The Spaces in Between

The period between March and June has always been, and will probably always be, a dramatic time in my life.  Most of the best (and also worst) news I've received is during this time frame.  For example:

1.  Winning the Sparks Prize

2.  Getting rejected from the JET program (for being too old)

3.  Getting accepted into SC's PhD program in Literature and Creative Writing

4.  Hearing back from all the tenure track jobs you applied to, where they gush about what an insanely large and especially talented pool of candidates there were, which made their job especially difficult

5.  Seeing my short story on Tin House's website

6.  Getting accepted in Notre Dame's MFA program

7.  Visiting Rome, Hong Kong, Macau, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Tokyo, and London

8. Finding out whether I'm getting (re)hired at UC Irvine after an exhaustive application process

9.  Getting married to LB, something I never thought I'd do and something I never wanted to do until we fell in love

This list could go on.  If we were at a café, this list would go on.  But the point is, shit always goes down this quarter.  Sometimes, it's bad.  Usually though, it's good.  But it's always crazy enlightening (and crazy dramatic too).  So, it's with immense curiosity (and slight trepidation) that I wait to hear the state of the world for me in 2016.  Stay tuned, people.  Shit could get crazy.


Taking A Break from Journal Submissions

Getting rejections from literary journals is no big thing anymore.  As an emerging fiction/nonfiction writer, you have to make your peace with rejections because you're gonna get a shitload of them.  There will be times when you'll get nothing but rejections for months and months and months.  More than you can possibly imagine.  One year, I got over a hundred rejections.  And what will fuck your idea of normalcy in this industry is that one day, one of your talented writing friends will get something picked up in a journal you've sent like a millions manuscripts to, and then you start to think:  shit, maybe it can happen.  Or:  well, why not me?  And writers need a certain among of unjustified faith to push through the inevitable rejection.  They need something to keep them moving forward when the evil voice inside their head says, "maybe there's a reason why you're not publishing anything.  Maybe you're just not good enough."  So, a certain amount of unjustified and unbridled faith can be fucking crucial in the biz.  Otherwise, we'd just give up.

I've published enough short stories and lyrical essays in enough legit literary journals and also received quite a lot of positive editorial feedback to know I'm certainly talented enough for this game.  But, for the past couple years, I've been struggling with a complex feeling of appreciation and exasperation with the good rejection standstill.  There are a bunch of journals, some of them very prestigious, that keep sending me good, sometimes even great rejections.  And I'm incredibly grateful for them.  I really am.  At the same time, while I used to think that eventually I could turn a good rejection from a great literary journal into an acceptance (as I did with Fiction), I'm now starting to feel like the good rejection has replaced the acceptance letter.  In other words, I'm starting to think that some editors are never gonna accept my shit, and the good rejection is actually a modern day consolation prize for the wall separating me from more famous authors with recognized agents.  I mean, good literary journals are only publishing 2-4 stories in any given issue anyway, most of them submitted by agents or solicited from the editor herself/himself.  The way the math works, some editors are simply never gonna publish you.  Ever.  And the rejection letter is as much a note of encouragement as it is a mea culpa for the stacked odds against you.

Maybe, that's cynical of me.  Maybe, I've got it all wrong.  But as it stands right now, I feel like I have to focus my energy of finding the right agent for my memoir and the right presses for my novels.  Nine years ago, I'd be ecstatic with my publication history.  Now, I'm like:  meh.  Not because I don't appreciate it, but because my best work hasn't even been published yet.  It hasn't even grazed the future readership it'll have someday once my books are all finally out there in the world, ready for public consumption.

Solicited Manuscript from Construction

I'm tempted by this email I got today to send David Plick, the editor, something, even though I generally shy away from online journals these days. Still, I'm flattered by the solicitation.

Dear Jackson Bliss,

You and I were published together in the last issue of Fiction (my piece was called, "The Right Words for a Eulogy"). Anyway, I read your story, "The Great Fall" and loved the energy--the language was alive, rhythmic, the narrative had a heartbeat, and I felt like I was taken somewhere. I used to tutor kids in Spanish Harlem and live in Washington Heights, but I always felt like an outsider. I wondered what it felt like to be a part of all that. I think it's an accomplishment to capture that world, and you did it not just with references, though they helped, but with the way you crafted your sentences and stayed close to Jean Boy's fascination with the whole thing.

I just launched the inaugural issue of my quarterly online magazine called Construction (we'll also do a "Best of" print edition annually) with a few peers from my MFA and would love it if you would submit something to us. Here's the site:

We're a cultural journal so we also publish interviews, political essays, book reviews, etc. If you have anything you're looking to place I'd love to take a look at it: a novel excerpt, memoir, or an essay, anything, please send it my way. The next issue would come out in late August/early September so if you could get me something in the next month or so that would be great.

Congrats on all your success. I hope to hear from you soon.

