The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, September 01, 2008

Submission Mode

I’ve come to realize something interesting about the stories I’ve written, and the stories I have yet to write. They are not all the same. I know. I know. There’s a word for this kind of observation. Forget about that.

Some are too visceral, designed to hurt, it seems, cause the most damage possible. These are written during times of let’s see if we can turn things upside for the however long this moment will last. Pick a subject. Subjects are always there, still, you’ve got to pick one so you choose the music that’ll feed this monster -- some Mettalica! – it’s just as bad out here as it is in here. Without much further prodding, a couple beers might be nice, you find yourself transformed, fingers like claws. These stories aren’t so easy to publish, especially if you’ve allowed yourself to be carried away by that monster who thinks anger and rage, fear and loathing, vengeance and a sense the time for reckoning is now, now, now, fooled by that monster into believing that lashing out will bring you closer to your humanity, closer to the core, the heart of the story. Thankfully, these disturbed responses to whatever is going on and weighing you down usually get rewritten; the story trapped somewhere inside lovingly extracted. These angry scribbles should never be published as is, filed away, instead, by a therapist who has seen it all before.

Still some other stories are too nice. No gun play. No sex. No bad language – no lone fuck-word carefully centered on the page for literary merit. These stories, too, are difficult to publish. Who would want them anyway? They were written while the writer was feeling soft, spongy, soaking up the pain of the world, feeding off that pain because it’s that pain brings you closer to your humanity, a false-ish sense that there’s a spirituality to be had at the end of all the weeping. No pain, no gain. Blah. No one wants these stories. They aren’t exciting enough. These are the stories like the portraits of forgotten relatives we keep in heirloom frames. There’s definitely a story and some understanding there, but no one cares anymore, or cares to remember since the relative was from another era. We're detached. Something's missing. An immediacy, something fresh like an open wound. But I don’t give up so easily on these pieces, though it’s disheartening having to see them blur by as I’m searching for something else, something with more pull. These are fillers for your eventual short story collection, as are the next category.

When I was building stuff, I’d always work off a drawing. I’d sketch the framing, counting the screws and nails I'd need, figuring out all the angles. If the drawing was good, I’d burn it into my memory and build from the picture in my head, already confident the construction would be sound. Some stories are like that. They begin with a good idea, a simple framework, a general knowledge of how thing'll turn out, even before the first word is written. These are big-time fillers for a story collection. They leave the reader feeling like they’ve just brushed their teeth. Strangely enough, I find these difficult to publish as well.

The last category is the best, a gift, its stories the easiest to publish, but the hardest to write. These stories are the most satisfying, the payoff immense. These stories give back. These stories are like us in our lifetime, covered in scars and wrinkles and blotches by the end, unsightly under a magnifying glass, maybe, but absolutely gorgeous if arranged on a canvas stretched across our old friend, who tends to slip away from us. There’s sadness in these stories, anger, love, joy, despair. We hope the reader will find something of interest, and they should, because we’ve been honest in laying down these bones. The anger, the joy, the love, all of it surprising, especially to the writer. They're the gift that leaves the writer weak-kneed, humbled and grateful.

So what to do with these categories? Couldn't we just skip the first three and just shoot for the last one? I wish, but I actually don't believe we'd ever get there if we didn't experience the whole range of our output. We need those filler stories. They make the journey.

(Can you tell I’ve been trying to clear my deck of unpublished stories?)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear ya brother. Variety is the spice of life as well as in literature.

Mon Sep 01, 01:21:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Rosie said...

I hit 200 submissions for the year yesterday. 16 of those that were accepted and I'm considered ahead of the game. I'm not very good at judging my work though--it ends up going to the wrong places all the time.

Mon Sep 01, 06:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Thank you for hearing me, anonymous.

Heya, Rosie! 200 submissions? Wow! But an even greater wow is that you've had 16 acceptances so far this year. Not too shabby, if you ask me. Takes a lot of work, and you've proven you're willing to do it. Awesome!

Mon Sep 01, 07:08:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger E.P. Chiew said...

I liked reading this, Tony. I write too many stories that "soak up the pain of the world", and you're right, they are far too spongy. No wonder no one wants them.

Tue Sep 02, 04:30:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Very thoughtful, Tony. Some stories serve their purpose just by letting us write them. I found it hard at first to give up on the diea that some of my stories wouldn't be published, but I've let them go, now.

Tue Sep 02, 09:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Hi, Elaine. Thanks for reading. I love what Tricia says below:Some stories serve their purpose by letting us write them. Not bad, eh?

Wed Sep 03, 10:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Ugh...I haven't even submitted anything in at least a year.

Plus side = no rejections!

Nice post, Tony.

Thu Sep 04, 01:25:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Great post, Tony. It's disheartening sometimes when you come across a story and realise it is not going to go anywhere, that there's no reason to submit it. So many of those stories, too many, strewn throughout journals.

I like Tricia's point, also.

Thu Sep 04, 02:54:00 pm GMT-4  

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