This summer, “Spectrum”, the shortest story I’ve ever written (around 350 words!), which had previously been a semifinalist in Mid-American Review‘s Fineline Competition, will be published by my favorite microfiction venue, CHEAP POP. If you’re not already reading them, get on it!
In case I haven’t mentioned it here, I’ve donned the mantle of
Interdimensional Ethnograper Fiction Editor at the freshly minted Outlook Springs. We’re a biannual literary magazine posing as a small town in another dimension, or another dimension posing as a literary magazine. We’re on a safari to catch the elusive lovechild of Welcome to Night Vale and Tin House, if you can imagine such a beast. And if you can’t, try, write a story about it, then submit it to me.
For fiction, we’re thinking along these lines:
Send us stories we can’t put down. Our emphasis is literary fiction: “the human heart in conflict with itself,” as Faulkner famously said. But we aren’t biased against genre. To the contrary! Experimental, science fiction, fantasy, slipstream, magical realism, minimalist, maximalist, etc., etc., are all welcome into our home, so long as there is an emphasis on character and language rather than on cleverness and conceit. Let us reiterate: character and language are important. We want sentences radioactive with the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly—the world as only you see it. Surprise us. Break our hearts. Humor is always a plus. Humor and heartbreak together? Oh, boy. That’s a dream come true. Outlook Springs isn’t looking for merely competent stories—stories that are technically proficient but emotionally cold. Zap us with life.
So yeah, everything from gritty realism through lambasted absurdism, as long as it’s heart is beating so loud it travels back through time and drives Edgar Allan Poe to write a creeptastic story about it.
We’re a biannual print magazine. We do not charge submission fees. We pay our writers. We have big plans for our little town.
Check Submittable for nonfiction and poetry guidelines. Also, you can check us out on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram. Our official website will be up soon, but you can already sign up for our newsletter. Or send us a telegram.
This is the close-but-no-cigar, always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride post.
I’ve gotten really nice personal rejections from places like ZYZZYVA and I just received a tiered rejection from The New Yorker, which I was overjoyed about when one considers that they don’t even respond to something like 70-80% of their slushpile submissions. I’ve been a semi-finalist for three major contests. Slowly, my publication and accolade list is less and less resembling the wastelands outside Night Vale.
Of course, this is balanced against the dozens of nearly wordless form rejections. But nevermind those. They’re not the ones that throw me off my game.
It’s the almosts. It’s the 300+ day rejections that made it through three reads and onto the final editor’s desk. It’s those yellow envelopes and emails that come with a hint of cigar smoke and no cigar.
I know it shouldn’t matter, that those should be the ones that make me think, YES, I’ve got this, and push harder. But they’re not. They’re the ones that make me think that maybe I’m not actually good enough at all.
I think of it as smart kid syndrome. You can coast for a really long time with minimal work by just being smart. Writing is the first thing that I’ve really applied myself to long after it stopped being easy, long after I had to put in actual work to be good. And for that effort to feel wasted, to still not be good enough, that’s the hammer.
The best description of writer’s block I’ve ever heard came from Dan Harmon who said all it is is the gap between how good you are and how good you want to be and the only way to bridge that gap is to prove yourself right. You’re a shit writer and you’ll never be amazing. Prove it. Write shitty. Because writing shitty is the only way you get to where you want to be.
And I have to remind myself of that every time one of those close calls come rolling in. Because they’re the reminder of that gap, of how much more work I need to put in to build that bridge. Because no one’s wandering around handing out cigars. You have to make those fuckers by hand out in the hot sun.
So hey, let’s get rolling.
My second year of my MFA is over (in case you weren’t able to pick that up from context clues in the title of this post.) There’s one more semester left, another writing workshop, a form & technique class focusing on putting together a story collection through the lens of recent successful collections, like Kyle Minor’s Praying Drunk and Claire Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn, among others, as well as teaching another section of freshman composition.
This summer will be spent, between feminist science fiction conventions (Wiscon!) and Quaker-Marxist weddings, putting together my thesis, that collection of short stories that’s supposed to prove I learned something here, or that, at the least, I was productive at putting words on a page. It’s actually pretty close to done already—125 pages of the required 150, so my main goal is to get everything in order and write another two stories.
One, I already know and have started. The other, I know what story I want to write. The question is, can I figure it out, make it compelling, and not feel contrived—it needs to do a lot of things, first and foremost, fulfill all that was promised by the opening story and echo and illuminate everything that was built in the subsequent stories. Tall order for a story of whose shape I only have the fuzziest shadow.
And so I look forward to a new semester in the fall in a new office, teaching a new batch of freaked-out freshmen, in a new apartment somewhere around seacoast New Hampshire with a whole new host of weird issues to contend with. It’s almost as if two years isn’t really long enough for an MFA, but simultaneously, I can’t wait to be done. Some chapters are short, some are not?
Ultimately, it’s that odd combination of end-of-a-good-book sad and end-of-a-good-book excitement, and I’m trying to savor the end of said good book, but I’m already starting to think about what book to read next.
My first story, “Punchline Number Nine” is now up in the latest issue of decomP magazinE. Read it. Or listen to an oddly, extra-bassy me read it to you. It takes eighteen minutes. It took hours and hours to write and revise. Think of the time compression. Think of how dense an experience it is that you’re digesting. Reading a story is, by this analogy, one of the richest experiences. Like the difference between a thousand calories of kale versus a thousand calories of cake. Same calories, but cake is the dense story of the two. Have some cake. You deserve it.
I’m excited to announce my story, “Punchline Number Nine” will appear in the February edition of decomP magazinE. I’ll also be recording an audio version of the story for them this week as well.
This is my first official publication since I started down this path in earnest and not too shabby for the third story I ever wrote, though it’s been heavily revised since that first rough draft tumbled its way out of me back in the spring of 2012.
Who knew, back then, that my little faux-noir story of a recovering alcoholic subpoena process server driving around in a beast of a TransAM looking for his artist ex-girlfriend would be my first publication?
I’ll update later when it’s live and you can see the beaut. Right now, I have to go update my CV and publications page and my Submittable bio.
As my son said, I’m playing on the pro courts now.
I did not win the 2014 Missouri Review’s Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Nope. Lost! DID NOT WIN. But I was so excited about the results I told everyone, jumped around (figuratively), and had such a goddamn big smile on my face, that four more rejections that week did little to scuff my shine because I was a semifinalist. Which means I was in the top 25, that elite 1% of stories that made it to the final rounds. Holy hell.
Early in your writing career, the reward system of your brain gets rewired. We face so much rejection that even the tiniest wins seem monstrous achievements. We might break our legs over and over trying to ascend Everest and almost die of exposure, but you should see us dance when we actually step up a curb without falling on our asses.
We check RejectionWiki for the slightest chance that we got a higher-tier form rejection letter, something our published advisors have said is like trying to read fortunes in tea leaves. We brag to our fellow writers about that Raiders of the Lost Ark golden idol of a personal rejection—sure we lost to some pompous prick and were almost killed by Amazonians, but by golly, someone fucking noticed us.
So sure, I lost the contest and had stories rejected almost 40 times last year, but this time, this time, that Pavlovian response of dopamine is mine and I’m going to savor that son of a bitch.