My Contribution To Post A Rejection Letter Friday

My Contribution To Post A Rejection Letter Friday

Now that I’m back to my home computer, here are some rejection letters I’ve recieved. I post them not because they are particularly funny or heinous or anything — they’re pretty standard — but because they both come from publications that I work for or have done in the recent past. Both of the editors who rejected me I now consider good friends. (Yes, Kris, you are my good friend.) Onward!

Dear Ms. Bradford,

Thank you for submitting your story “Enmity” to SYBIL’S GARAGE. Unfortunately at this time we will not be accepting your submission for publication. We enjoyed your story, however, it’s not quite right for the magazine. We hope you consider sending to us again.

Sincerely,
KD
Editor
SYBIL’S GARAGE

and

Dear [my real first name and, may I note, spelled WRONG],

Thank you for your submission to Fantasy Magazine, but it didn’t quite grab me, so I’m going to pass on this.

all best wishes,
Sean

That second rejection was for Black Feather, BTW.

Nothing scathing, as I said. But funny for me, considering.

Both of these stories were/are going to be published.  This is one of the reasons why writers share rejections.  To show that even when you don’t wow one editor, you may wow another.  And that editor’s not being wowed has no absolute bearing on your ability to wow elsewhere.

Cosmology

Cosmology

I’m hitting a strange wall in writing this novel now in that I have not nailed down the cosmology of the culture, therefore I can’t write the interstitial bits between the chapters explaining what the purpose of the different neighborhoods are, which all depend on the cosmology.  This does not completely stop me from writing the chapters because I can work around it, come back and change, etc.  But having that nailed down would really help me figure out what needs to happen in some of the pivotal parts.

When I first conceived of the city, I put it in an alternate universe of dynastic Egypt where certain stupidities did not happen.  But now I’m waffling — I’m not sure if I want the timeframe to be dynastic Egypt or pre-dynastic.  And I don’t know if I want my gods and goddesses to be actual deities or closer to the indigenous concept of NTRs (the word some Egyptologists translate as gods) as senses or aspects of consciousness.  The reason for all this waffling is that I’m reading some books by alternative Egyptologists, some of which I’ve read before (but it’s becoming obvious to me that I’ve forgotten a fair bit of the info), and they keep presenting theories that make me want to rework the cosmology and some parts of the culture to fit them.  At the same time, I feel like if I tried to incorporate all of this stuff, I’ll end up with a culture so alien and strange no one will be able to relate.  And then there’s the stuff that would also totally mess up my overall plot, which I cannot have.  But… it’s all so interesting!

Right now I’m resolved to finish the books, then try to sort out all the ideas and such in my head.  I obviously need a cosmology and culture that feels real nd thought-out, but I am afraid of too much complexity overwhelming the story.

And the final thing I am trying to keep in mind is that I’m writing a novel and not a historical essay.  I’m not even writing a historical novel, but a fantasy novel set in a fantasy world that is based on an actual historical period.  And therefore I am allowed to make stuff up.  I actually do need to remind myself of this when I go into Writing Egypt mode because I’ve done so much research on this stuff and I love the real history and culture and want to be true to those things I love.  Still, it’s my novel, I am allowed to make shit up.

Right?

Strange Horizons Fundraiser

No even though I recently sold a story to Strange Horizons, I somehow forgot to mention that they are in the midst of a fundraiser.  So I shall mention it now.

Strange Horizons is one of the awesomest genre magazines around today.  They publish great fiction, they have an editorial vision and philosophy that appeal to me as a reader and a writer, and they make it all happen with donations from the community.

I think you should donate!  The money you give supports fiction, non-fiction, and a group of editors who strongly believe in presenting a diversity of voices in the genre.

You can donate any amount you want, but if you’re the type who enjoys getting stuff at different membership levels, SH has that, too.  $25 will get you a membership card (designed by Jeremy Tolbert, who is awesome), $50, $100, $250, and $500 will get you other, cooler stuff.  Go check it out.

Then donate!

waaaaaa, I want Scrivener!

waaaaaa, I want Scrivener!

I know Mac people get very few things they can call their own, but it’s completely unfair that Scrivener is one of them.  Why can’t they stop being jerks and make a Windows version?  Or, at least, a Unix version so I can put it on my eee!

