Tag Archives: Me

A Few More Rejection Slips

To continue the thread from Friday’s post: I didn’t give up submitting my science fiction stories to professional magazines after my first rejection for “The Laws of Chaos.” I had completely forgotten about that story until I dug out my old story file on Thursday night. I haven’t had the guts to read it, but even without reviewing my likely abominable teenage writing, I can tell you why it was, and should have been, rejected: the ending reveals that it was all a dream, a horrible, horrible dream. In other words, it was all a cliche, a horrible, horrible cliche.

You may find this hard to believe, but when I resubmitted it to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Gardner Dozois rejected it, too. Shocking, really.

But I was persistent. Just for example, on October 29, 1985, IASFM rejected “Democracy”:

iasfm-10291985-3.jpg

I thought it was particularly kind that Mr. Dozois did not add “In your case, it was all of the above.” That would have been wrong, of course; my spelling, even in high school, has always been pretty good (unlike my handwriting).

The hits just kept on coming, but really, what did it cost me? Some paper (which I “borrowed” from my parents, anyway), but not much, because my stories were always very short, because (1) I had read that shorter stories were easier to sell, and (2) I had a very short attention span. The cost of envelopes and postage. Some stories I sent in cheap plastic report covers, because I thought it made them look more professional.

The only real cost was my time, and I didn’t count that, because I would have been writing anyway. I could have written more, I suppose, but I had the usual high school student distractions: friends, girls, a demanding after-school job at a local newspaper, and writing for an underground high school zine loosely modeled after The Weekly World News. So when it came to fiction writing, I was productive, but not prolific.

I kept writing in college, but I definitely slowed down. I moved to a new city (Chicago), had much harder classes which I occasionally had to attend, fell into theater and later the newspaper, and met the future Mrs. Unfocused (then known as Unfocused Girlfriend). I still wrote, on a little electric typewriter/primitive word processor, with a two-line screen and a 2K memory, which meant I could type for about two pages before I had to print, instead of my father’s old Royal. I still sent the stories off, but not nearly as often as in high school.

Apparently, this was no great loss to the science fiction publishing world. From my freshman year, here’s a January 14, 1988 rejection from Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact for a story called “Exposure”:

ASF 01141988

The IASFM and ASF rejection slips acted as FAQs for authors. Why was my story rejected? What can I do to improve my story and my chances of getting published in your magazine? Every time I received one of these forms, I reread it as if it would tell me something new. I did try, I think, to follow the advice contained in the rejections. I was young, undisciplined, and, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “Lord help me, I’m just not that bright.” I’m perfectly capable of making the same mistakes over and over again.

I think the biggest problem with my writing in high school and college (aside from a lack of an original plot, sympathetic characters, or interesting dialogue) was that I refused to even consider editing a story once I finished it. I had read that Robert Heinlein never rewrote anything (Robert J. Sawyer lists this as Heinlein’s Third Rule of Writing: “You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order”). Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that I have read a lot of Robert Heinlein novels and stories, I feel like I know Robert Heinlein, and I am no Robert Heinlein. If 13 years of drafting briefs, motions, and nastygrams has taught me anything, it is that for me, rewriting is not just a good idea, it’s the law.

But I didn’t know that then. In the next day or two, I’ll post my last rejection slips.

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About Me: in which I begin yet another project with no clear way to finish

Husband (married my college sweetheart years ago).

Father (two great kids).

Lawyer (that’s what it says on the business cards).

Runner (when I can get my sorry butt out of bed early enough, or break out of work long enough to head for the gym).

Writer? Not lately.

It has been a long time since I wrote anything for pleasure. I write all the time for clients — briefs, memos, complaints, settlement agreements, nastygrams (wait — I’m going to see if anyone has registered nastygram.com … it is, and it’s a porn site, as I should have expected — when I say nastygram, I mean an aggressive, snarky letter to opposing counsel), etc. But nothing that I felt compelled to write for my own reasons. Nothing, frankly, that I didn’t know in advance that I would get paid for.

When I was in high school, I was the first one of my friends to get a rejection slip. I probably have a dozen or more in a box somewhere, from Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I collected a few more while I was in college, although I slowed down my fiction output and focused on acting and my column for the student newspaper.

I wrote a little more during law school: 75 pages of a coming of age novel (with, I must say, a really good mugging scene, but nothing much else worth salvaging), and a few humor pieces for the law school newspaper at my first law school.

No, I didn’t get kicked out. I transferred. The future Mrs. Unfocused was still living in Chicago, and I wanted to come back before she found someone more focused.

That was it, though. I’ve jotted down some story ideas since, and somewhere in the study there’s a spiral notebook with 20 handwritten pages of a comic science fiction story (or novel) that I started maybe four years ago, but otherwise, nothing.

Between the age of 11 and the beginning of law school, the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a writer or journalist. Even as I started law school, I thought I would keep writing and end up with that as my real career.

I surprised myself (and everyone who knew me, except, I think, my mother) by actually enjoying law school. I got to spend three years reading about other people’s problems and arguing with a bunch of really smart people — what’s not to like? I also found — again, to general disbelief — that I liked, and continue to like, being a lawyer. I like solving problems, and I like a job where there are winners and losers. Not every day, not all the time, but far more often than not.

So I like my career, and I’ve had some success with it — nothing that’s made the papers, but I’m doing alright.

But.

It’s time to start writing again. I need to put words on a page for no better reason than that I want to put them there, that it pleases me to do it. This blog is my way of getting started.

It is 10.5 months until the start of the next NaNoWriMo — by November 1, 2008, I want to be in a mental space where I am ready to participate. Before then, I plan to write one professional article that I have been thinking about but putting off for months, and to complete the first draft of one of the short stories I have notes on. In the meantime, I plan to use this blog to push my self to write something — anything — a few times a week, to practice writing in my non-lawyer voice again.

That’s it for now. More tomorrow.