On Nice Rejection Letters

Rejection letters are par for the course for any writer. I go through phases of being consistent and systematic with my submissions, dutifully keeping track of every story in an Excel spreadsheet. (It’s a good way to know how many months have elapsed between submissions, and also to track which stories I’ve sent out to multiple magazines.) (Yes, I am one of those people who blatantly ignores the “NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS, PLEASE. EVER. SERIOUSLY. THANK YOU.” rule. I’m thoughtful and careful about it, though, promise!)

Recently I’ve fallen behind on submissions, mostly because many of the stories I would send out are going in Bats or Swallows, and my pool of submission-ready stories has therefore dwindled, but there are still a few floating out there in the literary magazine ether. Every so often I’m reminded of them when I see my own handwriting on an envelope in the mail (god, I can’t wait until the day SASE’s are no longer so prevalent) or get an email in my inbox. At this point I’ve received enough rejection letters to not feel so stung by their arrival – usually enough months have passed since my submission that I comfort myself with a “I’m a much better writer now!” thought, and then I promptly trash the email or letter. I’m not the type who files them away as motivation; I have better things to wallpaper my walls with. But every so often I get a nice rejection letter. And while nice rejection letters can’t be listed on a CV, I’m still always grateful for them. This afternoon while I was wallowing in the mid-afternoon blues that have the tendency to hit you when you’re working your office day job, I idly checked my email and saw that I had received one of those nice rejection letters. The email had exclamation points, encouragement and compliments, and I felt a puffed up “maybe this is kinda worth it?” hopefulness.

Even though the ultimate decision was a no, it definitely made me feel better than a rejection letter I received years ago where the editor mailed me back my story and simply wrote across the top, “Sorry, no.” Pfft. I’m a much better writer now, anyway.

That's Why They Keep Them Around

With our trip to Greece slowly approaching, I’m starting to think about my summer reading list. I suppose it’s a bit formal to think of it like that, but books will be hard to find abroad, and even though I know of a good English bookstore in Athens (and a gorgeous one in Santorini, if I make it down there), books are much more expensive in Greece. So, I’m going to devote a substantial amount of space in our luggage to books. In my day-to-day life, I have a tendency to favour novels on the slimmer side. It’s hard to sustain the focus required to read something long when your reading is limited to short blocks of time. But, in Greece I’ll have the luxury to read for longer periods, so I’m looking forward to tackling the thick kind of novels that really infiltrate your brain and weigh down your shoulder bag when you’re walking around town. And, because I’m often self-conscious of the fact that I didn’t take any English literature courses in university, I want to take advantage of this time to fill in a few holes. I have Ovid’s Metamorphoses ready to go and Moby Dick. I have Robinson Crusoe. (Yes, the adventure at sea theme is also deliberate.) We’ll see what else gets added to the pile.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what goes into the process of creating a long piece of work. The thought of writing something that turns into a 500 page paperback is not just daunting, but seemingly impossible. I’m hoping that by immersing myself in these kinds of works, I’ll learn something.

I spent two evenings last week watching Joanna Newsom perform at the Ukrainian Federation in Montreal. I had initially bought a ticket for the first show, and then because I still felt the urge to see her, did some Internet sleuthing and found a ticket for the next night’s sold out show. I shuffled my way back to the church, grabbed a seat, and watched. Her last album, Ys, came out when I first moved to Montreal. I still had a few clients in Toronto, so I often took the train back and forth between the two cities. I would always take out my computer and tell myself to work, but then hours would pass and I would still be listening to music and looking out the window, laptop off. I was usually listening to Ys. I was curious about whether her new album, Have One on Me, could have the same effect. It’s a triple disk, most songs longer than 6 or 7 minutes. It sounds excessive and for some people (my husband, for instance), it is, but I’ve been enjoying the feeling of sinking further and further into the music. Slowly learning the lyrics and seeing how the songs open up, and these are the kinds of songs that blossom big if you’re patient enough. It’s a gorgeous and thorough piece of art, the musical equivalent of a 500 page novel. How the hell does one make something like that?

I’m starting to get the urge to work on my novel again, the one I started more than a year ago. I jumped into it a little too enthusiastically and then lost some steam and realized that the foundation needed some serious rebuilding. By then the thought of trashing and reworking many, many, many pages was exhausting. So I set it aside. I’m wondering if maybe I’m up for the challenge again. Maybe. I’m working my way there, and I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. Speaking of writing novels, Meggy, who I’ve been a fan of since she made zines and personal websites, and now co-writes an amazing fashion blog, has started another blog about writing novels. It’s thoughtful and well written, and if you’re reading this, you would probably enjoy her site too.

