Back in June and October, 2012 Page & Spine published two poems (Rockies and Bug War) by a novice writer named Fred Waiss. The following month we wrangled over the name of his short story Salvation (which he still insists is entitled Duty--what does he know?). Since then, this former English teacher has graced virtually all our pages and those of many other publications, both electronic and print. He often critiques our offerings so I’ve asked him to share his insights right here on the last Friday of each month. I know you’ll enjoy Fred’s comments as much as I do. – N.K.
There's one cardinal rule about fiction writing. STORY comes first, last, and always. Everything must serve the Story. If it's a literary story with no particular plot, but the emphasis is on the characters, or the setting, or a point of philosophy, everything needs to serve that end. If it's a story with a plot, everything must serve the plot and the characters that are involved and the setting of the plot.
Anything that does not serve the story—everything that does not advance the point or the characterizations or the plot needs to be discarded.
This is especially true in short stories. In novels the writer can get away with irrelevancies here and there, if he doesn't get carried away, because the reader expects more verbiage. The descriptions of characters and actions and settings can have hundreds of words devoted to them in a novel. In a short story, it must be short and sweet.
Another rule is: don't aggravate your readers. Not if you want them to want to read more from you. Don't leave them hanging, wondering, What the hell was that for?
The January 2 story from The Reading Lamp, The Real Thing, is really good—and slightly bad. First, the good. The narrator of this story is a pathetic loser. What makes him pathetic, rather than just an average loser, is that he doesn't realize he's a loser. He thinks he's a winner. He has almost convinced himself that he is on top of the world. He has money, good looks, and he knows how to score. He's good at the game.
He's a loser because he believes that the game is all there is...and even then he doesn't quite play it right. He cheats, but only he will ever know, and he doesn't even recognize the fact that he's cheating—cheating himself.
I could easily do several hundred words of psychological analysis of this poor chump, but that's not the purpose here. My task is to analyze the writing, not the characters.
This story is good because the author, Jeff Suwak, uses the character's own words and perceptions to show us his "losership." This is much more effective than having another character, an enemy or a coworker, for example, reveal how much of a loser this guy is. One of his female conquests could relate it, too. But those outside characters could only reveal what he does. The narrator reveals what he thinks and what he feels. And he tells us that he considers himself a winner while revealing those deficiencies that make him a loser. Well done.
However! (There's always a "however.") He puts something in there that has no purpose. He's built a great sound system, but then near the end of every song there's the sound of a bubble machine with calliope music, intruding on the ending:
"What the hell was that for?"
“Look,” she says, pointing at her quivering thighs. “Look.”
I toss the towel to her and walk over to the window to look out over the bay. I like the way the water looks at night with the lights reflecting off it.
“Look,” she giggles, "look."
The “Look,” she says, pointing at her quivering thighs. “Look.” is okay. Although not necessary, it fits in with the characterization of Jules. The story would lose nothing if he simply tossed her the towel without that bit of insistence from her.
But the second pair of "Look" commands really hurts the story. The author has bestowed a certain importance on the utterance by having it repeated. The reader is now invested in what she wants him to look at. Her quivering thighs again? Or is there something else, perhaps something significant or unique she wants him to see. And then...nothing. The reader is left wondering what was so important to her that twice (four times, really) she urged him to "Look." He ignored her insistence. That would be all right if the narrator made a point of dismissing her urging. If he revealed some kind of action or reaction to that second urging, fine. But he just let it lie, like an unexamined yet obvious clue in a mystery story.
Those laughing entreaties from her add nothing to the story, and the repeated appeals are an example of subtraction by addition. They do not serve the story, they only weaken it.
While The Real Thing is aggressively absent of grief or guilt, No Words by Maggie Giles (the July 9th Story) is a study in those two emotions.
There are obvious similarities in the stories. Both are told in first person and the vast majority of the narration is internal. But after that, the stories head in opposite directions.
These two narrators, on a first shallow read, seem to be complete opposites. The young man seems to be a winner. The woman in No Words would seem the quintessential loser. She's been divorced for years and obviously not remarried. And now her son is dead and it's at least partly her fault—through silent acquiescence if naught else.
