Monday, September 30, 2013


If "there" is the place where rejections are occasionally replaced by acceptances, then I'm not there yet.

I'm not pursuing rejection very much right now. I'm still learning what works and what doesn't work for me, let alone what might work for other people. I'm studying, and that takes time away from focusing on the pursuit of rejection as well.

Also, rejection kinda sucks.

I know that it is a process through which writers must pass. I acknowledge that there is nothing special about my getting rejected. And really, I haven't gotten all that many. I haven't even hit my first hundred yet, so there's nothing to complain about, right?

Partly, being rejected hurts in an emotional way. That little kick in the gut that what you thought was something wonderful just isn't good enough to be bought and published by the market you thought would want it. And they just published that one piece that was not nearly as good as yours, so why the heck didn't they want yours, the clearly superior work? Ahem.

Another part is that the form letters don't let me know if I'm improving. My husband thinks I'm improving, but he also likes the stories that get rejected, and so I end up with some ambivalence about his opinion. And he's totally biased in my favor, of course. I almost wish that they would give out tiered form letters - one for 'this is a piece of crap written by an illiterate monkey, never submit again' and then 'you clearly don't know what a story is yet, try again when you've learned' and 'wrong market, dingleberry' and finally 'loved it, but we already published a story about time traveling spiders this cycle and can't publish another so soon.' Then I could work my way up through the tiers - or not - and get some idea of how my work is being received.

I did actually get a few notes from one magazine that I submitted stories to, but I haven't yet been able to apply those notes. I'm not sure what to make of them. I sincerely appreciate them, because they are not form letters, and that's exciting, but for all I know, this magazine doesn't send anyone form letters, which makes me feel less special. This is the point where my husband tells me to stop overthinking things and just be glad for the feedback.

So, in the course of about two years, I've only submitted 20 times, and the number of stories is fewer than that. Sometimes I think I should submit more, write more, and then I let life get in the way and I don't. Or I rail about the fact that some of the things I've already written are "published" on this blog and so I can't submit them to any paying market (gnashes teeth). But none of them are any better than anything I have submitted, because they don't get any feedback either. That's part of why I stopped participating in the flash fiction challenges for a while. They were good prompts, but I wasn't getting any return on investment from posting them. And maybe I should have participated more, commenting on the stories of others, but I felt awkward writing anything critical, and when I did have something nice, it always sounded critical in my head anyway. One person asked for feedback, and I seriously considered writing something, because the author began by putting a parenthetical after the title stating, essentially, that the title sucked and so did the story. I wanted to comment that it's a bad idea to shoot oneself in the foot. Better to let the readers decide than to tell them that they won't like it before they get a chance to taste it. But the words in my head were too condescending, too harsh, and I didn't write them.

Again, even with trying to tell myself to fear being quiet more than being stupid, I've managed to silence myself. To reject my opinion without allowing anyone else to try it out. My inner judge replaced the word stupid with mean, and I let myself fear being mean over being quiet. What's next? I'll fear being silly, being crude, being judgmental, hypocritical, blasphemous or privileged?

How can I expect to sell a story when I can't stop rejecting myself?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Overthinking English 275

I'm taking a literature class this semester, Methods of Literary Study. In it, students are to learn various types of literary criticism, and my class is starting the semester with reading Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. I've got thoughts that I don't think are that relevant to the class, but that I wish to record, if only for myself (and maybe to torture my husband, who reads this blog).

Nerdy Deconstruction Theory Metaphor
When the class began to discuss deconstruction, I thought of what is, in my mind, a great and mostly useless metaphor for it. I write "mostly useless" because it is a nerdy kind of metaphor that I would not get unless it were directly related to my work, and I doubt most English majors are familiar enough with SQL to make it worth bringing up.

To whit, when writing a select statement for SQL using multiple tables, key values need to be joined between them. If the key values are not joined, then the result is a Cartesian product - an excess of result rows, many of which are repeats. In deconstruction, we must become aware that the meanings of words are not constant or consistent, that is, that the meaning of a word to me may not match that meaning to anyone else (the key values cannot be equated). Once we agree that the meaning of the words do not align, then the number of possible meanings for a text is multiplied (Cartesian product), and, in effect, infinite. Since texts are composed of myriad words, each of which could be considered to be a key value, the theoretical Cartesian product would also be large enough to call 'infinite.'

