We All Get Rejected.

Sometimes it's good to remember that we are all rejected, every day, again and again. 

I found this wondrous site because of Laura Olin's newsletter. She linked to this, and I want to print it out and frame it:

Writers worry about being lost in the sheer volume of content that's created. The important thing to remember? All of those publications need content. They need it more than ever if they want to keep readers. If you create something -- and if you finish something -- you will find more availability in publications than ever before. 

Since you can't please everybody, it makes sense that you will face rejection. It's inevitable.

But you will also find acceptance more often than you might think.

Story Prompts by Google Autocomplete: I Kill Giants

I realized that Google's autocomplete feature is a good story prompter. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-22 at 7.18.45 PM.png

This might get rough.

***

I KILL GIANTS

"I hear that you have need of someone like me." 

I look up, startled, to find a man standing next to the table. How did he just appear there, unnoticed even by my subconscious? And such a man, too - a strapping man, if ever I've used that word before, strapping and handsome and all the things I'll never be. I tilt my head back, and back, until I meet his eyes. 

"Are you Sir Bronsen?"

"I am."

"Then I have need of you." I raise one hand and indicate the wooden stool across from me. "Please, sir, I beg you to sit down." Keller worked fast. I'd only told the barman half an hour ago of my dilemma. He had assured me of his connections and indicated for me to sit, sit, wait a little while. Now, he is here sooner than I'd planned (hoped, says the tiny voice in my head, for I still haven't figured quite what words were best). Now, I must speak my piece. 

"Good manners for a peasant," my companion says, but without malice. He says it almost as a question, arching a dark brow. His hair is dark, nearing black, the little of it I can see under his army cap.  

"My parents had higher hopes when I was born. They misplaced such things in me." 

It's been a hard go of it for everyone since the giants came, which this soldier seems to understand. "So tell me, sir. Why should I listen to what you want to say? Why should I not haul you in for obstruction of justice?" 

"Because." I am speaking with so little air, how can I breathe? "I have information."

"And you hope for what? Money?" He scoffed at me. "We don't pay informants."

"Just that you'll leave her be." I give him a pointed look. "Leave us be."

Sir Bronsen stares at me in apparent shock. "She's been on the run for a week, and she's already got people willing to stick their necks out? You've seen the reward, have you not?"

"I have."

"And you won't take it."

"I will not."

"Make your case." He appears amused. There are no other guards here that I've seen; the tavern is empty of the king's army here, except for him. He'd received my conditions and honored them. Unless, of course, the rest are all waiting outside. Highly likely.

So far, though, this was going as well as I could've hoped. 

"Let's say, hypothetically, that I know something." I drum my fingers on the pockmarked, sticky table. This tavern is a town away from my home and nobody knows me by name. The ale is cheap, but the ambiance leaves something to be desired. "The location of someone you're looking for." 

He says nothing, but indicates that I should continue. 

"She doesn't want to be found." 

Now Sir Bronsen glances skyward, exasperated. "We're far beyond that, Sir...?"

"Sir is fine." I swallow. I haven't ever been a Sir. "She is well, but she mustn't be found. She mustn't."

"The giants are advancing. They've already taken two territories," Sir Bronsen says. His trembling fingers become fists upon his thighs. "Everything fell when she broke the ceasefire. That stupid girl." He sizes me up once more, considering. "Surely you know that."

"Yes, she told me."

"She told you?" He looks appalled. "That she abandoned her kingdom, that she killed a giant prince?"

"Yes." My voice is hoarse. "But there are things that no one should endure."

We fall silent. This man, a captain, has seen what the giants are capable of. The broken bodies littered in their wake, the pits full of bones sucked clean of marrow. She'd been as much a sacrifice as a bride. 

"If you're found concealing her," he says, "you will be executed. You do realize this."

"She said you were friends, once." I clear my throat. "That you would respect her wishes. Were you --" 

"I wanted," he says. "Nothing more. She was far beyond my station." His gaze is troubled, full of doubt. "I swore to protect her, always. But then she went and..." 