But the young man has invested nothing of himself in his life—he is, in fact, determinedly avoiding investing anything beyond time and money. That's what makes him a loser that thinks he's a winner.
The woman has invested everything of herself. She has married, given birth, helped raise a son, severed the ties with the man she loved, and now an accident has severed her ties with her son. But she is already re-investing an emotional attachment to her ex. Will it last? We have no way to know, but we do know that even if it is disappointingly temporary, she has the courage to invest herself again. And, in so doing, she eases the burden of the grieving father. She knows, emotionally and intellectually, that things matter outside herself.
And, Maggie did something clever that is nearly the opposite of Jeff's flaw. She didn't tell us too much. Ryan is dead because of a stupid accident, because neither parent wanted to say no.
She could have elaborated, but did not. The reader is free to guess what that accident might be. Motocross for the first time? A party, and he—or a friend—driving under the influence, was in a crash? Skydiving? A drug overdose at a friend's house? Instead of including something that did not belong, she gave us just enough to understand her situation. And it was realistic, too. A grieving mother might not, in her internal dialog, think out the details of that stupid accident. The details are not important, only the result.
Another good story.
However! (See previous parenthetical observation). On first reading a sense of "flaw" made itself felt. On second reading, I pinpointed it. Two flaws, really, in the same single statement:
The last piece of my baby boy, though he hadn’t really been my baby for eighteen years.
This sentence is included, I suspect, to tell the reader Ryan's age. The first time I read it, it struck a note of discord. She didn't think of him as her baby for eighteen years? That's not realistic. Every mother thinks of her son as her baby for at least the first year or two. Some for the first forty. So, was Ryan eighteen, or twenty?
If he's eighteen, he's old enough to enlist in the service on his own, vote, live alone, get a job, and he doesn't need Mom and Dad's permission, really, for anything if it's not in their house or their car.
If he's over eighteen by a couple of years, again, he doesn't need permission and probably wouldn't ask for it. Yet, this tragic accident was caused by some activity that either parent could have vetoed.
The easy fix is simply to change the years from eighteen to fifteen.
With that, Ryan's age might be fifteen through seventeen, an age when he's going to want to do something risky, but will need one or both parents' permission. Plus, the younger age increases the feeling of tragedy.
In my own writing I'm always on the alert for little clashes with logic or reality like this because I know there are plenty of other buttheads out there, just like me, who will gleefully jump on a perceived inconsistency and rate the entire story poorly because of that one little thing.
My completely subjective thought about the flaws in these two stories is that both are pulled from reality. Some young lady after getting nailed on the couch really did repeat the appeal to look. And some young man killed in a stupid accident really was eighteen.
I may be completely off base. But even if so, it is still worth pointing out that, when writing fiction, an author must alter or delete certain actual happenings that helped inspire the work if those things do a disservice to the Story.
An author very naturally develops an emotional attachment to the details that inspired him (her). He wants to share those details with the world; so she writes the story and sends it in, not for the money but for the sharing.
Sometimes the branches of that beautiful story tree must be pruned so that the reader can enjoy the whole tree without the occasional distorted branch obscuring part of the view.
A writer needs to step away from the tree for a week or more, and then re-examine it with a fresh eye. What branches might need to be pruned to improve the whole view will be a little more obvious.
Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher of English and physical education. He writes mostly speculative fiction, but tries his hand at literary fiction on odd days. His fantasy novel, Prophecy of Honor, will be published by Double Dragon Publishing this summer.
My mother had philosophical sayings she hoarded, using them like a fire extinguisher, squelching arguments with arrogance she bolstered by claiming intellectual property as her own.
"Keep your own corner of the world clean."
"What does that mean? Why do you keep saying that? We shouldn't give a damn about the rest of the world?"
Smack, whack...on any given day that adage could be trotted out to mean 'clean your room' or 'stay out of other peoples' business.'
In later years, I confess, I weaseled into conversations the questions that were never answered in my youth. "Really, explain to me why you keep repeating the same thing? What do you mean, by my clean corner of the world?"
