Submitting, Part 2

This is a record of my short story submissions. It takes up where part 1 left off.  You’ll have to go to the bottom to start at the beginning.  (why does this record stop in July, 2009?  Because I’m trying awfully hard to finish a novel or two.  And truth be told, although I love short stories, and I liked writing a few and I’m happy that in the end somebody actually took one, I’m a novelist, not a short story writer.)  So have at it.  Just remember that if I could persist through a veritable avalanche of rejection, so can you.

July 13, 2009.

Here is how you know that you should not be submitting to a hip literary journal in San Francisco, despite the fact that this is a journal in your home town more or less:  you receive a condescending rejection masquerading as a compliment, (“we held on to this for a long time, but have to let it go” — like it’s a stray cat or something) to a story you withdrew seven months ago, and you realize the editor went to the same college as you — but twenty years later — which might explain the privileged, but humble tone, but doesn’t explain anything else.  And for some reason, that seals the deal:  this is not a journal I will ever send something to again.  Give me Howard Junker any old day. I am too cranky for hip-literary-journal.  Far too cranky.

May 15, 2009.
Ten journals still have my stories.  Here’s something not-so-good:  remember the journal that asked for revisions?  They publish once a year, and I saw a little while ago that the book is out.  And my story?  It‘s not in it.   A month ago, I asked if they still wanted that story.  No answer.  This is not such a good way to tell someone you don’t want to use the story they asked you to revise.  Not professional.  It’s like asking someone to the prom and they say, let me think about it, and then you never hear from them until you see them at the prom, in their chocolate brown tux with a girl you don’t know very well taking pictures in the little booth that’s meant to suggest they’re in an arbor in the springtime instead of the Holiday Inn downtown.  Bad.  Here’s something good:  I like that revised story.  Their suggestions were helpful.  I’m going over it one more time and then sending it out.  It seems silly to harbor any hard feelings about this — mostly, their interaction with me was helpful.

March 21, 2009

I’m just waiting, that’s all. And while I wait, for the ten or so journals who have my stories, I check to see where I am in the list of waiters — which is what duotrope is for — and try to keep that checking to a reasonable number of times, like once a day. I have very few things out there right now because I’m working on a novel and none of the short fiction I’ve written is ready yet to send out.

March 3, 2009

Let’s see.  I have about 10 things out at journals still — journals that take a long time, plus the one journal that asked for that re-write.  I need to get my next story out so I can experience more frequent rejections.  I did get a rejection over the weekend, something I’ll reproduce in its entirety for those who like this kind of thing.

Thank you for sending us “The Makeover.” Sorry to disappoint–as we really enjoyed this piece–but we didn’t feel it was quite right for Opium Magazine.

Do send us your next, best work.

Thanks for thinking of Opium,

John Davey

February 20, 2009

Ouch again.  Willow Springs.  Novel excerpts appear to be not-so-acceptable.  But the novel?  I love my second novel.  It cracks me up.  It’s about a woman — a former district attorney who’s now a judge.  She’s smart and successful, and completely at sea when it comes to loving well.  It’s set in Oakland, in the winter.  It ends well.  It is exactly the kind of book I love to read.  Which is why it is the book I am writing now.

February 19, 2009

Ouch.  Kenyon Review.  Bland, basic rejection.   It still feels not so great.  Particularly because this week I have been unable to find the time to write anything new.

February 16, 2009

I am making a list of journals to send my latest story to — maybe 20 of them, I think.  And not all of them electronic.  In fact, I think it’s not so good to only submit electronically, as I did in my last batch of submissions.  I only have a sense of why this is so and no evidence, but my guess is that electronic submissions allow less-than-serious writers to send off less-than-ready stories.  And that leads to an even more than usual overwhelmed editorial staff who then have less time and patience to read your own submission (which is, naturally serious and more than ready, right?)  I like electronic submissions for so many other reasons — they’re environmentally a good option and they have no cost on my end — it’s just too bad that they might have this unintended consequence.  One other thing — I’m not going to send out any more novel excerpts.   My guess is that people really only take these if they already know your work.

February 14, 2009

I  mailed off my revised story this morning.  And that is all I have to report.

February 13, 2009

Caketrain.  Exactly on time, if time is measured by their average time to rejection.  So exactly on time that I am certain they didn’t read past the first sentence of my story.  Which is okay — I guess they know what they want. The only thing is that I have a hard time believing people wouldn’t want to take my story.  I am loyal to those stories.  Sure, they have small flaws, but I do love them so.  As for Caketrain, I like the tone of their form rejection e-mail.  It’s very civil:

Thank you for the opportunity to read your submission. After careful consideration, we have decided that we are unable to use your work at this time.

The opportunity to read the unpublished works of writers from around the world is a great privilege and responsibility, and with that in mind, we want you to know that we are honored that you have trusted us to consider your work for publication and grateful for your continued support of Caketrain.

With every good wish,

Amanda and Joseph

February 12, 2009

A journal that rejected me once, a really long time ago, just rejected me again — for the same story.  Did I enclose  TWO self-addressed stamped envelopes in that submission?  I can think of no other explanation for this incredibly zealous behavior.

February 10, 2009.

From the Missouri Review:

Thank you for giving us the chance to consider “Mistress Mary” for publication in The Missouri Review. Though it does not fit our current needs, we appreciate your interest in our magazine and your commitment to quality writing.

We wish you the best of luck publishing your work and hope you’ll consider sending us more in the future.


The Editors

I’d be happy to.  But that story was really, really good.  You should have taken it, instead of waiting for the next thing, which is going to take me god only knows how long to finish.  Oh.  You’re not really waiting?  Well, fine.

February 9, 2009. Because I have no tales of failure with which to entertain you, I give you instead J.K. Rowling on the importance of failure.  I rarely click on videos.  But I watched this entire speech — and I am so glad I did.  Thanks to Orpheus for this link, which also includes the text of this talk (it was the commencement speech at Harvard).

February 6, 2009. While it’s true that the best response to rejection as a fiction writer is to keep writing (the kind of writing where you work on improving, I mean) and to persist in sending your stuff out, this can often be terribly difficult to do.  Basically, there are days when I feel like such a loser.  I don’t ever feel like I have nothing to say, or that what I want to say doesn’t matter, nor do I ever forget how much I love making up stuff.  That, I have no doubt about.  But there is a fatigue that comes with submitting and rejection that makes it difficult to continue writing and to persist. I am mentioning this only because on these days what gets me beyond my fatigue is my understanding that I am modeling for my kids a hugely important life skill:  the pursuit of the thing you love in the face of the world’s indifference.  Some days that’s all that gets me through.

February 4, 2009 Almost exactly a year ago, I sent out the first two serious stories I’ve written.  (In fact, over the years, I’d written two others, but one of them had no characters in it, and thus is probably not much of a story, and one of them is somewhere in my files, but I have no idea where, which makes it a non-story also.)  The fate of my first two serious stories?  They’ve each been rejected about thirty times, with some encouraging notes, and the rejection letter equivalent of a blank stare.  I revised them slightly about two months ago, and sent one of them out again (the one that seemed to improve a little bit from my revisions) to about ten places that take e-mail submissions.   I chose journals that looked like they might be interested in this story — print journals that might not get superstar submissions, but still put out good fiction.

Last night, I got an e-mail from one of those journals, an e-mail that’s definitely different from anything I’ve seen before.  The e-mail said what they liked about my story, and what they thought could be done to improve it.  Their suggestions were smart and helpful.  Their invitation to resubmit the story was a generous one.  It took them less than two months to get back to me — and about a month ago, they e-mailed me to say they had my story and were looking at it.  And I know, from looking at duotrope, that this is not unusual — they’ve sent out several other rewrite requests in the last couple of weeks.

