Here’s another old post from my old blog. Still importing, and lots more posts from the vault still to come.
I take it as a distinctly good sign that the rejections I receive as a writer are getting more and more flattering. It’s just got to be good.
A few months ago I entered three things into the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) contest. I didn’t place in any of the three categories, but did receive two critiques on each piece, which offered some suggestions and things to think about, as well as some positive feedback.
The first thing I sent in was a story called “Lead Us Not Into Temptation,” (excerpt here) which I entered in the Children’s Short Story category, though I wasn’t sure it really belonged there. I wrote it for a creative writing class I took in college in Arizona, with one of my favorite college professors ever, Dr. Allen Woodman. He was hilarious and inspirational, and I wrote two stories out of that class that I still love to this day and would love to see in print. This was the second story I wrote for his class, and when we had our conference about it, he told me it was his favorite in the class. I’ll never forget that. Funny story, sometime last year I was at our local writer’s roundtable, a monthly meeting at the library, and they passed out a story for us to read, and it was a story by Dr. Woodman! Talk about small world!
Anyway, this story was a fictional tale of some young kids with a mean Sunday School teacher who tells them a scary story about what might happen if they misbehave, and how the children test that story. So it’s a story about children, but I wrote it partly as a story of religious hypocrisy in adults, and actually changed it some to try to fit it better into the Children’s Short Story category.
I got some great feedback on it, including some suggestions of possibly changing the ages of the kids (which has been something I struggled with myself, and am still not sure where I sit on that fence), but overall good comments, although one of the reviewers thought maybe children shouldn’t be learning about adults lying and that maybe it wasn’t a good moral to the story, hmmmm. That kinda made my day in a twisted way. Sometimes, as a writer, you take a little sick pleasure in rattling people who get easily offended. And well, that part of the story, I’m not going to change, because it was sorta the point.
The next story was called “Dark As Roses,” (excerpt 1, excerpt 2, excerpt 3) and is dearest to my heart. It was the first story I wrote for the aforementioned class. I remember starting it on spring break, visiting my friend Kelly and sitting on her front lawn while she was at work. I was just brainstorming then, something about a girl who sees auras, I knew her name would be Iris, after a song by Sinead O’Connor called “What Doesn’t Belong to Me” which had really affected me that January. Also, Iris was the goddess of the rainbow, and one of my favorite flowers. That’s all I started out with, her name and the fact that she saw auras. In the brainstorming, I realized she wrote an advice column for her college newspaper.
By the time I got back to school in Flagstaff, I only had a few days before the rough draft was due and I wrote like a woman possessed. It was one of those magical experiences as a writer, where I sat down to write and a story spilled out almost fully formed. I didn’t know any of the details until I wrote them, and there were so many. The story had layers, which is something I love as a reader, so I liked that. I had also just finished reading Angela’s Ashes during that same spring break week, and felt that some bit of Frank McCourt’s styles or sensibilities (in very subtle ways) had seeped into the story. Just in certain phrasings or expressions.
All in all, longhand, I wrote thirty pages. Then I had to type it up in a matter of hours to turn it in on time. I sat the notebook in front of my face and typed away, never once looking at the screen. Well, needless to say I think, after typing that many pages that fast, it was a grammatical natural disaster full of typos and mistakes, but I just didn’t have enough time to fix it all, so I printed out that way and turned it in. And it was okay. In class we laughed about it all and I explained myself. My classmates loved the story. I felt really awesome about it. One guy in our class, a cute boy with shaggy hair, wrote his email address on his critique when he gave it to me, which was cool. I have always really, really loved this story.
In the feedback from PNWA, again there were some great suggestions that made some things clear that I haven’t seen in the seven years since writing it. They pointed out some inconsistencies and extraneous details, which gives me some new insight that I think will help me make the story better. I also got this comment:
“This story has a wonderfully inventive plot. I don’t think I’ve read anything this original in a long time.” This, written by someone who has probably read dozens of stories for this contest. I don’t think any compliment could really warm my heart so much as that one. Isn’t that what every artist of every type really strives for, deep down, to be unquestionably original? It felt really fucking good to read that.
The last thing I submitted to the contest was my book, Moonchild. They asked for a synopsis and first few chapters, totaling 28 pages. So I sent just that, and in both of these critiques, there was very little suggestion or critique at all, and the ones there were were so minor. It really made my day to read these, even though I didn’t place in the contest. Here are some snippets: “Imagery through metaphor is especially strong and insightful.” “Beautiful title and deeply symbolic.” “This is courageous and honest writing with painful memories, but described with painful beauty.” “WOW! What a wondrous mix of teenage angst and original experience.” And my favorite, “This is a work of art and a pleasure to read.”
Yeah, like I said, I’m just floored, in a good way. Reveling in rejection. Who knew that was possible?
- Another Rejection Letter
- Unbidden Praise
- Constant Eclipse
- An Amazingly Awesome Weekend
- You’ve Been Rejected – Now What?
- My WiP is Making Me Fat (& Other Writerly Truths)