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Posts tagged literature

I’m not interested in a literary fiction versus genre argument, because that argument is basically dead and lovingly illustrated by Edan Lepucki: literary fiction is a genre with its own rules and conventions just like any other genre. The overly-long title and adultery are litfic’s version of the YA love-triangle and chosen-one narrative.

But what I do want to do is use this example to talk about cis straight white guyness. For a long time, genre was genre and literary fiction was literature. It was the sort of neutral category. Hell, it basically is. Go to a bookstore. There’s the literature section, which takes up much of the store, and mystery and scifi and whatnot have their own little sections. But it’s changing. Surely but slowly, those lines are blurring and good. And all the better that we continue to define literary fiction as its own genre.

The problem that’s been bouncing around my head lately is how that’s a great analogy for what’s going on with social justice movements and discussions of privilege. For a long, long time now, we’ve had the privilege of our society treating us a neutral, as normal. Cis, straight, white, maleness is the literary fiction of culture. We’re just literature. Everyone else has been relegated to the sides of the store.

But now, people are actually starting to have conversations (and really, have been having these conversations for a long ass time, but some of us are just finally starting to listen) about the privilege we get from not being “genre.” Just as Lepucki outlined the conventions of litfic, the conventions of cis, straight, white, maleness are starting to be defined, outlined, discussed. And so far, the results have not been pretty.

Sure, there’s been some good rib-tickles, like Stuff White People Like, and we laugh. HAHA, I *do* like camping and Moleskines! But when men as a group are discussed, suddenly we have #notallmen belittling women’s lived experiences. We get GamerGaters doxxing and sending death and rape threats to women gamers, developers, and journalists. When discussing the very real danger black people face just leaving their houses, white people have to hedge the criticism of institutional racism with #alllivesmatter.

purpose (1)There’s a part in Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions where Kilgore Trout goes into the bathroom and someone has written on the stall door, “What is the purpose of life?” And Trout writes underneath, “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator if the Universe, you fool.” Which has always invoked to me that I should be mindful about what I’m telling the Creator of the Universe. Because we are defining ourselves and the kind of world we live in every day with every decision. Every word, every action, every stupid, insensitive tweet, defines the Universe and tells the next humans in line what kind of a culture we have here.

So when I see cis people being shitty to the non-cis or gamer dudes threatening women, or white people shitting on black people for daring to speak out about how our culture has been shitting on them, I can’t help but think, “What the fuck are you doing? What are you telling the Universe?” Really? At a time when being white, being straight, being a man, is finally being defined in and of itself, and not generally accepted as neutral or normal, this, THIS is how you’re choosing to define yourself?

Listen up: we are not neutral anymore. We don’t get the best placement in the bookstore anymore. We’re sharing with genre now, and it’s about goddamn time. We were never special except by our own often violent insistence. Culture is renovating, redefining and we can help or we can see what’s left when all is said and done. Because if we don’t start defining ourselves now, in a positive way, in a way that doesn’t reinforce the imbalanced status quo, we’ll be left with the scraps.

So If you don’t want “white” to be synonymous with “racist” then do something to stop racism and stop making excuses for it. If you don’t want “male” to be synonymous with “sexism” then stop being sexist and stop making excuses for sexism. If you don’t want “straight” to be synonymous with “homophobic”. . . then start sharing your shelf space.

Hey kids,

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.

Emily Hahn smoking a cigar in 1964.

Emily Hahn smoking a cigar in 1964.

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.

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My empty office, which will be torn down this summer.

Reading my short story,

Reading my short story, “Those Peculiar Galaxies” for UNH’s Graduate Research Conference

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.

Dorm life is caput.

Dorm life is caput.

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.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Treatment of Zelda and the Appropriation of Her Writing

To say that F. Scott Fitzgerald had a complicated relationship with women is an understatement. Scott was fond of saying that he “married the heroine of [his] stories!” By this admission, Scott welds his personal life to his fiction, blurring the line that the biographical fallacy intends to separate. The Fitzgeralds actively encouraged the conflation between Scott’s heroines and Zelda herself and openly used their biographies as advertising. By conflating his life with his texts, Scott opens his biography to similar levels of attention that his texts receive from critics. Therefore, one can attend Scott’s treatment of Zelda in a similar manner that one would attend his treatment of a particular female character in his fiction, pressing for insights into Fitzgerald’s changing attitude toward gender roles.

