Nobody likes me! Dealing with short story rejection

That’s what I got on Friday night.
After dinner with my in-laws, just before we left I went to the bathroom and checked my email and saw this:

Dear Mr. Hall,

Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately at this time, it does not meet our needs.


Slush Editor

For a moment, I was stunned. And then slowly progressed into feeling crushed.
The story that I had loved, conceptualized, written, cleaned up, edited, had numerous rounds of beta readers look over, and then finally mustered up my courage to send had been declared unfit. And the slush reader had done it with a form letter, no less.
My ego had just been sat upon… no, shat upon, by an elephant. My partner and I started the drive back to our house and halfway home, I broke the news to her.
“Oh no, that’s awful honey, I’m so sorry.”
“I just feel like it was a really good fit for that magazine, you know?”
“Maybe it just didn’t fit in with what they have planned for the next little bit…”
“That’s not something that slush readers usually are informed about. They’re kind of the first line against unsolicited submissions.”
“Yeah. They just decide whether something is ‘go’ or ‘no go’. So apparently to this person, this story was a ‘no go’.”

I tried not to let it get to me, not to erode some of the confidence that I had been feeling about this story. But there’s a lot that I have connected with this. After returning to writing in my 30’s, I feel the pressure of a ticking clock. I have goals and I work hard to achieve them.
But life also gets in the way. On top of that, I’ve had a long-standing battle with chronic depression that has the ability to drain the flavor from anything that I have passion for. This is what lead me to not even touch my first novel this year, to completely stop edits. It also killed my second novel midway through.
In the past couple months, I’ve been feeling a little better though, and I decided to pick through some old short stories that I had written and then set aside.
One was this one. And like a magic spell, I put all of my hopes and all of my intent into it as I put it out into the universe.
So I came home and tweeted this out:

And I got back some encouragement from some friends, which was all I really needed.

Here’s the thing, using the spell metaphor, this is among my first spells. I’m still a novice when it comes to threading my voice into the web of the world and making it change. If one of my threads is just slightly off, the spell won’t happen as intended. So no, while this post may have looked like a boo hoo pity party, it’s not. This is me saying, it’s okay. It’s one story and it was one market. I know every experienced writer out there is going to say, ‘so what? I eat rejections for breakfast!’ And my response is first, that’s a terrible breakfast, but secondly, that’s the attitude that every novice needs to have. And that’s why, early the following morning, I tweeted out this:

And it probably won’t be the last market I submit to for this particular story either. I’m hoping I get more than a form letter but I understand that magazines are overrun with folks like me. Folks who lob our thought-crap at them, and then look in dewy-eyed askance for acceptance.
So what am I doing? Writing another short story while I wait, lining up the next couple of markets (thanks to Duotrope for making it easy). And making plans for my novels, trying to get those behemoths rolling again.

Lucius Shepard is dead

Damn, terrible news on such a beautiful day. Lucius Shepard was one of the most under-appreciated writers of fiction, science fiction and cyberpunk of a generation.
As this blog post notes, he was prolific as a short story writer and novella-ist but didn’t care for formats longer than that. Perhaps, sadly, he’ll gain more recognition in death as the shorter forms of writing become more popular.
Lucius had an enormous influence on my writing, he wrote often in a magical realism style with heavy psychedelic influences (I would also contend that he fit well within the ‘weird’ genre). His stories are immersive, they wrap their tentacles around your imagination and leave you changed. I often found myself having to process a story of his for days or weeks afterwards, like a profound hallucinogenic trip. He was that good.
People spoke quite a bit about the influence of Lovecraft on shows like True Detective. That’s very true, but without writers in the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s like Lucius Shepard, True Detective would never have happened.
Anyways, as the linked blog post says on his views of the afterlife: “You want to know happens? They dig a hole, they dump you in, and then they shovel dirt over you. End of story. Reincarnation? Think worms.”
Those are going to be some awakened, enlightened worms. Rest in peace. What is remembered never dies.

Energy begets energy, words beget words

All right, how’s everyone’s 2014 shaping up so far? Pretty good, right? Words flying out of you like a spastic colon? Excellent, excellent.

Wait, you in the back, muttering under your breath, what was that?

You’re still in a post-holiday slump? Two weeks after the holidays have finished?