"She was offered like so much cattle, a pretty gift to be torn apart. She wed a beast, because her father... Her father." I can't finish because I'm trembling with rage. Her father

"And then she killed her husband," my companion says. His voice is heavy. 

I snort. "Such a husband."

"It's not up to us to agree with her actions. She must pay for that. The war will not stop until she is brought to justice."

He gets to his feet, surprising me. "I will be here for another three days," he tells me. "Searching for her. She can leave messages for me at any sheriff's station."

I stand as well, barely coming up to his shoulder. "You'll be waiting for no word. Hypothetically, she was very clear about that."

Securing his sword and dusting off his tunic, the captain says, "Make sure to tell her that the war will not end, and will never end, without her." He sighs. "Her being alive is, unfortunately, not required." He meets my eyes once more, and I see a well of indecision. "You will not be followed. I'll grant her that much."   

I am far too aware as he walks out the door, his strides long and fast. Everything feels too loud. If she's found, I could die. My son could die. But she's our princess, and she sacrificed everything for us. When she showed up at my window in the smallest hours of the morning not a week ago, I knew her face. Everyone does. 

Somehow I return home. One moment I'm walking the long way back to Aregard, taking side paths and doubling back, watching for anyone trailing me. I don't trust Sir Bronsen, and I certainly don't trust his men. Then, hours later but passing in a blink, I'm home. Light spills from the windows of my hut, warmth pouring over me and enrobing me in comfort. My body hurts from traveling, and my muscles seize from long disuse. Tending sheep is much less taxing than walking miles. 

Home, yes. 

She's waiting for me, our fallen princess. My son sleeps before the fire, having slumped over on some pillows while waiting for my arrival. Princess Thalia is tense, abandoned sewing next to her as she clutches the skirt of her threadbare dress. 

In an effort to end the war, her father, the king himself, had made a deal with the giants. Ending the war in exchange for her hand, along with a quarter of the kingdom's gold. Thalia used to be considered among the fairest in our realm, and a prize to anyone who'd wed her. None of us understood the giants' condition, why they would even want a human woman, but that mattered not. Perhaps they wanted to be shown as having mercy. 

They showed no mercy when she killed their prince. 

She's only said that it happened, though she has not said why. Her breaking of the marriage restarted the war; her actions mean my son could be taken from me to fight the battles we will not win. 

When she fell into my yard after having run for days and days, gasping and crying, her body a patchwork of scars and burns, what else could I do? 

 

 

 

How Did I Only Just Hear About "Teen Bo$$" and Why Am I Not More Terrified

So this is a thing.

Via Teen Boss/Bauer Media Group

And this has been a thing since 2017, apparently, with four issues per year. (As The New Yorker said, it's like a quarterly earnings report.)

Where was this type of reinforcement when I was a kid? The children in that magazine cover terrify me, but I had tons of ideas that could've made money when I was their age. I was too dumb to capitalize on my own sales abilities. Now there's skin care products! Makeup tutorials! Toy unboxing videos! Video game let's plays! Clothing lines! Hair bows! (Hair bows?) Kids and teens are able to retire before they even start high school. Eight year olds are selling themselves on YouTube and Instagram, and they are succeeding.

Not sell themselves. Not t h a t way. But they are, in effect, selling themselves -- their privacy, their stories. 

It strikes me as odd that it's about selling yourself. Everything is branded. In my day (*shakes finger pointedly*), that made you a sellout. In this gig economy of selling individual skills and services, there can never be too much self-promotion. Children are taught that it's best to start young and that everybody has something to offer.

That's why I have so much trouble with this website. What is it? What am I trying to do? It's an engine for my work. 

It's good to have that kind of optimism, I suppose. To think that someone out there will find you interesting, or funny, or intelligent. That someone cares about what you have to say. For instance, right now this blog has literally no readers. I'm not capitalizing on my established brand. (Guh. "My brand.") 

Via Imgur.com

What would I have done with that kind of positive reinforcement when I was younger? If there were a magazine dedicated to my financial success? How many things would I have made, knowing that it was possible for me to succeed simply because others already had? What makeup lines would I have created? What YouTube television show would I have written? 