The answers changed, shifting from self-interest--and my obvious teenage sloth--to a broader philosophy. "If everyone just cleaned up everything within reach, the whole world would be beautiful. People should plant flowers," my mother said.
By the time she confessed a deeper meaning to her wordy weapons, I no longer cared about the words. I wanted to know why those words were meaningful. It had either become a habit to mouth off or she simply forgot the origins of a saying, an adage that stuck with her for life.
"Why?" I asked and she simply shook her head.
For all the philosophies I have debated, for every quote I've endured, the single most important lesson I've learned is to stop asking WHY. It really is a question that can't be answered to the satisfaction of the listener. If he had to ask, then he doesn't understand and will never respect the answer or point of view.
Now my mother's little sayings were delivered in another language and I'll concede that sometimes a nuance is lost in translation. Her roots and life experiences were light years from my own. That difference prevented me from understanding WHY she said and did many things that completely baffled me. I learned to ask a different question. "What were you thinking when you said that?" This single change to the question has opened many doors and revealed far more than I ever expected to learn about other people.
The WHY question automatically puts a person on the defensive. They feel they must justify themselves and it creates hostility. When I asked WHAT was going on in their mind, it is a request for more information, not a threat or challenge. The conversation remains calm and productive, allowing me to filter the information so that my own response is relevant to the other person's needs, even if that need is simply to be understood.
I spent more than forty years in sales. Some people think a good salesperson is a smooth talker. Not true. The best salespeople are good listeners. Learning to make people feel at ease and comfortable in my presence was a key factor in my success.
I needed to understand what motivated my buyers. With each, the needs were different. Some wanted to be entertained and were impressed by fancy lunches. Others loved animals and would gush if I asked about their pets. I brought flowers often--weird ones, that instantly started a conversation. I looked for entry into the mindset that would allow my customer to pay attention when I presented my products and explained in detail how the purchase would benefit THEIR business.
I needed to be likeable, but my ego did not require me to be liked. I always knew what I wanted when I made an appointment. I didn't confuse my purpose with being popular, or being smart, and the only person allowed to be right was the buyer--when she signed the purchase order.
Although my mother didn't realize it, she was actually my first sales mentor, forcing me to learn communication skills that would help achieve my personal goals.
I've come to believe there are two kinds of people--buyers and sellers. Those labels are not defined by which side of the desk a person occupies, but rather their attitude. Some people expect things--people and opportunities--to come to them. They're the buyers, waiting to be seduced by the likes of me. The sellers are out there chasing down their dreams and creating opportunities.
A buyer is neither stronger nor weaker than a seller; they simply have a different perspective on life. I have friends who are buyers and one who I love dearly, but she doesn't make spontaneous decisions and prefers to gather opinions before she makes any changes. I, on the other hand, find it difficult to agree to long-term plans. Unless it's a command performance--a wedding or theatre tickets--don't ask me to commit for lunch next month. I have no idea whether I'll be in the mood for red meat or pasta.
Sellers are risk takers, and make more mistakes than a buyer. We make decisions on gut instinct rather than waiting for all the facts to be presented. My sister is a buyer and the voice of reason in my world. She's also a very clever communicator, never telling me what I should do, but asking me if I'd ever considered...
I remember, prior to moving from my last house, I was bemoaning the time and trouble, not to mention the cost of moving all the books I'd accumulated in a lifetime--hundreds. "Have you ever considered getting rid of them, perhaps donating them to the library?"
"No, they're my books." The word 'books' was delivered by me during our long-distance conversation in an awed whisper, as if I was lost in prayer. She didn't pursue the conversation and she didn't need to be right--what did she care? But she listened to me complain and planted the seed. She knew I'd stew. All my books are now gone, just in time for new technology to allow me to read anytime without ever needing to walk into a bookstore.
Once I met a man who also claimed there were two types of people in the world--pink ones and grey ones. His theory, which really just identified extroverts and introverts, was to change his manner and expectations based on some aura that only he could see.
