only wish, that the whole thing end and I not ever, ever again have someone radiate me, or talk about my breasts while wearing a white coat, has pretty much been answered.

Was the electronic wish granting a good idea? Well, consider the soundtrack I am subjected to on the days when screens are allowed (that would be Friday, Sat. for a while and Sun. for a while unless I can’t stand it and make them stop). But then again, if they weren’t creating that violent soundtrack, they’d be whooping it up in some other unsavory activity like firebombing the neighbors’ houses. That is simply the nature of being a child. I mean, my child.

Back to rejection. It’s been two straight days without a single rejection. I’ve gotten used to getting them every day or so. Two days is a long time. I think there might be something wrong with me. Why should I be a little grumpy because no one has rejected me? That is just a sorry thing.

Prevailing Mood. It’s Friday. It’s a beautiful spring day. My novel read well when I looked at it today. Despite the fact that the children I gave birth to have no interest in beading or soap-making (not to mention soap-using), I am extraordinarily happy.

April 10, 2008.

Music Playing. Counting Crows. Mr. Jones. “We all want something that’s beautiful. Man, I wish I was beautiful.” (My favorite line? Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales. We stare at the beautiful women. She’s looking at you? I don’t think so, she looking at me.” Oh, here it is: “I wanna be Bob Dylan. Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky.” For some reason that has always made me laugh.

We all wanna be big stars. Nobody becomes a big star through writing, that’s for sure. My own boys want to be rock stars. Well, except sometimes William wants to write stories where a lot of people die, horribly.

This is just to say that although I have a grand total of 68 story submissions out there in the world, not including the five I’m going to mail out today, I heard not a word yesterday. Or today. Today I received a thank you note from the helpful woman at Nordstrom who found two pairs of pants for William and then had them altered so they look good on him. Which was nice, I thought, especially since she went to William’s elementary school in Berkeley, LeConte, and then to our local junior high, Willard and then to Berkeley High.

I did manage to get everything about the agency contract figured out and agreed upon. The changes were few, the helpfulness factor was incredibly high. Receiving an e-mail welcoming me to the agency, an e-mail that seemed genuine and happy about the relationship we are forming, was a very nice thing, given my small anxiety about not wanting to come across as a nasty lawyer when I asked questions about things in the contract. One of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received for my lawyer-work came from a juror in a mock-trial I did my first year in practice. “I liked you,” she said afterwards. “You didn’t seem like a lawyer.”

Prevailing Mood: Oh, I’m just fine being ignored by literary journals. I don’t want to be a rock star. It would be too embarrassing. I’m sure that’s how Junot Diaz is feeling right now, since he has become the writer/rock star equivalent. No, that’s not exactly right. I’m guessing he’s both thrilled and, because he’s down to earth and modest, a little embarrassed by all the attention he so richly deserves.

April 9, 2008.

Music Playing: my clock is ticking. I can hear airplanes overhead. Also birds. It’s spring in the bay area.

This is why duotrope-obsession is bad: I read the tea leaves of The Alaska Quarterly and decided that they’d taken so long they must be about to accept my story. Yesterday they rejected it, with not a word of encouragement. I re-read those two stories the other day, by the way. They’re not bad. The first one is actually pretty good. The second one sags a little in the middle, which is nothing that can’t be fixed. No, I have nothing metaphoric to say about that.

Prevailing Mood: Regret. I yelled at my kids this morning because (a) I’m tired; (b) I’ve been coughing and hacking like a woman who should really be in a sanatorium someplace but I’m not; and (c) I sent my new agent some comments last night about their standard agency contract that were maybe a bit too obsessive and lawyerly. I forget sometimes that the lawyer thing can come across a little too strong for the taste of many. She’s so nice though that I’ll bet she doesn’t mind.

April 8, 2008

Music Playing: Oh, how embarrassing. I’m listening to Quarterflash. Harden my Heart. Okay, okay, I am a child of the early 1980s. I can’t help it.

Last night I spent several HOURS comparing the average time to rejection and acceptance as reported on duotrope with the amount of time two of my stories have been out with nary a word. That’s not the sort of tea leave reading I think I should indulge in too often, especially since the results were inconclusive.

I submitted two stories in mid-January, each story to 28 journals. 19 of those journals have responded to me, all of them with a no. (Okay 3 or 4 of them with a please send more.) That’s 1/3 of them. The other 2/3? Well, after two hours of looking, my conclusion is that the right answer is (a) — it takes a long time; rather than (b) they’ve held off notifying me that they want my story because they can’t stop themselves from compulsively re-reading it.

Spending all that time on duotrope is one of those self-indulgent not-really-good-for-you activities that was a perfect thing to do after I mailed out The Centerfold Club to a lot of journals (27 — and then today, out to five journals to whom I want to write more individualized letters). I also submitted it online to Glimmer Train. Yay for online submissions. I have the feeling it might be complicated and expensive to set up a system like that, which is why many journals don’t do it. But you’d think if one of them has a system that works, they might maybe share it with others. But then, no one’s asking me.

Anyway, one of the nice things about Glimmer Train is that once you register on their site you get their newsletter and the one that just came out had this piece about rejection. The woman who wrote it, Catherine Ryan Hyde, sounds like a very sensible person, a woman who’s worked hard, and deserves her success.

PREVAILING MOOD: Optimistic. Also, the music playing at this moment is Patty Griffin — Heavenly Day. It is indeed.

April 7, 2008.

Music Playing: It wouldn’t matter.

Agent found! Woot.

Prevailing Mood: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit nervous about getting my book whipped into shape so it’ll leave editors in New York breathless with excitement and reaching for their checkbooks. Still, it’s important to revel in good news before you dig back in for the long haul.

April 3, 2008.

Music Playing: The clock in my bedroom is ticking. It is 10:50. I am a tired, tired woman.

But I want to here record that I looooove the people at Passages North. No, they are not taking The Pornographer, my very first short story. But somebody wrote, in nice, neat handwriter at the bottom of their hot pink rejection slip “Please send more work.” Thrilled, that’s what I am.

And I don’t want to jinx this by saying too much, but that lovely agent called twice today, once to say she was about done with my book, and once to say that she is meeting with the other people at her agency to talk about my book tomorrow. She finished it. She liked it. You know what I like about her? She gets what I wanted to do with that book — which is to talk about something serious, using language that’s a pleasure to read, employing the accessible form of a genre (in this case, the mystery). And although they might not be able to help me sell it, it was just so refreshing to talk to her about it.

April 1, 2008.

Music Playing: Say You Will. Fleetwood Mac. Okay, then, I will.

No, I have not given up on querying and submitting and moaning about it. I was on vacation. And now I have a cold.

