December 19, 2007
The story I sent out a few weeks ago came back the other day. A rejection. The turnaround — the time between when I sent the piece in and when I received the rejection — was mercifully short, and the editor’s note was polite, professional, and even helpful. But, alas, it’s still a rejection.
When I go to conventions or workshops and I speak with young writers, they complain, understandably, of the rejections they’ve received. But there’s an assumption in the way they speak to me that once an author is as established as I am, rejections become a thing of the past. That’s simply not true, and I make a point of telling them so. Rejected stories, rejected manuscripts — they’re a part of the business, a part of what it means to be a writer. Sometimes the things we write work just as we had hoped; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes two editors, both of them skilled readers, both of them experienced in the field, both of them successful, can look at a story or a book and have completely different reactions.
I’d even go so far as to say that rejection is good for us writers. It forces us to take a second look at our work, to think about it critically, to put ourselves in the mind of that editor who said, “No,” and make ourselves see the story as he or she did. Sometimes, even after looking at the story again, I might decide that it’s fine as it is, that the piece simply didn’t connect with this particular reader. Other times — most often — I’ll find that the story still needs work. Maybe I was too close to the piece when I first sent it out, and it took this rejection to make me see its flaws. In this case, the editor has done me a great service by rejecting it and making me look at it again. And, on occasion, it’s also possible I might come to see that a story can’t be salvaged, that there really wasn’t a story there after all. Again, if this is the case, I owe the editor my thanks for not publishing it.
So my story was rejected. Now it’s up to me to decide which of these possibilities applies to this particular work. Naturally, I’d like to think that it’s option one of the possibilities listed above. Certainly I don’t think it’s option three. Most likely the second one is the correct one. The story still needs work. And when next I see the editor who rejected it, I’ll have to remember to say thank you for helping me improve the piece.
Today’s music: Strength in Numbers
December 18, 2007
It’s gotten cold over the last week. Winter cold. Cars-covered-with-frost-in-the-mornings, heat-running-pretty-much-all-the-time, ice-covering-parts-of-the-beaver-pond cold.
So I’ve done the things that we generally do around the house when winter begins in earnest. I closed the vents to the crawl-space under the house, I’ve opened up the fire place and stacked a bunch of wood, and I’ve filled the bird feeders.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m an avid birder — have been since I was seven years old. The birds we attract to our feeders aren’t terribly exciting — no rarities or exotics. But there’s something so satisfying about having even the most common birds come to the feeders and eat the food we put out. Both my daughters love it, and the younger one delights in telling me which species she’s seen during breakfast.
This year’s most exciting feeder bird at our house is a hermit thrush. He’s warm brown on the back, with a rust colored tail that he pumps up and down excitedly. His breast is white, with a light sprinkle of black spots. He never deigns to hop onto any of the feeders, but he’s there every day, roaming the ground beneath them, catching the seed and scraps of suet dropped by the chickadees, nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers. As I say, hermit thrushes aren’t rare, but they’re not usually so conspicuous. Normally one encounters them in the early spring, and even then one is more likely to hear their fluted song than to see one.
As the winter goes on more birds will find the feeders. Tiny Carolina wrens, with their harsh scolding calls; pileated woodpeckers, as large as crows, their cackling cries making them sound slightly insane; huge, chattering flocks of goldfinches; the occasional reticent bluebird. We’ll get hawks, too — sharp-shinned or Cooper’s — watchful and alert, eager to make a meal of one of the aforementioned visitors to my feeders. A Goldfinch McNugget to go. Yum.
If you don’t feed birds, you should. It helps them through the winters, and it’s great fun. You can find cheap feeders and decently priced food at most home supply stores. (Sunflower seed is best for attracting chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice; thistle seed works well for finches of all sorts; the so-called “wild bird seed”, which is a mix of millet and sunflower, will bring in mourning doves, sparrows and juncos; cardinals will eat both sunflower and millet, though they like safflower best; suet cakes are favored by woodpeckers.) If you have questions, leave them below. I’ll answer as quickly as I can.
Today’s music: Bill Frisell (Good Dog, Happy Man)
December 16, 2007
We’re actually getting snow today! Yes, all you northerners and midwesterners, I know. You don’t want to hear about it. But down here snow has become so scarce that it’s always a treat when we get any at all. This is a very light snowfall — a faint dusting on the leaf litter in the woods around our house; a thin coat on rooftops and cars and the swingset out back. It looks beautiful.
Today’s music: “Studio 360” on NPR
December 13, 2007
I feel like I’m standing in the eye of a storm.
As you grow older with your cohort of friends, you find that life events come in waves. For a while, in the years after college, everyone was falling in love and getting married; in the year of our wedding, Nancy and I must have attended at least a dozen other weddings. Then, a few years later, all of us started families. Baby showers and birth announcements, brises and christenings. And not long after, many of us began to lose our parents; sad, yes, but also to be expected.
We’ve reached a new phase now; this one’s darker, harder to accept. All around us, it seems, couples are splitting up, and people our age are getting sick with the types of diseases that only older people are supposed to get. It seems that now we’re older people. And I feel like I should just keep my head down and hope that the gods take no notice of my family and me. Is it tempting fate to acknowledge how fortunate we’ve been? Just typing the words, I feel compelled to knock three times on my wood desk.
Within just a few years, Nancy and I, along with so many of our college and grad school friends will have kids going off to college. Not long after that, those children will begin to marry and start families of their own. Rites of passage; blessings to be celebrated. But right now, at midlife, I feel like we’re just trying to weather the storms that rage all around us.
It’s grey outside, and turning colder. And today I’m sad for my friends who are suffering.
Today’s music: Steve Earle (Train a Comin’)
December 10, 2007
So, THE SORCERERS’ PLAGUE is now officially “out”. It should be in bookstores by now, and it can be ordered from online sellers, including, of course, Amazon.com.
I have a confession to make: I am an Amazon numbers junkie. Whenever I have a new book out I return to the product page again and again to check my sales numbers and look for new reviews. I know, I know. The numbers mean next to nothing, and the reader reviews don’t count for much more. But I can’t help myself. It’s rather pathetic really. I know this. Yet I still do it. And I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only writer who does.
A little information can be a dangerous thing, and yet we writers get so little immediate feedback regarding how our books are doing that any information is welcome. Then again, given how obsessive I can be about the Amazon numbers, I’m probably lucky that I don’t have access to more information. I’d never get anything done….
Today’s music: James Taylor (One Man Band)