I’ve tried other programs that do similar things.  I gave Writer’s Cafe months and months to please me.  And while I do like the notebook function and the scraps thing and the journal, the actual area for writing isn’t robust and the index card/story organizing thing leaves MUCH to be desired.  I want Scrivener.  *pout*

As I contemplate starting this new novel in a few weeks (aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh panicomg!!) it would be really helpful if I had a program that helped me organize.  I can’t keep writing snippets in my journal and then go hunt them down across three journals.  That sucks.  Plus, I suspect this novel will involve a great deal of research, taking place in Ancient Egypt and all.  I have a lot of prior research to help, but then I’ll have new questions like “What time of year is best for harvesting pomegranates?”

*wants Scrivener*  *pout*

Engaging in negative stereotypes — the ongoing struggle

I was busy all morning doing IAF stuff and missed out on the beginning of this “debate” going on in the comments to Lisa’s story on Fantasy. It’s kind of ironic that this came up today because yesterday I had a long conversation about a similar issue surrounding one of my stories.  I wonder, actually, if I would see the thing that happened today in the same way had it happened last week, before my conversation yesterday.  Hmm.

So to clue you in on what I’m talking about, my other writing group, the Black Beans, met yesterday to discuss a story that I’m rewriting for a market.  Without going into too much detail, my story has terrorists and those terrorists are from a specific ethnic group.  (And in my story, it’s not ambiguous, nor did I mean for it to be.)  Now, being a not-racist person, I thought that I was not engaging in negative stereotypes with my story.  But due to the way I wrote things and the length of the story, it totally came off that way.  After much discussion I realized that, in order to have these terrorists remain the ethnic group I’d chosen, I would have to do a LOT of explaining to show that I wasn’t just trading on stereotypes.  And that even if I did that, many readers would probably focus on that aspect of the story, which would be bad as it’s not the point of the story at all.

Now, I’m extremely lucky that I belong to two writing groups with many talented people of many different backgrounds who are not afraid to speak their minds.  Thank goodness I had the sense to show the rewrite to them else I might have found myself in a similar situation as Lisa today: not meaning to have dealt in stereotypes, but perhaps doing so nonetheless.

This does not mean that writers have to censor themselves, or not include any disadvantaged groups they don’t belong to in a story.  What it does mean is that the author needs to know exactly what they’re about, and needs to get the opinion of people they trust so as not to fall prey to their own unconscious biases.  Or, you know, it’s not an unconscious bias per se, but an ignorance to how certain images, characterizations, and depictions of this or another group sink into our unconscious and don’t get pegged as “wrong” or “prejudiced”.  They may not affect us, therefore we don’t immediately recoil from them.  And they may come out in our writing, or our speech, or whatever.  Innocently, perhaps, but it’s still painful, damaging, wrong.

During the conversation/critique this weekend I found myself feeling very uncomfortable and even defensive on that particular point.  However, what I tried to do, and hope I succeeded in doing, is to keep my damn mouth shut until I could absorb the things I was being told, take into account the people who were saying them to me, and check myself mightily.  It’s only because I have so often been on the other end of conversations of this nature that I was able to do this, but it was hard.  As I said, very uncomfortable.  Most people don’t want to think that they have it in them to even appear racist, etc.  But achieving that takes work, and working through discomfort, and listening, and understanding.

One thing I do know: the proper reaction to an accusation or even hint that one is engaging in negative stereotypes about a group is not to do or say anything contained within this most excellent post.  Instead, as I have said very recently, you should find someone who is knowledgeable about such things whom you are comfortable with and know will tell you the truth, even if that truth makes you uncomfortable, and ask their opinion.

Reviewing

Reviewing

The recent stuff about Authors Behaving Badly reminded me that I wanted to write something on Mike Brotherton’s SFNovelists post about reviews and reviewers. A little while ago he put up some guidelines for what he thinks reviewers shouldn’t do from the perspective of a writer. The basics:

Guideline 1: Reviewers should stick to reviewing the kinds of books they like.

Guideline 2: Reviews should describe what the book is like, and not just represent a visceral reaction of the reviewer.