Faulkner and Mythology
When I read the Quentin section in The Sound and the Fury for the third time, I began to get a sense of an Odyssey within it. Not an exact parallel, but a broken one. As if Odysseus knew that Penelope (Caddy) was gone, and that the child she bore was not his. The Eddy is like Scylla and Charybdis, but he watches the boys choose between them rather than venture himself, because Quentin has no agency. The little Italian girl is like Circe - she transforms him into a criminal by bewitching him. Gerald Bland, et al. are the lotophagoi, trying to lull him into complacency with wine and company.

When I read the Jason section for the third time, I saw him as the Minotaur, trapped in a maze of his own rage. He goes blind with rage, and sees red. The bull metaphor is strengthened by his inability to not chase the red tie, to not attack the red lips that so flaunt his rules. The rage that he has against Caddy and Quentin (both of them) is so strong that it has become a prison without which Jason cannot exist. Jason is also a name from mythology, though not directly related to the Minotaur.

I took heed to the instructor's words on the first class and determined to read through this book over the Labor day weekend. Despite it being significantly heavier than the paperback I had planned to take, I lugged the Norton Critical edition on my solo trip and got through a little over half of the book by Sunday. I finished it by Monday. We have been reading a section each week for class. I have been re-reading the assigned section during the week, and then spending a good amount of time on Saturdays re-reading again and taking notes.

That first reading over Labor day was awful. Reading Benjy and Quentin's minds was so difficult that I had pretty much given up by the time I got to Jason and then the last section, both of which are certainly easier to read, if not to comprehend. The second reading of Benjy's section seemed little better than the first, although at least I had an idea of what was going on. It was only at the third reading that I felt I was beginning to gain some comprehension.

Even knowing that the linear plot of events has little to do with the book as literature, I still was one of those who tried to make a timeline and pin down when things were happening when I took notes on the Benjy section. It may not be helpful from a critical standpoint, but it helped me put the pieces together in my head and feel like I had something to hold onto, rather than attempting to understand the formless meanderings of Benjy's thoughts before I was ready. That third reading made a lot more sense, as I parsed out when Quentin was his brother and when his niece; when he was Maury and when he was Benjamin; when the action was in the present as opposed to the past.

I did the same thing with Quentin's section, labeling and narrowing and parsing it into something that I felt comfortable approaching and discussing. I feel like I've been dividing it into pieces small enough to chew, taking that one bite of the elephant at a time. But it has gotten easier as I've devoted more time and energy into making it that way. So much so that by the time I re-read Jason's section it was too easy to read and I found myself struggling to find the deeper meanings - my eyes wanted to skim over the words that I knew well how to comprehend.

That's not the frustrating part though. I know how to struggle with a text. What frustrates me is that I want to write, and this book is put forth as great literature, that makes little sense unless and until it is struggled with - and yet, what advice for writing do I read at every turn? Make things easy for the reader; hook the reader into your story; tell a good story! This may simply illustrate the difference between commercial and literary fiction, but I think there is more to it than that for me.

I know how to write - see, I'm writing right now! Yet, the stories that I have written are not acceptable to the markets to which they have been submitted. I can't help feeling that there is something that I'm missing, and that is truly frustrating to me. As if what I write is simply not good (enough) writing, but this book, this frustrating and difficult book, is not just good, but great writing. You, Faulkner!

I know, I know. Keep practicing. Strive to get better. Figure it out.

I'm working on it.

In the Norton Critical edition of The Sound and the Fury, there is a critical essay by Jean-Paul Sartre, "On The Sound and the Fury: Time in the Work of Faulkner." Sartre introduces the idea that in order for someone to approach the meaning of a writer's work, they must first apprehend the author's metaphysics. He concludes his essay by claiming to like Faulkner's art while disagreeing with his metaphysics. Sartre writes, "The loss of all hope, for example, does not deprive the human reality of its possibilities; it is simply a way of being toward these same possibilities."

