Giving Props for My SC Acceptance

USC's PhD program for literature + creative writing is badass. It's so rad, in fact, that it makes me dizzy. On the fiction side (my side), you've got TC Boyle, Aimee Bender, Percival Everrett + Marianne Wiggins. On the poetry side you've got David St. John, Mark Irwin + Carol Muske-Dukes. USC's PhD program is basically artistic vertigo. But I digress.

After screaming out loud + crying in my girlfriend's neck, the first thing I did was write the people that helped me get into USC. You have to do that, thanking not just the creater/universe/whatever configuration you're into frankly for the privilege of being able to write, read + evolve, but also thanking all the people that helped you achieve that. These are people that pushed your potential art into kinetic art. They used their own energy to nurture and guide your writing.

So, I wrote letters to Valerie Sayers, my thesis adviser and friend from Notre Dame, and thanked her for guidance, widsom + perspective (after all, she helped me decide which writing sample to submit, not to mention she was the person who introduced me for my Sparks Reading, and called to accept me back in the spring of 2005, officially creating space for me in this world to be a writer). Then I wrote William O'Rourke and thanked him for accepting my conceptual story in the NDR, and for his help as an old skool critic. Apropos, he wrote one of the most flattering rec's I've ever read. Then, I wrote Steve Tomasula and thanked him for his mind, for his literary deviance, and above all, for his support, intelligence + enthusiasm. He told me he made we walk on water in his rec., and damn I needed a little Jesus in my application. I also wrote my friend and mentor, Jim Dorsey at Dartmouth College, who was a visiting professor at Yale for one of my classes when I was working on my first M.A. there. He has written no less than 10 rec.'s for me over the course of 10 years for a million different programs (and half-baked aspirations) at a long-list of schools (PhD, MFA), supporting me when I considered going straight academic (Berkeley, Stanford, U Dub), straight fine arts (Notre Dame + Indiana U), and now, a perfect hybrid of the two (SC + FSU).

Finally, I wrote Julianna Baggott, the assistant director at FSU. I know this year didn't have a normal fiscal pulse for Florida State, and I didn't want her to feel bad about not being able to accept me like she may have in a normal year. I know she respects me as a writer and likes me as a person, and had hoped that FSU financial situation would improve. It didn't, they accepted 2 fiction PhD's instead of 5-6, and that's not her fault. Anyway, here is the letter I wrote her:

Hey Julianna,

I'm sorry things didn't work out. Sort of feels like we broke up before we dated or something. . . Even so, I just wanted you to know that I really appreciated your support, honesty + compassion. I know you only had so much control over your budget, and the FL legislature, and that in another year things probably would have ended differently.

Even so, because I know you feel a little guilty about l'affaire FSU, even though it's clearly not your fault, or anyone else's for that matter, I thought it might assuage things a little bit to let you know that things ended up great for me anyway. I got into USC's PhD program for Lit + CW (fiction, obviously) and I'll be working with some cool writers (not to mention, I'll be an hour away from my mamma), so don't worry about me. I'm cool. And more importantly, happy I got to know you a little bit during this whole process.

I'm looking forward to running into you at a conference/residence in the future. Thanks again for the way you handled things and the grace with which you did them, and stay in touch.

Peace, Blessings,


And here is her response:

USC is a great program! and personally i'd love to be only an hour from family. thanks so much for the updates. i don't consider us broken up! i'd love to hear what you're doing from time to time, if you don't mind jotting me little notes. i know you're going to have a long and splendid career! it'd be a pleasure to watch it unfold -- even from afar.

all my best,


Accepted in USC's PhD Program in Literature + Creative Writing!

Two minutes ago, I got my acceptance letter today from (U)SC, and the first thing I did was hug my girlfriend and cry. Maybe it's the latent latino in me, maybe it was holding in four months of tension + uncertainty, but my god, I had to let out all that emotion somehow. At the very end, USC came through for me, and so did March. Ahumdulila. Seriously, that's my only response: Ahumdulila. Dear universe, buddhas, god, nature, whatever and wherever you are, thank you. I'd like to give props to the creator for this. I'm humbled and moved. I promise not to waste this enormous privilege.

Good (Generic) Rejection from Columbia

Dear Jackson Bliss:

Thank you for sending us your work.

Unfortunately this particular manuscript was not the right fit for Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, but we were very impressed by your writing. We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else.

We look forward to reading more.


The Editors of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art

From Wait List to Rejected List at FSU

Here's the gracious rejection email that Julianna Baggott at FSU sent me, one of the final emails in a series of conversations we had:


It's a combination. We usually overbook, meaning we usually accept more people than we actually expect to accept. We're trying to hit a target -- if we go over, well, we go over. But this year there was no margin to go over. At all. We could only accept as many as we had spots for. So it was tighter than usual. And then I was told one fewer and other wrenches. We had to wait. And wait. And now more folks -- from that tight offer batch -- have said yes than expected. So that's where we are.