Zelda & Scott

Zelda & Scott

Scott was praised for his well-written female characters, and is credited with inventing the flapper, that “virtual emblem of American modernity.” Scott claimed that he wrote such good female characters because his mind was half female. However, those insights and those characters were almost exclusively based upon his wife, Zelda, and often come directly from Zelda.  Later, as his marriage declined, Scott regretted the flapper, claiming that “if [he] had anything to do with creating . . . the contemporary American girl [he] certainly made a botch of the job.” (Anderson, 143). When we consider his later ambivalence toward the flapper, as embodied by Zelda, what views of women and his wife remain? A clue can be found in Chapter xii of Book I of Tender is the Night, where Scott described what the three main female characters in the novel had in common—that “they were all happy to exist in a man’s world—they preserved their individuality through men and not by opposition to them. They would all three have made alternatively good courtesans or good wives not by the accident of birth but through the greater accident of finding their man” (53). That he wrote this during the decline of his marriage, during a time when Zelda was challenging Scott with a novel of her own, is particularly poignant. In that scene, our narrator is explaining what makes these three women ‘good’ in opposition to most American women, a description of how a woman should ideally express herself.

This is not Zelda

The Invention of the Flapper

This could be easily chalked up to storytelling and character, that this statement was merely the description of of these three women and should not be read as indicative of Fitzgerald’s views of women’s place in the world. However, when coupled with the level of autobiography that Scott embedded in his writing, his treatment of his wife, and his appropriation of her own writing, those two sentences from Tender is the Night take on a much weightier significance. What can we say about the nature of authorship and originality in a case where so much of the material has been co-opted from another person? At what point does the shared experience of two people pass into co-authorship, or further, into plagiarism? If we read these two sentences as Fitzgerald’s view of how a good woman expresses herself in a man’s world—through her husband instead of in opposition to it—can we then be surprised about Scott’s appropriation of Zelda’s experiences and her creative works? Apparently not, since Scott was also fond of saying “It’s a man’s world; a smart woman’ll always follow a man’s lead.” (Tavernier-Courbin, 24). As his disillusionment with the flapper and his wife increases, Scott falls back on a more misogynistic paradigm in his treatment of women and his wife.

That Fitzgerald used much of Zelda’s writing, passing it off as his own, has been well-documented. Zelda herself—in an interview in the New York Tribune at the release of Scott’s The Beautiful and Damned—said that, “Mr. Fitzgerald . . . seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.” She then went on to describe portions of The Beautiful and Damned as being from “an old diary of [hers] which mysteriously disappeared shortly after [her] marriage and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound . . . vaguely familiar” (Petry, 20). Additionally, Fitzgerald rewrote much of This Side of Paradise after meeting Zelda, reshaping the character of Rosalind after her, even quoting Zelda verbatim for much of Rosalind’s dialogue (Auerbach). This was not an uncommon habit of Fitzgerald’s.

Lawton Campbell, a friend of the Fitzgerald’s recounts that “[Scott] would hang on her words and applaud her actions, often repeating them for future reference, often writing them down as they came from the fountainhead. I have seen Scott jot down Zelda’s remarks on odd pieces of paper or on the back of envelopes and stuff them in his pockets. At times, his pockets were fairly bulging with her bon-mots and bits of spontaneous observations” (Talley). Much of Daisy’s dialog in The Great Gatsby has also been attributed to Zelda as well, particularly the line, “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (Keats).

Perhaps the most gross example of Scott’s appropriation is the case of Zelda’s semi-autobiographical novel Save Me the Waltz. While Scott was struggling for years with Tender is the Night, Zelda wrote Save me the Waltz in six weeks, then sent it directly to Scott’s editor Maxwell Perkins.

Save Me the Waltz

Save Me the Waltz

When Perkins showed Scott the novel, all hell broke loose. On March 14, 1932, he wrote to Zelda’s psychiatrist, Dr. Squires, in a fury of resentment which dumbfounded the clinic’s doctors. They found it necessary to apologize to Scott for having let Zelda send her manuscript to Scribner’s without first securing Scott’s approval. Scott was outraged to be submitted to the same sort of psychological and literary dissection which he had performed on Zelda in his first three novels. Moreover, as he himself said, she had used material that he had “bought” by keeping her.

Scott absolutely forbade publication until it had been revised to his satisfaction. In another letter to Dr. Squires, he wrote that he could not assent to “see her build this dubitable career of hers with morsels of living matter chipped out of [his]mind, [his] belly, [his] nervous system and [his] loins.” Of course, he had built his own career on such morsels. In May 1933, he spelled it out to Zelda during a session with her psychologist: “Everything we have done is . . . [mine]. I am the professional novelist, and I am supporting you. This is all my material. None of it is your material.” When asked by Zelda what she should do to please him, he answered: “I want you to stop writing fiction.” (Tavernier-Courbin, 27).