Don’t feel bad, I am too. The good news is, I’m writing. The bad news is that it’s been in drips and dribbles. After experiencing the firehose that was my November (yep, I did Nanowrimo this year and even made a helpful spreadsheet to simulate the Nano experience year-round that you can have for free), my December, and first part of January have felt less than stellar.

From wikimedia commons.
From wikimedia commons.

I think it’s okay though. I mean, this is all part of the creative experience, right? The hardest thing, I’ve found is getting back in the swing of things after you’ve taken a break. This is true of exercise, diets, writing and competitive trampoline ping-pong.

So go easy when you’re getting back into it. Start slow and for fuck’s sake, go easy on yourself too! I’ve been doing a lot of beating myself up lately. I have nearly two books finished, but I’ve been editing one for over a year now. The editing/rewriting process is challenging, the first draft process is challenging. The thinking that other people might hate me if I peak my head from under the covers and share my words thing is challenging. We all go through it. Even people who seem like megalomaniacs. Probably especially them.

I’ve been laid up for a little while thanks to a broken ankle. I’m not into crossfit or combat dancing or anything, generally I just go for walks. And not being able to walk has put a damper on my energy levels. This has fed into my writing energy too. It’s crazy what a little exercise can do for you. And it’s crazy to sit down and just feel exhausted by the idea of creating.

But there’s one consolation, even though my output has been small, it’s promoting more output. Each day I sit down, even if it’s to write just a handful of words, it’s easier the following day.

Hope your new year is going well, and I hope that it continues with steady progress.


Candle in the Darkness: Towards a more hopeful science fiction

I think it’s easy in this era to feel pretty down about things. The rampant destruction of our environment, both on a local and global scale is terrifying for most of us. The problems feel so monumental that we’re left feeling powerless to make any sort of meaningful change. This is where I’m at right now. When I see the news about the general insanity that our climate is beginning to kick up, I worry (legitimately) about the future. And there is nothing more disempowering than worrying about events that 1) you can’t control and 2) haven’t even happened yet.

From wikimedia commons user Henry Mühlpfordt
From wikimedia commons user Henry Mühlpfordt

But as fans and writers of science fiction, we’re always thinking about the future, right? Back in December, someone on twitter (sorry, can’t remember who) remarked that it’s kind of astounding that so few people are writing fiction that includes global climate change as part of the narrative. Or even the subtext. That comment got me thinking.

Do we feel so fucked by this that even science fiction writers shy away from it?

Are there no imaginings of the future that do not include dystopia as the final outcome? Why are we skipping over the part where we come up with solutions? Even if they are fantastical? I know this isn’t a new question, it’s been brought up quite a bit in the last year.

Over on the Apex blog (of which I’m a contributor), M. Asher Cantrell recently published a blog post about 3 Reasons Why It’s Time for a Rebirth of 1950’s Sci-Fi. While I’d disagree about returning to that particular era for its cultural baggage and sci-fi in particular from then for its lack of inclusiveness, I think I understand what he’s getting at. The sense of hope and optimism, that even monumental problems could be solved and that the future would be a wonderful thing. That’s what I’m missing.

So to his list of reasons, I’d like to add a fourth: now, more than ever, we need a sense of hope for the future. How many countless people became engaged in the sciences because of the portrayals by authors of what the future could be like? I’m not advocating a Pollyanna-ish, “gee, the future is swell” approach. But I would like to see clear-eyed gazes that assess and begin to tackle the problems. Because our best hope might not be coming from us, but from our children. And we need to offer some inspirational and aspirational ideas up.

From wikimedia commons user Bob Lee.
From wikimedia commons user Bob Lee.

Neal Stephenson has created the Project Hieroglyph online journal, to address the dearth of optimism. Check out that link, there’s some good stuff happening there.

As writers, we’re used to being pretty low on the ‘power in a hyper-capitalist economy’ scale. I can only point to a small handful of people who are capable of using their creative power to eke out a living, and even they have a hard time of it. But we do have an outsize power when it comes to influencing culture. We don’t just write novels and short stories, we write movies and TV shows. We script out video games, comic books. We have podcasts and speak in public. We’re a diverse bunch and what we say still resonates.

Let’s embrace the future.