"You're an Aries, well that explains it." An astrology theorist--not an expert, by any means, shifts his demeanour depending on a person's zodiac sign.
Paying attention to different communication forms is a compliment, not a rigid labelling system. My buyer/seller tag helps me understand how to talk and approach people to get the most out of the exchange. I'm paying attention. My methods may be flawed, but I do not present myself with arrogance, with a 'this is me--take it or leave it' attitude. I strive to connect. And the ultimate goal in all human relationships is a win-win situation, where each person feels satisfaction from the meeting or conversation.
My favourite, and very well understood 'Mama adage,' talks about an archer with a quiver full of arrows.
"Be careful when you let the arrow fly. You will never know how high, how far or where your words will strike."
♦ After a thirty year career as a sales and marketing executive, Ingrid Thomson is a top-ranked author in a website writing community and a published short story author who is working on the final draft of her first novel.
♦ This author's generous contributions help make P&S possible.
Perhaps it is the sudden appearance of lace, hearts and boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolates. The appearance of these displays, even before my Visa statement arrives to remind me of my holiday extravagance, distracts me. In one of my cynical moods, I pick up a few novelty items for the children in my life, knowing that the holiday will sneak up on me. Valentine’s Day is for children and young lovers, isn’t it? It’s just another Hallmark holiday meant to shame people into spending more money, isn’t it?
Almost all holidays that fall during the winter months are accompanied by my bad mood. Though I fake it for the general public, I simply find it difficult to feel festive when I have to drive through slush and climb over snow banks. Maybe that’s why the advertising for Valentine’s Day has me thinking not about love and devotion, but rejection.
I remember being stood up for a first date. It was humiliating. Though it was forty years ago, I can remember every detail; my anticipation, my preparations and even the outfit that I wore.
As the minutes ticked by, I cajoled myself into thinking my date was fashionably late. An hour late and I reapplied my lipstick. At the two hour mark, I turned off all the lights in the house and broke into tears.
As a teenager, I didn’t have the confidence to approach the boy and ask him why he didn’t show up. At school on Monday, I spent the day avoiding hallways I knew he’d use moving from class to class and I hid in the nerd section of the cafeteria during lunch. Years later I ran into ‘Bob’ at a shopping mall. Without bothering to say hello, I hit him between the eyes with my question. “Why the hell did you stand me up for our date?”
He looked genuinely happy to see me, but still blushed when he answered. “My dad wouldn’t give me my allowance. I didn’t do my chores, and then when I mouthed off, he grounded me. I didn’t have the money to take you to the movies and I wasn’t allowed to leave the house.”
“Why didn’t you call me and tell me what happened?”
“I was too ashamed.”
For years, and even now, I remembered beating myself up as I cried; I wasn’t pretty enough, I didn’t deserve to go to the movies, on a date.
Rejection is hard to bear, regardless of age. As we mature, some of us adopt the sense to understand, some things are meant to be. But when we find ourselves vulnerable and in the same position of rejection, it’s easy to fall back into the reaction of hiding
Writers who have never felt the sting of rejection are either literary geniuses or they’ve never submitted their work for evaluation to a publisher. We are told to expect and learn to live with rejection. The reasons for rejection are many.
Perhaps your story was badly marketed, sent to a publisher who specializes in romance. It seems unlikely he’ll accept your blood-dripping horror story—no matter how well it’s written. But some writers focus on the rejection rather than evaluating the reasons and the lesson each negative response offers.
Unfortunately, most rejection letters come with form letters, generalizations that offer no clues as to where the writer went wrong. Should you be fortunate enough to get feedback from an editor—pay attention! They’re offering sound advice how to achieve success with their publication. In that case, I’d suggest you send the editor a thank you note. Believe me, she will pay close attention to your next submission to see if you took her advice and likely be far more open-minded when reading your work.
When I confronted ‘Bob’ I found out that it wasn’t me that was rejected, but circumstances. A writer’s rejection letter might mean the same thing—a series of unseen variables. If your story happens to be the sixth one with the same theme, it’s a no-go. But how would you know?
