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When I began to seriously focus on submitting my writing to literary journals, I was schooled on the concept that it takes about one hundred rejections to get an acceptance.
Since submitting to one hundred journals takes a lot of research work, I began working with a really awesome service that helps me target submissions and keep track of rejections. Over the past several years, I have found that the one hundred rejection rule is pretty much true.
What this means is that I now get A LOT of rejections. In those first years most submissions were done by regular mail so I’d often have a mailbox crammed with rejection notices.
Now most submissions are done electronically and it is my email inbox that is filled to overflowing with rejection slips. They tend to come in waves. None for a while then six or eight at a time. Rejections usually show up when I’m having a really crappy day.
Receiving a pile of rejections just makes everything SO much better.
When I started getting that many rejection notices, it hurt at first. Each one was a tiny “ouch” and made me sad. Who could reject my perfect little carefully crafted babies?
Over time, I became immune to the sheer volume of no-thank-yous. The skin hardens a bit, the outlook toughens and now I just shrug and say “okay” and move on.
It’s what makes those occasional acceptances that much more sweet. A barrage of no and then a glowing, shiny, joyful yes.
Since I have had the good fortune to receive quite a few acceptances, my submission service has been trying to up my game a little bit.
By up my game, I mean in addition to the regular submissions to a lot of fine magazines that no one has heard of, they have been adding a few more well-known and highly regarded journals to my submission list.
I’m not quite up to the point of hitting up the New Yorker for publication, but names on the list recently include McSweeney’s, Harvard Review, Zoetrope and The Paris Review.
I always giggle just a little when I hit “submit” on those queries. That’s because the odds of my work seeing the light of such highly regarded and high circulation magazines is pretty slim. That said, you don’t hit a home run if you don’t swing at a few pitches. So I swing away.
The Good Man has a different view on the rejection process. He is always happy to see the rejections in the mailbox. His firm belief is that if they are saying no then at least they considered my work, if even for a moment.
He especially loves the so-called “good” rejections. The slips that have a personal note from the editor, or say something like “while we were unable to use this particular story, we’d like to see more work from you.”
Those good rejections are a tiny bit of bread to a starving writer. Those few words are enough to keep me working hard to get to yes.
Anyhow, all of this was on my mind as this morning I sorted through a stack of mail and opened a couple rejection slips. I can recognize them right away because when I do paper submissions, I include a self addressed stamped envelope.
When my own envelope returns to me, it’s almost always a no. Almost. I did get an acceptance one time in my SASE. I’d neglected to open it for almost two weeks and couldn’t believe it when I did open it. That was a nice surprise.
Anyhow, this morning’s envelope had a postmark from New York and inside resided the tiniest sliver of paper. What I estimate to be about one-eighth of a sheet of paper.
It’s from The Paris Review. A highly revered title.
They were able to spare just a tiny sliver of paper to tell me no way, Josephina.
And for a moment, I’d like to think about some low to no paid intern reading my story, considering it and then thoughtfully sending this slip.
I’m sure they LOVED my work, it just didn’t fit the themes on their literary calendar. Right?
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I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write.
Oh, I know, I’ll try my old trick of using a random word generator.
Okay here goes. *click*
The word is: carnival.
Ooh a juicy word. Yes. Okay. Great. Here we go.
Heeeere we go.
My mind is like a carnival?
Nah. It’s like a carnival that’s left town. Quiet. Dead. Bits of trash floating around.
That was almost lyrical and then it wasn’t.
So goes the ongoing wrestling match with my demons. Well, not demons. That’s an unfair characterization. My Muse is not a demon and my demons are not Muses.
Both are an essential part of the creative process.
In seeking advice from my mentors for my utter Jornada del Muerto** of creativity, I was reminded of the old advice: Just start writing. Anything. Just write.
And so I am. Writing. Something and nothing. I know if I can keep writing something and nothing it soon becomes a something about something and the wind fills my sails and I glide along that literary ocean, making progress. (metaphor much?)
But until that happens, I am thirsty and hungry and yearn for pretty words and meaty thoughts and the satiation I can only feel after feasting on a good turn of phrase.
Until then I wander the Jornada del Muerto of my mind. Am I off the trail? Am I still headed west? Will there be water soon?
I make the journey to find the story that flows from the word carnival. I’ll carry it around in my virtual backpack until I figure out where it goes. Somehow. Somewhere.
My carnival awaits.
The copyright on this amazing photo belongs to Laurent Chehere who is a profoundly creative artist.
**With a nod to fellow New Mexicans. For the non New Mexicans, the Jornada del Muerto is a really long stretch of fairly bleak desert in New Mexico that contains no sources of water. It was not such a nice place for Conquistadors and settlers back in the day. Many legendary tales are told of travelers suffering the journey.
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It began with a photo of fish.
The photo was published in the online edition of the Albuquerque Journal. I often read the Albuquerque Journal so I don’t feel so far away from home.