I would like to report the receipt of the following items, a report I hope to make without a word of moaning: (1) one short story contest rejection. No more contests. I hate finding out who else won. It makes me unpleasant to be around. Moan. (2) two of the teensiest rejection slips imaginable. One of them was so small it looked like it had been written by a literary magazine editor who was one of the Borrowers. You remember those Mary Norton books? The ones where the tiny race of people called the Borrowers used the big people’s (also known as the “human beans”) empty spools of thread as chairs? Well, this editor was using the big people’s business cards, cut roughly in half, as stationery on which to send out rejection slips.

I mean, really. If I could send you my stuff on 8 1/2 by 11 paper, couldn’t you at least give me something sort of nice-ish — or at least big-ish — in return? Oh. You have a budget of $16.51, supplemented by an in-kind donation of a six pack of diet coke? Okay, then. You can send me teensy rejection slips. I feel for you. I also like your journal. You put out good work. And you do it with way fewer resources than the borrowers ever had.

Prevailing Mood: You’re kidding, right? I’ve been rejected — twice — by Borrowers. I have an epic cold. But you know what? I’m actually doing pretty well. I’m wearing a nice outfit, for one thing — a black sweater dress, black boots, and I had the brilliant idea this morning of using a long chain with very cool olive green beads on it as a belt and it looks very rocker-chick/hippie mom, a combination I didn’t actually know existed until I invented it this morning when the advil I’d taken finally kicked in and I had a moment of fashion clarity or insanity depending on whether you’re looking at the outfit when the advil is still working or after it wears off.

March 20 2008.

Music Playing: Are you joking? The tragedy that is my writing life has no soundtrack. At least not on my ipod. Just the gnashing of teeth, the wailing of the bereft, and the rending of a very nice American Apparel t-shirt I recently bought even though I disapprove of their disturbing catalog, the one that features jaded looking teenagers, twisted around in exhausted poses I think are supposed to suggest that they are doing drugs — a lot of them — when they’re not otherwise posing in a drafty warehouse in LA for the American Apparel catalog. I didn’t know about the catalog until I got my order in the mail. So, I feel like it’s okay to choose that t-shirt to rend.

I think today’s mail constituted a new low on the rejection front. Okay, first of all, I’m fine being coldly told by Tin House that they “must pass at this time.” I love them anyway, and am sending something better to them next month. I figure they’ll be shocked at how much one woman’s writing can improve in just a few weeks.

It was the Blue Mesa Review that really brought me down. I hate contests. But when I entered this one a long, innocent while ago, I didn’t know that. I just thought it would be fun. The trouble is that when you don’t win they don’t tell you just that you didn’t win — oh no — they tell you the name of the person who won. And if that isn’t bad enough, they also tell you the names of the large group of people who almost won. None of whom, obviously, are you. It’s like having the cute boy in your class announce over the school’s PA system which cute girl he’s going to go to the prom with. And who his eight backups are. And no, you’re not on his list.

Oh, and by the way? They’re going to send you a little book in the early summer with a picture of the cute guy and his favorite cute girl, so you can see how much fun they had at the prom they DIDN’T INVITE YOU TO.

The guy who won comes from Sunnyvale, California. I wasted fifteen minutes this afternoon muttering things about how wrong that is. He’s probably a venture capitalist who works on Sand Hill Road and just applied for a Stegner, which he’s going to win, naturally. He’d do it in his spare time — or he’ll take a sabbatical, having a zillion dollars socked away already. And no, in fact, he doesn’t need that $250 prize. But he’s going to use all $250 of it — to buy a bottle of decent red wine.

Obviously, it is time to get back to my novel.

PREVAILING MOOD: Not in a good place. I wonder — if I keep whining like this will I basically drive away every person I know, both in real life and in virtual life? Could be.

March 18, 2008.

Music Playing: Seeing as how it’s 5:45 a.m. and everyone is asleep, there’s no music playing. Just the dog breathing and the fridge humming. I like our house in the early morning.

For some reason, receiving my first snail-mail rejection from a literary agent really bummed me out yesterday. A card, on nice paper. Wah. When you send a query via e-mail, you feel less investment in the response. But I sent this guy a huge, expensive package of beautifully printed out novel, a nice cover letter, and that synopsis I finally figured out how to write. And then quite some time went by. I thought he was reading it carefully. Maybe he was. But I’ll never know. Now that’s something that keeps surprising me — that you can receive a response to a submission of substance that has no substance in it whatsoever. I know they get so much mail they can’t make personal responses, but something about this process, when you really think about it, seems off. What I think is closer to the truth is that agents aren’t being uncivil when they send you form rejection. This behavior is only uncivil if you look at it through the lens of other kinds of relationships, ones where it is reasonable to expect a response in kind — generally social relationships work like this, as do many business relationships. But the rules of courtesy between agents and aspiring authors are different because of the volume of contacts made and the difficulty of keeping up with them. What those rules of courtesy are I am only just finding out. I do think a well-written form letter, one that acknowledges what is really true about the achievement of finishing a novel, is key. I also think that giving some sense of what to expect from the agent is important too. Many agents — most, in fact — do both these things. They tell you what you can expect from them on the first contact, even if it isn’t much. And many of the letters I’ve received have been courteous and humane.

Right now, nothing is clearer to me than that I have to figure out how to get back to my novel. I’ve been overwhelmed with work for the last two weeks, and the many small jobs that need to be done to keep things going have mounted (taxes, thank you cards, applications for children’s schools, birthday gifts) and so I haven’t been able to sit down for quite some time. I am finishing up a story to send out next week, so that’s good, but I haven’t finished the story I began a while ago, and … oh, heavens. I’ve got to get back to work here, before people wake up, because I need to finish this project so I can breathe.

Prevailing Mood: Frustrated. Plus, my feet are cold. Now, I know the temperature of your extremities isn’t a “mood” — but feeling chilly is my least favorite temperature and contributes to my sense that things just aren’t where they should be. It is that elusive balance thing.

March 16, 2008.

Music Playing: Led Zeppelin: The Rain Song. From a playlist Charlie made for me, called “mom’s songs.” His effort to demonstrate that hard driving rockers also make music that is acceptable to his mom. Pretty good effort too!

What a quiet weekend on the literary rejection front. Not a word. The best thing was that I got in the mail copies of Happy, Agni and Southern Review. They’re so different from each other — but wonderful in their own ways. Happy: a lot of short, short fiction, lower production values, but maybe more risks being taken. Or maybe not. The Southern Review? Just beautiful. Beautiful to hold in your hands, lots and lots of poetry, some articles, the whole thing just really interesting and juicy. Agni‘s quite substantial — and full of poetry too. I flipped to the contributor’s notes in Agni after reading some poems and two stories. 90% of the contributors teach or are mfa students. One guy restores old tugboats, but he’s also an academic. No lawyers. I soothe my anxiety by picturing Wallace Stevens walking to work through Elizabeth Park, making up poems in his head.

