I received a few rejections recently which made me sort of giggle.
One story was called “Friends, Lovers, and Liars” and it’s about all of the above. I originally submitted it to a journal who had a call for “Deception of all types.”
In the response I received, it seemed I’d offended the editor. “This isn’t about Deception. I don’t know how you think it was. It doesn’t fit our call at all….” And he went on for a few more lines.
The story, later published in Pilcrow and Dagger, follows a main character who lies to the husband who is cheating on her, she helps a friend get a job by fudging some truths as reference, and discovers her sister can’t keep her stories straight. It’s all about deception. But something in it struck a nerve with the editor and it was rejected.
The next story is “Mirrors” and is about two sisters and their family; however, it does carry a supernatural element.
It was suggested that I make it more terrifying because it wasn’t frightening enough. Fair enough critique if I indeed was attempting to write horror, but I wasn’t.
I do appreciate the more personalized responses, but when we read others’ works we should make certain not to put our own issues or agendas into their work. That is what makes us good readers, good critique partners, and good editors.
The story belongs to the author, and while we can offer suggestions for improvement it should be to better the story they want to accomplish – not change it to suit our own preferences.
Rejections need to be appreciated. Sometimes they offer valuable information and tell us we need to do more work, and sometimes they miss the mark and we thank the editors – appreciating the time they took to respond at all! – then sit back and enjoy this crazy writing journal we’ve chosen.
Conjure images of the old David Banner/Incredible Hulk, “You won’t like me angry.” That’s the way I feel when I’m not writing. Not that I’m angry – I just feel, “you won’t like me when I’m not writing.”
When I’m not writing, I’m fidgety, distracted, and I don’t sleep well. There’s too much going on my head for me to relax.
Do other writers feel the same?
Ron Terranova wrote, “we writers are fortunate in that we can take a traumatic event and, presto, there’s grist for a story…”
Traumatic or not – it’s got to come out.
Many writers share some commonality of a twisted sense of being.
Before you grab your pitchforks, people, let me explain.
Someone asked me quite recently if they would end up in one of my stories. I said, that’s not the way it works. I rarely pick up a whole person and plunk them into a story. It’s smaller than that. It’s the way they stand, their scent, the sideways slide of an eye. It’s an essence coupled with other impressions that becomes something in my novel.
Whether big or small, the event or person or tragedy goes in one way and will come out in a, sometimes, completely different form.
Ron was talking about my monkey bite, which many friends and family seemed to understand as more traumatic than I did or do. Not to downplay the incident, but life happens. Some people get into car accidents, I get bitten by a monkey.
In Alaska, at some strange and lonely crossroads, there was a reasonably nice hotel whose smallest rooms were rented regularly to truckers, and only the honeymoon suite remained available. The water came out boiling hot and we needed to wait for it to cool down unlike most places in the country where we need to wait for it to heat up. There stood a single but large restaurant, and a small video store run out of someone’s small home behind a gas station. Whom I was with and what we were doing there became lost in the haunting images of a lost crossroads; those images remained and found their way into West End when the heroine escapes her madness into this sort of waiting room between life and death.
Dark, Dark, and a little darker. This is how someone described my writing recently. They’d picked up Here in the Silence.
I think I’ve lightened up a little since then. My writing is (as I am) more ironic or sarcastic. I’ve always been – it’s just coming out in the work more than ever before. (If you’re at all interested in reading both in a fun little story, try Of Strays and Exes).
I’ve always had a dark sense of humor. That’s how some of us make it through life. Someone once said to me, “it seems writers have more odd experiences than most.” I remember I wanted to pop her at the time. However, she was my best friend and she was trying to cheer me.
Some writers do share that common trait of strange and unusual backgrounds.
Writing out the darkness allows me to be the light and happy person I am.
Returning to the country, I imagined myself held hostage by the CDC in plastic tents on some far away airfield with my family left wondering what had happened to me.