Guideline 3: Putting a book in context relative to other work by the author is great, as long as there is clarity in doing so.

Guideline 4: Review the book, not the author.

On the surface maybe these are good guidelines. But, as I read, I felt myself disagreeing with almost every one of them. I’ve been thinking about why ever since.

Guideline 1 comes out of many genre authors’ frustration with reviewers who clearly don’t “get” SF still being assigned SF books, to predictable results. Still, I don’t think the problem is reviewing the kind of books one likes, but the kind of books one is likely to understand or get.

I’m not a huge fan of horror, but I’m confident in my ability to tell if a horror story is good or not. “Not My Target Audience” is an excuse that can only carry one so far. If a reviewer is actively hostile toward a genre, that’s a different thing. But I think that any competent reviewer can read books that are outside her “favorite genres” and still deliver intelligent proclamations about them.

Guideline 2 strikes me as something that bothers writers of the books being reviewed, but not the readers. The last thing I want from a review is to describe the book. I have a jacket flap for that. I do want the visceral reaction, because that is a signal of what a book is going to do for me. Perhaps I am alone in this.

Guideline 3 I’ll discuss in a bit.

Guideline 4 almost, almost got past me until I read this supporting bit:

No reaction to the author as a person is appropriate (e.g., that apparently “racist story” might just be an attempt to understand a particular type of unsavory person, something that writers need to do effectively from time to time, rather than an expression of racism).

Oh here we go.

The problem with this guideline is that, on some level, you cannot review a work without taking the authorship into consideration. Certainly it isn’t useful to dismiss a book because you have something personal against the author. In fact, if you’re pissed at the author, you shouldn’t be reviewing that book at all. And, of course, you shouldn’t be going on about your perception of the author based on your own hangups or, need I say, their name and how stupid or fake you think it is. (Okay, I will admit, that still irks me a little. I am working to get over it.) However, it is perfectly valid to consider the author’s motives and question his process and reasoning concerning the themes, ideas, and characters in a book or story.

And, quite honestly, most people intelligent and brave enough to bring up how the racism in a story might reflect the (perhaps unconscious) racism of the author are usually smart enough to tell the difference between a story that is exploring racism and one that is based on the racist ideas/thoughts/tendencies. And if an author has to say, “No, I was hoping to EXPLORE that concept, not endorse it!” they have obviously failed and someone should point that out.

Which brings me back to Guideline 3. If a reviewer is allowed to discuss a book in relation to the other books that author has written, whether those books are related in any other way or not, then that is “reviewing the author” in a sense.

Now that I’ve just torn Mike’s poor post apart, I will say that I do recognize that everything he said comes from the perspective of the author being reviewed. And it’s perfectly fine for him to feel that way and want these things. Except that reviews are not for the benefit of the author. They might have that effect, sure, but reviews are there for readers. They are there to let readers know, in one person’s opinion, whether they should pick a book up.

What do readers want when they look at reviews? That’s what I’m mostly concerned about.

WTF Authors?

WTF Authors?

Scalzi encourages authors to post their 1-star Amazon reviews because, hey, it may sting, but it’s not the end of the world. What inspired this? Why, an author acting as if bad reviews are the end of the world! Not just by whining and complaining about them, but by actively harassing the reviewers and encouraging her readers, friends, and authors from her small press to do so as well. And, as if that’s not bad enough, she isn’t even going after a professional reviewer, but some poor Amazon reviewer. Just a regular person.

WTF author?

I thought Anne Rice was bad, but this is above and beyond.

It’s easy for me to sit here and say, “Oh you authors should calm down and stop whining!” because I don’t have a novel up on Amazon. I’ve also had to contend with very few bad reviews (because I haven’t published much that was reviewed at all, not because I’m super fantastic). Still and all, I hope that I have the sense and civility not to go careening after the bad reviewers with a virtual sledgehammer. In fact, many years ago I made a vow to have a good attitude about reviews and Amazon reviews in particular because of something I witnessed in another author.