March 14, 2008.

Music Playing: HVAC system, keyboard clicking, the hard drive is making weird gear-turning-over noises. I forgot to bring my headphones, and charger, so cannot play music in my office.

No rejections yesterday. I’ve been thinking about how so many journals sponsor contests, the kind you have to pay to enter. I checked out some of the winners of a contest for a journal whose name I cannot now remember. Man. I so do not write like those people. Having decided to abandon the present tense, for reasons too complicated to go into here, except to note that when I used it I felt like I was wearing somebody else’s clothes, I am sensitive to its use. Two of the five winning stories — the top two, in fact — were in the present tense. And all of them were really long stories . A couple of them were violent. A lot happened in them. And people talked a lot. I did not see much generosity or compassion, which are two things I really love to see from a narrator in a story. A lot of quirky people doing quirky things.

I think my stories might be old fashioned. They’re pretty short, no more than 4,000 words. They are always in the third person. Just a few things happen in them. I like to take a small thing and go deep. There is some conversation, but not a lot. I only write stories that amuse me in some way at some point. I read some journal web site that asked for something from stories that puzzled me — for some kind of “emotion” that was big and risky and deep. I think I understand that, but I also think that you can’t do that well unless you embed it so deeply into your story that a reader doesn’t realize it’s there until they finish the story and can’t stop thinking about it. That’s where real emotion in stories lies, I think. Not in big, weird events. I like my characters and I try not to judge them. I could do better with the male characters in my stories. I am afraid I do that epiphany thing. Or at least, there’s a shift at the end. Small, though. Well, except for the woman who decides to leave her husband. I don’t think I’m going to read any more contest winners. It’s depressing.

Prevailing Mood: Really happy, as it happens. Sometimes, when you like the plain black sweater you’re wearing and it looks good with your jeans and your black boots and your hair looks great, because for some reason it is curling in the right places and not sticking out or smashed, well, sometimes that’s all it takes to get over the fact that your stories are different from the ones that win prizes.

March 13, 2008.

Music Playing: Rilo somebody. Silver Lining. Nice pop music but that is one incomprehensible metaphor. “I’m your silver lining, but now I’m gold?” What on earth is she talking about?

No one has rejected me, although lord knows, they could. I have enough stuff out there to be rejected pretty much until the end of next month, at a rate of one rejection per day. And before I get to the end of THOSE rejections, I’ll have another story out.

The lovely agent e-mailed to say she’s swamped and has not forgotten. Very nice. She has kids. We are sisters in busy-ness.

Prevailing Mood. Can you not hear the sound of the army on the march? No? Is it because I turned up the silver lining song, thinking I would get that metaphor better if it was louder, the way an American person speaks louder in the hope that the non-English speaking French waiter will understand that they are just wanting to make sure that the thing they are ordering isn’t the innard of some animal?

March 11, 2008.

Music Playing. Lucinda Williams. Six Blocks Away. (Yes, he loves her so much he can hear her HEARTBEAT six blocks away. As an example of true love, that’s one I’ve never heard before.)

I looked in the mail pile for the rejection from Shenandoah, but all I could find was the little green piece of paper from Colorado Review encouraging me (and every other person who submits to them) to enter a story for the Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction. I didn’t find the Shenandoah rejection, but would just like to say, for those who get here by googling “Shenandoah rejection handwritten note,” that everybody gets that handwritten note that says something like “thanks for thinking of us.” I know, because I googled that same string of words and found a picture of an identical rejection with almost identical handwriting saying the identical thank you thing. I think that shows very good manners on their part. But don’t go thinking they broke out the champagne when your entry hit the review’s inbox.

I spent way too much time last night looking at the Glimmer Train website on Sandi Shelton‘s recommendation and admiring them for having friends who programmed the nifty online submission part of their site. And, also, I love the fact that they get back to you pretty soon, and they pay. Go forth and submit your “emotionally significant literary fiction,” to the sisters who run that journal, especially if you haven’t done any submitting lately, okay?

Prevailing Mood: Grim. Big case to finish today. Grim. March, march, march go the boots of the woman soldiering on in her law work. And they’re not particularly nice boots either, come to think of it. In between there I have to take a child to the doctor, which means that once I get going on my case I’ll have to stop. Sometimes I want to sink into a heap on the floor and just stop trying. But then I put on Lucinda Williams, who’s seen much worse and hurt much more badly than I ever have, and I decide I’d look better if I took a shower, stood up straight, put on better shoes than I have on now, better, I mean, than I’d look in a heap on the floor.

March 10, 2008.

Music Playing: The sound in my office of the HVAC system and my hard drive buzzing in a kind of harmony is not unpleasant at all. It’s just not music. I can also hear colleagues going by. Monday morning background music.

The first rejection I ever got was from Subtropics. It was an e-mail and at the end it said to keep them in mind for the future. I thought they said that to everybody, but realized this weekend, thanks to the magic of the internet and the fact that writers other than I also obsess over their rejection slips and post them (and that I am a weird, geeky person), that they don’t say that to everyone. So, I guess it would not be utterly fruitless to submit my next thing to them.

I am not going to go much further in the direction of hope than “not utterly fruitless.” It is, after all, a Monday.

Also, I would like to add that when I got home to a rejection from the Colorado Review, their printed piece of paper said not to forget them, and that was clearly not tied in any way to my story. It’s hard to tell, really, when they like you enough to encourage more and when they’re just being nice. It’s worse than dating or reading tea leaves.

Today, I’ve decided that, to keep myself from feeling pathetic, I really need to be clear about the limited value to a writer of time spent parsing rejection slips. Let me begin by saying that I’m wary of ignoring advice or assistance from people about my writing. That’s because when I was in college, I NEVER read a single comment on a single paper I turned in. And so it was a miracle I ever learned to write a paper. I mean that. Literally. Anyway, the point here is that if someone’s going to tell you something about your writing, you should be willing to listen, because it can be helpful and better than waiting for a miracle. Faster, certainly.

The thing is, though, that almost all of these rejections say absolutely NOTHING about your writing. Something’s that “not right” for a journal is really just that — not right. It might not be right because they’re full up with strip club stories, or they want someone from the south, or a famous name, or they don’t like the third person narrators for this issue, having too many already. I think if something stinks, that’s really your job to figure out, and not a journal’s job to tell you. So, the most a rejection can say to you is that little “send more” scrawl or note that means there’s something about the story you sent in that we liked on that particular day, or that made us hopeful you’ve got something else that might be better for us.