I imagined it in different ways – maybe I’d get all the way home before men in white coats and gas masks would show up, or maybe they’d come in full contamination gear and yank me from the yard to whisk me away, question me, and – oh my gosh – pull aside everyone I’d come in contact with.
The whole of the passengers on the plane, my family, the taxi driver. I cringe when I think how upset everyone would be with me or with the fact that they had the misfortune of sharing a space with me.
I wonder – would the Pandemic Control Team let me have my computer? I actually have a ton of work to catch up on. Would they let me facetime or skype with family? friends? Would they let me wave through the clear plastic tents to onlookers?
And then – from one of those speculative fiction novels – what if I started an outbreak? What if a monkey virus mixed with some other virus and the whole of the population was at risk. I was patient zero.
You see – I have a very active imagination.
I told you I had about six ideas. That was the first.
Think about this as a writing prompt: What if you had 30 days in a tent with three squares a day? What would you do? What would you miss? Would you write? Exercise? Catch up on reading? Or go absolutely insane?
I recently visited Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a UK territory attached to the south of Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is home to the Barbary Macaque Apes.
I’m a person who likes a challenge; I crossed the highest, longest suspension bridge in North America, I swam with sharks. But, moreso, I like to explore; I saw a grisly bear in the Yukon, held a Koala in Australia, traversed the catacombs in Paris, etc.
So, I was there on the Rock of Gibraltar to get a peek at both Spain on one side and Africa on the other all the while standing in Europe. Pretty freaking cool.
The apes, which look more like monkeys (and are referred to as such), wander free there. They hang out on the patio of the visitor’s center, play in the trees and bushes, and hang out on the roads.
I did get close enough to one to have a photo. But I know better than to attempt to feed a wild animal. I did see four young women getting their picture taken by a park ranger while they fed one of the adult Macaque’s not far from the “Do Not Feed” sign.
From the visitors’ center, you can hike to other views, other places on the Rock and even all the way down. There’s another shop on the Rock where you can see a cave and buy trinkets, which is what I did. When I travel, I like to buy holiday ornaments for my tree as a remembrance.
I have the Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, a Santa Star Fish from Hawaii, and even a Santa Chili Pepper from New Mexico to name a few.
I hiked back up to the center to grab some water and lunch before taking the cable car back down to the city.
I’d been warned not to take a big back pack or food with me. The monkeys, they said, will jump on you. I heeded these warnings, had only a small pack/purse and no food.
But approaching the visitors’ center, one of the juveniles (juvenile delinquent!) jumped on my back. I raised my hands in surprise and she bit me. She then opened my bag, took the ornament, and hopped off. (This is the picture of the monkey as it tried to eat my ornament! Thank you, Geoff)
I’m okay. Maybe “attacked” is a strong word, perhaps assaulted is better? She left a dental impression and some scrapes on my hand. Yes, a little blood, swelling, bruising. My doctor is a little vexed with me.
But what does this have to do with writing?
We must challenge ourselves, we must overcome, we must use incidents such as these as inspiration or fodder. I feel all of these adventures make me who I am and my writing what it has become over the years.
I’m not suggesting you put yourself in harm’s way! I am suggesting that once in awhile get out and face your fears, do something new, experiment, explore, learn something new – this will create fresh shifts in your writing (and in yourself)!
The whole incident has me thinking of a half a dozen stories!
I received an email which read:
The sender later elaborated – These are two very different styles. I found this surprising as most of the authors I read are a single style in each piece of writing.
I’ve thought about this before – I feel it’s good to be able to change. To me, it shows growth. However, some disagree. Some people feel you must stick to your style because your readers have expectations and may disappointed.
For me – I want to be able to grow, change, and do what feels natural – just to write what comes out and not to force it to be what someone else wants it to be.
Stories are organic. They grow from the characters, the setting, and the force of its own motion; therefore, the writing itself must be organic which may grow into a different style.
If you know me – you’ll see the stories are still part of my personality and therefore personal style: dark, dry, ironic.
Advice from Richard Ford
1 Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea.
2 Don’t have children.
More from Richard Ford – The Paris Review