This is just exemplary behavior:  helpful, polite, encouraging, professional.  It is precisely this engagement between editor and submitter that is almost entirely missing from most other journals.  This engagement with submitters may have to do with the editors knowing what good fiction looks like, not getting enough of it the first time around, and so deciding to work hard with writers they think might, with some work, give them the kind of story they want.  This journal is edited by undergraduates– people who are just starting out as writers.

Now, I’m obviously not an undergraduate, but I, like they, am just starting out as a writer.  Why should I expect to see my fiction in the New Yorker this year or next?  There is absolutely nothing wrong, and a great deal that is absolutely right, about submitting fiction to a place like the Emerson Review, which may not be edited by Deborah Triesman, but is nevertheless staffed by serious, hard-working, and intelligent people.   A happy discovery and a really good experience.

February 2, 2009 A journal I submitted to over a year ago — a journal that says it will get back to submitters within 180 days — sent me a rejection of the no thanks, please submit again variety late last week.  A 370 day turn around time?  Not professional.   A journal should be able to get back to its submitters within a reasonable period of time, or they shouldn’t be accepting submissions.  What’s a reasonable period of time?  It’s the period of time you tell submitters you’re going to take.  If it’s a year, or two years, or a lifetime, you put that out there and you let writers decide if they want to submit to you.  But if you say you respond within 180 days, it’s not okay to take a year without letting the writer know you have a good reason for that.

I think the bargain between the writer and the journal is this:  the writer will submit like a professional (she will follow your guidelines, she will give you her best writing, she will proofread carefully) and the journal will treat you professionally in turn by adhering to the response time they advertise. The remedy when this bargain isn’t kept?  You don’t submit to that journal again.

January 28, 2009. Lately, my rejections have been of the thanks, no thanks, send more variety, including one this morning from Third Coast.  Not everyone does this, but it seems to be happening more frequently than it used to.  I’d like to get this next story finished so it can sit around for a month, becoming a stranger to me, and then I can revise it and send it out.

January 26, 2009 I’m doing this from memory, but I’m pretty sure that, in the last three weeks, the first two chapters of my first novel, which contain a funny and sad courtroom scene, were read carefully, appreciated, and enjoyed by Agni, Hobart, and One Story, who’d like to see more, but don’t want this story because it just didn’t feel right to them.  Is it me or is it you?  Who knows?  Chapters of a novel are not so easy to pull off as stories.  But I love my new novel, and its first chapters, and I am not going to get bent out of shape about this.

January 5, 2009 The bad thing about on-line submissions?  They’re just a tiny bit boring.  They show up in your inbox, a generic thanks, no thanks.  No handwriting, no torn up teeny scraps of paper, no typeface or logo.  So, the year began with West Branch and Columbia, fine journals both.  Thanks, no thanks.   I am thinking this page  is about to become really boring.  And so I am toying with something new — that I just send my stuff out, and stop talking about it.  I think I’ve established a few things in the last year of sending out.  That it takes a lot of tries to get someone to take your stuff.  That persistence matters.  That your stories get better when you read a lot and write a lot.   That a lot of literary journals will lose your story if you send it by mail.  That electronic submissions are quick, but a lot of great journals don’t accept things that way, so you still should send things out in the regular mail.  That duotrope is your friend, but the people who read your blog and leave encouraging and kind comments are more so.

December 22, 2008 The good thing about e-mail submissions, of which there are about 30 out right now, is that it’s easy to keep track of your rejections.  No small slips of paper.  Let’s see:  American Scholar, as I thought, isn’t taking my interesting, well told story, and they’re sorry to have to tell me that.  Virginia Quarterly Review doesn’t say it’s sorry, not online anyway.  They just tell you no.  Which is fine — why should we be emotional about this?   It’s like internet dating.  And then one other person said that the thing I e-mailed them on November 30 with a story attached actually arrived on December 1st with no attachment at all.  Very odd.  But at least they told me.  I think the many stories I never heard back about this past year had those kinds of issues — but there’s no way for anyone to let you know.

December 9, 2008 I’ve sent out a new story — really the first two chapters of my next novel.  This time, rather than stuff envelopes and pay money for stamps, I submitted it only electronically (24 submissions).  It’s been a week, and I got a very  nice e-mail from an editor at The American Scholar (you have to go check that magazine out — it’s really good, the way Boston Review and the Michigan Quarterly Review are good) who told me she was reading my story, enjoying it and would get back to me soon.  Even if this is a prelude to rejection, it’s just so civilized, so wonderfully, unusually civilized.   (And I do think it’s a prelude to rejection — I doubt they will want to publish the likes of me, when every story I’ve seen in that journal is from somebody who’s famous.)  Still…  I also cleaned up an old story and sent that out.  It’s been rejected quickly by one place, a journal where they put out things like stories written in the second person about edgy people in their twenties doing edgy things.  Why did I send it there?  Because I liked thinking they’d have to read my story.  And I liked imagining what they’d say about a third person story about a  middle aged woman who gets a tummy tuck.    Oh, and yes, I also sent in an application for the Stegner Fellowship.  The chances of getting one of those are teensy.   But you know what my mantra is about that?  Somebody has to get one.  Why not me?  I’d love to reduce my work schedule a little bit and drive down to Palo Alto once a week and sit in a workshop with nine other fiction writers and talk about what makes a story work.  Apparently 900 other fiction writers like that idea too, so probably I won’t be doing that next fall.  But the one sure thing is that come next fall, I’ll still be writing stories and novels and sending them out and watching them get batted back to me and sending them out again.  Because That is What You Do.

November 3, 2008. The long list of submissions is now, officially, a short list.   I withdrew the story that’s forthcoming in Southern Humanities Review from all the many  journals it was sitting around at, and one or two journals went out of business (really!), and one or two rejected me outright, and one sent me a nice letter saying they were glad to hear my story had found a home and they’d love to have me submit more (I swear to god, they said “love”).  Two of my stories have been out for 283 days.  That’s a lot of days.  I think it’s wise to assume those stories have been lost or the dog ate the rejection letter.  This weekend, I’m rewriting two of those stories and sending them back out.   I like the idea of going back to them and fixing them up.  And then?  On to novel number 2.

October 3, 2008. I won’t be writing here this month.  Instead, I’m going to ignore everything having to do with submissions — including (gasp) obsessive duotrope checking and refreshing.  I’ll be back November 1.  I’ve got stories sitting on the desks (or stuffed between the cushions of the couch) of 42 literary journals.   Who knows?  Maybe by November 1, that number will be significantly smaller.  And then I can spend November revising the stories that didn’t get taken, and writing new stories and sending THOSE out.  (How funny, just when you decide to stop looking, somebody finally takes one of your stories.)

September 30, 2008. This weekend, I sent letters to a few places, places that have had my stories nine months.  I want to look at those stories, fix them a little, send them back out.  It’ll be fun to make them better — in nine months, you learn a lot about what you want to do with your stories.  I’m giving it another month and then I’ll get to work on those stories and send them out again.  So, I’m all about more submissions today, on a day and during a week when no one is getting back to me.

September 26, 2008. Now I remember that not-rejection — it was from a journal that has gone out of business since I submitted to them.  It was a nice letter too and I was sorry to hear it.  And the other rejection?  Chaffin Journal.  A very nice letter from Kentucky.  What good manners they have at that journal.

