Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Does This Rejection MEAN?

A few days ago one of the kid-lit writers on my favorite chat-board asked if there was a code to decipher the ubiquitous rejections that state something along the lines of, “nice, has potential, not for us.”

Most writers answered by saying that it means nothing. Since the rejections that say nothing clear and specific about the story are essentially forms, the only thing they mean is that your offering is not accepted. That’s it. For people who are not accustomed to putting themselves in the line-of-fire that comes with competitive endeavors, (like writers, actors, musicians etc.) explaining the form rejection would be to say that it’s akin to getting the standard polite letter to a job application. You know, the sort stating that you were among the best applicants but alas they cannot offer you the job. It’s a step above not getting any response, but it tells you nothing. Not even, truthfully, that you were in fact among the best applicants. Maybe, maybe not.

The chat-board responders were right, of course. The letters may have been personalized with the writer’s name and the story’s name. The story may have been referred to as “cute,” “clever,” or “interesting.” But until it said something along the lines of “the story would be stronger if Mary is the one who figures out how not to have her little lamb follow her, instead of the teacher giving the answer,” until then it was not a reaction to her story. Without comments specific to the story, no decoding will make it so.

Repeat: forms mean NO, and nothing else.

Feeling stuffed full of holiday pie, and with many form rejections in my journey’s baggage, I sat to let out some of the steam with what I think these forms would say had they been one hundred percent blunt and said exactly what they mean. Here’s my version of the decoded message.

Dear think-you’re-a-writer,

I don’t rightly know if you are a good writer, nor do I know if your story has potential. I barely had the time to glance at the first two lines, and the only thing I know is that I don’t want to read further.

I can’t tell you what to do with your story, because I don’t care. As we won’t be publishing it, I don’t have the time to think about it.

If you saw my heaping pile of submissions, you would not feel special in getting this form. It’s just what mass submissions have brought overworked people like me to.

Nothing personal,

Ms. Pretty Drained

Lesson? None. Other than it’s time to move on, and think no more about it.

And if you get a truly personal response, one where the editor/agent has something illuminating to say about how Mary and her lamb may someday break their pattern so the teacher doesn’t have to come up with the answer, kiss that letter and send virtual air blessing to the editor/agent. They bothered, in the middle of wading through a huge pile, to craft a response. I’ve been fortunate to get some of those, and they were helpful. No decoding needed.

And please don’t cry, Mary.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Timely and Timeless

When I first began querying editors with what was then a story picture book called The Voice of Thunder, my query included the word timeless. For some reason I felt that I needed to emphasize that a story set in the past was still relevant.

After expanding the story into a longer story for readers in middle grades and up, I added the word timely to the query.

Some part of me knew that it was both. Now, only months after the novel’s release, war has broken out again. More than forty-five years (and a few wars in between) after the story’s setting, once again Israelis everywhere have cleared their basement shelters and readied them to serve for what they were intended when built.

In the intervening years many of the shelters became storage spaces, filled with bicycles and unused furniture. The two Gulf wars brought scud missile attacks, but for these Israelis were told to use sealed rooms in their homes and gas masks. The basement shelters remained filled with clutter.

In Gaza the war never ended. I don’t know if the building codes there are similar to Israel’s, where every residence must have a shelter. But the ongoing shelling and bombing from the air is a sad part of the reality, even as it is spaced by periods of a lull in violence.

My story is tragically as timely as ever.
©Shalom of Safed
I pray for peace, and by definition peace can only come when it is peace for all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Can Opposites Both Be Right?

A person much smarter than I am said this: “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. The opposite of a profound truth may be another profound truth.” His name was Niels Bohr, one of the twentieth century’s most important physicists.
Bohr was a physicist. This is not about G-d or unearthly matters. Neither is my post. It isn't even about the sanctity of scripture. it is about the variety of human perceptions. This, from my perch, is a crucial aspect of writing good fiction.

That’s the way I see the election cycle we just passed. I never seek profound truths in politics. Politics is the worldly art of deal-making. But parties couch their drives with underlying philosophies. The philosophy of small government and self-sufficient individuals, and the one of government that re-distributes some resources to the weakest in our society, both of them contain deep truths about how to be good human beings.

That’s also the way I feel about the conflict in the middle east, where The Voice of Thunder, my novel for middle grades, is set. There, too, is a story of two rights.

As writers (unless we write “How To…” books) we are searchers not so much for the pragmatic but for profound human truths that give our stories their value. Yes, it must be served up as entertainment. Sure, it should reflect a lot of what is and not just what it should be. Granted, it should not come across as preaching. (This I get to do here, wink.)  

But in the end if a story is to be good literature, it will contain profound truths. No, this^ isn’t one of my many typos. I wrote truthS, plural.

I don’t mind being labeled a relativist or even wishy-washy when it comes to this world, human theories, and human perceptions. My life’s experience has led me to perceive those who think otherwise as fanatics.

I even think we need fanatics at times, to stir a ship that has run too far off course. That is how fanatical I am about the reality of many human truths.

Trust that it isn’t a copout. It’s harder. Accepting that I wasn’t given a ticket to view the ultimate is humbling to grasp. It’s also more difficult to write about many truths.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


NaNoWriMo, that Klingon-ish sounding word, is setting the American writing world on fire. Haven’t heard? Think I’m kidding? Think I slipped on first-rains puddle and bumped my head?

Well, any of the above may be true. But NaNoWriMo is real also.

A few years ago someone thought to make November National Novel Writing Month. It wasn’t one of those acts of congress, like declaring August National Pickle Month. (You’d think they don’t have enough to do.) What started with fewer than a hundred participants has mushroomed. In the last ten plus Novembers it has caught on, and the nation is writing.


Now that the self-publishing outfits have become sponsors, the writerly engines are full on. (CreatSpace, Amazon’s service for self-publishing, is listed on the NaNoWriMo site as an official sponsor.) One blogger in-the-know said almost a quarter-million people have committed to it.

Committed to what?

Over the month of November they will write a fifty-thousand words (or more) novel, with a beginning middle and end. They will reach the end before November reaches its end.

Now that’s quite a commitment.
I have never accepted writing by the pound, or by the (word) count. I’ve found my own way to creative productivity. But if this is what throttles your engine, go for it. It’s only (gulp) 1,666 words per day, and if you don’t have a job, as many of us don’t, it can be 208 words per hour, eight hours a day, everyday of the week. That’s about one printed page an hour. But who’s counting?
Well, NaNoWriMo is, actually. That’s why I’m not doing it.
To all the brave souls who started, I wish you a great adventure. Maybe even a masterpiece.