Another Rejection Letter? Here’s an Editor’s Point of View

You mean I have to do work for a PhD? Who would have thought?

The truth is, I’m enjoying my work for my doctorate, but it certainly is time consuming. I knew it would be, but crazy me I signed up anyway. I needed a new challenge, and this is it. I’m researching the teaching of writing (no great surprise there) and it’s fascinating. I’ll share some of my findings soon.

The new novel is coming along. Somehow I’m managing to steal a few moments here and there to scribble out a few words. Luckily for me season 5 of Downton Abbey is on so that’s giving me the inspiration I need to keep writing (yes, I live in America, and yes, I watch Carson and Lady Mary when they’re on in the U.K. If you ask nicely I’ll tell you how I do it). There will still be a new James and Sarah Wentworth story in 2015 for you Loving Husband Trilogy fans. I’m happy to say the box set of the trilogy is now officially an Amazon best seller, so thank you to everyone who helped put it there. The complete box set is still on sale for .99 cents at Amazon, BN, and Kobo.

It’s taking some time to learn how to juggle teaching full time, writing my papers and reading my assignments for school, and keeping up with everything else. I was talking to a friend at work the other day and she said, “You’re still smiling so that’s a good sign.” So there you go. I’m still smiling. While I’m busy working on my lastest doc assignment, known in polite company as a literature review, I thought I’d repost this oldie but goodie about those dreaded rejection letters and how, from an editor’s point of view, they’re really nothing personal.

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Contrary to popular belief, editors don’t find a sadistic satisfaction from sending out rejection letters. There is that one editor with a voodoo doll and a case of push pins, but that’s another post. Most editors are writers too, and we know there’s nothing like the prick of a rejection letter to pop the air from a writer’s bubble.

There have been times when I received too many rejections in a row and I couldn’t help but take them personally. Was it my storytelling? My habit of submitting acrostic poetry? Was my Aunt Ellie just wrong and I really don’t have a way with words? But then I became an editor, and I realized that decisions aren’t always about storytelling or talent.

Here’s the big secret that’s really no secret at all: most decisions are based on personal preference. There’s no complex system editors use to determine quality (think of the formula in the textbook meant to determine a poem’s value in Dead Poet’s Society). There’s no list of writers to accept or reject. It’s not about what MFA program you went to, or if you even have an MFA. Not everyone’s style is to everyone’s taste. That’s it. If we turn down a piece at Copperfield, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just not for us at that time.

At The Copperfield Review, we tend to have more literary, experimental tastes. I have great respect for Hemingway-esque simplicity, but it’s not the kind of work I’m drawn to publish. I love work that plays with, stretches, challenges the English language. We’re blessed to write in the English language. Truly. Our wealth of vocabulary, limitless possibilities for structure, and ability to be straightforward or lost in a stream of consciousness makes our language a vast artist’s toolbox to use to paint pictures in words.

Since Copperfield is a journal of historical fiction, we get a lot of submissions set in the same era—World War II and the Old West are two of the most popular. But because we receive so many stories set during the same time, we can’t publish them all. I know the consensus is that you should read literary journals to see if those journals have published pieces similar to the work you want to submit. Generally, that’s true. But let some time pass if you want to submit a story on exactly the same subject as one that’s just been published. If you see a story in Copperfield about the American Civil War in our Spring edition, wait at least until Autumn before you send in your Gettysburg tale. We’re open to it, just not so soon.

Once we received twenty World War II submissions for the same edition. No joke. There was nothing particularly wrong with any of the stories, but we couldn’t publish twenty stories on the same subject. We rejected eighteen of them, most of which might have been published if they had been sent at another time.

Which brings us to the million dollar question: how can you know exactly when to submit your work? Unfortunately, you can’t. Sometimes journals ask for specific types of submissions for certain editions, but otherwise timing can be the luck of the draw. There is an element of luck involved in sending your work to the right publisher at the right time. But the more research you do, and the more you submit, the more opportunities you have to turn the tides of timing in your favor.

