Rejectomancy

Many magazines that buy short stories only use form rejection letters because of the volume of stories they receive each day.  These form letter rejections tell the author virtually nothing about why the story was rejected.  The only time to get excited about a rejection from one of these magazines is when you don’t get the form letter, but a personal rejection from the editor.  Personal rejection letters tend to have at least a little information about why the editor is passing on the story.  It also provides the author with the opportunity to take that information and perhaps improve the story before sending it on to the next market.  When the rejection is a form letter the writer has to apply a little magic, a little rejectomancy, to try a figure out for themselves why the story didn’t survive the slush pile.

I have been very excited to get a few personal rejections with comments from the editor.  In each case I have learned something about writing.   For me the only thing better than a personal rejection letter is and acceptance letter.

Today I was happy to get a form rejection letter.  Let me explain.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) is a market I really want to crack.  Of the big three science fiction genre markets, the other two being Asimov’s and Analog, it is the toughest to sell to.  They also are one of the markets that has a super fast turn around on stories–a full month faster than most other magazines.  Yet despite this fast turn around they have a system for communicating with the author that is very helpful.  Unlike the other markets mentioned above, F&SF uses multiple form rejection letters.  Using a little rejectomancy (and some common sense) it is easy to glean at least a little information about a rejected story.   The slush pile readers at F&SF seem to use three standard form rejections: 1) The story didn’t grab my interest, 2) The story didn’t hold my interest, and 3) The story didn’t quite work for me.

Form letter 1 means that perhaps the opening is to slow or awkward, but could also mean the entire story doesn’t flow well.  I assume by the wording that the slush editor didn’t finish the story.  This is perhaps why F&SF is very fast with turn around on stories; they don’t read every story to the end.  I have accumulated several of these rejections.  A lot of hand wringing and close editing rejectomancy is needed for these stories.  In each case I have made an attempt to make the opening of these stories a little more exciting or interesting before I sent them on to the next market.

Form letter 2 means that perhaps the story was boring or slow in the middle.  What I assume that this letter means is that maybe they finished reading the story, but felt very ho-hum about it.  I know that one of my weak points currently is that my action scenes are slow.  Head scratching rejectomancy is needed for these.  I’ll try to punch up the story, speed it up and keep it interesting, before sending it on to the next market.  Yes, future tense.  I have not received any of these form letters yet.

Form letter 3 means that perhaps the story was just fine, but didn’t work (fit) with the intangibles that give a particular magazine its voice and style.  I think that this is a valid assumption because rejection letter that is a step up from this one is a personal rejection letter from the editor.  I got form letter 3 in the mail today.  The story in question has two previous rejections: a personal rejection and a uninformative form rejection.  Very little rejectomancy is needed here.  I am going to tweak it just a smidgen, but only because I thought of a better way express a bit of one scene after I sent it out, not because of the rejection letter.  As always it will get a close re-read before I send it out to the next market.

There is a problem with rejectomancy.  Use too much of it and you can destroy a story.  Robert Heinlein supposedly gave the advice to only edit under direct request of an editor.  Good advice for a writer that has already honed his craft.  For those of us still improving our craft, we should use a little rejectomancy and then edit with care.

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2009: My Writing Year

2009 was a good year for me. I continued to have sales. I consider it a highpoint that I made it completely out of the slush pile a few times, even though those stories were ultimately rejected. I got some really good feedback from the editors on these and because these stories were longer than flash length they felt like wins.
I continued to tackle the backlog of stories that I have accumulated over the years. Some of these old stories, especially the ones from the 1970’s and early 80’s will probably get complete rewrites.

I started out 2009 with a serious effort to write some fiction each day. While I did not actually write fiction each day, I did meet my 36500 word count goal for the year. I stopped counting when I passed goal and don’t have a year long total.

Successes
I wrote or rewrote 6 stories. Less than last year, but only two were flash.

I sold two stories, and had another selected for a reprint. All three were flash.
“VPN Doesn’t Work” and “How the Human Got His Free Will” both sold to Every Day Fiction and both were published in 2009.
“Becoming Cottontail” was selected to be in the Best Of Every Day Fiction 2, a print anthology to be published 2010.
“Language Barrier” appeared in the March 2009 print issue of Abandoned Towers.

Postponed Success

The publication date for “An Awakening of Shadows” is still to be announced.

Success in Limbo

As of one second till midnight, 31 December 2009, three stories were out in the wilds of submission.
I have nine stories currently undergoing editing/rewrites. I have only one story started in 2009 that I did not complete. I realized I had the POV character wrong and shelved it for a bit.
I did not permanently park any stories in 2009.