Sociologist Heather Laine Talley, in an essay concerning gaslighting and so-called “crazy” women, further described how “Scott offered to edit the manuscript and promptly pilfered passages for his novel Tender Is the Night.” He also removed unflattering passages and “ironically, though he was then supposedly helping to edit it for Zelda’s sake, he . . . let it go to press unpruned of tangled metaphors and misspellings, of grammatical and typographical errors which obviously weaken it” (Tavernier-Courbin, 24). For further examples, Kendall Taylor’s biography of the couple, Sometimes Madness is Wisdom, contains an exhaustive study of Scott’s plagiarism of Zelda’s writing and ultimately declared that “in effect Zelda was Scott’s co-author.”

Scott did not only co-opt Zelda’s words, but also argued that he and Zelda’s shared experiences were solely his. Regarding Zelda’s affair with a French aviator Edouard Jozan, Scott realized that “watching his wife’s behavior toward her French lover, he could depict Daisy’s affair with Gatsby with greater veracity” and encouraged the affair until it “became a serious matter when Zelda informed her husband that she’d fallen in love and wished for a divorce” (Keats). In response to this, Scott put Zelda on house-arrest until her will broke in a suicide attempt after a month (Tavernier-Courbin, 28).

Again, the more notable example regards the previously mentioned Tender Is the Night and Zelda’s Save Me the Waltz, that contentious novel which “galled” Scott and “presented him as a pale figure, and in a rather humiliating light” (Long, 40). However, it is not just that time and those aspects of their marriage that Scott appropriated. In a parallel of Dick Diver’s affair with Rosemary Hoyt in Tender Is the Night, Scott carried on an affair with Lois Moran, a 17-year-old silent film actress. Zelda’s reaction to this affair is further paralleled in Tender Is the Night’s mysterious bathroom scene—once, when Scott went out with Lois, “Zelda filled a bathtub with her own clothing designs and set them on fire.” (Talley). In Chapter v of Book I of Tender is the Night, Scott states that “If her person was property, she could exercise whatever advantage was inherent in its ownership.” In these cases, Scott behaved as if Zelda were indeed property, though he was the one who exercised the advantage of his ownership.

Scott, their daughter Scottie, and Zelda

Scott, their daughter Scottie, and Zelda

Despite everything Zelda contributed to Scott’s career and the success of his writing, he blamed Zelda for the perceived failure of his career. In a letter to Oscar Forel, the head psychiatrist where Zelda was being treated at the time, Scott blamed her for instigating his drinking habit and eventual alcoholism, then went on to criticize Zelda’s requests that he stop drinking as “childish stubbornness and ingratitude” (Letters, 197). In his letters to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, Scott casts Zelda as a spendthrift whose hospitalizations are to blame for Scott’s constant need for money and failure to meet deadlines. This echos Franz Gregorovius’ warnings to Dick Diver that marrying Nicole would be like “half [his] life being a doctor and nurse all together” (140). Carrying this further, the narrator of Tender Is the Night describes Dick’s downfall partially because “his work became confused with Nicole’s problems,” that “it seemed to belittle his work,” and because of this, “Dick could no longer play what he wanted to play on the piano.” (171). It would be more accurate to say that Scott quite enjoyed playing Zelda’s song when it was fresh, and jazzy, when, “in his earliest writings [he] enthusiastically portrayed [Zelda] as the embodiment of . . . a new era of romantic individualism, rebellion, and liberation” (Sanderson, 143). But later, he was ill-equipped and unenthused to play Zelda’s new, melancholy tune. In his letters to Zelda while she was in treatment, he routinely downplayed her symptoms, stating that her “feelings of gloom” hadn’t the “slightest legitimacy.” (Letters, 257). Additionally, in Tender Is the Night, it is speculated that “Nicole is less sick than anyone thinks—she only cherishes her illness as an instrument of power.” (239). Again, her illness is belittled and used as an excuse for Dick’s loss of vitality. However, the clearest and most blatant blame is leveled when Dick says to Nicole, “You ruined me . . . then we’re both ruined.” (273). Dick’s failed career parallels Scott’s own—Dick “writes pop-psychology for the lay audience rather than serious scientific studies for experts” mirroring Scott’s frequent complaints in his letters (Sanderson, 158). Rather than novels “for experts,” Scott often claimed he only wrote “hack-work” (short stories and for the cinema—the lay audience) for the money, money that he resented earning, feeling that he was “exploited,” wondering why he continued to pay the bills for a domestic life with Zelda he described as a “despicable menage” (Letters, 188).