The top seven-ten in both the PhD and MFA file in fiction, I felt like I would be honored to teach any of those students. Honored. The work was really stunning. Yours included. From there, it's a group decision. And it was painful for all of us. The work was really strong -- and varied. And the decision-making was so hard. You are hugely talented. You'll do great things. And I don't say any of this to make this easier.
All my best,

Good Rejection from Kyoto Journal

Dear Mr. Bliss--thank you for sending [ ] in your recent email. Unfortunately, it's not right for Kyoto Journal, but we're sure you'll have luck placing it, and we wish you the best with your writing.

If you're interested in publishing elsewhere in Japan, you might try Yominono, edited by Suzanne Kamata. I think this story might work there.

Once again, thank you for thinking of us.


Leza Lowitz

FC2 Rejects Defiance of Objects

Dear Jackson,

Thank you for submitting The Defiance of Objects to FC2 for consideration, and for the time and effort you put into composing your manuscript. After much deliberation and careful consideration, I’m very sorry to say that FC2 has decided to pass on it.

FC2’s mission has been and remains to publish books of high quality and exceptional ambition whose style, subject matter, or form push the limits of American publishing. FC2 prides itself on being open to new-to-FC2 and/or previously unpublished authors. However, out of the over 300 submissions we receive annually, we are able to publish only six books per year and therefore must be very selective.

Thank you once again for your interest in Fiction Collective Two.


Carmen Edington
Managing Editor, FC2
University of Houston-Victoria

1st Story Accepted in 2009

I've been actively lobbying to get one of my stories published in the Notre Dame Review, pretty much since the first day I started my MFA at Notre Dame back in 2005. Even before I got into the program, I'd respected the Notre Dame Review for many years now. I think it's one of the top 20-30 literary journals. But the problem was that I just couldn't get a story accepted there and fuck, I had a connection this time. It secretly delighted me in a strange kind of way that I kept getting denied because I realized that William, the Senior Editor, was pretty damn objective and wouldn't sacrifice his standards to help former sutdents. This is a good thing, I think.

Of course William doesn't accept submissions of current students, that I understood then, but I still tried anyway cuz I'm like that. But today, after rejecting five other pieces of mine that spawns four years, starting with the AWP contests in 2005 and 2006, and then several short stories that I'd sent him since I graduated back in 2007, William finally accepted my piece "City of Sand." It's one of my
favorite, more conceptual and older stories. It's about a letter that travels from Mali to Paris, New York and finally, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, and all the different people it affects along the way. I originally wrote this story in the first workshop I ever took (in my life) at Portland State University, back in 2002, and I've revised it probably fifty times since then.

So, I finally have my first publication for 2009. And it only took me four years to get it! But yo, I'm not complaining. It's all about little steps, and this is my first one of 2009 Mashallah.

Good Rejection from Leslie Kaufmann

Dear Jackson,

Thank you for thinking of me and Kneerim & Williams and allowing me the chance to read your work. I read your submission with interest and found much to admire here, but unfortunately decided that this project isn't right for me. I'm so sorry not to have better news, but feel it's better for me to step aside for someone who can truly champion this book!

I wish you the very best of luck finding an agent who is enthusiastic about this and look forward to seeing your name on a bookshelf soon.

All best,


Fiction Editor from Identity Theory Writes Back

Hi Jackson,

Matt Borondy came upon your Blue Mosaic Me post about Identity Theory not responding particularly fast (or at all) to some submissions, and first, my apologies. I went back through our Gmail account and for whatever reason we've been especially bad getting back to you.

I've been the fiction editor for a few years now, and in that time our system for reading submissions has changed quite a bit. It started off with me and one other editor--I would do the first read, he would look at ones I liked, and I'd handle all the correspondence. Then, while I was having a grand old time with Hodgkin's in 2007/8, our submission rate mysteriously doubled (you weren't the only one at that point to not receive prompt replies, for sure). So last year we brought on more assistant editors, which has been great for staying on top of submissions but not ideal for consistency. So, yes, at this point we do resort to form emails in many cases, and I've reminded my colleagues that at the very least, during those busier weeks, we have to acknowledge every writer by name and the title of their piece.

It's not ideal. Three years ago, when we got far fewer pieces, I used to write detailed feedback on every single one. But with more submissions and a much worse signal-to-noise ratio, we have to use a more traditional, slightly less personal system. It shouldn't result in pieces getting ignored or our responses sounding completely copy-and-pasted, of course. But it just reminds me of when I had a temp job for a few months at Harvard's rare books library, sorting through twenty years (~1928-1948) of correspondence between The Nation and prospective writers. The same writer would get the same hand-typed, one-line rejection dozens of times. No greeting, just "Thank you for thinking of The Nation but we cannot use your submission."