2009 Stats

6 Stories written
25 Submissions
2 Acceptances
1 Reprint Acceptance/Selection
0 Rewrite Requests
20 Rejections
3 Publications
3 Pending in Submission
11 Unsold stories, from this and previous years, being edited or looking for a market

Free Will

My latest story “How The Human Got His Free Will” is live today at Every Day Fiction. Follow the link, read it, rate it, and/or comment about it. Because I still consider myself a beginning writer, I crave honest feedback.

This story has as its theme the notion that humans somehow can obtain free will no matter the circumstances. When I wrote the story, I had that thought in mind. This was a little different for me because usually when I write a story I start out thinking about a plot device, a setting or a character. At some point during the writing process a strong theme may emerge. When I recognize a theme, I’ll sometimes edit the story to enhance it, or to tone it down. This was the first time I consciously thought about the theme before and during the writing.

Free will is an interesting topic with room for lots of themes. An addict can lose their free will to their addiction. Workers can express their free will by standing up in support of a great idea or against a bad one. Inmates are told when they can piss. Facebook users can choose not to cut and paste to their own status a viral status update that tries to guilt them into following the herd about this or that “hot button” issue of the moment.

I chose to write a story. An editor liked it. I hope you do too; but that decision is totally up to you and your own free will.

More “Election” Returns

(Taken from the Pike County News-Herald-Republican-Watchman-Tribune of November 4, 2009)

Pike County, OH– (Ilene Dover, staff writer) In the continuing bizarre events surrounding the vacant At-Large seat for North Jackson Township Trustee, it appears that the winner this time is Foreclosure. Once again the winner was not on the ballot and won as part of an intensive write in campaign. Unlike the 2007 midterm election where a national realtor chain won the At-Large seat, there is no individual, business or organization that can be contacted for comment about the win. At press time three separate estate auction houses have filed claims to the seat at the county courthouse, although none of them are listed in the phone book or tax rolls under the name ‘Foreclosure’ or ‘Closure’.

Interviews with local residents shed more light on yesterday’s election outcome. Mr. James Truthsbury of North Jackson Pike Road stated “his campaign signs were posted all over the place for well over two years now. I seen them pop up at one neighbor’s house only to move down the road a bit to the farm of another. Frankly I got so sick of seein’ them signs all over that I decided to vote for the guy so that he’d stop his never ending campainin’. In behind sight, I guess I fell into his lame election tactics. I mean, I guess I shoulda voted for Whitt, Maloy or Harris because they remove their election signs after every election. But I didn’t want to have to sit in the barbershop and get ribbed about backing a loser, again. So, I wrote him in.”

Ms. Falsy Higginbotham of Mill St. in the village of Alpha claimed “Mr. Closure has the support of everyone around here, right? All them signs were for him, right? Signs saying ‘For Closure’ means they aren’t against him, right? Besides, he’s rich, right? It appears he owns three maybe four auction houses, right?”

A constituent that wished to remain anonymous told us “he was more for the little people than them other ones. I mean most folks who had for Closure signs in their yards been talking down at the Quick Mart how them Wall Street, them government bailout money grabbin’ crooks, them banks and mortgage companies was gonna take everything they had and turn them out into the street. I figure if them folks was for Closure then I should be too. Hey, what paper are you from? I see you are wearing an American Flag lapel pin, your paper must be backing them government Wall Street bailouts, so don’t you dare use my name or I’ll sue.”

When asked for comments, candidates Faith Whitt and Steadman Harris issued a joint statement announcing that they would not be seeking a recount because “the people have spoken.” The third candidate running for the North Jackson Township At-Large trustee seat, Buster Maloy, was somewhere out in the township removing his election signage at press time and could not be reached for comment.

This reporter visited the area, and indeed nearly a sixth of the households had Foreclosure signs in their yards. It should be noted that a Mr. Sale, also a write in candidate, placed second in the election and will serve the term of office if Mr. Closure does not present himself to be sworn in at the Township Board of Trustee’s meeting next Monday evening.

How the Human Got His Free Will

Every Day Fiction has decided to publish my story, “How the Human Got His Free Will” as part of their November line up.

The framework for this story started as part of my desire to create modern stories in the vein of Kipling’s ‘just so’ stories. You know, “How the Camel Got His Hump” and the rest. While I had intended to have social commentary as part of the story, I did not intend for the commentary to become the story. Alas, as it is in most cases, this story turned out much differently than I had originally envisioned it and it is likely a much better story because of it. If is going to be published on November 25th, 2009.