I know the form letter rejections aren’t very helpful for writers, but they’re a necessary evil due to the number of submissions most journals receive. Just remember, the next time you receive one, it’s not about your talent. It’s about the editors, their personal tastes for the type of writing they prefer, and the type of stories they’re looking to publish at the time.

Advice On How To Be Happy

I was standing in Starbucks yesterday morning when I saw this list from author Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) hanging from the community board.  I think his advice is as appropriate today as it was over a hundred years ago. I’ve been pretty busy lately and I haven’t had time to slow down, so reading this was a good reminder of what’s really important. Enjoy.

1. Make up your mind to be happy. Learn to find pleasure in simple things.

 2. Make the best of your circumstances. No one has everything, and everyone has something of sorrow intermingled with gladness of life. The trick is to make the laughter outweigh the tears.

3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t think that somehow you should be protected from misfortune that befalls other people.

4. You can’t please everybody. Don’t let criticism worry you.

5. Don’t let your neighbor set your standards. Be yourself.

6. Do the things you enjoy doing but stay out of debt.

7. Never borrow trouble. Imaginary things are harder to bear than real ones.

8. Since hate poisons the soul, do not cherish jealousy, enmity, grudges. Avoid people who make you unhappy.

9. Have many interests. If you can’t travel, read about new places.

10. Don’t hold post-mortems. Don’t spend your time brooding over sorrows or mistakes. Don’t be one who never gets over things.

11. Do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself.

12. Keep busy at something. A busy person never has time to be unhappy.

Read more:

Which Authors Have Influenced You the Most? Here’s My List.

I was asked by Prism Book Alliance to name the top ten authors I admire. Sounds simple, right? Yet I found it wasn’t that easy for me to narrow down the list since I’ve been influenced and inspired by so many authors over my lifetime. Dickens is listed at number one–no great surprise there–though the others aren’t in any particular order. I’m not sure there are any surprises here except for perhaps the poets–Whitman and cummings–though anyone who has read any of my fiction can see the Whitman influence in my prose (and in my choice of titles). Here are the top ten authors who have influenced my writing. Of course, the list could change tomorrow…David Copperfield

  1. Charles Dickens. I do what I do (write novels) because of the influence Dickens has had on me. I get my sense of the absurd and my social consciousness from him. I try to create stories that are worlds unto themselves because of him.
  2. Walt Whitman. The title for That You Are Here is from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I’ve written three or four books where I’ve paid tribute to Whitman in one form or another. I love his message about being honest about who you are and being true to yourself. I think I learned more about how to put words together to create an image from Whitman than from anyone else.
  1. Toni Morrison. I love her writing because of the poetry in her language. I try (and fail) to replicate that in my own writing. I think of myself as a frustrated poet who writes fiction. Bird by Bird
  1. Anne Lamott. She’s brutally honest in her writing and I admire that so much. I love her book about writing, Bird by Bird. I especially love her for introducing me to the phrase “shitty first drafts,” which I clutch close to my heart whenever I’m writing a shitty first draft.
  1. David Sedaris. No writer can make me laugh out loud like Sedaris. He’s wry and observant and I love his personal essays. I’ve read all of his books. He’s going to be here in Vegas and I already have my tickets.
  1. e.e. cummings. He taught me that it’s okay to break the rules, even the grammar rules, as long as you maintain control of the language.
  1. Natalie Goldberg. Her book Writing Down the Bones was life changing for me. I discovered that it’s okay to write for the love of writing, and that becoming a writer is a process that occurs over many years.
  1. Jane Austen. She’s a great example that the ladies are just as observant, insightful, and funny as the men. Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favorite novels.
  1. Hilary Mantel. I love writing historical fiction, and she’s a master. She does a great job of weaving the research into the story so that fact and fiction flow together. I love her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, and I can’t wait for the third book to come out.
  2. Brokeback MountainAnnie Proulx. I read Brokeback Mountain before I started writing That You Are Here, and I’m so glad I did. I love the literary quality to the story, and I love how it focuses on the love between the two men over the years, even if they weren’t able to acknowledge that it was love. That’s what I wanted to do with That You Are Here—I wanted to write a love story.