I blogged about this back then, but my old journal now only exists in Bloggers servers. (I’m trying to decide if I want to import it into this blog. I doubt it would be at all useful). But the gist of it was this:

After my first World Fantasy I attempted to read all of the books that came in the free book bag. I was young, what can I say? One of the books was Prince of Ayodhya by Ashok K. Banker. I put it down after about 6 chapters because it just didn’t engage me. Too much set-up and introducing the huge cast of characters and not a lot of moving forward with an actual story. I went over to Amazon to post my review and found that there was a bit of a kerfuffle going on there between some reviewers and the author. I wrote at the time:

The author of the book has posted three (yes, three) reviews of his own. And they’re starred reviews, which I thought authors and publishers weren’t supposed to be able to do. (they were removed I don’t know how long ago, but there’s another one here. –T) The reviews are weird, too. One is a rebuttal of a bad review that is at once intelligent and also incredibly egotistical to the point of being comedic. Another is just a long list of praise for the book. And I do mean long. (It’s also one of the spotlight reviews, which I find highly suspect) The last is a note to Amazon – which he claims he didn’t want published, yet submitted it as a review – that asks Amazon to remove the review because it is obviously a malicious attack on his book, unfounded, by someone who didn’t even read it. And they should take it down because Amazon is in the business of selling books, right? So they shouldn’t allow bad reviews on their site because it would discourage sales.

Around this time I joined a mailing list of people I knew from the OWW and other related spheres. One of our members asked the group if she could invite Ashok in. They’d met during a con and shared a publisher (possibly an editor?) and she felt he’d fit in with us. We said yes, and I giggled behind my hand a little since I had been a bit WTF about him just a few weeks before. At the time, no one read my blog, anyway. He certainly hadn’t. Life went on.

Remember a few years back when something went wrong with Amazon Canada’s code and all of the reviews that had been marked “Anonymous” suddenly revealed the actual names behind them? And it became apparent that authors and/or their friends were going about giving themselves or friends positive reviews? Yeah, we all had a good chuckle about that. But in the course of discussing this on the list, Ashok lamented the Amazon review system and its many faults. Just anyone can put up a review! They can give negative reviews! And they don’t even have to have read the book! If they put up a bad review, it’s probably because they haven’t read it, anyway. Don’t they want to sell books! How stupid!

At this point I thought he was going to bring up the little scuffle he had with that other reviewer, but instead he said something like: “There’s a reviewer called fluidartist who gave my book a bad review and he didn’t even read it. It’s ridiculous! And if you look at all his reviews, you’ll see they’re all negative He just goes around giving negative reviews for no reason.”

Take a look at the URL of this website (or the Permalink, if you’re on LJ). Yep, he was talking about MY review.

I sat there wide-eyed for a long time because, firstly, I didn’t think my review was that bad. Secondly, I was trying to decide if I should say anything or not. Because my email at the time (and some of my emails now) came from fluidartist.com. It’s right there in every message, every reply. But Ashok hadn’t noticed. Everyone else did, though. And no one commented about it, on list. The thread just died.

I asked some of the others if I should say anything, but everyone told me it wasn’t worth bringing up if he hadn’t noticed. So, I didn’t. To this day I have no clue if he ever connected the two. No big reason for him to do so, as we weren’t close or friends or anything. Still.

It was just very strange to see how angry he was about what I considered a not all that horrid review. Certainly I’ve written worse. (Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon is still bleeding on the bookshelf, as is Master of None.) It left me feeling like authors need to have a thick skin. Not so thick that they can’t learn, improve, and admit to mistakes. But thick enough that random Amazon (or any other) reviews don’t send one over the edge.

I vowed never to be like that, if I could possibly help it. It’s also good to have role models in this regard. Though I suspect that Scalzi is not as level-headed, cool, calm, and collected about everything as he pretends to be, if he has nasty things to say about his negative reviews, he isn’t saying it on his blog. He hasn’t yet called me up to raise the pixel pitchfork in anyone’s general direction. In fact, most of the published authors of my acquaintance don’t do these horrid things. I respect them all the more for it. Sure, I know some people who are fakely aloof and passive aggressive about their negative reviews (“Oh, look at this bad review! Hahaha I don’t care. I REALLY DON’T CARE AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU BUT GO LOOK AND SEE HOW SILLY AND WRONG THEY ARE.”), but I try not to spend time around them.

More importantly, I try hard not to be them. Now, we’ll see how well I succeed when my first book comes out.