I know a writer that uses his rejection slips as decorations for his office. He has thus far wallpapered two walls with the turned down stories and letters received from editors. Recently his book of short stories was accepted by a publisher, but he is still sending in submissions to other editors. When I asked him why--why not sit back on his laurels? he laughed. His simple answer was…”because I’m a writer.” When pressed for more information, he told me he had 836 rejection slips and needed another hundred before he could wallpaper the third wall. Now that’s the right attitude.
Rick O'Shea is a muse of Irish descent. O'Shea should tell you that. He is an amoeba-like rubbery creature who is blissfully invisible.
"Blissfully?" you may ask.
Well if you hung out in people's nostrils and enjoyed tickling their nose hair you'd want to be invisible too because this makes them sneeze.
JRR Tolkein sneezed a lot and would send Rick on a ricochet spree where he bounced about like a mad racquet ball. Rick loved it. Tolkein, not so much! It was the muse's idea to give hobbits hairy feet and to call the dragon Smaug. Unfortunately, muses must move out when their habitat dies.
Rick longed for warmer climes. He had had it with foggy, chilly Britain and jumped aboard a merchant ship, the Otaki, bound for New Zealand.
"Why not back to Ireland?" you ask.
Well, Ireland was too limerick-y for Rick. Have you ever had song lyrics stuck in your head for days? Muse O'Shea felt as annoyed about limericks that stuck in his rubbery one-cell-consciousness for weeks as you do about pesky songs or lame commercials.
Little Miss Muffet Sat on her Tuffet was one of Rick's. Some credit Dr. Thomas Muffet, whose step-daughter Patience, was mortally terrified of spiders but now you know, it was Rick.
Hickory Dickory Dock was his too. If that clock were to strike one just once more, Rick would have had a conniption and bounced to oblivion. In fact without this muse these quirky poems would just be called, 'Limers!'
Yes, New Zealand was the place for him. And from all he’d heard, JRR Tolkein would have approved.
How does a muse choose his conspirator, his cohort, his place of bouncy residence? It takes considerable work and due diligence. For years Rick had torpedoed up adult noses. After all, their nostril hair was fuller and more lustrous. But just this once, Rick thought he would like a kid to inhabit. He had abandoned the history-laced land of Druids, Saxons, and Celts for fresher vistas. A new beginning called for a new host.
"How did Rick pick?" you ask.
Well, he zoomed up and down the east coast. What a coast it was, unlike the icy, grey gloom of the Atlantic, the sea luxuriated here. It lay like a burnished shield whose waves dimpled and glistened, to the horizon.
Dolphins played off the bows of boats. Rick did something he'd never done before and dipped into a dolphin's blowhole. For a day he played in the sea but the incessant sonar beeps, chirps and hunt for fish drove him mad. Poor Rick had to retch on the shore. Dolphins it turns out were not a-musing at all!
So, Rick looked in on a primary school. There she was, a freckled, curly-haired kid who was bouncing on the playground. She and he would be kindred spirits. The best thing of all, as far as Rick was concerned, was that she had imaginary friends!
She rode a bright red bicycle with a bell. Every few feet she would talk to the bell. Her grumpy imaginar-ies were sitting on it scolding her. She had rung it and they were waving little, furious fists at her. One was jumping up and down in a right paddy.
Without a moment's hesitation Rick zoomed up her nose and whispered, "Put them on the spokes of the wheel."
"Ok," she whispered back as she dismounted. She unscrewed the bell and scooped her friends in her hands to place them on the spokes. "It will be like a Ferris wheel ride!" she said with a giggle.
"That's a good, wee lass," crooned Rick.
Of course she rode through puddles, which made her friends grouchy and muddy.
"Ha ha ha," laughed Mr. O'Shea.
"Who are you talking to?" growled a boy, a foot taller than her.
"Let me handle this," whispered Rick and he zoomed like a Lear jet up the boy's nose.
"Ouch!" screamed the bully, clutching his nose as he ran.
He never bothered the weird kid after that. Rick sees to it, still.