So here’s my list. I’d love to hear which authors have influenced you the most. I’m always fascinated by which authors have inspired others to become writers.

Here’s My Blog for The Huffington Post

The nice people at The Huffington Post were kind enough to publish my article on their Gay Voices page about why straight allies should be willing to speak out on behalf of LGBT issues. I added it here too in case you missed it. If you don’t agree, that’s fine. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m simply sharing my opinion on the matter. I felt like I needed to have my say on the issue, which is why I wrote my novel That You Are Here in the first place. Here’s the link to the article on The Huffington Post’s website. If you have a moment, stop on by the page and share your thoughts on the matter. What’s cool is that now I’m a blogger for The Huffington Post – I have an official blogger’s account and everything.

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An FYI: If you agree with anything anyone on Duck Dynasty has ever said, you will not like this post. If, however, you believe that all human beings are in fact human beings, and that all human beings fall in love, then by all means proceed.

We don’t have to go very far to find examples of those who fight against same-sex marriage with every ounce of energy they have. Politicians, religious organizations, and ordinary citizens can be loud in their opposition to same-sex marriage. Despite this backlash, there has been an increased public acceptance of same-sex marriage, due in no small part to the courage of many in the LGBT community. When you know that your neighbor, your friend, your teacher, your favorite actor, or your favorite musician is gay, suddenly gay people aren’t so different — you realize they’re regular people who do their jobs and fall in love and live their lives like everyone else.

Yet for many there’s still an us-vs.-them attitude toward LGBT issues. “That’s their problem,” many say, or, “That doesn’t affect me.” Or, worse, many just ignore the issue completely. Here’s a post from Unabridged Andra’s blog where she talks about parents not saying much, if anything, to their children about marriage equality. She has a column on her blog called “LGBT Tuesdays” where she works to bring understanding of LGBT issues. What Andra is doing is wonderful, and there should be even more openness toward LGBT issues, especially from those of us who are straight allies.

Like Andra, I’m not a parent, but I was a classroom teacher for over 15 years, and I’ve seen how children are coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender at younger ages. The more we can do to let these young people know that they are accepted and appreciated, and the more we can help them feel like they are an integral part of society, the easier it will be for them to grow into complete, productive adults. If LGBT allies don’t speak out when we see bullying taking place, if we don’t speak up when we hear derogatory comments about LGBT people, if we don’t add our voices when the need arises, then we will continue with a culture of bullying, depressed children, and struggling adults.

I’ve seen documentaries about the Freedom Riders, the brave men and women who fought for equal rights during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and I’m always amazed by the extraordinary lengths they went to — physically and emotionally — to help their cause. I often wonder if I would have that kind of physical courage to help support a cause I believe in. Let me rephrase that: I know for a fact I don’t have that kind of physical courage. But I’ve seen friends struggle with marriage inequality, and I’ve heard their stories about legal issues that can arise because the partners weren’t legally married, and I decided I didn’t want to be a silent voice. I wanted to have my say. But why, you may ask, does a straight woman care about gay marriage? I care for many reasons. I care because my friends should be able to live their best lives without being penalized for who they are. I care because the laws of this country should reflect the rights of all its citizens. And I care because as a classroom teacher I saw too many young people ostracized and bullied because of their sexual orientation.

The late and very great Maya Angelou often said that we are more alike than we are different, and the older I get the more I know that’s true. Once we learn to see the stories of LGBT people not as “their” story but as human stories, then we can see that we are interconnected and our struggles are universal. After all, all people have to learn to feel comfortable in their own skin. We all have parts of ourselves that we need to come to terms with and accept, whether we’re gay or straight. Everyone needs to find their own path in the world, and everyone falls in love. Once we recognize that same-sex marriage isn’t about being gay or lesbian but about being human and wanting to do human things like get married and have a family, then we can see that what we’re really fighting for is everyone’s right to live their best lives.

