Observations

Rejections and Reactions

If you’re a writer, you should keep this word in the back of your head at all times: Grace.

If you’re a reader, the writers who don’t understand the definition of that word will be very easy to spot.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about how people respond and react to rejections. Because whether you’ve published one story or one hundred stories, there’s never a reason to not be professional. To have grace.

You see, there are those who write, and then there are those who submit. That first group is quite content to scribble volumes for their own eyes and never ever become published. And then there are those of us who are mildly sadistic at best and may actually enjoy torture at worst. We submit our words and then pace, while waiting to hear back from an opinion we purposely asked for.

Are we always happy with that opinion? No. Should we have a tantrum, whine, bitch, piss and moan? No. The golden rule of rejections? You absolutely should not, under any circumstances, ever ever do either of these two things:
1. respond to the rejection
2. whine about it publicly

That first faux pas? Responding? No. Just no. Why would you? You do nothing to change the mind of the editor who sent you the rejection (and keep in mind, on some level you should be thankful for receiving one in the first place, since many publications only contact you if you’re accepted). The editor had to read a lot more than just your story. If you respond, even to say thank you, you are wasting their valuable time. And if you think they won’t remember that, you’re wrong. If you think they won’t tell their editing and publishing friends, you’re wrong. Slowly, for those in the back, do not—do (period) not (period)—respond to a rejection.

And that second one? Seriously? Let me just remind all of you of one tiny, very very important fact: the Internet is forever. Don’t believe me? Waybackmachine.com. But also, and more immediately, screenshots have become the law of the land.

Recently, there was an amazingly bizarre call for submissions. You may have heard about it—they were asking for pizza stories. I saw the guidelines and I giggled, and then a little voice in the back of my head said, “Heyyyyy, don’t you actually have a story about pizza. You put it in the trunk because, well, pizza.” I did indeed. I had written it several years before and never ever thought I would publish it, so I literally trunked it without submitting. (Not something I would necessarily suggest anyone do.)

I hemmed and hawed for all of twelve seconds and then got curious. It had been a while since I’d seen it. What the heck, I thought, and I pulled out the story.

I read it. I read it again, out loud. I even read it to my daughter (you should know, she’ll be the first person to tell me something sucks… well, right after my mom gets done telling me why it sucks). And I thought, huh, this isn’t bad. The language was a little out of date, and you could tell it was an older story by my archaic style and voice, but with a little polishing… who knows, right?

I polished it. Sent it to my prereaders. Edited it a final time. Submitted it. And waited.

And it got rejected.

Why? It was a form rejection, so I’m not sure. Truthfully, I’d be willing to bet the stories they kept leaned toward blood-fest, scary, or more “traditional” horror veins, rather than my normally quiet, chilling or unnerving style. Nothing wrong with that. It just didn’t work for them. It doesn’t mean I can’t write. Remember, a rejection isn’t a statement on you as a person—it just means that one story, at that one point in time, didn’t work. It doesn’t even necessarily mean the story sucked. And it certainly didn’t mean I should do either of the items above: respond or react.

But others out there were either never told, or they outright chose to ignore the golden rules. Suddenly there were people posting online, openly, angrily, about how they were going to make their own pizza anthology out of their rejected submissions from this one.

Re-read that. Slower.

Yeahhhhh… you read that right. And the editor responded beautifully—telling them to feel free to do so, as it will be the worst thing no one’s ever read. I laughed. Oh my god, did I laugh. I mean, I gasped at the balls and willingness to knowingly damage their own careers. But then I laughed, because wow. Then I went to KillerCon and hung out with said editor for a good chunk of the weekend. We laughed and laughed about all those souls having little hissy fits online.

Once more, for those in the back: the Internet is forever.

And what else? Do you remember? Yes, those you annoy with less-than-professional behavior will tell others, sharing your foibles with all their editing and publishing friends. As I write this, there are currently three different threads on my various social medias discussing someone who reacted poorly in public. Three. Today. And that’s just in my little corner.

This world we call a genre is a small little island of misfits. It’s not a family, though parts can feel like it. The circles can be tight, but most are welcoming. And at the end of the day, it’s far too small a community to think you can do anything remotely close to responding or reacting, and not have it become a scary lesson whispered to newbies—to frighten them as they’re tucked in at night.