Andrew Whitacre


And my response:


I appreciate you taking the time to respond, especially to my sad literary blog that's basically a catharsis pretending to be a literary fiction blog. When I was reading for the Notre Dame Review, and interning at Hachette Books USA, I saw the avalanche of submissions arriving in little storms. Everything was always behind schedule, no matter how on top of it editors were or what venue it was. And I know that editors at IT get paid nothing or almost nothing, so I'm sympathetic to your situation. It's ironic in a way, the more successful you become as a journal, the more work you have to do. I guess that's the price of publishing something that matters to people.

Anyway, gambatte with the Hodgkin's. And thanks again for writing. It was gracious of you, and totally unexpected.

Peace, Blessings,

--Jackson Bliss

Why I Won't Submit to Identity Theory Anymore

Not right for us, sorry -- but thanks for thinking of us, and apologies for the delayed response, James Warner

I waited almost 8 months for this? You've got to be joking.

My problem with Identity Theory, even though I think it's a good journal, is that:

1. It always takes them 7-12 months before I hear from the fiction department, and only after I send them an email pestering them, which means they're not making a habit of responding to submissions, which is absolutely lame

2. The stories I read in their magazine are never better than the ones I submit, just different. Often, they seem to value hipness over literary merit

3. Really, I could forgive all the above two points if James Warner had just written my name in the email. My name is not not right for us

So, as Howard Junker says in his rejection letters, onward!

Good Rejection from New South

Dear Mr. Bliss-

My name is Peter Fontaine and I am the prose editor for New South. I'm writing in regards to your electronic submission of [ ] to our publication. While I enjoyed the humor and some of the more interesting elements of the story, we can't place it right now for our journal. Thank you for taking the time to submit and for your patience as we read and deliberated over your story. Good luck placing [ ] elsewhere, and please think of us again when you are sending out new fiction.

Slightly Obnoxious Rejection from Fence

Dear Jackson Bliss:

Thank you for sending us [ ]. We appreciated the chance to consider it, but it didn't work for Fence.


The Editors of Fence

And that my friends, is how not to write a form letter rejecting a story through email, especially after 10 months. To add to the frustration, everytime I sit down a read story from Fence, I always like (sometimes quite a lot), but I'm never blown away. And my story [ ] will blow your shit up. Their loss.

The Waiting Game

Everything in the literary world is behind schedule: that short story I submitted a year and a half ago to Zoetrope, the literary agents that placed my manuscript in the sludge pile after telling me they'll read my partial, one of my stories I gave William O'Rourke to publish in the Notre Dame Review more than a year ago, the Kenyon Review's online version of my short story "Cowboys of the Heart: the 6-DVD Boxset", Stand Magazine's Winter issue that "Nimble Calligraphy" will be published in + of course, the 2 PhD programs I applied to, none of which have responded yet. I expect some uncertainty + delay. Actually, a lot. But I what I don't expect, is uncertainty + waiting across the board.

My bad.

New Yorker Finally Rejects Story (after a Year and a Half)

Hi Jackson,

Did I never respond to your story? My god, if so, I apologize. There's some sharp writing within, a very nice handle on the voice, but ultimately we didn't think it was quite right for us. Do feel free to try us again and good luck finding a home for this. We appreciate your giving us the opportunity to consider it.


Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
The New Yorker
Fiction Department

The Hudson Review Finally Responds. . . 17 Months Later

I waited seventeen months so The Hudson Review could tell me about their next submission period was. Bizarre. Thank guys, but what I really wanted to know is what happened to my manuscript [ ]. The funny thing is that despite how gracious this email is, it doesn't actually tell me anything.

Dear Mr. Bliss,

We realized recently that your fiction inquiry did not receive a timely response, and we regret that you are only hearing from us now. Your story should have been returned to you, but if not, it could indicate that we never received it. Our next fiction reading period is from September 1 to November 30 2009, and our response should normally take three months. Thank you for your interest in The Hudson Review

The Editors


The Hudson Review


684 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10065

(212) 650-0020

Katherine Fausset Finally Responds

Dear Mr. Bliss,

I have someone who helps me with the enormous number of queries and manuscripts I receive. He has just alerted me to your recent emails and tells me that we replied back to you some time ago. But perhaps our response did not arrive, or there was a mistake on our end. I do not know. I am very sorry, however, that you have been waiting seven months for a reply. Do you have your manuscript available to send as an email attachment? If so I will make it a priority and will get back to you immediately. Again, please accept my sincerest apologies.

--Katherine Fausset