Book Update #7

Since March 1st my manuscript has been out of my hands. My editor is now reading through it and taking notes, and soon I’ll start working with her to see where it goes next. In the meantime, maybe you’d like to give me a few helpful hints?

I’ve contributed one of the stories that will be included in Bats or Swallows to Bite Size Edits, a site that strives to unleash your inner editor. The process starts with someone submitting a text – a story, a novel excerpt, whatever. The text is then portioned out into small sections (bite size, you might say) and members of the site can edit or approve the text as they see fit. These edits are given to the author, who rejects or accepts them. Participants get points as they edit. A game! If you’re the kind of person who dies a little when you see incorrectly placed apostrophe’s (kidding!) or if you’re one of those word game nerds who claimed to have originally signed up for a Facebook account to play Scrabulous (unlike the rest of us who signed up to spy on exes, crushes and frenemies) or if you just like to read, then you’ll have a lot of fun with this site. And anyone can submit text, so feel free to add your own. A bunch of writers much, much more established than me have submitted writing, and there’s something kind of satisfying about editing a big shot HarperCollins writer’s work, no?

So, please feel free to rip my story apart bite-sized bit at a time. Because I’m actually in the editing phase right now, I’ll take your suggestions seriously.

Here’s my profile with a link to the story.

And here’s the Bite Size Edits FAQ which explains how the site works better than I do.

P.S. There’s an amazing profile of Invisible on Torontoist. You should read it.

Reading, lately

Ok, manuscript has been shipped! Yay.While I wait for edits to come back to me, I have some time to do the things I’ve neglected over the past few weeks, such as writing about what I’ve been reading. And taxes. I really have to do my taxes.

Committed – Elizabeth Gilbert: The most annoying thing about “Committed” was nothing in the book itself, but the reviews. So many of them started off with a snarky comment on how hard it must have been for Elizabeth Gilbert to write a follow-up to “Eat, Pray, Love”. Boo fucking hoo, Liz, the reviewers essentially said. Once that was out of the way, they’d get around to talking about the book. I suppose Gilbert encouraged this – “Committed” actually starts off with a note to the reader where she acknowledges the wild success of her previous book and emphasizes that she wrote the follow up for a very specific audience (a particular assortment of friends) because it was too difficult to write for the faceless hordes of new readers out there. Personally, I wish she hadn’t included the note. I couldn’t help but interpret it as some kind of apology that I didn’t think she had to give us. Anyway, as someone who recently got married, I was looking forward to “Committed”. In the end, I didn’t like it as much as “Eat, Pray, Love”, but that was mostly because I was never as torn up as Elizabeth Gilbert about marriage. It didn’t help that some of the marriage history stuff towards the beginning was dry for me since I had already read/discussed/pondered similar issues in women’s studies classes, read in zines or on blogs. While “Eat, Pray, Love” discussed desires that are universal (world travel, enlightenment, finding hot Brazillian lovers in Bali, etc), “Committed” is more niche. I’m glad, though, that a book like this is on the market and I think it might resonate with some of the women who read “Eat, Pray, Love” but might have never thought about these issues. (Also: I really liked this article by Jessa Crispin, always the voice of reason, defending Elizabeth Gilbert.)

Come Thou, Tortoise – Jessica Grant: I enjoyed reading this book, a quirky/sad/lovely tale about a girl named Audrey dealing with the sudden death of her father and coming to terms with new information about her family. I don’t mean quirky in an annoying way, but genuinely, kindly. For example, a tortoise narrates a section of the book, her father was killed by a Christmas tree, Audrey is called “Oddly” by her family and Uncle Thoby. These are the details that define the book. Odd and sweetly sad.

Consider the Lobster – David Foster Wallace: I’m starting to be ok with the fact that I’m bad at reading DFW’s fiction. I’ve tried to read “Infinite Jest” twice, and I failed both times. Maybe I’ll try a third time before giving up completely. Obviously I must be some kind of fraud to say I love the dude when I can’t even read his major work? Ah well. That being said, I loved these essays (and annoyed Andrew when, months and months and months after the fact I was all “Did you know this about John McCain? And this? And this?” when I read the McCain essay). Also, this is kind of related: someone recently found my site searching “Kirk Cameron Consider the Lobster”. Ha!