September 24, 2008. Another thing on my to-do list:  writing residencies.  If you want my list of residencies, e-mail me.  The deadline for Hedgebrook is tomorrow.   I’m just about finished with the application — it’s a good thing too, because the essays I wrote are pretty much the essays I’m sending other places.  As for stories… still…. waiting…..

September 22, 2008 I feel like somebody must have rejected me the other day, but I can’t for the life of me remember who.  It’s funny, I think I might not care that much anymore.  Mostly, I just want to write good stories and then send them out to a huge number of places.  Somebody or other will take a few of them I’m pretty sure, in the next six months or so, and around the time they do, I’ll have made them work as a linked set of stories (they’re all set in the bay area, they all involve women who work and live in the same communities — it’s not hard to think that the rest of the stories I write will be about these women, mixed up with each other a little bit — isn’t that what linked stories are?  It’ll be fun to do).  And then, after I get them worked up about each other, I’ll send them out to a couple of contests and a couple of small publishing houses, and move on.  Move on to the next novel, I mean.  Why is it that there are days when the things I want to do seem inevitable, obvious, and fun and other days they seem labored and overly-ambitious?  It must have to do with what I had for lunch.  Obviously, on a day when you eat a spring roll and drink really good tea, your life looks pretty great.  Other days? Not so much. One thing that does trouble me:  Two stories, the ones I sent out in January, could really use a revision and then I’d like to send them out again.  But each of them is still hanging out at six or seven journals, and even though I’ve e-mailed most of those journals to ask if they have received the story (it’s been about eight months since I submitted those stories), only one journal replied.  It’s just not professional to ignore an inquiry from someone who’s submitted a story to you.

September 20, 2008. News from the if-it’s-Friday-then-it-must-be-time-for-two-completely-anonymous-rejections Bureau.   Well, they don’t want the first chapter of my new novel at Lake Effect.  And that great story I wrote a couple of months ago, the one about a visit to a strip club, isn’t going to find a home at Eclipse, which is too bad, because the editor of that journal sounds like a very cool guy.   The thing I’ve been doing lately is making a list of journals I like to re-send some stories to, after I re-write them.  That’s fun.  Ever hopeful, I guess.

September 19, 2008 News from the “good rejection” bureau.  I got an actual letter — handwritten, more than one sentence — from Laurence Goldstein, the editor of Michigan Quarterly Review. The letter was helpful, generous, and quick. Sure, I’d rather that he was telling me he wanted the story, but it was nice to hear what he thought of it.  The most interesting thing he said was that it sounded to him more like the beginning of a novel than a story.   I like this story very much, and it feels finished to me.  But this is an interesting point, and one I’d like to think more about when I get around to being able to think about my stories.  Right now, I’m busy finishing up the thing that IS a novel.

September 15, 2008 A nice James Jones e-mail this morning:

Your novel has been chosen as one of the finalists in this year’s James Jones First Novel Fellowship. The winner this year was Margarite Landry, from Southborough, MA, with her novel, “Blue Moon.” Our two runners-up were: Matthew Dillon of Port Townsend, WA, with his manuscript, “Restoration.” Nicholas Gerogiannis of Birmingham, AL, with his manuscript, “Sere.”   The other finalists were:  Lily Hamrick, Berkely, CA, “The Secret War.” Elizabeth Wetmore, Chicago, IL, “The Earth is Flat.” Kim Triedman, Arlington, MA, “The Other Room.” Lowell Brower, Walworth, WI, “The Safari Guide.”

Congratulations on this accomplishment. Your novel was selected from over 500 entries. As a finalist, your name will be included on the winners list and on our website.

September 9, 2008 The Florida Review.  Apparently, a long, long, long time ago I entered a contest sponsored by the Florida Review.  It’s a good contest because your entry fee also buys you an issue or two of the Review.  The issue came yesterday.  The notice of the winners (not me, of course) came today.  It makes absolutely no impact on me, the fact that I did not win this contest because I don’t even remember entering it. So, that’s it, then.  No other news to report.  (Except to say that I am in the middle of polishing up two stories, stories I like so much — I like all my stories, actually.  Is that normal?)

September 6, 2008 (Saturday) Yesterday, coming out of the BART station, right around the time school lets out at the middle school not far from here, I saw this group of teenagers hanging around on the steps that lead down to the station, steps no one uses because people don’t go that way, which is why these steps are perfect for a group of teenagers to hang out on, which is, in fact, what they have been doing all week, first a half dozen of them, and by now four times that. As I walk by, someone yells F-YOU!” Really loud, which is the right way to say that expression on a hot Friday afternoon, when you’ve been stuck inside at work or school all day. At least it is the right way to say it in my view. It’s a boy doing the shouting. He’s about 14 or so, baggy pants, bad attitude. He’s yelling at a girl. She yells right back at him, right in his face, “F-YOU!” Loud. Super loud. He leans right back in to her, and yells, “F-YOU!” just as loud. She’s got a bad attitude too, tight pants, a top her mother should not have let her leave the house wearing. She leans in close to him and shouts back, “F-YOUI” She’s shorter than he is, but she’s on a stair above him, so she’s right in his face. Try it yourself. I mean, that’s what I did. I yelled “F-YOU!” in my head exactly at the moment each of them did, carrying my little black computer bag and wearing my mommy-goes-to work outfit. After ten f-you’s back and forth — which is a lot (try that in your head and you’ll see what I mean), the two of them stopped and stared at each other. And then they just busted up laughing. So did everyone else on the stairs. All those kids — about two ozen of them — leaned into each other and laughed the way you do when someone says something and your friends are all around you laughing too, which makes the whole thing even more funny and ridiculous and true and sad and angry all at the same time. And then I heard the girl say to the boy, her voice dripping with sarcasm, emphasis on the “you” as in, “you are a worm” — “I don’t want to f-you at all.” And he said, “Me neither.” And then they all laughed some more, even more loudly, leaning over each other and grabbing each other to stop themselves from falling down the stairs, their arms flailing around, a group of kids having more fun than they’d had all week, I’m pretty sure.  I waited to get to my car before I laughed. But I did. Because the whole scene was so full of rage and then so funny and so exactly right for that moment, on that very hot afternoon after a week spent listening to people tell you no, you can’t have what you want, which is what I imagine you must feel by the time it gets to be Friday after your first week back in school, being told all kinds of things you’d really rather not hear with no chance to talk back and say just how that makes you feel, which is, basically, “F-YOU!”

September 5, 2008 (Friday) I’d just like to here record that last night, after swallowing three rejections in the mail, a fourth arrived via e-mail. It’s interesting to note the symptoms of despair: sarcasm, rage, difficulty sleeping, and then difficulty getting out of bed. The solution? It’s too early to tell.