What’s important to keep in mind is that the rejection that does not invite further submission doesn’t mean that your story’s terrible. It just means (a) that it didn’t grab somebody enough to get that sort of response; or (b) the editors at that journal rarely, if ever, invite further submissions. Finally, in unusual cases, you’ll get some specific feedback. But that’s probably not going to happen very often. When it does, I imagine I’d read it, and deal with it the way I deal with any feedback I get. Listen, decide if what’s being said makes sense and use it to improve if it does, ignore it if it doesn’t. These people at literary journals aren’t gods. They’re writers, most of them, and they’ve got their own idiosyncrasies and talents, like all writers. Most of all, it’s not an us vs. them thing. We’re all “us” — the only difference is that some of us have a couple of manuscripts on our desks and others have about sixty billion. Otherwise, same.

As for the call with the agent I was supposed to have this weekend, nothing yet. Who knows? There’s probably a no in that silence, which is fine. I do like this agent and would love to work with her on something, so I’m looking forward to talking to her. The novel sale thing is pretty much out of my hands, except for the part involving novel number two, which is going beautifully. My husband loved it. I mean, he really did like the first two chapters I read him parts of the other day. He said it sounded exactly like me and might have mentioned something about really hitting my stride. Last night, he actually did the dishes so I could write, even though it was my turn to do the dishes and he’d already done the putting of children to bed duty, which is widely considered far more difficult duty than dishes. He’s the miracle in my life right now.

Prevailing Mood: I have a lot of law work to do and I’m feeling a little bit like a soldier on a long march. A well provisioned march, though, seeing as how we have running water in the kitchen at my place of employment and I’m going to have lunch at Ananda Fuara, the best vegetarian restaurant I know of.

March 9, 2008.

Music Playing. Creedence Clearwater Revival. Someday Never Comes. Totally random song in my itunes library. But I love CCR, because they remind me of being a child, in the best of ways. Someday, actually, is here. Now, Cat Power. I Don’t Blame You. He didn’t want to play that song they wanted him to play. Well, okay then.

I’ve been gone all weekend. My first question when I walked in the door, naturally, was: “Did I get any rejections?” Husband: “It’s here somewhere.” He gestures toward two piles of newspapers and notices from the schools about the various Nights I never go to, scraps of paper containing William’s literary efforts, unopened envelopes enclosing alumni appeals and library overdue notices. “It’s in the mail pile.” And then he says, “Well, they’re both mail piles. But it’s here somewhere.”

It was in the newspaper/mail/random paper/garbage pile closest to the edge of the dining room table and thus most likely to fall on the floor if anybody even so much as brushed by it: A rejection from The Southern Review, which is a really good journal. They even pay you for your stories. I almost didn’t notice that, at the end of it, someone had written, quite neatly, “Please send again.” My heart leapt. (Actually, I made my husband hold it up to the light and give me his scientific opinion about whether it was the real handwriting of a real person. The verdict was yes. THEN I had the leaping heart thing.) The person who signed that note is the editor of The Southern Review, Jeanne Leiby. She signed her first name. I love her. I mean, if I knew her better, I’m sure I’d like her a lot and not just because she asked me to send more stuff to them, but because she edits a really good magazine, with a storied history, and because she has written a book of stories that sounds quite good. The rejection note is a nice thing, graphics and paper-wise. In fact, I will post a photo of it when I have a moment, because it is photo worthy. I’d urge you to read that magazine, by the way. There’s good stuff there.

No phone call from the agent, but that will happen in the next day or so. I’ve figured out what I want to ask about, and I’m looking forward to speaking with her, offer of representation or not.

Prevailing Mood: Despite the fact that I spent the weekend drinking martinis in the Mission with three women I like a lot, I do not, actually, have a hangover of any kind any longer.

March 7, 2008.

Music Playing. Magic. Bruce Springsteen. Hands down, one of the finest songs he’s ever written. Bitter, clever, heartbreakingly cynical.

Utter silence on the literary journal and agenting front. I don’t know if I mind or not.

Prevailing Mood: Paranoia. Certain that “they” are all in some swanky hotel, having a rejection convention where they’re cackling about all the stories they get that are written in the present tense and how they SO hate that, and can’t wait to reject them, but don’t send out a quick rejection because they want to make the writer suffer for having written like that, so they wait months and months before putting a mangled piece of hot pink paper (on which is faintly reproduced a mock-cheery rejection) into a return envelope that doesn’t now have enough stamps on it, so it’ll get back to the writer in about six years — postage due — for the privilege of being rejected. Or something like that.

March 5, 2008.

Music Playing: Tom Petty. You Got Lucky. I love Tom Petty. My friend Peter used to do the best imitation of him. And I did get lucky. In pretty much every way a person can be, I am.

Today, being the anniversary of my birth, I am not going to look at the mail, unless it’s a package from a clothing or jewelry store. Even when they tell you they want to take your story, I doubt literary journals send you earrings at the same time as an acceptance.

Prevailing Mood. Happy. You should see the enormous birthday card my boys painted for me in secret.

March 4, 2008.

Music Playing: Feist. Tout Doucement from Let it Die. It’s such a perky, silly song. A spring song.

I got home late last night from work — around 8:30 — and was greeted by Archie, our alpha rescue poodle (have I mentioned that he HATES other dogs although he loves his people?) and two rejection letters. They were both from literary journals in the south. And they were simple, straightforward form rejections. It’s funny how each rejection changes my thinking about my stories a little. It’s not that I don’t think they’re good — they are okay, which is better than most stories — but the rejections just make me feel like the stories I’m writing now are much, much better. I don’t know why rejection makes me hopeful, but it does. It makes me want to press on, to do more, to up the ante.

On the agenting front, there’s hopeful news. The agent who asked for the entire manuscript so quickly the week before last says she’ll call me this weekend after she gets done looking at it. I’m looking forward to that call. If she can’t represent me, she can at least give me some helpful feedback on my novel. And, also, her agency works with a line of books I think I’d like to write something for, something I’ve been thinking about for a while, something that would earn more money probably than fiction. So, I’ll have her ear for a while, and can talk to her about that possibility, even if she can’t represent me on this novel. Doors close, other doors open. Anyway, who knows? Maybe she’ll be able to sell my book for me. I have liked my e-mail exchanges with her. She’s a new agent, seems very keen, and she’s in California. I know there are risks with someone who is new and not in New York, but, on the other hand, there are also good things about being represented by someone who’s enthusiastic, interested in my work, and not that far from where I live.

Prevailing Mood: Obama and me — we’re all about hope.

March 3, 2008.

Music Playing: Lucinda Williams. Sweet Old World. I like her. I wonder, though, why I’m not listening to very many guys these days. Oh, I know — it’s easiest to write when I’m listening to the vocal equivalent of the woman novelist. I do like men, though. Just so you know.

