Big News in My Writing World (But Not a Manuscript Acceptance, Let’s Not Get Crazy)

It’s chilly—44 degrees out, and blustery.  There are few leaves on the trees, but they rattle as the wind blows, and somehow the weather is fooling me into believing it’s October.  I want to believe Halloween is right around the corner…because it would mean that November was right around the corner too, and that would mean it’s time for another NaNoWriMo.

I’ve been missing the energy of NaNoWriMo.  I’m still in the early stages of Hecate Applebough 3 (still untitled), and part of my lack of progress has to do with a weirdo persistent migrainey exhaustion I’ve been suffering for the last month (and which my Mom has nagged me about going to see a doctor for—ugh), and also not feeling that compulsion to write every day those 1,667 words because I have nowhere to chart the progress, no pep-talk e-mails from the NaNo people coming every few days encouraging me.  It’s just me now, and it’s harder to write, without the community.

But, a couple of days ago, a fortuitous tweet put me on to an app called Writeometer, which exists only for Android (sorry iPhone folks) and which gamifies the writing process, kind of the way NaNo does—you can set a daily/ monthly/ word goal, use its timer, enter your daily word count, and get reminders about writing, and you can earn “guavas.”  I don’t know all tricks of the app yet, so I’m not sure what earning the guavas can do for you, but I’m sure I’ll find out as I become more familiar with the app.  I’m looking forward to using it—I need the motivation.  So I’ll let you know how it goes.  (If any of my Five Readers have tried the app, I’d be curious to know what you think about it—but I suspect most of you are Apple users.)

Other than working on Hecate, I’ve produced a few short pieces lately—a few honest-and-for-true prose poems—one of them came out so well that I’ve “given” it to Hecate, and shoehorned it into the second book…although if I can get it published on its own, I will—and a few bits of flash that I want desperately to be prose poems, but I knew they aren’t.

Prose poems have a certain surreal quality—and so does my flash, except that the surrealism of prose poems is its own little thing.  When I try to do surreal flash, it just comes out as nutty.  Like maybe I’m trying too hard.  But hey, two pieces of just such flash were accepted by a journal on Monday, so I guess nutty works too.  In general, I just have a little “heart on” for prose poems, because they’re hard to do well, and because I think, in my mind, I still privilege poetry over prose as being Important and Worthwhile… while fiction just seems like something you do for cash.  (Not that I have received any cash for ANY bit of fiction I’ve produced—not ever—but you take my meaning, I’m sure.)  And of course, even as I write that, I know that’s a false dichotomy—but there it is.  The poet’s bias against fiction writers.  Hmm.

How’s this for burying the lede?  In other news, now that Dan Veach is passing the editorial reigns of The Atlanta Review over to Karen Head, she has asked me (WHAT????) to serve as the managing editor.  OMG OMG OMG.  This is an amazing opportunity, and I can’t wait to sit down with her and discuss all the ins-and-outs, and really sink my teeth into this project.  Reading some brand-new poems (that aren’t mine—haha) that are searching for a home is exciting.  It’s been a long time since I did any work on a literary journal, and The Atlanta Review is a Big Deal—this isn’t any dinky fly-by-night online journal, this is prize-winning print journal with an international following.  The work that Dan Veach has done on the journal (founding it and running it) is amazing and impressive, and I’m so thrilled that I get to be involved…and so grateful to Karen for asking me to assist her.  Read Collin Kelley’s article in Atlanta INtown, about the transition of editorship to Karen, because it’s interesting and offers some history about the journal.  (As my first order of business as managing editor, I propose we update the website!)

What else is there to share?  I’m still working on reading those three books of poems I mentioned in my last blog post—I got a little distracted by my manga habit, and my weirdo exhaustion that makes me want to fall asleep at 6 p.m.—but I hope to finish them this weekend (in and around the 85,000 tennis matches I’ve scheduled).  And, I’ve gotten yet another rejection on my poetry manuscript, but I sent it out to two more places, and I’m crossing my fingers. At some point, SOMEONE is going to want it, right?  Maybe I need to “attach a few more zeros” onto the contest fees I send off… maybe bribery would work?  (You never know!)

Well, But One Acceptance Is Better than None at All, Right? So Quitcherbitchin.

I recently had the experience where I received an acceptance for two pieces of flash creative non-fiction.  To say I was delighted would be an understatement, particularly because the journal was one in which I’ve discovered many pieces that have moved me in one way or the other since I began reading it.  And I thought, hooray!  My writing will be archived among these paragons of the short form!  I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Then the other day, the journal contacted me about the galleys, asking me to look over the work and see if anything were amiss.  But they only sent me the link to one of the pieces they accepted.  So I inquired—what happened to the second piece?  Shouldn’t they have sent me the galley to it?