Of course, four things (and four sub-things) were very true when I was a kid in Ye Olde Nineties:

  1. The modern Internet didn't exist 
  2. Successful kids 
    1. Sold candy bars for band
    2. Delivered newspapers
    3. Sold baked goods on the playground until they got caught
    4. Sold standardized test results
  3. Makeup lines were a thing at department stores and nowhere else
  4. Successful kids were musical prodigies or members of MENSA 

There are just so many more opportunities now for kids who are willing to hustle. I didn't even know musical.ly existed and had created actual teenaged pop stars. Celebrities! People who are recognized and asked for autographs, vaulted to fame by an app! YouTube celebrities are more recognizable than movie celebrities to those in that coveted 18-24 age bracket. 

It is so much more common for people to have their fingers stuck in multiple pies. That used to be a Holden Caulfield-esque "phony" way to capitalize on success, and if Generation X hated anything, they hated sellouts. If an artist used his images to make T-shirts, that used to qualify as "selling out" because the art no longer existed independent of financial gain. As Gawker said, today there is "no longer a penalty." Now it's just good business. If you don't cross-sell, then you're an idiot who lost money. 

Holding onto your own coattails and launching yourself from industry to industry is not always a bad thing. It's not always Kanye West saying he'll be the best clothing designer in the history of ever and then selling us white undershirts for $120 (which sold out, and I hope you purchasers are ashamed of yourselves). Conversely, this is also how we get good evil geniuses like Elon Musk, whose ability to learn and make change is elevated to an art form. 

(Hmm. Good evil geniuses. That phrase just made me search for a book I wrote years and years ago, a copy of which I found in my sent email from college. Thank God my agent never accepted it, because hoo boy. It's a hot mess. Remember kids, there are hidden benefits in rejection.) 

It always comes back to legacies with me. What is my legacy going to be? What will I leave behind when I pass from this mortal coil? Is it going to be good enough, or impactful enough, or worth anyone's time? What will carry my name?

When I reach the end of my life and look back at my cumulative CV, what am I going to find? And if I'd started at 15, or 8, what difference would it have made? If I were a kid in today's weird world, what could I have done? 

an experiment

I started reading a great new blog, a trashbag full of donuts. The author is very funny, and uses words and grammar in a way that is accessible and exciting. (That sounds like English 101 bullshit when you didn't read the passage assigned for that class, so you try to wing it when you get called on, but OHMYGOD you are so out in left field and everyone knows it.) It's one of those weird things where you don't know why you didn't try that style before, it's so obvious, but nobody else is doing it, either. 

she uses grammar and punctuation in a way that would make my high school english teacher collapse from a coronary. she writes in lower-case because she CAN, except when she wants emphasis. really, she has a degree in literature, so she can do whatever the hell she wants. 

a n y w a y

(Jesus, that felt really deliberate. You have to WANT to type that out and lengthen that word in the reader's mind.) 

she also does this thing to emphasize her thoughts:

  • bullet points are used
  • frequently
  • and to great effect

Meanwhile, her short stories are heartbreaking in their emotional precision. the author of this trashbag greatness also revisits stories from her youth, so i thought i would give it a go, in her style. 

A STORY IN THE STYLE OF A TRASHBAG FULL OF DONUTS

the time i threw up while on a chaperoned date

i met my first love in elementary school, like so many of us do. we had recess weddings and cried at homecoming if we saw the other person dancing with someone else. let's call him bob. i've known bob since i spied his rat tail on the playground, he's belonged to me since he was seven years old. 

r i g h t.

so, when we were thirteen or so, bob wanted to go to the county fair. he wanted me to go with him! i was thinking like, oh man what if we ride the ferris wheel and WE GET STUCK and then we have to MAKE OUT WHILE BACKDROPPED BY THE MOON

his mom drove us. why?