Grace, people.

Find it. Hold it tight. Never let it go.

If you are rejected, look at why. If they sent a form letter, it may simply be that it didn’t fit the theme or feel or gore factor or whatever other thread there was connecting the accepted stories. If they were kind enough to tell you why and there’s a critique or suggestion, look at it, consider it heavily, and then adjust and/or edit as you need. Either way, with or without comments, your job at this point is not to say thank you, it’s not to whine on your social media, it’s to resubmit the story. Get it out the door. No rejected story should ever spend the night. They are not welcome company, but rather relatives who don’t know when to leave.

Except when they need to be grounded. This particular piece needed to stay home. Not because it was crap, but because it was very specific. Pizza. And I know what happens to the market after an overly specific anthology sends out their rejections—because once upon a time, many of us giggled and some gasped in horror, as every open submission call out there received rejected stories about “pirate cats from outer space.”

No, specific themes need to sit for a bit—maybe forever. Some can be reshaped into something more generic, some cannot. Either way, I had a pizza story and it got rejected. What did I do? I didn’t respond. And I didn’t react.

Dallas (Jack Ketchum) once told me the most important words ever when it comes to a rejection, “Move on. They have.” Wise wise words, from a wise wise man.

For those who need it, maybe put a post-it note on your screen, keyboard, wall, whatever—wherever you’ll see it and remember. You can write his words if you want. Or you can write “don’t respond, don’t react.” Or you could even write “be professional.” Or you can reduce it to just that one really important word. Say it with me… Grace.

 

Last Rites

The Occult Detective, Bob Freeman, asked me to play along and I gladly agreed.

He said, “The premise is simple. My guests face their final rest, but before Death claims them they are granted a few earthly pleasures, the memories of which will travel with them into the great unknown.”

Last rites, the last wishes… your last meal, last book, last movie, last song. And then the twist I didn’t see coming, the first ______ after the fact. Interesting…

Come check out my answers

 


 

Passages

butterfly-wordsWriters write. It’s what we do. Whether it’s a coherent tumbling of sentences that happen to fall into a pile of paragraphs and make sense, or it’s just a random thought bouncing along a breeze like a flitting butterfly—we write. We jot ideas onto postie-notes and the backs of envelopes. We scramble for our voice recorders and voice-to-text apps. We will stop talking in the middle of a sentence, eyes glazing over, as we wander off to some thread of the muse’s whim. We may or may not always come back from that last one, and we do apologize for the interruption. But it’s what we are and what we do.

And we have to react. We have to jot it down and get it out. Whether we’re exorcising it or just sharing (there is a difference, “Blood Type” blog coming), the snippets must go or we’ll go crazy. You can only have so many voices in your head before you snap—just ask Sybil.

The following is one of those moments. It has been sitting, untouched though often thought of, in the “Random Passages” folder for years. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it will ever be anything. But it’s there, like a lost child in an overcrowded department store. So for #throwbackthursday #tbt, I’ll toss out some ancient words originally scribbled on the back of a napkin…


CHILDREN OF THE GODS

The most dangerous things in the history of the world have been children playing with things they don’t understand. A child’s imagination was responsible for the original flood, as he pulled his hand through the mud and drowned the little pile of ants he had collected. A little girl’s whim toppled a mountain and destroyed a town when she wished fire would rain from the skies. And possibly most unknown, but with the most impact, was the little boy who made an entire civilization disappear with a handful of straw braids and his mother’s ink pots. By twisting magic together into one braid, and declaring what each was capable of, Carson destroyed Atlantis. And changed the future of the Earth, forever.


Thursday has become about sharing. Today I share with those who read my drivel, and nod to others who have the disease. But hey, you can all play along. Think outside the box for #tbt. Put the pictures away and share something else from the past. Here’s mine. What are your mental hallways harboring? Do you have ancient unheard words in your hard drive haunting you?