September 4, 2008 (Thursday) Today I received an assortment of rejection letters, a chocolate box of them. There were only three of them so let’s imagine them metaphorically nestled in one of those Godiva chocolate boxes where you spend $30 and get three chocolates. Except in this case the chocolates are totally Whitman’s Samplers, with two of them containing (ick) coconut and one of them appearing to be full of yummy caramel but, on closer inspection, having one of those weird cream centers I don’t really like because it is not actually anything at all, just weird smushy cream. First up, the weirdest rejection I’ve ever received. The postmark read “South Bend IN” which gave me pause for a moment, because I’m still (pathetic, I know) holding out hope that the Michigan Quarterly Review will take my most recently submitted story. It’s been there for 42 days, and they are notorious for answering much more quickly than that, so in my anxiety about whether this might be the “no thanks” letter I don’t want to get from them, I had that brain freeze thing that happens to those who live on the coasts, where we can’t remember if Michigan is IN Indiana or not, but of COURSE IT’S NOT, because it is a SEPARATE STATE. I do, in fact, know that Ann Arbor and South Bend are totally different towns, and that Michigan and Indiana are totally different states, so after I stopped freaking out, I got my geography straight and wondered what on earth they had to say for themselves at Notre Dame. Surely, some sort of apology for the EIGHT MONTHS they’ve been sitting on my story. So. I open the envelope. What’s inside? The first page of my story. Is there something written on my story? Nope. Just the first page. Which is weird, because I think there was a question pending, like “Hey, how about taking my story?” I know I sent them an entire letter saying something like that, only much more nicely put and on quite nice paper. Apparently, they don’t answer questions at The Notre Dame Review. They’re very catholic that way. And that is why I am never submitting to them again. It’s one thing to reject someone. It’s another to use my stamp to send me back something that I actually have a lot of copies of already, namely, the first page of my story. That is rude. I don’t like rudeness. Okay, now you’re wondering what other coconut bomb I got. Well, this one came from Lunch Hour Stories. The story I sent them was 3,800 words long. They don’t want it, their letter says. Why? Well, their word limit is 4,000-8,000 words. Maybe they’ve timed how long it takes people to eat lunch and read a story and there’s a significant difference between 3800 words and 4000 words. Maybe at 3800 words there are still two bites of a turkey sandwich and one salt and vinegar chip left. My view? It’s a really good story and they are not wise to use this lame excuse to stuff it back in my envelope and return it to me. If they really, really needed 200 more words, they could have asked for them. I have a few available. And then, from Zone 3, a really nice rejection letter, which is still – obviously – a rejection letter, making it the confectioner’s equivalent of something you actually don’t want to eat even if it is sort of okay-ish looking. Basically, at Zone 3 they don’t backlog acceptances for future issues and they’re returning my story but hope I submit again. If that’s a form letter, and I’m pretty sure it is, it’s a nicely written, polite, and professional response. It takes up an entire page of paper and is written like an actual business letter. Zone 3 I will submit to again. Because they are professional. Mood: Terrible. But, really, who cares what my mood is? I don’t.

August 30, 2008 (Sunday) Music? None. Everyone is asleep. But Archie is barking — now, why is that? Three rejections in the last three days: Baltimore Review, Sanskrit, and Summerset Review (an e-mail — I like online submissions and responses.) Is this hard? You know, it sort of is, at certain times. The answer to any difficulty with the submissions process is to continue writing. Because I am revising a novel, I am unable to work on my stories — a recent story that is 3/4 finished, and a sheaf of older stories I printed out recently and want to look at and maybe revise. So, that is frustrating. But it is not forever.

August 28, 2008 (Thursday) Music Playing: Over at R.E.M., Michael Stipe is losing his religion. Here at Bloglily, we are not losing anything, because I have stopped entering short story contests. Not worth it. Harper’s. Now there’s a fine magazine. They won’t be publishing my story any time soon, but that’s okay. And, oh, yes OleMiss’s literary journal, the Yalobusha Review dinged me too. At least they both did it quickly and professionally.

I’ve nothing to say in the mood department. It is irrelevant.

August 26, 2008 (Tuesday) There is no music playing. The sound of a neighbor sawing something, my fan whirring: that is all. When I got back from vacation this weekend, there were two rejections waiting for me: one from Boulevard for the third story I sent out (it’s been about 150 days for that story) and Howard Junker’s wonderful form letter from ZYZZYVA for my most recent submission. It took him 28 days to get back to me. It’s an honor to get one of those letters — especially because he’s retiring in a year. Looking at my list of submissions, I’ve decided it’s time to check into the fate of stories I’ve had out for seven months without a word. When a journal says, on its website no less, that it generally takes three months to get to a submission, it seems fine to get in touch when more than twice that time goes by to see what has happened. Why wonder? Indeed. Apparently, the story I sent to West Branch in January was rejected in a lightening quick twenty days. The only problem? They forgot to tell me. I do appreciate how quickly their editor got back to me when I e-mailed them this morning. I’m waiting to hear from Sonora Review (seven months) and I’m mailing a letter to Santa Monica Review (seven months). I e-mailed one other journal, but I can’t remember who, off the top of my head. (Oh, of course, Ohio State’s literary journal, THE JOURNAL.) But all’s quiet in the mail right now.

Prevailing Mood: I’ve decided to try to find a way to be less attentive to this part of writing. It’s distracting and demoralizing.

August 22, 2008 (Friday)

Music Playing: It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World –James Brown. I dreamed last night that I got a long, long letter from an editor at a literary journal. The letter was written entirely in pencil and the gist of it was that my story, while good, was too – and here he supplied an adjective that I cannot now remember, something like “brittle” or “aggressive” or “glib” – which is to say, inauthentic. At the end of the letter he said he was forwarding my story to a friend at another journal, someone who, apparently, didn’t know the difference between a story that’s true and a story that’s false. It was not the letter I’d hoped to get, that’s for sure. (I think I’m aware that when I get home after being away for a week, there’s going to be a lot of mail I don’t really want to read.) Okay. It wasn’t a REAL rejection. Obviously. But it makes me think that I do know — in a place where you know these things but maybe don’t confront them — that I’m controlling my work too much. I’ve been reading Tom Bailey’s On Writing Short Stories, which is essentially a collection of essays by wonderful contemporary short story writers (including Frank Conroy and Tobias Wolff) followed by a bunch of short stories. It’s this, from Andre Dubus, that really struck me: “I will paraphrase E. M. Forster because I don’t remember where I read this: How can I know what I think about something till I hear what I have to say about it? This is profound, I believe, and universal; when we speak from the heart, with no plan, no point to make, we discover truths we did not know that we knew.”

August 18, 2008. (Monday)

Music Playing: Alison Krauss. Slumber My Darling. It’s actually 9 a.m. and a beautiful, truly beautiful morning at Lake Tahoe. Still. Alison it is.

We’re on vacation, where I hope I will be able to escape from what sometimes feels like an unhealthy preoccupation with the fate of my stories. We are having an un-planned week, which means that if I wake up and everyone’s asleep I can go outside and sit down and write more stuff, which is how you get beyond the concern with how your work is being received.

Prevailing Mood: We’re going hiking in about half an hour, we’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world. So, good.

August 15, 2008.

Music Playing: I swear to God, my itunes library is playing Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music. The boys LOVE this song. It cracks them up. It’s weird, how the past and the present sort of fold into each other, and the seventies, that decade of unfortunate fashion and music that now seems terribly innocent, does not actually ever go away.

My kids really like Dan Gutman. He writes the kind of stories kids love to read, or at least the kind my kids love to read, especially Charlie. Gutman’s series about a kid who finds a baseball card and goes back in time and meets the guy on the card is brilliant, according to Charlie, who read every single one of these books with an eagerness that was a delight to see. Apparently, this series was not so loved when Gutman sent the first one out to publishers. Here’s what he says about the experience of being told a lot of things could be improved about a book that, essentially, was just fine. More than just fine.

Prevailing Mood: I would just like to thank Dan Gutman for remembering what it feels like to be rejected.