  • we were thirteen
  • we had no other modes of transportation
  • a boy scout and a girl you've known for six years are too hormonal to be trusted 

my only memories of this date are these three:

  1. we rode the scrambler for almost ten minutes because the operator wandered off, abandoning us to stomach-churning gyroscopic forces.
    1. what is the scrambler? it scrambles you. 
  2. his mother held back my hair while i vomited near the fairway.
  3. i threw up again outside of their car. they had to watch because they were still pulling out of the driveway. i wandered upstairs to where my dad was meeting with friends who would LEAVE OUR HOUSE AND WALK THROUGH MY VOMIT and said, "where's the hose?"

the moral of the story is I HATE GODDAMN SCRAMBLERS. 

 

Some Things Do Happen "Suddenly."

"Nothing happens 'suddenly.'" My high school English teacher, Mr. C, was hunched over a stack of pages -- my first real novel. I recently corrupted my external hard drive by mistake (IDIOT), so there went the last copy. Some novels just aren't meant to see the light of day, I guess. For this one, it was probably for the best. 

 Photo credit:  Samuele Errico Piccarini

With his countless corrections in red pen, it looked like a person had been sliced open on top of it, their fingers trying to hold in a desperate drip drip drip all over the pages. We were in a back library room, as we were at least once a week a week during my senior year until a broken spine (mine) had interfered. 

"Sure they do," I said. I threw my hands up in his face. "AHHH!"

He sighed, but I could see the start of a laugh. I loved that I could make him laugh. 

I'm taking some liberties with this conversation. All I clearly remember is the first line. The rest I recall in generalities and expressions, the look on Mr. C's face. He was -- and is -- a student of the old school. He introduced me to the book that would change my view of writing forever: The God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyThere goes a jazz tune. 

"Do you think you can use a green pen or something?" I said. He also taught me that using anything but "said" is superfluous. "Asked," "queried," "implored," "wondered," etc. They jolt the reader out of the story. However, if you use "said," it's like using a double "the" -- the reader will glide over the text and continue reading, unaware of the the interruption. 

"Why would I use a green pen?"

"Because my manuscript is bleeding. This is going to cause some serious therapy bills. I get real anxiety looking at this." 

The idea of students' anxiety hadn't even occurred to him. He was feared in school, revered and hated at the same time for his no-bullshit attitude. And now he uses green or purple pens when grading. Maybe he's fallen out of the habit at the private school where he now teaches, but at least for the rest of that year, he refrained from using the red pen. I won that battle. 

Mr. C is still a teacher somewhere in North or South Carolina. We fell out of touch after I got married, but when my first-ever short story was published in a real hard-cover book, I searched online for his email and reached out to him. It felt somewhat strange to catch up on years of life in an impersonal electronic message, especially when things of such consequence had occurred (oh, I've had several surgeries, a marriage, bought a house, had to leave the work force, and hey how are you?). 

In the end, it was fine. My publisher even reached out and said that Mr. C had, in a fit of utter determination, tried two different credit cards over three different days to purchase my book (the publishing house is overseas, so the credit card companies viewed the transaction as suspicious). He called both companies, had the transactions approved, and went on a buying spree. He ended up becoming a patron and a sustaining member of the publishing house. 

He did all of that without telling me, in true Mr. C fashion. I'm not using his full name because I know, even though he'll likely never read this, that he would not want his name used. As far as I know, he never married himself. He always wore his hair a little long in the back, and I like to think it's because he knew it bothered people. When he lived in the Berkshires, it was in a refurbished barn. I think he had dial-up Internet and an EarthLink account by choice. 

My point is, Mr. C is a hell of a guy. Always has been. He taught me not to rely on adjectives. We fought about the worth of Annie Dillard. He taught vocabulary with terms like, "Chasm: My life has fallen into a chasm since I started teaching this class." 

I thought of that conversation because I was getting ready for bed the other night when the world suddenly slanted in front of my eyes like a hall of mirrors. I've been tampering with medication recently in an effort to get off my nerve meds, and it hasn't been going well. In fact, I was going through intense withdrawal. My doctor recommended increasing the dosage again, much to my dismay. But I realized things do happen "suddenly," because my vision shifted so fast that I had to stop and regroup. Everything suddenly slanted. There is no other phrase or word for it. I got into bed and closed my eyes, the equivalent of "have you tried turning it off and on again?". 

Arundhati Roy has a new book out now, her second in twenty years. I would love to talk with Mr. C about it.