Writer Jenny Harp is a New Zealander grandmother who lives in the United States with her husband and loves God, life and family.
Dear N. K.:
Please accept my sincerest greetings for the upcoming holiday season!
I would like to offer you my essay, “It’s not Personal”, 1100 words, for your consideration for publication in The Writers' Table section of Page & Spine. It is a humorous essay dealing with the modern-day rejection travails that writers go through.
My poem ‘A Word a Day’ was published in the Crumbs section of Page & Spine earlier this year. My stories have also appeared in Tincture Journal, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Glassfire magazine among other avenues. Anthologies featuring my work include Chicken Soup for the Soul: Indian College Students, the Dear Nana Collection by Writers Who Rock (forthcoming), and Walking in the Feminine: A Stepping into Our Shoes Anthology (forthcoming).
It's Not Personal (1100 words)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a story must be in want of an acceptance. Unfortunately, however, rejections of all hues form the kernel of most writers’ correspondence.
In the dawn of my submission years, the drumming in my chest rose to a crescendo whenever I spotted a white envelope lighting up the dark interiors of the mailbox. I would unlock the box, and one of those annoying missives would tumble out. That was the era of postal mail, when editorial staff felt comfortable scribbling a succinct ‘No’ across the top of a submission. Occasionally a letter arrived bearing a sprinkling of complimentary adjectives that indicated the sender’s “deep regret”. The soothing words did little to appease my wounded writer’s ego.
In later years, I checked my email every hopeful morning, eager to dig out an acceptance or even a ‘regretful’ note among the cluster of offers for cheap online shopping that clogged my inbox. Often, the seasons changed and several birthday candles were snuffed out before any response arrived. Then one day I found not one, but two curt dismissals lying in wait. The timestamps of the emails revealed more than their contents – clearly the editors were rushing and tripping over one another in their race to reject me. The double-blow led me to marvel at the swiftness with which they had dispatched my piece. Had they taken a longer, harder look, they might have detected visions of my tortured genius.
In the era of apps and social media, however, a new variable has thrust itself into the equation – that of submission trackers and managers. These software applications lend coherent shape to my worst literary fears, for they come equipped with that one thing that can shake even the best of writers to their core – statistics.
On one such site that has gained popularity among the writing masses, the listing for a magazine shows their average number of days for an acceptance and for a rejection, as well as the percentage of non-responses and author withdrawals. If I feel sufficiently suicidal, I can even unearth a report of the most recent responses to a particular market. For example, I sent a submission to a magazine known for its brief essays, and discovered that the last response was received a few days ago, for a submission that was sent a few days before mine. All the arrows are facing the same way. My mind’s eye throws up a comic panel – the bespectacled editor is standing behind me, placing a friendly hand on my shoulder while the blurb attributed to him reads: “Don’t worry, your rejection is on its way.”
On the other hand, with each passing day that a rejection does not arrive, I feel an acceptance coming on, which renders it doubly difficult to wash away the hurt when the inevitable refusal comes crashing into my life.
The dizzying array of stats alarms even that rare writer who is calm and composed in the face of a rebuff, but for the neurotic writer, ‘tis a dangerous thing. The mind spirals into hitherto unknown depths of depression, when they realize that they belong to that commonplace ninety-five percent of scribblers who couldn’t win over the editorial staff with the mere magic of their words.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the heartlands of Mountain View, California, or perhaps up in that enigmatic entity known only as The Cloud, all those ‘we regret to inform you…’ mails that have ever been addressed to me are clogging the Gmail servers that could otherwise have served a loftier purpose, such as spam mails for organ enlargements.
Last year, a story of two thousand words bounced back to me within three days. Its penultimate sentence stated words to the following effect (paraphrased here to protect the guilty)
“Your submission lacks the literary qualities necessary for our magazine…”
For the most part, when I read the standard pithy rejections, a pang of disappointment washes over me, but this one stung. To ensure that I felt aggrieved and not merely stung, the last sentence ended with a zinger: “We hope you are not discouraged and will continue writing.”