August 13, 2008. Music Playing: Strange Cup of Tea (Sister Hazel, Alive and Acoustic)

There I was, sitting around wondering how it could be possible that Quarterly West has had my story for 201 days. I like Quarterly West, but you can get irritated with even somebody you like when they ignore you for 201 days. But then I read this piece by George Saunders (it’s on the QW website) and it made me realize that 201 days is just fine, because it should not be forgotten — even when you’re feeling surly and hopeless — that good literary magazines like Quarterly West are doing something so important that it should make you be a little less grumpy about the 201 days. As George Saunders puts it

The literary magazine in America does awesome and vital work: in a culture dedicated to sweeping any trace of virtue up into the smokestack of big media, the literary magazine makes a home for the Good but Offbeat. Or the Wonderful, Present in Nascent Form. Not to mention the Wild But Undisciplined. Or, most importantly: That Which is Coming From Somewhere Previously Underrepresented. In short, it allows for those products of our culture that have not put on the garb of the mainstream but are nevertheless vital. So as the garb of the mainstream becomes dumber and tighter and more dedicated to serving the status quo, the literary magazine protects the democracy, by protecting diversity. It does so by listening, and listening well, to the odd and unknown voices that come through its doors, which most often arrive without agents or industry contacts or lengthy impressive vitas. There are many truths, and a democracy had better hear them all, whereas our democracy, more and more, seems dedicated to hearing the same two or three over and over, especially if these two or three help the powers that be to move product. But a good literary magazine and Quarterly West is one of our best has no agenda but joyfulness and, as such, is a hedge against stupidity and boneheadedness.

August 12, 2008.

Music Playing: Joan Osborne. Man in the Long Black Coat.

Happy — one of the first journals I submitted to — has sent me a rejection note that is virtually the same as the first one they sent me. Other than that, I would simply like to note that a lot of stories are out there. My two earliest submissions are still out there, sitting (I assume) in the offices of 14 different literary journals. They’ve been doing that now for 200 days exactly. I hope they’re being fed and watered.

Prevailing Mood: Astonished, still, that it could take so long to hear back. I think if a journal is giving your story serious thought they should send you something and tell you so. An e-mail would suffice.

August 9, 2008.

Music Playing: Cemeteries of London. Coldplay. I like this CD a lot. It’s less whiney than other things by Coldplay. W thinks its because of Brian Eno, that Brian Eno makes everyone he works with that much better than they might otherwise be. In the last week,

I’ve heard from two places. The Atlantic Review, the mothership, sent me a form rejection in about two seconds. Okay, they do get something like 15,000 submissions a year and they aren’t putting out 15,000 stories a year or anything near that, so I suppose it’s to be expected. And then I got a very nice rejection from the Chicago Quarterly Review, in an envelope they’d addressed themselves, and used their own stamp to post, with a handwritten note saying something like “our readers found your story touching, and it would have been in our next issue but basically every other story in that issue was written by a woman JUST LIKE YOU so if you’d just sent us a story about a chicken farmer who makes quilts out of feathers, well, it might have been better.” I won’t discuss whether the thing I’m going for is “touching” because that would be impermissible over-parsing of rejection note language and uncool. I’ll just say I don’t know what I wanted to do in that story other than tell something true about this woman, and I’m pretty sure I did that, although the last couple of sentences are not as good as they could be. I think when I get to the end of the line with that story — which has been out almost 200 days and is still sitting at ten or so journals, probably being discussed as a good story that’s unfortunately a lot like other stories — I’m going to do something about those sentences that bother me and maybe lengthen it a little bit and add a chicken feather quilt subplot and give it some room and then send it out to more places.

Prevailing Mood: Because I don’t write when I’m in the bottom of the pit of despair, I can only report that somehow I located the footholds I left down there last time I took up residence and have emerged, blinking like a mole, and brushing the mud off my hands, not like a mole, but like a person who’s got to get back to work on her novel before her agent forgets who she is, and finishing that story about the woman who sees her old lover on the witness stand. (And really if women writers all over America are writing that same story, well, what can I do about that? That’s the only story I want to write at this moment.)

August 2, 2008.

Music Playing: A very quiet evening. It’s warm, and the windows are open and I can hear the faint sound of a train whistle. It’s an Amtrak train, and it’s several miles away, down by the frontage road that traces the path of the shore along the San Francisco Bay. And the wind is blowing, because the fog is coming in and on the breeze is the always present smell of this place which is star jasmine. A lovely, silent evening.

Nothing at all to report. Really. No rejections, no nothing.

Prevailing Mood: I’m going away tomorrow for a few days and although I miss my family, I am looking forward to some quiet hours of writing.

July 28, 2008. (or is it maybe the 29th?) Anyway, it’s Tuesday.

Music Playing: John Prine. The Glory of True Love.

Here’s something I’ve never seen before, something I think is a terrific idea, not to mention very kind. It’s from Hayden’s Ferry Review, a fine journal produced by Arizona State. Not only did it come pretty quickly, but it’s so personal. I don’t think most journals tell you when you’ve made a cut — or when they’re holding on to your story while they think about whether they can use it. They just make you wait and wonder, which isn’t that great for a writer.

I know — it’s a terrible photo. I took it with my phone. It says, “your work has advanced to our next round of editors. We will notify you as soon as a decision has been reached.”

Prevailing Mood: This was one of those faith restoring moments, so I’m feeling good. I’m happy they’re thinking about the story further, but am a little concerned too. The story they have is one I’ve substantially rewritten and just a few days ago sent off to a lot of other journals, thinking it wasn’t going anywhere in its present form. Hayden’s Ferry Review has the oldest version. So, we’ll see.

July 26, 2008.

Music Playing: James Taylor. Sweet Baby James. The perfect kind of music for a Saturday afternoon.

W’s out of town, so last night the boys and I drove over to the main Oakland post office, the one that’s near the West Oakland Bart station, and happens to be open until 8:00 p.m. It’s a fabulous post office. The women who work there are always very cheerful — Friday night cheerful. And the boys did some sort of magical thing to one selected submission each. William’s was Willow Springs, for example. So, we’ll see. The other 23 submissions are on their own. This morning, I also sent a story to The Atlantic, and when I was making sure I was sending it to the right person, I found a good interview with C. Michael Curtis, who happens to be the fiction editor at The Atlantic. Here it is.

Prevailing Mood: I’ve decided it doesn’t actually matter. I send them out, I get them back, I send them out again. And, while I’m at it, I write more, each one better than the one before, a little bit. And pretty soon here, I’m going to close the books on the stories that have been out for six months and re-draft them, and send them out again.

July 25, 2008.

Music Playing. Nickelback. Far Away. The boys must have put this on my itunes library. Ah ha! It’s on a compilation CD called Now 21. Anyway, it’s awful. Very whiny. Part of an entire movement of guys who wail away with a lot of guitars in the background all about how much they loved somebody. I would just like to announce that this is not what wins women over. Make them laugh. Rub their feet. Do the dishes. That is the only sure way to a woman’s heart. Although, come to think of it, between the ages of about 19 and 26, you can be a huge jerk and that might work too. But, eventually, that woman will come to her senses and dump you.

So, when I’m not dispensing advice on love and relationships and listening to bad music, I was rejected by Paris Review, on a surprisingly unclassy slip of paper shoved into my return envelope. Bah.

Prevailing Mood: Bah.

July 22, 2008.

Music Playing. CCR, Spell on You

The mail has been very quiet around here. The best thing that came today was the July/August issue of Boston Review. There’s a terrific article about Flann O’Brien, an article that makes me want to read At-Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman. And the one piece of fiction is quite good too. The Flann O’Brien article makes me think about how painful rejection must be for the writer who’s doing something very good and very different, something that few people see clearly, but the writer knows, at some level is good, even great.

Prevaiing Mood: I’m feeling sad for Flann O’Brien, and for other people like him who didn’t get their due during their lives. I’m not inventing a new form to say what I want to say, but I so admire those who do.

July 21, 2008. Twice in one day! Goodness.

Music Playing: Tom Petty Breakdown. I don’t actually think he’s having any kind of breakdown at all.