A glance at the file information for the photograph gives a date of June 2002. I find that so hard to believe, and yet it’s true
The photo shows three fish that got stuck when their river home dried up. A rapid New Mexico drought took all the water.
I can’t recall which New Mexico river this happened to, I probably should have kept a screen shot of the newspaper article, but even as I know that New Mexico has struggled with drought for years (and today), I was amazed and shocked by this photo.
It is difficult to believe that water could evaporate that quickly.
Here is the photo:
The image didn’t leave my head, it rattled around in there and said so many things to me. My brain worked it over and a story began to form. The feeling of trying to draw a breath but only getting New Mexico mud.
The first draft of the story “Sangre del Toro” took shape in October 2002. Wow. Thirteen years ago.
Over the years I have submitted that story off and on to contests and literary magazines. I’d dig it up, edit and polish and try again with no luck.
I believed in the story, in the character, in the image, so I kept trying. And trying. And editing and trying and so on.
I did another edit and submitted it again for another round in the publishing meat grinder this last December. I have come to understand that publishing is as much about timing as it is about quality. And that’s why I kept trying.
On February 26, I finally got a yes from a literary journal named Jet Fuel Review.
It was almost surreal to finally hear a yes in response to this story and it’s even more surreal to announce that the Spring 2015 edition of Jet Fuel is live.
You can download the entire edition here: Full Edition
Or you can read just my story here: Sangre del Toro.
Woo! Whatta rush. Very excited about this one finally seeing the light of day. It was only by searching my hard drive to find that fish photo that I realized this published piece was thirteen years in the making.
Thirteen years of believing in a kind of sad story about a little girl caught out, just like the fish.
The editors of Jet Fuel told me they thought the metaphor was a little too obvious, which is probably true. I guess they still liked it enough to publish.
And so please give it a read and support Jet Fuel. They are a great group and I am forever indebted to them for taking a chance on little Adelida.
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Or: Tales From The Upper Deck
When word came down at work that I had approval to travel to Porto, Portugal to participate in meetings with key folks from around the world, things began to follow a usual path.
Since the place I work for gets a lot of Federal funding, we’re bound to abide by the Fly American Act, i.e. when on Federal business, fly US carriers.
No problem. I’m used to shoving my cookies onto a United Airlines jet and riding around the world, so per the norm I picked out my United flight pairs and the admin booked them. I was all set.
Because I am a little weenie and need more leg room, I like to pay out of pocket to upgrade my government bought United economy seats to United Plus economy seats.
My employer doesn’t pay for business or first class and I don’t fly enough to rack up the miles to get me there, so I ride in the back half of the plane. Economy plus at least gives my long legs a little room. A little less sardine-like.
However, when I logged into my United account and tried to upgrade my seats, I was told I could not. That I would have to wait until the day before the flight to pick out seats. What?
It took a little work but I figured out the deal. Three of my four flights on this trek would not be on United planes but a codeshare on Lufthansa.
Well hell, I’d never flown Lufthansa before so this was an adventure.
Doing some research on the Lufthansa site, I also figured out that my plane for the San Francisco to Frankfurt leg of the trip would be on an Airbus A380-800 airplane. A gigantic double decker of a holy-crap-that’s-huge airplane.
In fact, it’s the largest passenger plane flying today.
Looking up the specs of this plane online, I found people affectionately call it “the whale,” and it’s no wonder. The configuration I rode seats about 500 people.
When I was finally able to select my seats, I found that the second floor of the airplane (this airplane has two floors!!) was mostly first and business class, but the back of the upper deck had a small grouping of seven rows of economy seats. So yeah, I scooped up an aisle seat upstairs right away.
On the day I arrived at SFO, I let out an audible “wuh-huh-hoooooo” when I saw the airplane sitting at the gate. Then I became filled with anxiety. “How will that ever fly?” said my worried mind.
I wondered if my brain had anything I could compare this to. Many years ago I worked for a Lockheed Martin site that was right next to a military airstrip. Every once in a while the military would practice “touch and goes” with various planes and pilots. We’d drag our desk chairs outside and watch the show.
What I’m trying to say is, I’ve seen a fully loaded C-130 execute a touch and go, so yeah, I realized that the A380 could certainly fly. And I was going to get on it.
As I walked down the jetway to the plane, my heart began trip hammering. I always have a moment of pause before boarding any plane but this was different.
I stepped through the nice wide doorway and saw a beautiful gleaming white staircase front and center. “Ah, that must be how I get up there,” I thought.
The oversmiling male flight attendant looked at my ticket and informed me that I needed to go all the way to the back of the plane and find a staircase there.
In other words, your economy-seat riding ass don’t climb these stairs, honey.
Fair enough. I set off on my journey to the back of the plane. I stopped rest once or twice. I had snacks to keep my energy up. I may have camped out overnight. Jesus, that’s a big airplane.