The CNF editor apologized, but said that clearly Submittable had made an error, and really, they only meant to take Piece A, not Piece A and Piece B.  They hoped I was ok with this, and they hoped Piece A was still available.

I’m not sure if the editor thought I might hold Piece A hostage—like, “You said you were going to publish both, and if you can’t publish both, you can’t publish either, nyah, nyah, nyah.”  I’m not so stupid that I would do that—an acceptance is an acceptance.  But it made me wonder if she had had that experience before, where she or one of the other editors had a Submittable “glitch” which accepted multiple pieces from an author only to have to break it to the author that there must have been some error with Submittable that day, and they only desired to publish one piece.  I could understand an author choosing to say, “To hell with that journal!  If they can’t even be clear about the works they want to publish, maybe I don’t want my work published there.”

I understand about computer errors, and software glitches, and even human mistakes—I get that.  Computers are machinery and bound to fail at some point, and editors have a lot on their plates and don’t always catch things.  But it’s hard, when you’re hungry to start racking up pubs in a different genre than you’re used to publishing in, to have an acceptance snatched away from you like that.  Part of me wishes that they would just have agreed to publish both works, since that’s what they said—and since I withdrew Piece B from all the journals I had sent it to, like a good little simultaneous submitter should do.  But then another part of me thinks I’d rather the work they didn’t want find a home in a journal that loves it for what it is—and not feel constrained to publish it under duress.

I’m trying really hard to see the multiple perspectives here.  I am grateful, of course, that they wanted to take any of my work at all.  That should be enough right?  Mistakes happen, blah blah—at least they wanted one piece—they could have told me the entire acceptance was a mistake.  But I’m stubborn and don’t want to be reasonable about this situation—particularly in light of some other recent (huge) writing rejections that have really demoralized me.  A little part of me feels like this “accidental” acceptance scenario is just too much to take.

I know, I know, this is the publishing biz.  I’m just having a little difficulty being rational while I wallow in my self-pity.

If I Were Virgil Suárez

My poet friends used to joke that if you wanted to get your poetry published, all you had to do was put Cuban-American poet Virgil Suárez’s name on your submission.  For a while, it seemed like no matter what literary journal you picked up, there would at least one poem by him included–and it didn’t matter what the journal was–it could be a nothing-in-particular start-up journal, or it could be the Prairie Schooner.    I also heard–though I can’t substantiate it–that he had this scary complicated system for submitting his works… and gasp, he simultaneously submitted (back when that wasn’t a thing). The point was, he was very good at placing his work.

I don’t know what Virgil Suárez has been doing lately poetry-wise (his last book of poems came out in 2005)–but according to his Florida State University webpage, he’s just published a book called The Soviet Circus Comes to Havana and Other Stories (C & R Press, 2014) ($15.95 on Amazon)–so, at least I’m not competing for space in journals because of him.

But I am competing for space in journals… and losing, based on the two rejections I received today.  One rejection said that they didn’t “love the piece enough” to send it on to the next level of discussion; the other one praised the “ambition” of the work, but then stabbed me in the heart with the criticism that they found my work “too prosy.”  That just struck me as wrong.  My writing tends to be narrative, but it’s in no way “too prosy.”  I know from prosy–after all, I see student creative writing all the time–talk about prosy!  But of course, journal editors are human, and humans are subjective.  I wasn’t overly bothered by the rejections–submitting is a game to me at this point.

Not that I in any way mean that I don’t take the submission process seriously–I do.  I do research on the journals I submit–I generally try to read them before I send them my work.  But I guess as a writer you just get to the point where it’s all just a game–trying to figure out what certain people will like based on what they showcase in their journals.  If I were the Virgil Suárez of the past, that machine of publishing, I might just send my work everywhere, scatter-shot, and hope something sticks.  I might have a hugely complicated Excel file that lists every journal everywhere, and I might cross-list all the poems that I’ve simultaneously submitted–perhaps the same batch of poems for 15 different journals, and have 80 such batches sent out at once.

But that is gamifying the publication process way to much for the likes of me–that’s a little like playing all the numbers in the lottery.  It might work–and maybe if I were that mono-focused, I could do that and be published far and wide in any number of start-ups and well-established journals.  But on the other hand, my very analog system–I put all my submissions on index cards filed alphabetically by journal–seems to work for me.  I can manage that.  I feel good about my process of reading submission calls, reading the journals whose calls interest me, and submitting my work to them.

It may not net me a lot of pubs, but it feels like an accomplishment when I see all my index cards, even the ones that fall under the “Rejected” tab, as today’s two rejections now do.