I’ve been doing a little thinking about the ethics of querying, and also about the ethics of discussing one’s responses to queries and submissions to literary journals. By ethics, what I really mean is good manners, which basically comes down to the observation of the golden rule. My feeling is that it is bad manners to say something about someone I wouldn’t want to see said about myself in someone’s blog. Oh, and no lying, either. Hard row to hoe, isn’t it, given how much easier it is to be snippy than it is to be nice AND honest? But being snippy takes too much energy and makes me too grouchy, although I do appreciate a good trashing of someone who deserves it every once in a while. Think Bush Administration. It’s just that I don’t want to be the one who does it.

Anyway, not being anonymous makes it harder to be snippy. I don’t go in for anonymity, by the way — I’m a writer and someday I hope people will go to the “H” section in the bookstore (that’s HAMRICK) and look for my stuff and then buy it and be amused and entertained by it. Although, I have to say, I’ve been thinking that for a book that has a male protagonist and is about spies maybe I should be L.F. Hamrick. Anyway, in the end, everything I write about another person, I want to be able to say to their faces. (Face! to their face! How can somehow have more than one face? But not “their” face — it’s only one face! His face! But what about the her-agents? Her face! What an infelicitous sentence. It’s impossible to fix. *Collapses in a heap.*)

Okay. With that in mind, I re-read this page, and, with the exception of being maybe a little mean about one rejection letter that wasn’t as beautifully written as I might have liked, everything passes the good manners test.

As for good manners in the business of querying, I’ve decided that when an agent asks for my manuscript, I’ll be up front about what else is out there. But I don’t think it’s reasonable not to send out queries while someone is considering my book, given how long the process of reading a manuscript and making an offer of representation seems to take. Oh, and here’s a blog that has some information about agent turn-around times.

Prevailing Mood: Oh, I don’t know. Busy? A tad irritable? There are three (yes three) SICK children at home. Well, one has an athletic injury. Still, I don’t want to run a hospital. Thank goodness W will be home pretty soon so I can go to work.

March 2, 2008.

Music Playing. Alison Krauss. And some guy whose name I don’t know. Whiskey Lullaby. Featuring the amazing lines: “She put him out/Like the burning end of a midnight cigarette/She broke his heart.” And then, later, “he put that bottle to his head and pulled the trigger/he finally drank away her memory.” How great is that? A truly, truly American song. Naturally, the two lovers in the song are buried underneath a willow which, alas (or yippee, depending on how you feel about rhymes), rhymes with pillow, which is where they are both found. FACE DOWN! If you have not heard this song, you have to go and get it .

It is Sunday. There is NO mail. People don’t send e-mail rejections on Sundays. Not yet anyway. It is the day to push paper out into the world. E-paper counts. I have a nice list of journals to send my third story to, the story I actually like quite a bit.

Prevailing Mood: How could a woman be anything but cheerful when she is listening to a tragic song like Whiskey Lullaby? At least I haven’t yet put the bottle to my head and pulled the trigger. And no, three boxes of girl scout cookies don’t count.

March 1, 2008.

Music Playing: James Taylor is encouraging a live audience to shower the people they love with love. And now? I’ve made a special playlist of women who don’t let rejection get them down. Playing right now is Sheryl Crow — Love is Free. She, after all, has a shack down on Ponchartrain — you know, where you go to church and pray to God there’s no more rain.

Just a note to record that it is a good day when you write more pages than are rejected. That, at any rate, was my feeling this morning, before I received today’s rejection (green paper!) of my very first story, a story I like, but have written beyond by now. Immediately after receiving it, I sent out a query letter to Paul Fedorko at Trident Media. There are several agents interested already, or at least they’ve asked for more pages from me to look at, but I think this whole thing is going to take a really, really long time, so it’s good to keep sending things out.

I envision myself engaged in some sort of sisyphian struggle in which I roll paper full of stories and queries and novel extracts up a steep hill and all that paper rolls back down on me and I roll some more up. Or something like that. Paper isn’t quite rock-life enough to fit here, although I imagine big heavy rolls of wallpaper might do it — the kind of thing that’s determined to unroll the moment you’ve managed to roll it up, and then, after it comes down the hill, it snaps you up inside, like an aggressive window blind, while you shout, “Does this mean my story wasn’t right for you?” Anyway, I have to stop listening to Glen Hansard. He makes me feel too sad.

Prevailing Mood: Still tired. So much paper. That’s all.

February 29, 2008.

Music Playing: Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova with Marja Tuhkanen and Bertrand Galen (honest ALL THOSE PEOPLE) — This particular song is called “This Low”(we made a plan that is subject to change/so whatever way it works out we both get the blame.”) And no, it’s not actually a really good idea to listen to such melancholy music at 9:27 p.m. on a Friday night when all you have to report is that ….

Yesterday, a good journal sent me a ragged, much photocopied rejection notice that had a TYPO in it! I am truly shocked. Or maybe someone thought it was funny. Who knows?

My manuscript is out there in the world, my stories are too, and I am trying to keep busy with the next novel and the next story.

Prevailing mood: Truth? Tired. It’s Glen Hansard’s fault. Life never looks good when some guy is singing so beautifully about things not going too well. A good night’s sleep and everything will look better.

February 26, 2008.

Music Playing. Sara Bareilles. Love Song. No way that’s a Little Voice. She’s not going to write you a love song because you asked for it.

This isn’t actually about rejection. It’s about how nice my book looks, all printed out to send to people who’ve asked for it. And how my query letter gets better every single time I send it out because I change it a little for the better each time. And how, even with the rejections, I am enjoying sending it out. There are so many people — with so many different points of view about what constitutes a good book — out there still to send a query to. And I’m going to keep going until I run out of people, or find someone.

As for the short fiction, although there are fifty or so journals still to hear from, the rejections aren’t coming in very fast. I imagine a shocked silence has settled over the offices of these journals, as they read my stories, mouths open in disbelief. Whether it is dismayed disbelief or pleased disbelief, I cannot say. All I know is that next month, another story is going out, and after that another.

It’s fun being persistent, a quality I’ve never really known existed in me, maybe because I’ve never cared about anything as much as I care about this.

Prevailing Mood: Very Sara Bareilles-ish. Not going to write you a mystery because you asked for it. If I did, you probably wouldn’t buy it anyway.

February 22, 2008.

Music Playing: I have imposed silence on our small house tonight. William is not allowed to sing Soldier Boy ever, ever again, so I can hardly listen to music myself having stymied his desire to be a rap god. So, he’s whistling Soldier Boy softly in his room with his door shut. And yes, as a matter of fact, I can still hear it. You could hear it in antarctica if you were deaf, as he likes to say. But I pretend not to as I try to consider the many rejections I have received since the 17th.