Something’s Missing

blacksquare2My dreams often feel like warped, twisted, versions of some sort of reality television show filmed by those who failed therapy, ignored their court-appointed rehab, and haven’t been to AA for so long they think it stands for And Another. My camera man is drunk and my special effects crew is on crack. I’ve said both of those things before. After the last week, I believe it wholeheartedly. Because now it seems the set director is on vacation and the intern doesn’t work fast enough.

But I can’t seem to figure out why, what it means, or even how fast Freud would just give up and lock me into a nice safe room with a snug jacket and fluffy walls.

For instance… See the image for today? How many times did you refresh thinking there was something wrong with it? Nope, there’s not. That’s actually just a plain black box of nothing. And the star of my dreams lately.

I don’t remember the dreams themselves most of the time, which is normal after the first cup of coffee, but I do remember the little black squares. I remember they’re not important or even really noticed during the dream, but afterward I could tell you where they appeared. Very strange. See, these black blocks are speckled throughout and simply provide a nothingness instead of details, in a freaky two-dimensional cut-out construction paper kinda way. For instance, I’ll be able to see everything in the room and talk or move around or do whatever it is I’m doing, but the black blocks will be where the detail isn’t finished. Like on top of an end table, instead of knickknacks, lamps or books. Or on a wall, in lieu of pictures. Or even on a menu, rather than actual choices.

It’s very bizarre and seems to be completely acceptable in the dream. Oh if only I could do the whole lucid dreaming thing and pause all the action while yelling at the design crew to finish up.

Of course, my dreams are still wonky, don’t get me wrong. Just this morning I woke from being out for a drink with the girls, in a restaurant located in an old western clothing store where they never took the clothes off the wall or removed the racks of boleros and cowboy boots. Nikki was pissed off because she was enjoying a cigar in the wrong part of the restaurant, and her boss told her she had to put it out and go stash it in her office—for whatever reason I decided to bring it there for her and set it in a dish on her desk, only to have the maid service ask me if they should dump it or keep it. Drew was in the bathroom milking lab mice and using it for some explosive experiment to get his students to pay attention. And of course, the sewage accident that shot dirty water out a port on the wall—the water retaining the shape of the pipe and chasing people around ala the water worm from The Abyss. Yup, perfectly normal dream for me… except the black squares in the bar at the restaurant, on the fishtank, obscuring portions of the bathroom lab, hiding the other items on the desk, and filling in for the faces, clothes or hands of the people at the next table.

Yeah… welcome to my dreamworld, here’s a black square—just put it anywhere.

 

Paper Dolls

paperdollToo much death lately.

First it was my nana. Nana was tough. Is still tough some days. Then we lost a women I once called Ma who’s son I never married but who’s grandchildren I used to plan in swirling hearts on school notebooks—I still don’t know what to call her twenty-five years after her son and I broke up. (What the hell do you call the mother of your first love, whose house you basically lived in for several years? I haven’t even seen her since we unexpectedly buried one of the gang fifteen years ago.) And now…now my aunt Jean.

They come in threes. I can be done now, right?

I told you about Nana. I started a blog about Ma B, but I can’t figure out what to feel, let alone say. My aunt, though? Shock. Tears… followed by the numbness of denial, then on to anger, and back to tears, all happened in the span of the phone call from my mother Saturday. I spent the rest of the day just trying to absorb the reality, bombarded with memories.

As I sit here, in the stillness of insomnia’s hours, I am realizing now how lucky I was to spend as much time with family as I did when I was growing up. I had sleepovers with Aunt Jean much like I did Nana. And the strongest memories of her and Uncle Jim are from those times, not just the visits. While there are many memories, there’s one that seems to jump up and yell for attention, repeatedly haunting me throughout the weekend. The paper dolls.

See, my aunt gave my sister and I paper dolls to play with. For those who don’t remember or just don’t know, these are thin cardboard cut-out figures in underwear with tabbed clothes you hang on the body (see picture). My first attempt to over-analyze why this memory seemed so needy was the innocence of it. We used to actually play with paper. No cell phones, iPads, Xbox or internet. Paper. There’s something about generational innocence there that seems to want to be said, but doesn’t really need to be, because everyone knows it, gets it, sees it. It just is. Times change, entertainment changes, blah blah change. So I let that analysis fade away and went back to the memory itself.