Finally I reached the end of the plane and scurried up the stairs, then slid into my seat.
It was still an economy class seat so it fit tight around the hips. I got snug like a bug in there as the plane began to push back from the gate.
The Lufthansa A380 features three live cameras, one on the nose pointing forward, one on the tail also pointing forward, and one on the belly looking straight down.
Here is a terrible quality image. It’s a photo taken with an iPad of my screen on the plane as we are somewhere over the Labrador Sea. It’s enough that you can see what the view from the tail camera looks like:
I wanted to stick my hand out the window and wave to the camera, but that’s mostly frowned upon
It was mildly surreal to watch this behemoth take off from a bird’s eye view but I was fascinated.
Once aloft, I began to realize why non-US carriers rock the casbah. It’s one word: alcohol. The wine flows freely on non-US airplanes. I had flown a Singapore Airlines plane a few years ago and was gently surprised at the wine served with meals. The Germans have the Singaporeans beat. Wine with snacks, wine with dinner, brandy and irish crème after dinner.
All of this is a plot, however. They ply you with food and booze then turn down the cabin lights. Pretty much everyone falls asleep right away. Except me, I have a flaw in my DNA. I can’t sleep on a plane. Not even a long haul. Nope.
The Good Man shares this flaw and it’s good when we travel together because we entertain each other like little kids while everyone else sleeps. Sadly on this trip I was alone.
The flight attendant overseeing our little cozy area of economy class seats was a rockstar. He noticed I was the only one awake and didn’t let up on the top-notch service. He checked in on me constantly and brought water, juice, snacks and some cookies that seemed way too delicious for economy class.
Even though I was packed into an economy seat I felt spoiled like a little princess up there, inside the white whale.
When she touched down in Frankfurt I was reluctant to leave my cozy little seat and my white glove service. It was a gentle landing as the plane beast docked next to its siblings.
That was one of the most comfortable and happy international flights I have ever known and I am sure I will reflect back on it for years. It has become the high water mark by which all other flights will be measured.
Sadly, when going home from this journey, the Frankfurt to San Francisco leg will be on a plain old United jet, a Boeing 747-400. That plane also has a second deck, but only the pish-posh get to sit up there.
I’ll be seated among the cattle, in an economy plus seat but still among the unwashed. No first class cookies for Karen on the way home.
I think I’ll write a nice letter to Lufthansa to tell them how much I appreciated the flight attendant. As I have learned in my short time in Portugal, I will extend a hearty obrigada (i.e. thank you or much obliged) for his attention and job well done.
And I will wistfully dream of my time inside the whale, a modern day Jonah high above the bustling world.
Thar she blows!
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My employer is weird. This is known. And one of the weird things they like is to have portraits done of all of us minions every couple years.
The employer has a professional, award-winning photographer on staff and in addition to his amazing photos of amazing science, the poor guy also has to sit in a conference room while a parade of geeks, nerds, scientists, engineers, and dorks like me clomp through.
Last time I had a work photo taken, it was two years ago. It was a humid day. I had to walk up a steep hill to get to the place where the photos were being done. I was running late because I couldn’t find a parking spot.
I’d sweated my makeup off and my hair frizzed to cotton candy status. Then I sat down and had my photo taken. It’s awful. And it’s published on my department’s website for all to see.
We’re encouraged to use that photo as our email avatar. Nope.
Today is the day when new company photos are being taken. Argh. I have been, to put it mildly, obsessed about this. I want my new professional work photo to be something I am willing to look at.
Yesterday I carefully examined all of the photos of my coworkers in the photo archive to assess what works and what doesn’t. This morning I curled my hair. I put on makeup. I fussed.
At about twenty minutes before my appointment time, I sat at my desk fretting. I decided to open Photobooth on my Mac to get a real look at how things were working and what needed fixing.
I gazed into my laptop camera and took a couple shots. I evaluated the smile, the hair, the lipstick then I went back in to try again.
I was staring the camera dead on, trying to smize when in my peripheral vision I see one of the auditors come walking down the aisle. The very serious big 4 outside auditors here doing serious stuff like auditing financials. And here I am, a manager, supposed professional, at my desk selfie’ing.
So I tried to play it off real quick. I looked away and was acting all like “no, no selfies here.” And “Yeah it’s cool, ain’t no thing.”
And then the Photobooth “flash” popped (it flashes a blank white screen). Busted.
Anyhow, I took that photo of my shame, cropped it, sent it through an Instagram filter and now it’s arty. Thoughtful. Meditative.
Nah, it’s just me trying to look cool and failing miserably. Welcome to Dorkville, population me.
I sure hope my professional photo turns out a lot better.
Thinking so hard right now.
Photo Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth and subject to the Creative Commons in the right column of this page. Please don’t use this photo elsewere. I’m asking nice. Photo made with Photobooth, Instagram and my special brand of genetic dorkiness.