In this way, Sartre disagrees with his perceptions of Faulkner's use of time as a closed system in The Sound and the Fury. Having read, perhaps a few too many times, Sartre's play No Exit, I found myself wondering if Sartre's essay was written before or after that play. It seemed to me that either his essay had informed his own creative work, or the creative work had informed his essay. While the essay certainly allowed me to view the Faulkner in a new way, I believed that it was far more informative about Sartre's creative work than Faulkner's. As if Faulkner's writing were a mirror into which Sartre could gaze and find what reflected his own aesthetic within.

Critical Response
Part of the homework assignment for this week is to write a two to three page critical response to yet another criticism of The Sound and the Fury, this one by Olga Vickery. There is also an option to write a compare and contrast essay of two critical works, but I am leaning away from that particular option. Since the Vickery essay cites the Sartre criticism, I don't find that I am interested in comparing and contrasting them. Though, technically, only compare is needed, since the definition of compare includes both similarities and dissimilarities.

Working on it, thus far, has not been as easy as I had anticipated. Though it is fair to write that I also foresaw that I would have procrastination issues with this, because it is the first of this type of essay that I have had to write in quite some time. Until now, my homework at Boise State has consisted in writing reading responses, fiction, and technical writing. This critical response essay is a different beast, of a sort I had not ridden since high school, to take the metaphor a shade too far.

I know that I will get it done by the time it is due, but the process is irritatingly slow at this point. And, to add insult to injury, in exchange for writing this critical response, there is to be no class meeting this Tuesday - exactly one week before the hockey season starts with the Chicago Blackhawks raising their latest Stanley Cup banner. Why, oh why, couldn't we have not had class on October 1st? It is torture to me to have missed by only a week the opportunity to watch that game without ditching class. Not that I'm planning on ditching class, although the thought had crossed my mind. I savored it for a moment, the idea of skipping a class to watch a hockey game, in a bar by necessity since I don't have cable, and then I let it go. Not worth it. Darn my rule-following nature!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Off Season

Over the summer I practiced writing. I set word count goals and met them. I finished drafting a novel, which I'm now letting simmer before picking up again. I wrote short stories and tried, unsuccessfully, to sell them.

Now that the fall is here, I am firmly into the off season. I am taking a literature class, and I'm going to focus on that rather than focusing on fiction writing. When the class ends, I'll be back into writing until the next class starts.

I do a couple short stories that I want to sell, if I can ever get to a point of satisfaction with them. Both of them are almost too long to be short stories and too short to be novellas. I could probably get away with the term novelette but I'm not sure I want to. They're both fantasy, but different types; one of them has a more science fictional bent, and my husband says it reads like a prequel to a larger story. The other one I wrote deliberately as the first in a series, but I'm debating trying to just make one long story instead of making short parts.

In a way, it doesn't make sense that I want to write stories and sell them, rather than focusing on creating a real career for myself in my current job or going back to school for something practical like computer science or medicine. I'd be good at those things, maybe better than I am at telling stories, almost certainly better because I could study them and put the pieces together and have a right and a wrong answer. Proof by theorem and definite results.

Writing is subjective. There are books that people love and books that people hate and books that I've read and wondered why and how on earth did these get published? All the "rules" that I'm reading are clearly broken in these cliched and strained piles of ink - so how did they get through the gatekeepers supposedly guarding the sanctity of literature from the ravening hoards of self-publishers (I've always wanted to join a hoard!).

I think I'm getting better at figuring out what doesn't work, but not enough so to garner any sort of feedback, positive or negative, except from my husband - and even he sometimes refuses to comment. He tells me that I'm at a zero, on the scale of minus one, zero, plus one. Not bad enough to solicit negative opinions, but not good enough to solicit positive ones. Zero's not a bad place to be, but I get frustrated. How am I to know what's wrong with my storytelling if I don't get any comments? If it's just so blah, then how can I know what to change to make it not blah?

Such are the paranoid ramblings that make me glad to give myself an off season.

If having written and submitted a story today, and submitted another to a different market, actually counts as an off season...

Update, 9/17: I wrote and submitted another short story today. Apparently, I really don't get this off-season thing.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

New Hiking Blog

I've moved my entries about hiking to a different blog, To check out the latest entry about my solo thru-hike to Stump Lake, click here.

This blog will continue to get posts of non-exercise related essays and occasional fiction. The other one will focus on fitness and the outdoors.