Summer and Autumn distractions have really eaten into my writing time. I have gotten good feedback from critique readers and editors on a number of stories. I haven’t done anything with it. The stories are just sitting there waiting for revisions. I really need to do a better job at time management.

Becoming Anthologized

Good news about one of my short stories.
Every Day Fiction has chosen my story “Becoming Cottontail” to be part of their “Best of Every Day Fiction 2009” anthology. I am stoked about this.

Sadly, the old cottontail rabbit that was the inspiration for getting this story started was not around this spring and summer. Last year she would sit in our front yard and watch us. We could exit the house, slam the door, stomp up and down the sidewalk and she would just sit there watching, only running if we approached her within five or six feet.

The Rocky Balboa movies

I am a sucker for boxing movies with formula plots.

As a whole the Rocky movies are really nothing special, but in their way, they are at least as good, and at moments better, than your typical run of the mill (to use a cliche to describe the cliched) action movies.

I decided to watch all six movies. It had been a long time since I’d seen some of them, and two I had not seen at all. One through three I saw in movie theaters. Four on broadcast TV, shortened for time and content. Five I’d managed to avoid except for the very ending which I’d stumbled across three or four times on lazy Sunday afternoons. I wanted to watch “Rocky Balboa” in the theater, but failed to find the time.

Over the span of a month I rented all six on DVD.

I was surprised that “Rocky” has survived the test of time. The things that date it–clothes, cars, etc.–give it the feel of a recounting of an important event in Philadelphia’s past. The honest ending is still something modern studios should pay attention to.

“Rocky II” still feels like a typical Hollywood sequel. I have always felt that it was the movie that the studio would have insisted that “Rocky” be if Stallone had been on their radar as a box office draw when it was made. I don’t like the “hollywood” ending. Still, I like the movie. Mostly because of the character moments. Even the minor characters grow and change. Burgess Meredith’s Mickey is perhaps my most favorite supporting character.

What a romp “Rocky III” was. Still it is the same formula as the first two movies, just upside down and squished together. Clubber Lang is the Rocky-like character, and Rocky is Creed-ish. Still, it works for me, again because of character growth. I liked getting to see Apollo Creed being more than a limited dimension foil.

“Rocky IV” would not have worked for me if I hadn’t started to like Creed. During this viewing, I finally got to see scenes that get cut when the film is shown on TV. And yes, this is a revenge movie. Yes, it is a rehashing of the plot elements of “Rocky III” taken to an international scale. Yes, the ending was hokey. But… But sometimes I can’t help and wonder if “Rocky IV” put a spider crack in a wall that East Berliners tore down seven years later.

I was told by a friend to avoid “Rocky V”, and I did. I am glad I did. If I had seen it when if first came out I know it would have been a bitter experience. What really saddens me is the potential this movie has. It could have been so much more. The first part of the movie had me hooked. Here was a punch-drunk Rocky, wanting desperately to be a good father and husband, but not understanding how to do that. Stallone played the dementia astonishingly well. Talia Shire was so wonderful. I could really see Adrian struggling with walking the thin line between defending her husband from those who would take advantage of him, and giving her husband the freedom to feel useful; to feel like himself. She did not deserve to be nominated for the Razzie award. About halfway in the movie simply broke. Parts of it seem disjointed. The ending does not fit. Not at all. I see the great movie this could have been, and shake my head.

“Rocky Balboa” was outstanding. It was clear that a lot of effort went into the script. Characterization again was at the forefront, and Stallone even used some of the broken things from “Rocky V” and in doing so gave more credence to, strengthened and (somewhat) fixed the earlier movie. Paulie finally gets his moment to grow and Burt Young portrayed it so well. Elements from all five previous movies were used to define Rocky. There are moments when he is still obviously battling the dementia from getting hammered by Clubber Lang and Drago, but there are also moments where he is still the joke telling, bashful, good-hearted man introduced to us in the very first movie. The climax and denouement worked well. I really like this movie.

As a whole, the series does have some shortcomings. There is not much wiggle room when you have a plot device that allows only two outcomes. Win, lose. On, off. Yes, no. In these movies the moments that worked the best were when “maybe” was introduced or explored. Maybe Rocky will not go the distance. Maybe Rocky is more than a pug. Maybe Rocky has an inflated ego. Maybe Rocky is willing to die. Maybe Rocky can’t avoid who he really is. Maybe Rocky is going to be just fine.

I am glad I did this exercise in film watching. I just might do the same thing with the Rambo series…