My aunt didn’t just hand them to us and walk away. They weren’t something to occupy us. They were something to do with us, to broaden our imagination, and explore our artistic side. She gave us the dolls and clothes, but then she pulled out paper, and colored pencils (I remember her having to sharpen those over and over with a knife—ah the old days), and sat with us. She showed us how to make our own tabbed wardrobes. We spent hours doing this, on many sleepovers, for several years. I remember thinking how artistic we were for getting to use the colored pencils instead of crayons. I remember tracing the dolls and designing—from clothes to shoes to even the hair, we could dress them up fancy or down to earth, give them blond hair or brunette, hanging down, in a pony or under a hat. We could change their appearance, and with it, the two dimensional illusion of personality, wants, desires, hobbies and habits.

And that’s where the little analyst in my head jumped on board and latched on.

Paper dolls were an introduction to the various masks we would wear throughout our life. We were just learning to put them on something else first, before testing the waters with our own naked selves. As we grow and evolve, our fashion changes, our outward appearance changes, our public attitude and persona change. What we show the world is nothing more than a tabbed piece of paper, lovingly cut out of our imagination and hung precariously from our shoulders. Some outfits we keep until they yellow with age or get torn or lost in the mix of things. Others we try out and shed as quickly as a new divorcee plays dress-up to find herself in the lost pieces of wardrobe. But they’re all just that, outward appearance. The paper doll underneath remains naked, fragile, vulnerable to the elements of time.

I’m going to miss my aunt horribly. For so many reasons. She was the record keeper for our lineage (the last blood gypsy of her generation), the maker of paper dolls and sharpener of colored pencils, and a champion of the arts (she was a rosemaling master, and her eldest an artist). And as is with all who pass on, I will cherish the memories, and take from them the lessons they offer…

Which, in this case, means I need to make new outfits for my paper doll self. I need a knife to sharpen the colored pencils, and with that, maybe a band-aid.

 

Beyond the Sidewalk

sidewalk

There is no quote today. Only me. And I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve had a lot of heavy thoughts lately, as I analyze and over-analyze my life, my decisions, my actions—midlife consideration, as I’m calling it, rather than crisis. As such, the way true consequences work, my blog may or may not be as heavy, clouded, jumbled, deep, or murky as my mind has been, but well, there it is… you’ve been warned.

When I was five years old, I watched King Kong with my friend Billy. Billy, and his sister Trina, lived kitty-corner from us in a quaint little neighborhood filled with tiny one-family homes and brownstone buildings sporting anywhere from two to four families. It was a nice neighborhood—houses lined up like pretty maids all in a row—in a time when the world may not have been much safer than it is now, but we perceived it as such because the news didn’t report on every single atrocity happening around us for the sake of shock value, by career-climbing newsmen who were more ambitious than judicious, hired by the unwieldy number of stations focused only on ratings. My memories are that of a child. I remember pretty little maids, with nice yards, friendly faces, and a feeling of community and safety—where a kid could fall off their bike, get hurt, and stop at any neighbor’s house for help without worrying about being buried in the basement with the other hapless souls who had wandered by.

Inside that child’s memory is Billy. And King Kong. After we watched the movie, we went out to play in the yard—because that’s what kids used to do. And while he had his arms out in front of him ala The Mummy, slowly stalking my sad impersonation of Fay Wray, I was backing up to get away from his supposedly menacing monkey. I tripped on a piece of sidewalk that had broken and buckled, like the one in the picture, and fell straight back onto my head, with a loud crack and an echoing bounce I still remember. Long story short, I cut the back of my head wide open and ended up with several stitches (ask me for the long story sometime at a con, it’s fun and includes gems like blood vs sweat, freaking out babysitters for fun and profit, and ruining mom’s day out with the girls).

Over the years, I’ve thought about Billy and Trina—specifically the day of King Kong for Billy, and an unfortunate tanning experience because of Trina. But this is about King Kong, and that sidewalk… that damn sidewalk.