Nothing in the mail today. Or Saturday. Or Friday, come to think of it. That’s okay. I’m about to send out a revised version of The Centerfold Club, to a lot of places, and so I’m going to be busy for a few hours after work (which is what time it is right now), putting things in envelopes.

Prevailing Mood: Businesslike? Is that a mood? Does it even matter what mood I’m in?

Music Playing: I’m listening to Sister Hazel on my headphones. All for You. Live & Acoustic! Woot. It’s like being at a concert, except in my head. In addition to sending my stories out to — at last count — a total of 124 literary journals (I kid you not. And in a few days, I’m going to increase that number to 148 journals, which is a good group of journals to send stories to. I’m awed there are so many markets for literary short stories. The people who edit thees journals, as much as I bitch about how long it takes them to get back to me on my stories, are amazing. Obviously, they love stories. This is a good, good thing, and something to take a moment and be thankful for)…. where was I? Oh, in addition to sending my stories to a lot of literary journals, I also sometimes give them to people to read, and even make them sit around while I read them out loud, which is what I did to my book group last week. I like to entertain people, and I like to get reactions to my stuff. So, I would like to record two extremely heartening reactions I recently received to my stories. First, my father-in-law gave all my stories to a friend of his, a man who’s a sophisticated reader, being an English professor and a fine writer himself. He wrote me a seven page letter about my stories, which I must say is really above and beyond. He also read my entire novel and had good and helpful things to say about it too. I won’t go into what he said, except to mention that there are few greater pleasures to a writer than to feel that you have been read well by someone who’s paid attention to what you’ve been doing. He also said, to my great amusement, that in the 1980s he was offered the editorship of The Southern Review, which he turned down, but if he was the editor, he’d take my stories. I thought that was very sweet. Of course, Jeanne Leiby’s got that job these days, and she’s plenty smart, so someday, she will indeed take one of my stories. Because I’m sending them all to her. I like her and I like her work. He also pointed out that my stories do not grab you by the throat, and work rises out of the slush pile mostly by virtue of being aggressively attention-getting, so it might be a while before someone notices just how good my stories are. I’m fine waiting. It’s not like I’m not writing more stories, or not writing what I want, or not getting better. And then there was the reaction of one of my colleagues to a story I wrote a week or so ago. He’d asked to see what I’m writing, so I gave him that. He liked it, and then this morning, he came into my office and told me that he didn’t just like it, but he kept thinking about it too. You, he said to me, are a story teller and a writer. Both.

Prevailing Mood: I like writing stories. Actually, I love writing them. I didn’t know, though, how much I’d enjoy talking to people about what I write. That’s pretty great too. I feel incredibly lucky to have something I really like to do, and to feel myself getting better and better at it.

July 19, 2008. Music Playing. Mindy Smith. Come to Jesus.

Great new blog alert: {bee+spool}. Everyone should get a rejection sticker, especially if they look like the one Debbie Yee posts on her blog. (Check the link.) I also really like her chapbooks and the poems she posts are just lovely.

Prevailing Mood: Amused by the sticker, delighted by the poems.

July 18, 2008. Music Playing: Elvis. Kentucky Rain. I love this song. Okay, so in real time. It’s Friday at 4:56 p.m. (Yes, we have the last mail delivery stop in all of Berkeley. It is part of the Plot Against My Sanity.) I hear the sound of our mail thing being lifted and I get up from where I’m sitting, listening to Elvis and pasting in the picture you see up there. Archie the attack poodle hears me or maybe it is the mail slot sound he hears. He comes running in from the back yard where he has been serenely sunning himself. He rushes past me, basically so he can shoot out the door the second I open it to get the mail, which is often sort of stuffed into our mail slot, because we get so much crap, and kill the letter carrier, who usually laughs at him when he emerges from the door, barking like crazy, because he looks totally ridiculous, like an angry sheep. Anyway, he starts barking. I don’t get up, but wait, and type these words. He comes back and goes outside again to recommence the sunning of himself, satisfied that he’s had his say. Elvis starts to play Steamroller Blues and I get up and slink over to the mailbox, hoping the letter carrier’s escaped in the interval, just in case Archie changes his mind and escapes into the front yard and adds to my embarrassment over how often I get rejected by being the weirdest dog of all time. Be back in a second. Okay. I’m back. Not a thing. I mean, lots of things, like my alumni magazine (announcing that some guy who’s ten years or so younger than I am and an editor at the Paris Review just came out with a fabulous book, and somebody else is the ambassador to some eastern european country and, well, you know, the kinds of thing that confirm what everybody knows, which is basically that the alumni magazine is there for the sole purpose of making you feel like a loser), and Spin Magazine, which might have Duffy on the cover, but I’m fairly certain is not going to talk about the age/race issues she raises, and something from my life insurance carrier (who wouldn’t insure me if they knew the STRESS I go through every day except Sunday when there’s no mail), and a notice from the Grubb Company that telegraphs the news that home prices in Berkeley are insanely high, but not as insanely high as they were just six months ago. But no rejections. Which is good. It’s Friday and my

Prevailing Mood is: Very happy. It’s Friday. The weekend’s here. I have time to write. We live in a lovely neighborhood, in a house we bought way before home prices became insanely high around here. My dog is weirder than I am. Life’s good.

July 17, 2008.

Music Playing: Jackie Greene, Uphill Mountain. I’m not sure if i’ve mentioned my utter devotion to the wonderful Jackie Greene, and how this song, Uphill Mountain, seems to me to be the ideal theme song for this page of my blog. His wonderfulness is almost entirely due to the way this song makes me laugh and it also makes me happy. Plus, he’s got a great, unique voice. Turns out, I was absolutely right about the Alphabetical Order that came down a while ago. After being rejected by Conduit and Crab Orchard Review, yesterday I was rejected by … Driftwood. I swear to god, that really did happen. I know, I know, it’s about as unlikely as Driftwood TAKING my damn story, but life is full of odd things, isn’t it? SO, what do you think? Will Fugue be next?

Prevailing Mood: I am, along with Alison Krauss, to whom I am currently listening, going down to the river to pray, having pretty much exhausted all worldly means of getting a literary journal to take on my fiction. Which means my current mood is: desperate. (Joke! I’m a little tired and wish I didn’t care so much, something I think I can actually achieve with a little thought and determination and a better night’s sleep than the one I had last night, due to nobody’s fault but my own.)

July 16, 2008.

Music Playing. I have really embarrassing music on my ipod. Today it’s this Gary Allan song called The Best I Ever Had, which is basically a song so full of regret and sadness that it makes you want to weep, if you happen to be a sentimental teenager circa 1970something.

Two days ago, I heard from Conduit and Crab Creek Review. I don’t know how I feel about the scrawled “thanks” on the Conduit rejection. I don’t think they really mean to thank me for making their slush pile higher. And I really, really don’t want the pity of some reader who’s likely about twenty years younger than I am and nowhere nearly as well read. (Sorry, that’s very snotty, I know, and also cranky in that old person kind of way.) But mainly, the receipt of these two rejections has made me speculate that maybe the journals have now decided to reject me in alphabetical order. In which case, the next journal I hear from should be driftwood and then maybe after that fugue. But then what of Columbia, Cadillac Cicatrix and Carolina Quarterly, who’ve yet to answer me, although they’ve had my story in two cases for 173 days? Maybe they didn’t get the Alphabetical Order issued by the Union of Literary Journals — or maybe they got it but they never opened it because they thought it was slush.

Prevailing Mood: Some days, this whole thing makes me laugh, because it is so ridiculous. Other days, it makes me drive right past cranky and then head in the direction of bitter.