Most Fitzgerald critics are apt to dismiss Zelda’s part, ignoring the level of her involvement in Scott’s writing. There is much surface discussion of her role as muse, but little mention of her literary achievement. In an article regarding Save Me the Waltz and Zelda’s literary talent, Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin, quotes preeminent Fitzgerald expert Matthew J. Bruccoli who said that “Save Me the Waltz is worth reading because anything that illuminates the career of F. Scott Fitzgerald is worth reading . . . The blunt fact is that Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s work is interesting today mainly because she was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife.” Tavernier-Courbin echoes Scott’s own description of those three women from Tender Is the Night when she points out that “Such an attitude . . . is sharply illustrative of what Zelda was trying to fight in her marriage, that which might be seen as the very raison d’être of her novel: the fact that she was merely expected to be, to use Scott’s own words, ‘a complementary intelligence,’ a wife concerned exclusively with the interests of her husband” (23). In a review, James H. Meredith dismissed two biographies of the Fitzgeralds, arguing that it is “inappropriate . . . for literary critics to take sides in their marriage” and declares them “wrong-headed” for trying to parse this complicated subject (212). In an article directly addressing the claims of plagiarism, Jonathon Keats declared that “it makes no difference,” claiming that although what Scott did was technically plagiarism, arguments in favor of Zelda’s contributions are the equivalent of asking “the Mona Lisa be reattributed to the young wife of Francesco del Giocondo who sat, with that famous smile, as its model.” These arguments continue the status quo of erasing Zelda’s authorship and denying the proper attribution from where the jewels of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing were mined.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

In a time period where women who bucked the status quo were routinely locked up in sanitariums, it should be unsurprising that Scott Fitzgerald acted in such a way. He routinely carried on affairs, denied them, gaslit his wife, and then plundered her creativity for his own work. And yet Scott is regarded as “a major male author [with] a particular insight into female psychology.” Even Zelda posthumously praised him in 1941, admitting that he “seized the essence of a girl . . . in that troubled epoch between world wars.” (Sanderson, 144). Even here, Zelda is sure to clarify a time frame for her husband’s insight into female psychology. Scott remains insightful about his flapper heroine and that new zeitgeist of the contemporary young woman, but as that woman aged, we can see Scott fall back into older, more misogynistic paradigms regarding the role of women in the world. When his insight into women began to fail him (if it could be said to have existed in the first place, outside of Zelda), he continued to mine his wife for that insight, often against her will. Zelda was not happy to exist in a man’s world and she attempted to preserve her individuality not through men but by opposition to them.

Works Cited
Auerbach, Nina. “Vampire to Victim.” Rev. of Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise by Sally Cline. London Review of Books 19 June 2003. Web.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender Is the Night. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995. Print.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, Matthew J. Bruccoli, and Judith Baughman. A Life in Letters. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Print.
Keats, Jonathon. “For the Love of Literature.” Salon.com, 25 Aug. 2001. Web.
Long, Robert Emmet. “After the Ball.” Rev. of Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald.The North American Review July 1967: 40. Web.
Meredith, James H. “Marriage Tales.” Rev. of Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald: A Marriage by Kendall Taylor and Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald by Jackson R. Bryer; Cathy W. Barks. The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review 2002: 212-19. Web.
Petry, Alice Hall. Fitzgerald’s Craft of Short Fiction: The Collected Stories, 1920-1935. Ann Arbor: UMI Research, 1989. Web.
Sanderson, Rena. “Women in Fitzgerald’s Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. N.p.: Cambridge UP, 2002. 143-63. Print.
Tavernier-Courbin, Jacqueline. “Art as Woman’s Response and Search: Zelda Fitzgerald’s “Save Me the Waltz”” The Southern Literary Journal 11.2 (Spring 1979): 22-42. Web.
Talley, Heather Laine. “Zelda Wasn’t ‘Crazy’: How What You Don’t Know About Fitzgerald Tells Us Something About ‘Crazy’ Women, Then and Now.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 20 May 2013. Web.
Taylor, Kendall. Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald : A Marriage. New York: Ballantine, 2001. Print.

I helped staff the Barnstorm table at this year’s AWP conference in Minneapolis this past week. It was my first professional conference.

Whew.

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Let me judge you over the top of my glasses.