First up, literary fiction. Three fine literary journals rejected my stories yesterday and today (two yesterday, one today). We have a little ritual about these rejections now. The mail carrier comes. The boys say, “Who’s rejected you today, mom?” And then I hand them the letters and they open them solemnly and intone the contents. With feeling. It is far funnier than it sounds, hearing your children tell you how sorry they are they cannot find a home for your fiction in their literary magazine. Oh well.

Agents. Darn. The very nice L.A. agents read my whole book, told me there was much to admire about my writing but, in their view, it would be hard to sell if I wasn’t planning to write a series featuring the character in the Secret War. No, I’m not planning to write a mystery series. So, no, they aren’t going to represent me. But I did tell them about the novel I’m writing now, and they seemed interested in hearing about it when I’m done. The very interesting thing about this series of conversations, carried out via e-mail, is that these agents (they work as a team) were incredibly nice, and very approachable. They didn’t seem to think my book needed a lot in the writing department, which is the thing I worry about the most. It was actually really refreshing to discover that the issues from their perspective are all about whether they can sell it. So, it turns out, the thing I am the most invested in, that is, being a good writer, is the thing they have the least trouble with. Being rejected by them because they can’t see a clear buyer for my book from among their contacts just doesn’t bother me.

Also, here’s something else I’ve learned: it does you no harm, and a great deal of good, to ask people for their opinion. And when they give it, it is very important to make sure that your response is uniformly gracious and pleasant. And don’t forget to say thank you a lot.

Some other agent probably also rejected me in there somewhere, although I’ve really lost track, at least mentally (I do have it written down). Come to think of it, there were at least two rejections, including one where an intern wrote, “Your writing is nice and clear and you are good at getting things moving but alas, this isn’t for us.” It was so sweetly dull, that comment, but I appreciate it very much, nevertheless.

I keep reminding myself that that partial is still out, and a publisher has asked for the whole thing, so as much as the L.A. agents’ take on the marketability of my book made sense, I’m not entirely giving up. In fact, when I got home, I did what I’d promised myself, which is send out another query to replace the one that was rejected. I e-mailed it at 2:44, and the agent e-mailed back, asking for the entire manuscript, at 3:28. Wow. I know these things take forever, though, so I think it’s smart to keep querying.

Prevailing Mood: This querying thing is very, very distracting. But I don’t feel implicated by these responses. It’s very liberating to realize that what is being rejected or accepted is not my work as a writer, but the possibility of selling this product I’ve made — a stand-alone, cold war mystery, set in Germany.
February 17, 2008.

Music Playing: Indifferent, vaguely 1970s-sounding rock on KFOG, which usually plays much better things. Oh my. Why are they playing Mony Mony? Why are we being told to ride the pony? Did someone’s elbow accidentally hit the 1968 button? They’ve moved on to No Woman No Cry. I do love that song, even though I’ve heard it more times than I’ve heard any other song in the universe. Basically: everything’s gonna be all right. A fine life philosophy.

Now where did I put those two short & sweet lit journal rejections? I suspect they’re in the same pile with the school fee notices and the replacement for my lost parking permit. Which is to say, under my bed, where they’re safe. I don’t even remember the names of the journals! Ah, I am becoming so jaded.

But here is the Valentine I got from Harvey Klinger, literary agent, a few days ago:

Thank you for your query. Unfortunately, your material is not right for the agents at our company at this time.

We wish you the best of luck finding an enthusiastic agent and we thank you again for thinking of us.

Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Prevailing mood: Meh. After the agent rejection, I gave that query letter a good scrubbing and sent it out to a few more agents, ones I like the sound of, ones I feel like I can write personal letters to because I know why they’d be good agents for me. I’m noticing that my book is a bit of a problem: it’s a mystery by someone who doesn’t actually want to write a series and (shhhh) doesn’t want to write only in that genre. The right agent is someone who knows how to work around and through that. Not someone who thinks I should just keep writing the same thing over and over. Which makes me see that if no one takes my book in the end, that is really not the end of the world. The next novel is the sort of thing I DO want to write a lot of.

The journal rejections? They don’t even register. The stories are what they are. Each new story just gets better. I love the form, am so glad I finally saw how wonderful it is to write this way, and honestly do not think these rejections can possibly prevent me from continuing. I think I will stop writing in the present tense though. Something about it doesn’t feel quite right.

February 12, 2008

Music Playing: Bruce Springsteen. The River. Life can get away from you.

Let’s start with short stories. It’s not a deluge yet, more a trickle. This came last week from Agni, a really fine journal — one that actually pays you for your stories.

I had no idea there was a hierarchy of rejection — but there is. It’s good to be told you’re not in the huge crowd of the unwashed rejecteds. You’re in the smaller, slightly better groomed crowded of rejecteds: you get the rejection notice that alerts you to the possibility that lightening might strike in your vicinity. Or something like that.

My reaction to this? Send them my next story. Write a better cover letter. Be a tiny, tiny bit encourged. But not so much that you stop in your tracks to preen your feathers. (That’s not quite the mixed metaphor it appears. Imagine a bird….)

Okay, here’s another one. Notable because it is so not a beautifully written sentence:

Wouldn’t it be better to say: Thank you so much for sending your story to the magazine. We’ve read it, and want you to know that it’s not what we’re looking for. Keep writing! Best, The Editors

Okay, that’s it for the short story queries. (Well, Shenendoah sent me a letter — a complete letter on nice stationery — to tell me that they are going to take six or eight weeks to respond. I think that’s very, very polite.)

On to the novel. So, my initial e-mail queries (nine of them) met with pretty much a resounding silence, except for the gracious and prompt Annie Hawkins. And then I got this from Jonathan Lyons: “Thanks for writing, but this isn’t for me.” Ouch.

It occurred to me that maybe my query sucks (is bad, I mean). I re-read it. In fact, it’s not very good. I wrote another one. A completely new one that sounds a lot more like the person I am. And I e-mailed it to two agents last night — good agents both. The next morning two responses were waiting in my inbox. One of them, from Dr. Uwe Stender said this: “Dear Lily: Thanks so much for considering us. Although this sounds quite interesting, it is not what we are looking for at this very time.
Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity and good luck in your quest for publication. Best, Uwe”

Nice, huh? I mean, I do know he sends this to everyone. Still, he took the time to write something cordial. I’m guessing he’s a good guy.

The other one, said this:

“Thank you for your query. I would like to see more material: Please send the first 3 chapters or approximately 50 pages, along with a synopsis and any relevant author information to:

Jacky Sach

Jacky Sach — you rule! I hope you never read this, though — because I don’t actually know how to write a synopsis. I guess I’d better get crackin’.