July 14, 2008.

Music Playing: feist. Tout doucement. Happy Bastille Day. Storm something that’s been fortified against you today — if you have a moment, I mean. It was an ivy league weekend. After J.D. McClatchy’s civilized note (on nice notepaper, I’d like to add), another civilized letter, on equally nice notepaper, came from the Harvard Review. I think this letter was meant to be personal, because in the sentence where I am informed that my writing was something good — admirable, maybe? — the words are mixed up, like an actual person typed the letter, so I had to rearrange the words to figure out that they liked my writing and were not sneering at it. And even though that actual person said it was okay to send more, they don’t want to see it for another six months. Did that hurt my feelings? Why, yes. Really, though? No. I mean, maybe they send that same slightly addled letter to everybody. Also, I don’t even know that actual person who sent the letter, although I like the Harvard Review and its fiction editor just came out with a fine book of short stories. The reading of rejection tea leaves is ridiculous — they didn’t want my story, and that’s that. Come to think of it, neither did Gulf Coast, nor some other journal, whose name I cannot remember at this moment. Yikes. Am I discouraged? Not really.

Prevailing Mood: Stubbornly optimistic. Those are good stories. People should be reading them. Someday, they will be. And they will be amused, entertained, and maybe even comforted by them, which is pretty much the experience I had writing them, except for those times when I couldn’t figure out how to get the back story out of there, and still make the story comprehensible, and then the experience was frustration, which should then make the reader’s experience not frustrated — at least to the extent I solved the problem in the too-much-back story story. Also, I spent more time than my readers ever will trying to remember the rules about when you spell out numbers (sometimes) or use their numerals (sometimes). Otherwise, same experience for the reader as for the writer — that’s my goal.

July 11, 2008. Music Playing: Alison Krauss. Now That I’ve Found You.

I received the most civilized of rejection notes from the Yale Review today. I am glad to know they went through my story carefully and with pleasure and that they appreciate my patience while waiting to hear from them. In fact, I was not patient while waiting to hear from them, not at all, but J.D. McClatchy doesn’t actually know that, now does he and, really, why not praise the behavior you hope your submitters will exhibit rather than the behavior they actually indulge in? My mother does this all the time. (I mean, she USED to do it, before I grew up and became the woman she molded into perfection.) She would say things like, “Aunt Simona LOVES your letters, Lily. She says they’re always so nice to get.” Of course what that really meant was “Why haven’t you written your Aunt and thanked her for that nice gift she gave you?”

Prevailing Mood: Impatient. But in the most lady-like way.

July 9, 2008. Music Playing. I’m listening to KFOG. What sounded like Dire Straits just ended in a lot of guitar licks (I think it was Industrial Disease) And now? A guy talking about how warm it is out and how we might want to Spare the Air tomorrow, by not driving. Okay by me.

No need to put it the news in a black box with a border like somebody died.  I'll be okay.
No need to put the news in a black box with a border around it like somebody died. I’ll be okay.

This came today — it’s for my most recent submission, the first chapter of my new novel. Really, I’ve got to think of a name for that novel someday.

Prevailing Mood: I hate being rejected. Wouldn’t it be weird if it never got to me? This particular rejection isn’t what gets to me. It’s the journals who really should have gotten back by now — the ones I’m not sure I should bug or not. I mean, what are the chances they really did lose my story? And if they did, well, why would I even bother resubmitting to them?

July 9, 2008. Music Playing: Ricki Lee Jones. It Must be Love. Nothing in the mail today, despite the fact that my four stories are out to over 60 journals. So, how about some statistics? The Makover. 8: The number of journals who still have this story. 165: the number of days this story has been out The Pornographer. 12: the number of journals who still have this story. 165: The number of days this story has been out And then there are the other two stories, which haven’t been out anywhere nearly as long. The third story has been out over 100 days. The fourth story is just a baby, so young it can’t even speak up to complain about its treatment.

Prevailing Mood: It’s summer. It’s time for bed. Having recited my statistics, I am strangely heartened.

July 7, 2008. Music Playing; Leonard Cohen. Everybody Knows. Why is this song showing up so often? Could it be because I love it? Yup. Over the long weekend: not a thing. Today, after the long Monday workday: zilch. I have a lot of stuff out there. What the heck are these literary journals doing?

Prevailing Mood: I’m writing more stories, people. It just occurred to me that maybe there’s NOT ENOUGH OUT THERE.

July 3, 2008. Two posts on this page in a day. Clearly, some epic procrastinating is going on. Music Playing: What do I procrastinate to? Well, I have my ipod on party shuffle, which means I have to ‘fess up to Neil Diamond, Solitary Man. Okay, it reminds me of my dad. And the late 1960s. So sue me. Now, it’s Sia, Playground, which is almost as cool as Solitary Man. This came in the mail today. It’s a rejection slip for my most recent submission, the first chapter of my new novel, the one I’m not so sure really works as a story. Still, I loved writing it, and so off it went. And may I say that the Dos Passos Review rocks? It took them less than a month to get back to me. They wrote something encouraging on my slip. Professional and kind. It doesn’t get better than that. Oh. In fact, it does. When they take your piece, now that’s even better.

Prevailing Mood: Pretty good. The weekend is upon us. We’ve watched most of the HBO series on John Adams and are feeling very proud of our country, warts and all, these days. I love knowing that John Adams was a pain in the neck. Somehow, it makes me feel better about being that way myself sometimes. Except, of course, I’m not, like, leading a country or anything.

And here’s something I wrote earlier today, because I’ve been procrastinating, basically, all day: I like the people at the Missouri Review and not just because they actually applied a pen to my rejection note and said something encouraging, although what’s not to like about that? Anyway. there’s a piece up on their blog about sorting through the slush pile. I like it when journals talk about their process. I mean, after a while, you can kind of guess what’s going on, which is to say mountains of manuscripts and overworked readers, but I find this blogger’s empathy for writers quite lovely. And here’s what the bottom shelf at the Barnes & Noble in Emeryville looks like: Pretty good, don’t you think?

July 2, 2008. Yes, I know, I’ve already written in here once today. But the mail just came with a rejection that’s such a great object lesson and I’m listening to something I really like (Jackie Greene, I Don’t Live in a Dream), so, why not? My latest effort, which I sent off less than a month ago, is also the first chapter of the new novel I’m working on. It is, or at least I would like it to be, funny, and light. I mean, it has weighty things at its center but seeing as how it’s based on (let’s go with “inspired by”) things like Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing, is written in the third person, past tense, it could hardly be described as something this magazine wanted, something they’re very clear about on their website. You see, I sent them a story that is not at all “experimental in nature,” and has really almost no “edge” to it. (By “edge” I’m pretty sure they mean unexpected, as in quirky people doing quirky things that occasionally veer into the very sexual and/or very violent and set in quirky places, like chewing gum factories or alligator farms.) Anyway, I plead guilty to a failure to look really closely at this magazine before sending it my light, but deep, story/chapter. I, myself, do not like, read, or seek out stories that are edgy or experimental. They make me tired and they bore me. I realize that many of the writers I like now were seen as experimental when they wrote, and I also realize that my unwillingness to read current experiments in fiction writing is unadventurous, to say the least. As it happens, I don’t really care. I haven’t got a lot of time and patience anymore. I am grumpy. So I don’t write edgy and experimental and I don’t read it. But, back to this journal, whose submissions guidelines I totally violated. It seems only fair that I’d receive in the mail today a rejection note from this journal with the following scrawled impatiently across the bottom: “not what our readers are looking for.” I think that goes above and beyond, really, and was actually sort of nice of this editor to point out. In my grumpiest moods I’d probably have balled up my story and spilled coffee on it and then shoved it back in my SASE and returned it with no note at all.