I think the main takeaway isn’t what anyone told me it would be. Yes, I “networked,” whatever the fuck that means. Yes, I discovered the sweet spot in the rhetorical triangle between sleep, booze, and panels. Yes, I attended panels about publishing and rejection and craft. And sure, I learned some things, but nothing revolutionary, nothing that left me with this surge of creative inspiration propelling me home in a whirlwind of story ideas and renewed dedication to my craft.

No, it was just being in a place with a lot of people who love the things I love that did that. It wasn’t anything anyone said or anything I saw. It was just this unspoken vibe of community. I imagine this is what families feel when they get together or class reunions or Sunday church-goers. This sense of shared experience, this collectivism, for lack of a better word. We spend so much time, or at least I do, in this very solitary pursuit, writing at strange hours alone, fielding submissions and rejections through impersonal guidelines and cryptic dismissals, and it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole world of people out there doing the same things, loving the same things, trying to connect us all together.

Not that I’m also not discouraged as well, spending four days surrounded by 12000 people who are also trying to do what I do, who hunger for triumph and success as much as I do.

Trust me, there were a lot of Highlander—there can be only one—jokes bandied about. Luckily none of the writers brought swords.

You didn’t think a post about AWP was going to be all hugs and snuggles, did you?

A few days ago K.T. Bradford wrote a piece for xojane challenging her readers to not read white, straight, cis male authors for a year, following a similar thread of such challenges to expand the diversity of voices in our reading lives.

Because traditional, mainstream publishing (and hell, even smaller-scale publishing as well) is heavily skewed toward the very demographic Bradford is asking us to avoid.

But I keep seeing people making the argument that the demographics of the writers shouldn’t matter, that we should merely judge the writing by the merits of the writing itself, that we’re “obsessing about authors” and  how it’s “pretty juvenile” to make “arbitrary assumptions about authorship.”

At first glance, I can see merit in this sort of divorce of the author from the text. It makes sense, right. Of course you can judge a book without its cover, without its context. After all, literary criticism has been doing that for years, the whole “death of the author” movement.

However, as Adam Shapiro points out,

The school of literary criticism that emphasizes the text alone as something that can be assess as a thing itself independent of the identities of either the author or the readers emerged as a specific movement largely among White Male Americans, largely from the South. It was a self-conscious effort to make the qualities of literature typically found in [mostly] white [mostly] Southern [mostly] male authors into the “objective” standard against which something like the “quality of the text” can be judged.

There are problems that arise with not seeing works of literature as products of the cultures that create them. But there’s the additional problem that claims that there are objective standards to judge the quality of literature can only work if one sees their own culture as a universal standard.”

It’s the literary wing of the invisible knapsack of privilege in which the first privilege is to be able to be unaware or ignorant of your privilege. In the case of using the death of the author in this way, it’s deliberately turning a blind eye.

And personally, I’m more concerned that if someone is reading primarily texts from one tiny spectrum of human experience, in this case, white male straight cis, we’re missing out on a huge swath of what its like to live on this planet, millions of different approaches toward the questions that literature concerns itself with. And primarily, most people are reading—and the publishing industry is primarily concerned with—that one tiny spectrum of human experience.

I continue to think of it in terms of empathy. Study after study has shown that reading literature increases empathy in its readers. When we live lives through other people’s words, we see them as individuals, which makes othering, that very important step in dehumanizing our fellow people, all the more difficult.

Because othering is what leads to discrimination, war, and that whole host of human ugliness that shames us as a species. Think of what John Hersey’s New Yorker article about Hiroshima did to humanize the victims and contextualize what it meant use such a weapon, or how the media bringing the up-close-and-personal ugliness of wartime Vietnam into our living rooms brought that war to an earlier close, or how Daryl Davis is converting KKK members merely by talking to them.

Because it’s this power of narrative that drives empathy—to get downright cliché about it—it’s the other man’s shoes thing. And all Bradford is saying is that we’ve all, consciously or not, been walking around primarily in one pair of shoes for a really really long time, and maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t hurt to wear a different pair for a while, to try another path. Just try it.

It won’t hurt anyone if some people choose to concentrate on perspectives they may not usually read, voices not often trumpeted by the status quo publishing industry. And I’m saying this as a straight, white cis male author early in his career who needs as many people as possible to read his work. I should be the first at the regressive picket line arguing about how authorship demographics shouldn’t matter. But I’m not, because it hurts no one. There are plenty of voices, plenty of readers. And such challenges may just help some people who prior to this, only read from a narrow spectrum of the human experience, which frankly, isn’t healthy for us, as individuals or as a species.

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.