David Plick

My Second Solicited Email from a Literary Agent

Yo, what a great way to start my day with this email:

Dear Jackson Bliss:

I very much admired your story, “The Great Fall,” in Fiction and thought that you might enjoy hearing from a fan of your work who is also an established literary agent. I don’t know if you are even at that point in your writing to start exploring representation, but this story made me feel that you have the talent to write a publishable book

If you’re at work on a novel, one of my colleagues in the agency or I would be pleased to read the opening chapters. We can tell, with a brief synopsis (1-2 pages), and around fifty pages, if we are engaged by the material. If so, we’ll encourage you to keep going. If not, we’ll explain why. These days, many editors never read further than the opening chapter or two of most novels before rejecting them. That’s how overloaded we all are with reading material. You must grab our attention, early on, either with plot or characters.

If you are assembling a short story collection, or undertaking a non-fiction book, visit our agency website ( for our submission guidelines and suggestions. In the current market, publishers are unlikely to take on a short story collection unless the author can provide a novel to follow. If you do not have at least 50 pages of a novel ready, it’s worth waiting to put both book projects together, believe me. You may find our submission guidelines helpful whether we ultimately represent you or not. Or you may write us an email describing the book you are working on. We can then let you know, quickly, our response. Please indicate that I have read some of your work in that letter.

If you already have an agent, please excuse this approach, as our agency does not take on previously agented writers. If you are unagented and would like to discuss your writing before sending me anything, give us a call. The author/agent “chemistry” is vital in a long-term relationship. If you don’t have anything to send us at this time, hold onto this letter. My invitation to read more of your work is open-ended. Recently, we sold a first novel to Knopf by a writer I originally contacted ten years ago after reading his story in The Georgia Review.

Because we offer editorial work on all the projects we take on, at no additional fee to the writer, we do ask for one month exclusivity of your submission, but generally respond sooner. We do not send out form rejection letters on work submitted, but try to provide a fair evaluation of the work, including any editorial suggestions we may have.

Looking forward to reading more of your work.

Best wishes,

Nat Sobel

Sobel Weber Associates, Inc.
146 *** ********
New York, NY
212 ***-**** (phone)
212 ***-**** (fax)

A fan who is also a literary agent? How amazing is that shit? Now, the question is: Do I call him or do I send him an email or both?

Novel Chapter from The Amnesia of Junebugs Published in Fiction

There are few joys greater than seeing your shit in print. That's a rule + I'm sticking to it, man. So you can imagine how giddy I was today when I walked into the Hollywood Borders + there was my story featured in Fiction # 56, my name being the first name on the front cover. It was a pure, inexplicable + dirty little joy. Even better, I had the privilege of sharing journal space with one of my favorite Japanese authors, Murakami Ryū (author of Almost Transparent Blue, Coin Locker Babies, "Tokyo Decadence", among others). I may get 100 rejections this year (like last year). I may--shudder at the point--never publish BLANK in its current form. I may not become the literary superstar I secretly hope/believe I am. I may not ever become a household name--which writers are these days? I may not even get the privilege to live in relative obscurity, teaching fiction workshops to aspiring delusional writers inside pretty-looking college seminar rooms. Who the fuck knows how it all works anyway?

But what I do know, what I know for sure, is that this moment, this perfect little moment is mine. And though it can never last, I know that in this tiny moment, I just published a chapter from my first novel in an awesome literary journal that you can buy pretty much in almost any Borders in America. And that makes me wanna cry for all the years no one could find me.

3rd Story Accepted in 2009

I was at this café in Hollywood, waiting for my friend Emily (who is a fantastic writer and classmate of mine at SC) to come back from the bathroom, when I noticed that my iPhone had a new email. I opened it up and it said:

Dear Jackson,

I'm happy to let you know that your story "The Great Fall" has been accepted for publication with Fiction. When you have a moment, please acknowledge this email, and send a copy of the story as a pdf. Thank you, and congratulations,

Fiction Magazine? What? Seriously? "The Great Fall," in case you're wondering, is actually a self-contained chapter from my first novel The Amnesia of Junebugs

The truth is, I never saw this one coming. I think Fiction is one of the top 10 literary journals in the US, and not just because Donald Barthelme helped found it. Okay, partially because of that. Even so, I'm stunned. Sure, after sending them 2 experimental stories in 2008 that the two editors seemed to like, I began to send them a new story every 6-8 months, addressing my submissions specifically to them at their request. But, I never actually knew if I'd publish a story with them or not. This is fucking rad. I guess persistence does pay off. Let this be a moment of inspiration for all of us writers: don't give up + keep submitting your stories! Someday, it will get accepted.

Literary Journals

Here are the journals that have sent me rejections recently:

The Seattle Review
The Hudson Review
Kenyon Review

And yet, after collecting enough rejection slips to pad my entire apartment with, I feel good about my writing. Call it delusion.

Recent journals I've submitted to are:

One Story
Indiana Review
Our Stories
Double Room
The Missouri Review
Tin House
Mcsweeney's online
OV Book anthology
Quarterly West
Black Warrior Review
Iowa Review
Story Quarterly

Really, these journals are out of my league. not because of talent, but because i'm lucky if readers look at more than one paragraph, but that's fine because i believe in apprentissage. and i feel like things will work out, and when they do, and when they have, i appreciate it even more.