Prevailing Mood: Impatient with self for not being more careful and for wasting someone’s time. Edgy. But not experimental.

Music Playing: Rufus Wainwright. Everybody Knows. everybody knows the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed, everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost. . . that’s how it goes. Everybody knows that the boat is leaking, everybody knows the captain lied… I’d say Leonard Cohen was not in a super-optimistic mood when he wrote this song. Me, I’m an optimist. Obviously. Who else but an optimist would keep sending things out when it’s doesn’t look like anybody’s going to take my stories? Okay. A lunatic would do the same thing. So, to cheer myself up, even though it’s pathetic, I’m giving you a picture of one those good rejections, which everybody knows, is at least better than the not-so-good rejection. From the Missouri Review: Prevailing Mood: I can’t believe Leonard Cohen could come up with so many clever things that everybody knows. It’s very inspiring, actually. And that’s how I feel right now: a little tired, but inspired.

July 1, 2008. Music Playing: Weezer. Island in the Sun. The perfect summer song, even if it’s so not summer here in the Bay Area, what with the weird mix of summer fog and some dark, low lying particle-filled fog/clouds you just know are filled with ashes from all the fires not far from here, and which you and your loved ones are breathing in. Here’s another visual aid to what’s happening in my submission life: Why yes, it’s tiny. And it’s blurred. Why not? That’s what I feel like sometimes when I get these in the mail. Prevailing Mood: Just zipping along, a little like this page. I’ve had a lot of caffeine, and it’s summer. Life’s good.


24 thoughts on “Submitting, Part 2

  1. Ok, so no acceptances, but really, Lily, you’ve had a pretty positive week, because you’ve not only heard from places, which is sadly not always a given, but you’ve been encouraged to send more. Dos Passos EXCLAIMED, “Please submit again!”

    Hooray, and Happy Fourth!

  2. You are indeed a storyteller and a writer, and I think the world is in for a HUGE treat for itself when some smart and appreciative editor pushes the YES button on these stories and prints them in a journal. Then they will ALL want them! You’ll see. Also, I think that’s a very great compliment that this friend of your father-in-law said, that your stories don’t reach up and grab people by the throat. Who wants that, really??
    So glad you are here! xoxo

  3. And I’m glad you’re there, Ms. Shelton. I’m pretty sure that being read well is a pleasure all its own, one in addition to writing well. I just hadn’t thought about it before, that’s all.

    The thing about all this submitting is that I wonder if paying attention to this part of writing is helpful to me. So far, I think it is. I haven’t had time to really think about rejection in any sustained way, but I think the writer’s effort to connect with other people is an interesting subject.

    And I have received an enormous amount of solace from your stories about this subject. xo

  4. Catching up here — Columbia’s had my submission for a while, too; they’re ever so slow.

    Also, reading your entry for July 21 after reading your new blog post about not writing is an interestin juxtaposition — you should reread it on just such days!

  5. We (your readers, I’m not making claims to royalty here) care what you mood is! Small consolation, if any, but here’s hoping you find something to put you in a better mood soon.

  6. i’m here, gratefully, after a nasty phone call from you-know-him. It’s so nice to be able to drop in and visit a friend…(you blog because ai need you to…I think I’ve mentioned this before.)

    I’m struck by the juxtaposition of days…one hard put to deal with rejection, the next wonderful description of f-you. (perhaps a bit of those kids f-you’s was from you to the story editors?…just a thought.)

    One day depressed by editorial blight, the next delighted by real life. (in a very bloglily sort of even-handed open-hearted very-funny delight).

    I vote for giving much more time and energy and getting self-feeding from your observations/ participations in moments of the real life, and marginalize those rejections like crazy.

    An anonymous program to which I subscribe advises “do the next thing, but don’t expect to control the outcome.” It’s a very buddhist kind of detachment needed, I think, to do and repeat doing peacefully despite the string of outcomes.

  7. OP — Thank you for that! You are right about where time and energy should be put.

    Lokesh, But you are royalty — and very kind. Thank you.

    Marie — I just heard from Columbia. Thanks. No thanks. meh

  8. Have you read the Stephen King book, “On Writing–A Memoir of the Craft”? I liked it, and I think you might, too. The book is encouraging…as well as… other things. I have summarized it in two posts:

    Best Wishes, from an aspiring writer who would love to be doing as well as YOU are. 🙂 Marmalade

  9. Dear Lily,

    I came upon your blog while looking for more information on the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. I LOVE this blog. Thank you for putting it out there; I’ve been writing for years but am a novice at submitting. I’m into my third month of concentrated submissions, not counting the 30+ queries on my first novel. Your writing only inspires me to up my game. Thank you!

    Maybe you can help other readers and I with regards to the James Jones Fellowship. I’m not clear on what they want in an outline. At two pages, do they mean synopsis? Or do they mean chapter-by-chapter breakdown? Would you mind sharing with us what format you followed?


  10. Hello Ben and welcome!

    First, good luck with your submissions. I am glad my own experience is useful. It is not my intention to moan or complain about this process (which is, after all, a voluntary one!), but more to record what it took for me to get my work out there and into the hands of readers. I think it’s interesting, and it’s also a good motivator to keep going because this record keeps me accountable.

    Second, good luck with that novel! As for the James Jones fellowship, like you, I assumed that what the readers for the fellowship wanted was a synopsis of the book. My method, in all its embarrassing lack of sophistication was this: I googled “how to write a novel synopsis,” or some string of words like that, and then I found several descriptions of how to write a two page version of this document, which is a creature all its own, as it turns out. I read somewhere between four and six of the articles I found from that search, weeding out those websites containing articles that struck me as themselves poorly written, and so unlikely to be good sources of advice. And then I printed out the articles about synopsis writing that seemed to come from the most professional sources and read them over and over until they made sense. And then I summarized my book. The book was complete, which made the synopsizing job a lot easier. One thing I remember is that a synopsis is not a chapter by chapter breakdown at all, but more a description of what happens, what that leads to and how, in the end, it is all wrapped up beautifully.

    Let me know how it all turns out and, again, the best of luck to you.

  11. [Re: Feb 6th]

    As usual, I’m moved by your insight and dedication – and delighted to see such activity across the BL network.

  12. I’m so glad you haven’t stopped talking about your submissions. Even though you’re fiction & I’m poetry, I find submission stories endlessly fascinating, and encouraging. So thank you for continuing to put it out there! xo

  13. Marie — I find them endlessly fascinating too. And except for the dark and cynical submission stories — the ones where the system is totally against the writer and always will be — encouraging as well. I’m glad you check in here. It’s nice to think of you and Lokesh, two of the most encouraging people I know, as my audience.

  14. I haven’t checked here for ages but I am glad that you are still submitting and writing. I liked the story you sent me enough that I want to read more. It was months ago, and yet i still remember some details and the feel of the story (and I find short stories tough, I generally prefer novels). So there is certainly a reader here waiting for your writing to land in the world.

  15. I’m thankful for this “submitting” section of your blog, especially for the February 6, 2009 entry. Because today I feel like such a loser. I haven’t gotten any rejection yet, I only just submitted my first three poems to a contest and already I feel bad. Thanks for listening, and thanks for putting your own feelings and efforts out there so I don’t feel all alone in this new effort of mine.

  16. Oh, Ms. Jellie, I’m so sorry to hear you’re feeling that way. My advice: get it out there, and start writing the next thing. Don’t wait! xoxox

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