The sidewalk is a magical thing when you think about it. It’s the first boundary we need to cross as children. When we’re finally allowed to play outside by ourselves, no mommy watching our every move and chasing us away from the dangers of the street, we are told to “stay in the yard.” And we do. Dutifully most of the time. Our initial foray to the sidewalk is the (still present in my life, always) chalk that let us express ourselves in fits of proud glory until the rains washed away our hard work. We didn’t cry when our hard work was erased, because we didn’t see the downside. We saw the clean slate and cheered because we’d get to fill it with the colors of our imagination all over again. Then we used the sidewalk to tackle and master the great and terrible vehicle of doom that would become our lives until sixteen allowed for four wheels instead of two—the almighty bicycle (yeah, banana seats!). Even then we were told to stay on the sidewalk (or driveway if you had one), but absolutely no going into the street. Eventually, we were allowed to roam past it, to go beyond that magical sidewalk. At which point, the sidewalk became a boundary again only when we found ourselves in trouble and were grounded back to the yard. Back within the confines of that cold gray slab which marked our home turf. Our safety zone.

We started with that sidewalk, but as we grew, we strove to go beyond other boundaries. To reach out and stretch our legs, taking strides—sometimes small, sometimes giant—to push on and go forth. To explore and adventure. We left the safety of the neighborhood and went to school. We finished that and moved out to find our own sidewalks. Some stayed close to the unforgiving cement they were comfortable with, others took the chance to run, either chasing their dreams or looking for them. Some left their hometown and found new sidewalks. Some left the state just to see if there were sidewalks elsewhere.

Every time we crossed the sidewalk, real or metaphorical, we experienced life. Good and bad. We saw amazing things, we met new people, we made incredible memories, we survived horrible tragedies—those no one warned us of, as well as those we had to learn for ourselves, even though we’d been warned, repeatedly—and we learned the varying degrees of disappointment as it balanced against achievement. Life is not a smooth piece of glass we walk along. It’s a sidewalk—full of cracked slabs, raised pieces waiting to trip you, and weeds desperately poking through any weaknesses along the way.

They say you can never go home again, and it’s true. Home isn’t the same once you’ve been beyond the sidewalk, but the yearning to return to its safety is very real. When we’re up, we call home and share our excitement. When we’re down, we think of going back and hiding behind the boundaries we knew… but outgrew. We can’t go back. It’s not the same. It may look like it, but it’s not. Not once you look past the fresh paint and new street signs. Not once you walk down that familiar sidewalk to the exact spot that became your first scar only to find the sidewalk isn’t buckled anymore. It’s been replaced. It’s no longer yours. It belongs to a new generation who doesn’t even know your blood was spilled there.

I suppose it’s the mature thing to fully realize the meaning behind “you can’t go home again.” It’s good to be at a point where you understand exactly why, and accept that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just change. Change happens.

So here I am, not quite awake on my first cup of coffee, listening to the birds chirp as the world wakes up around me. And I find myself sitting on my steps looking out at the sidewalk. I’m thinking back over all the sidewalks I’ve crossed. All the porches and steps I’ve sat on before crossing them, or after. I’m cataloging all the lessons and losses, dreams and disappointments, smiles and scars. And it all becomes a swirl of doubt, leaving me to ponder whether I should have crossed the sidewalk and gone exploring in the first place. It has become a question of whether or not all that wonderment was worth all the wounds.

My older self thinks of the welcoming smells of mom’s kitchen, the safety of her stoop, the fact that I always have and always will sleep best under her roof. But I know, I know, “you can’t go home again.”  I accept that and swim in a little lake of self-pity for a bit, feeling lost as I stare at my coffee. Lately, I feel like I’m floating aimlessly, treading water, unsure if it’s toward shore or away from it. And when I look up to the sidewalk again, I can see the younger me, standing there with her long waves made darker by the streak of blood running down the center of them. And I remember. She didn’t curse the sidewalk that tripped her. She didn’t try and step back inside the boundaries of the grass. She stood up, wiped her face—mixing tears and blood into something that would dry and be labelled determination—and took a brave step forward.

I have a full box of chalk, a handful of band-aids, and a lot more sidewalks to cross. Whether I cross them or not, only time will tell…

 

 

 

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