My point isn’t about trying to change the minds of those who are stubbornly against gay marriage. I’m not naive enough to think that any amount of arguing or finger pointing will prompt anyone to think differently about this important issue. My point is that those of us who are on the side of same-sex marriage should feel comfortable speaking about it. We should be ready to share our views, not with the intention of confrontation but with the intention of being comfortable saying “I’m for same-sex marriage” so that others do not control the conversation. If people against same-sex marriage have no problem speaking their minds, then neither should people on the side of same-sex marriage. The more people who speak out, and the more positive voices that are heard, the more accepted same-sex marriage becomes, and the sooner same-sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states. Yes, more states are allowing same-sex marriage every day, but there are still obstacles to overcome. Sharing our positive voices will help.

Thank you, Robin Williams: A Lesson in Gratitude

dead-poets-society-quotes-1I’m writing and posting this quickly before I change my mind, so, as Anne Lamott said in her own post on the same subject, this isn’t going to be proofread to perfection. I don’t usually comment on the passing of famous people since I’m not sure what I can add that someone more articulate than I am hasn’t already said, yet I find I can’t let the passing of Robin Williams go without saying at least a few words.

I’m going to date myself here—in fact, I’ll give you a precise date: I’ll be 45 in 17 days on August 30. I was a kid in the 1970s when Robin Williams first appeared on TV screens as Mork, first on Happy Days and then on Mork and Mindy. I was infatuated with Robin from the very beginning. I had my Mork and Mindy lunchbox, and I even had my own Mork from Ork rainbow colored suspenders. (Yes, I still have a photo where I’m wearing them. No, I won’t show it to you.) I listened to his comedy album Reality, What a Concept too many times to count. I could probably still do some of his skits from that show if I set my mind to it. As I grew, Robin Williams did too.

I was two years into my university studies in 1989 when Dead Poet’s Society was released. Two years into college I still didn’t have a major. I was one of those people who wanted to study everything, and in that time I had been a psychology major, a liberal studies major, and a history major. I’ve always loved books, and by college I knew I had some skill as a writer, but Dead Poet’s Society gave me a direction. A matter of days after I saw the movie I changed my major to English and never looked back. I became an English teacher, and though the John Keating moments become fewer as the years pass and society changes, I never stop trying to achieve them. I have my “Seize the Day” rock and a picture of “Uncle” Walt on my classroom wall. The title for my latest novel, That You Are Here, comes from a segment of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that Williams quotes in Dead Poet’s Society: “That you are here, that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.” Over the years, I loved watching Williams continue to grow as an actor and a comedian.

As a writer with dreams for my career, I find I keep learning the same lesson over again—to be grateful for what I have right now, in this moment. We always think that when we get to some certain place or when we have some particular success we’ll be happy. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. When I sell x many books, or when I make y amount of money, or when I have this amount of recognition, or when I win that award, or when my books become films then I’ll be happy. But how many examples have we seen over the years of those who had all the success in the world and still struggled? Because you know what? It doesn’t matter. If you’re not content within yourself no amount of success matters. Success in itself can’t make you happy.

Normally, when I’m writing I have some point I’m trying to make, and to be honest I’m not exactly sure what I’m saying here except that I know I should be thankful for what I have. I know I have a lot to be grateful for. Waiting for a certain event to be happy, thinking that everything will fall into place when I have this one thing—whatever that thing is—isn’t good enough because nothing in itself can bring happiness. In an odd way, I think that’s what I’ve been trying to say in my posts all summer about being an indie author on my own terms. Success isn’t about numbers or rankings or awards. It’s about being true to yourself and doing your thing and living your life in a way so you feel good about yourself along the journey.  

So, yes, I have a lot to be thankful for. Mainly, right now I’m thankful because I was around at the same time as Robin Williams and I had so many belly laughs because of him.

Thank you for everything, Robin Williams. I know you’re making God laugh right now.