Prevailing Mood: Pretty thrilled, a bit worried (synposis?!), but in it for the long haul. For every e-query rejection, a slight change to the letter, and out it goes again.

February 3, 2008. (Yes, I know. This is my second entry of the day. It’s that bad, this rejection business.)

I was rejected by Happy, a literary journal, today. And it didn’t feel that bad. Now, it didn’t make me exactly happy, particulary since my three children grabbed it out of my hands, read it, and then began to chant, “Happy rejection sucks,” until I yelled, “It doesn’t say that. It just says “REJECTION SUCKS.” Hearing that word — sucks — a word I tell them repeatedly isn’t the best word in the world for “is bad” got me a little riled up. Anyway, we agreed I didn’t appear to be un-happy, mostly because I was so busy trying to decipher the really bad handwriting of the editor — whose name is Bayard, and who is one very funny guy (you’ve got to check out that link above to see just how funny) in addition to being a fine writer of short stories himself. (This is what I think he said: “L-Thanks The Pornographer isn’t for happy -B”)

That I am not shocking enough and didn’t put him through the mill when he read my story (which is what he says he is looking for in stories) just felt like a challenge. I’m sending him my next story, the one about a visit to a strip club. And the next one too, the one I haven’t written, about a woman who thinks Mayor Gavin Newsome is hitting on her via that fabulous community of sex addicts, In fact, I’m going to keep writing stories until I do hit that nerve, or at least his funny bone. It’s the least I can do for him, my second literary journal rejector. And here is a blurb about the wonderful journal he publishes:

All in all, Happy is a remarkably spunky and curiously likeable journal, and a major showcase of the flash fiction genre. “The one thing all the stories I publish have in common is honesty,” Bayard says. That quality of raw honesty may set your teeth on edge or it may speak to your soul. It may infuriate you or give you a hearty laugh or bring tears to your eyes. You may throw Happy across the room occasionally — but more than likely, you’ll retrieve it and go on reading.

February 3, 2008.My very first agent rejection. From a wonderful agent, Annie Hawkins. Just what you’d expect from someone like her. A gracious rejection. I queried her on a Friday, got this response Monday morning:

Dear Lily Hamrick,

Thank you for thinking of me with your query for THE SECRET WAR. While this sounds like a strong project, I’m afraid it doesn’t strike me as a likely fit with me and my particular contacts. I wish you well in finding the right agent for your work.

Anne Hawkins
John Hawkins & Associates, Inc.
71 West 23rd Street – Suite 1600
New York, New York 10010

Prevailing mood: Surprisingly undepressed. Must go back to query letter and try to make it as gracious in tone as this e-mail. Something you send to a zillion people, like this e-mail and my query, should be economical and to the point. My query maybe isn’t.

January (mid) 2008. Thanks to the lovely editor at Boaz, I got in touch with the two women who run Cine/Lit, an agency in Los Angeles. (close to Los Angeles. These women have good sense, living outside of the area as they do.) Anyway, after sending them a standard query, they asked me to send them the entire manuscript. That’s a HEAVY box, but one I was so happy to send out. No waiting around, though — I’m sure they have a lot of other things to read.

Prevailing Mood: Pretty jazzed. Obviously. But doing my best to be sanguine about them actually wanting to sell the book.


51 thoughts on “Submitting Part I

  1. Oh Bloglily, you do this so beautifully! It would just sound like a whine if I wrote it, but it manages to sound amusing and entertaining and like the script for the kind of comedy people ought to make but don’t. I know all about this kind of crap, being in the middle of it myself. Keep plowing on through, girlfriend. If there were ever anybody in whom I have complete and total faith….

  2. Oh, we could be a club – only I would have to control the whining too.

    This is so exciting (and not unexpected) BL! I’m glad you are going to keep us up-to-date.

  3. Thank you so much for this narrative — or perhaps we should call it a Querative? The business side of writing is generally not something I approach with alacrity, but reading your exploits makes me feel lighter of heart about the whole enterprise. I especially enjoy the parsing of rejection letters. They are such bizarre little summations sometimes. I have a few that, even years later, I am still puzzling over.

  4. However “uncool” it is to get those rejections, it makes for interesting reading. (Not that that will make you feel any better I guess) But yes persistence is the word, I am sure you will find a publisher.

    “Synopsis” – don’t get me started, I get the heebiejeebies when I see that word, seeing as I am still struggling to tell what my story is about in less than 30 minutes …

    Good luck with it all!

  5. Dear Ingrid, Oh, I embrace the rejections. Each one spurs me on to greater flinging-of-self-in-front-of-tanks. But then, I’ve only gotten a few of them, so check back and see how I’m doing in a month or two. I’m doing that synopsis today, and fear it will do me in. Like you, I can’t imagine how I can accomplish a re-telling of my story in two pages.

    Tai — Querative it is. I think rejection — like death — is one of those things we don’t talk about enough. And because you can learn a lot from it, it seems like it must be faced. Okay, the death comparison? A little dramatic.

    Dear Debbie — In my view, a really, really good whine, one that’s pitched opera singer high, is a thing of beauty. So have at it. And if you won’t, well, I will. (Club? You bet. Will you design a logo?)

    Litlove, You, Debbie and I can do a majestic whine if you’d like. It always makes me feel better.

  6. Oh Bloglily, I LOVE this page. You are handling this business of being a writer with such grace and humor – I wish I could work in an office next to you. I look forward to hearing about your synopsis. Yay, bloglily!

  7. Bloglily,

    I just finished a new story, sent it off, and am now waiting impatiently to hear from the editor I sent it to. I concede that I have always watched the mail anxiously in such circumstances, but I’m wondering if blogging hasn’t made me worse. I fear I’ve become somewhat hooked on the instant gratification of this forum in which you can write something, publish it the minute you’re done, and have responses flow in shortly thereafter.

    I look forward to checking in here to track your progress toward publication. I have no doubt that you will soon prevail!

  8. Jacob, Okay. You’re ahead of me. But keep looking over your shoulder, buddy, because I’m sneaking up on you.

    Dear Kate, I think e-querying is bad that way too. And you’re right about the way blogging conditions you to getting responses! Good luck with your story. I’m sure it’s truly wonderful. xo, L

    Pauline — I wrote it! Five pages! It Sucks! (isn’t very good, I mean). But it’s done, and it’s good enough. I mean, it does give away the ending, which is the point. Thank you for the good wishes. You’re a dear.

    Courtney, I don’t know about good humor — I’m all for the good, massive, ear splitting whine. But I do believe that the things we get out into the open hurt a lot less than the things we hide. Except, of course, when I’ve gained five pounds from eating cookies, and that naturally is something I hope those who love me simply allow me to hide. With a big sweatshirt.