That parting sentence amounted to stabbing the writer in the heart and then drawing the knife out cleanly so that one could dab ointment on the inflicted wound. The balm has no effect, and the damage has already been done. The heart of the writer is destroyed, stamped out, even if momentarily, for surely he will pick up the pieces of his shattered soul and send out submission packages with renewed vigour the following week.
If there’s one thing that rejection teaches a writer, it is that the elusive quality called literary merit is highly subjective. Shortly afterwards, this story of mine found a home in another magazine, so I shed few tears on this snub.
My niece, all of thirteen, composed a poem for an inter-school poetry competition on the theme of astronomy. Days before the deadline, she rustled up a two-page poem on the assigned topic and handed it in, feeling sickly as she watched her friends proffer ten-page epics. She relayed her anxiety to her mother, but after moping a little, she declared that if she didn’t win a prize it was only because the judges failed to understand her poetry, and it would be their loss.
And that, in a nutshell, sums up what should be our attitude to submitting, if not writing. It’s their loss, not ours. One could argue that it’s a head-in-the-sand approach, but it can work well if used with caution. After all, what are writers if not evolved versions of ostriches?
Thanks to my niece, in recent times I have acquired a level of rejection self-actualization that borders on the ludicrous. I would love to compose and send a bile-infested, slang-ridden letter of hate to rejecting editors, if only I didn’t sympathize with them. Most editors are writers too, so they must of necessity understand the blood, sweat and tears that make up a piece. They too might have hovered over a submit button for several nerve-wracking seconds before finally clicking it.
To paraphrase Jane Austen once more: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a good story must be in want of validation.
To that I say: best of luck to all writers searching for their editor-equivalent of Mr. Darcy, including me.
Oh, and about my niece, she won first prize in that competition.
It's great to hear from you. Happy Holidays.
I found your essay It's Not Personal representative of the attitude of many of the writers who submit work to Page & Spine. You are correct insofar as your title. Rejecting work isn't personal. In fact, to some of us, it's a painful duty. That's because, as you surmise, many editors are also writers. We know what the writer is going through, having our creations judged by strangers and perhaps found lacking.
And that's the point you missed. Agreed, we writers bare our souls when we create. Our creations are our babies. And our babies are always the brightest, the most beautiful, as all parents agree. But when our chicks leave the nest at submission, they have to fly on their own merit in a very crowded sky. We are empty-nesters and, despite our love and pride, we have to let our fledglings go because, to editors, our baby is product. As writers we may consider our work "art". To anyone asked to spend money on it, it's the difference between a crow and a nightingale. Which would they rather hear sing?
I don't know how other editors work, but I'm being truthful when I say I don't read a writer's credentials until after I've made a decision on accepting or rejecting their submission. The question I ask myself when I review a submission is: Is it worth the money? I decide that by asking two more questions: Will our readers respond favorably to it? Is it technically as good or better than what we're publishing right now?
How does a writer avoid negative answers to those questions? By demonstrating creativity, technical skill, and evaluating whether that particular product will fit comfortably within our electronic covers. There is no lack of creativity in the selections we receive. There is often a lack of technical skill, much of which I blame on premature submission. (Don't be in such a hurry. Let it rest and read it again. Let someone else read it. Use a spelling and grammar program to find errors to which you're blind because you're reading what you meant to write, not what's on the page.) And, finally, make sure your piece looks and sounds comfortable among the other selections the publication offers.
Is the final decision made in a vacuum? Absolutely not. P&S has an editorial board made up of professional editors who are extensively published in the areas they edit. I rarely disagree with their recommendations.
Gargi, you value the creative act above the editors' evaluation. That's a healthy attitude so long as you're receiving more acceptances than rejections (always assuming publication is the object of the exercise). But if the rejections outweigh acceptances, assume that your piece is either being submitted to incompatible venues or, in its current form, needs improvement.
Please convey my warmest congratulations to your niece. I believe she's already learned something valuable about the art of writing: Say what you have to say as effectively as possible, then stop talking.
Gargi Mehra writes fiction, humor, and the occasional pithy blog post at: http://gargimehra.wordpress.com/