  9. Oh BL! I have something for you. Google Potter Puppet Pals, Bohemian Rhapsody. Watch it with your boys, and sing together the last few lines “It doesn’t really matter, to meeeeeeee (whichever way the wind blows . . . )” But on the saint theme, yes, you are a martyr, for with-holding your lovely book from your friends who love you, never letting them READ THE LAST FEW CHAPTERS, ahem. Only a matter of time. Be open to doing a series, for crying out loud. He’s a good character, get off your high horse. You will have lots of other time to do other stuff, look at Dash Hammett.
    ILY, MM

  10. Dearest Mary — I have your gloves, by the way! And I have several copies of my book available to those who want to read it — including you. Let’s have a hostage exchange, okay? I’ll give you back your gloves, if you’ll take the book.

    As for the series, who knows? It’s early still to tell if the fact that it’s not a series is an absolute bar to getting someone to sell it. Plenty of people write stand-alone mysteries, particularly historical ones. Alan Furst, for example. And Jonathan Rabb. I’m going to keep trying to sell it as is for a while. Also, I love what I’m writing now, and I don’t want to stop.

    Much love, Lily

  11. I am so glad that, if you must be rejected, it’s in a ‘we can’t sell it’ sort of way. I don’t understand the current obsession with series. Just this morning I was thinking ‘Doesn’t anyone write stand alone novels any more?’
    Since you do, I would like to read it, and I would happily send Something in return. May I? A cold war mystery set in Germany is exactly my sort of thing.

  12. Why, Becky, I’d be thrilled to send it to you! Just e-mail me your address. And, because you are British, I’ll throw in, completely for free, the first chapter of my new book, the one that’s set in London and features a woman who doesn’t know how to love properly. The action takes place during the coldest winter in centuries, one in which the Thames freezes over and all sorts of winter carnival goings on ensue. xo, Lily

  13. I am so psyched, I get to read your novel. I will read it promptly and keep the pages very clean, I promise. I hope the gloves served you well– I liked to think of them keeping your hands warm in London. The kid gloves especially– I’m not sure how old they are, but they truly needed to be worn. I’ll call you for the exchange,.
    I hope William is ok– he is so brave and big to be out there skiing, to begin with! Love, M

  14. Oh, thank you. Very exciting! I love that whole bit in Orlando where the Thames freezes, and there is a fair held there.

  15. Exactly Becky! It’s an Orlando-ish scene, only transported to the 21st century and with a little bit of twin/mistaken identity plot confusion thrown in for good measure.

    Coming right up, Mary. William’s okay — we do need to get him in to the Dr. Monday, though, but it isn’t anything that he won’t recover from promptly.

  16. I love this: “It is a good day when you write more pages than are rejected.” Beautiful.

    Keep going, BL. I’m wishing you luck every day!

  17. Thank you Nova. It is my plan to explore every facet of rejection there is to explore, in great, exhausting detail, down to the smallest detail, down to the color of the paper and the number of typos in the rejection. I cannot think of any other way to do it, although maybe it is a bad idea to do it publicly!

  18. That’s Brad Paisley singing with Alison Krauss–he also wrote those great lyrics.

    You’re a wonderful chronicler of the query wars–thank you for a fun read. I’ll be rooting for you!


  19. Brad Paisley is an American genius. I love that song.

    And welcome Marie, poet and bookseller extraordinaire. I’m so happy to see you here. And I will be rooting for you too! xo, L

  20. Hello Marie — I do have another one going out this month and I’ll be sure to send it to them. And to Agni, since they sort of asked. And to Happy because they didn’t actually ask, but should have.

    I will LK, I will!

    Ben Daniel, I’m sure the groan that comment elicited could be heard all the way in San Jose, which is not to say it wasn’t funny, you know.

  21. If it makes you feel any better, as a bookseller & someone who talks to customers about books all day and can speak for them pretty confidently, we’re bored bored bored with quirky stories and their quirky characters, and yearning for an old-fashioned story!

  22. Gail — what a cool idea authonomy is. I registered to hear from them when they’re up and running.

    Dear Marie, I am 47 years old. I don’t have all day to wait around here! The weird thing is that I am NOT getting interesting mail every single day. Maybe I forgot to put the right address on my SASEs. But that’s not possible, because I used my computer to make those labels and I’ve received two rejections from those labels.

    I’m guessing those journals are just busy, busy, busy.

  23. Actually, this is the busiest time for the journals affiliated with universities. Gird yourself! — when they start coming, they come in big big waves.

    I like the Threepenny Review too. Very tough nut to crack. It’s so nice to hear your optimism!

  24. Hello and I’m hoping I have not trespassed on a private site. But I must say these people must be out of their minds not to accept your writings. I say this with conviction based on joyfully reading back through so many of your posts. I can only guess how wonderful your more concerted efforts are. May the scales soon fall from their eyes and may the force be with you! TJ

  25. Hi Marie, Yes, they’re coooooommmmming. Things are speeding up a little.

    My dear TJ, Oh, no, you are not trespassing in the least. I’m so glad to see you here. In fact, I wrote you an e-mail last week telling you just that, but my e-mail server seems to have expired and I can’t send things. And I am so glad to hear that you’ve had fun reading my posts. I love writing them, so it’s good to hear they don’t injure the reader.

  26. I hope you have a wonderful weekend with your friends, Lily. Soon these crazy publishers will come to their senses; I am sure of it! TJ

  27. I was told to start sending out stories so I can get used to rejection. That’s rough.

    Five years later, I’ve had three stories published and have received about 10,000 rejection slips.

    But I haven’t had anything published in three years. It’s depressing and frustrating.

  28. Thanks for pointing me to this page. I usually read your blog via my RSS feed, but now I will check here, too. Thanks for sharing this part of the writing journey with us. It’s strangely…heartening.

  29. you said,
    “So I’ll do the next best thing which is drink a glass of wine and listen to good music and be happy that way.”

    I think there is real wisdom, here…”be happy that way”. I noticed this, having just done it but not put words on it… wanting nothing so much as to go back to sleep one morning but with boy and dog and cats…ha! so I too did the next best thing, and found I WAS happy.

    (PS i thought to send this comment before…if you got it twice, nix one?)

  30. Nova, You are sweet. Just tell me you listen to better music than I do, okay?

    Hello Gail — I am devoted to locating and doing the next best thing and not feeling like a loser while I’m doing it. xoxo, L

  31. ok James Jones First Novel Contest! and what a great honor to hit twice with this same text. Good good good (but we knew that already!)

    backpacking? where? digital camera going too?

  32. Thanks OP. We’ll see what happens come September. Unfortunately, no backpacking now (Big Sur, it was). I have to get some things over to them, and that’s just not going to happen if I go backpacking. xo, L

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