Protecting this Delicate Thing Called Hope

So much of writing for me is sitting my ass down and writing, even when I don't want to.  I have really good discipline.  I can write for fifteen hours straight sometimes, and then revise and edit for days and weeks afterwards.  The hardest part of writing I can do and have done since my first workshop back in 2002.  The other crucial part of writing for me involves psychological and emotional maintenance (aka self-care), which is just as important.  Normally, self-care for me means not only exercising, meditating, getting enough sleep, eating well, and going on dates with LB every week, but also ignoring my own negative thinking and putting myself out there again and again (even when it feels POINTLESS) and not getting discouraged (even when NOTHING is happening), which has been particularly difficult this summer. 

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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.

 

Good Rejection from the Missouri Review

Dear Jackson Bliss,

Sincere thanks for sending us " . . . " for consideration. Your work impressed the editorial staff with its unique blending of Spanish and English. Though not selected for publication, the piece makes us hope we'll see more of your writing in the near future.

Sincerely,

The Editors

Great Rejection from Lisa Bankoff

JB,

I feel history about to repeat itself. I'm remembering when I received a query years back from an unknown writer whose manuscript caught my attention. I knew he had something exciting going on but I didn't make an essential connection with the work-- didn't quite 'get' it. I told him the truth, he found an agent elsewhere, and has since had more than a few bestsellers. That unknown writer is Christopher Moore. 

With your book, I have that same certainty about its potential but also that same underlying disconnect. But I want to recommend a colleague who might be a good fit. His name is __________ and you can reach him at wouldntyouliketoknow@literaryagents.com. Tell him I sent you.

Good luck and all the best,
 
Lisa

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.

The Two Sentence Rejection

I almost never take rejections personally because they're a part of my profession, shitty and depressing as that is.  And I wasn't offended by this lame rejection either because like I said, that's what I signed up for.  But when applicants drop $25 that they submit on submishmash for a book contest in the tiny hope that their collection of short stories will be published, I don't think it's asking a lot for the rejection letter to be:

1.  Gracious or sincere in a way that doesn't feel rushed
2.  Longer than two sentences
3.  Addressed to me.

The long and short is, I'm absolutely not gonna enter this contest again.  I could have used that money to take LB out for dinner at The Loving Hut or bought 25 songs or three ebooks on iTunes or ordered new boxer briefs at Hugo Boss.com!  Something's gotta give, and it's not gonna be dinner, music, books or underwear, I'll tell you that.

Thank you for entering our Juniper Prize competition. I am sorry that your entry was not chosen. I hope you will enter again in August 2014.

Good Rejection from Upstreet

Dear Jackson Bliss:
 

I'm sorry to tell you that we won't be using the work you submitted to the tenth issue of Upstreet. This issue has not been easy to get into. Out of almost three hundred submitted essays, we will be publishing fewer than ten.
 

I hope you won't let this deter you from submitting to Upstreet again. We will always be glad to read and consider your work. Best of luck with your writing, and thank you for letting us read " . . ." which has been on our short list since we received it.
 

Sincerely,
 

V***** D*****

Editor/Publisher, upstreet
P.O. Box 105
Richmond, MA 01254-0105

http://www.upstreet-mag.org/

Microcosm of Hurt

Now that I got my rejection letter today from the excellent liberal arts college Hamilton College, I can finally admit that I applied there in the first place for a tenure track position teaching 20th Century American Fiction + (Ethnic) Literature, specializing in Asian American literature.  There's this weird rule when applying to academic jobs (I think it applies equally to CW jobs too, but I have no proof) that you never tell other people where you're applying for academic jobs.  For one thing, you, your other academic and creative writing friends, a random acquaintance you met at that Upper West Side party two years ago or in a bookstore in Burlington or someone in your cohort, any of those peeps, may have applied to the same job.  In fact, of course they did because all of you want to avoid the ASC (adjunct sweatshop complex).  That means everyone is your competition until you either get the job or the rejection letter.

A second, more obviously strategic reason not to tell people where you applied for an academic job is because there's always a chance---even in the digital information flow---that they don't know about that specific job + if you tell them, you're just increasing the competition for yourself (because most of your academic + creative writing friends are at least as brilliant and talented as you are), which is the last thing you want to do.

On no level do you want your friends, colleagues or talented classmates from your cohort to fail.  You just want to succeed really badly + not advertising academic jobs to other people places the burden of researching academic jobs + multitasking dissertations and job searches on other people, where it belongs.  Still, it feels kinda shady sometimes because normally, I'd tell everyone everything (as I pretty much do on this website) because I want all my friends to be enormously successful because they're good people.

Anyway, the rejection letter I got today addressed to "Dear Candidate," which is never a good sign, said that Hamilton College received 350 applications for this one single position!  Let that sink in for a second.  350 applications.  That's fucking insane.  But from what I'm gathering from reading articles in the Chronicle, among other places, is that as universities hire less + less tenure track faculty (employing more adjuncts to cut costs now that universities are being run more like corporations), the competition for the few tenure track positions that pop up has become unwieldy, overwhelming + even bloodthirsty.

Obviously I don't know shit about what's gonna happen for me in the near future.  All I know is that I've applied to 36 academic jobs + fellowships so far in 14 different states (both tenure track + visiting assistant professorships), which does not include all the query emails I sent to every single CW department at every single Chicago university two years ago. I still have 3 more fellowships to apply to in addition to every new CW academic I can find between now + May of 2014.  Of those 36 jobs I've applied to so far, I'm still waiting to hear from 26 of them.  I'm also waiting to hear back from 3 literary agents + 4 indie presses reading my first two novels in addition to something like 75 literary journals.

In other words, I don't have a damn clue what's gonna happen with my academic or literary career, but barring some statistical anomaly, the exit polls show that this is gonna be a tight race, ladies + gentlemen.  I'm an eternal optimist.  I believe that something amazing can happen in a blink of an eye.  But it's good I guess that I ground my expectations on data + fully understand how brutal this fight is gonna be.  Hamilton's rejection might be a microcosm of hurt, so I may need to build my weight up.

Good Rejection from Brick Magazine

While this is a gracious + thoughtful rejection letter, strangely enough, this is the second time BRICK magazine has told me my essay was both engaging but also "too personal." I'm trying to imagine an essay that's not personal, + I'm having a hard time understanding how someone writes nonfiction without being extremely personal (unless it's journalism).  Either way, I really appreciate the kind words but I don't understand that critique, at least not for this genre.

Dear Jackson,

Thank you for submitting " . . . " to Brick. Although your piece is very engaging, I regret that we must pass on it as it is a bit too personal to be of interest to our more general readership. We are a casual literary journal, and we generally publish pieces on art and the writing life. 


We do wish you all the best with your writing.
Sincerely,
 
A*** G*******-R**

Forcing the Paris Review to Have a Sense of Humor

While I admire the Paris Review quite a lot, I've always found the journal a bit sober, for lack of a better word.  And since I'm a punk, a documented brat + I like fucking with people (in the sweetest way possible, man, not in a douchey way), I decided to give them a much cooler SASE so when they rejected me--so fucking predictable!--I could at least laugh at my own envelope + maybe force the intern to shake his head disapprovingly.  This envelope also makes me laugh because I can picture the fiction reader (probably some NYU/Columbia MFA student + Paris Review intern) shaking his head at my caption, thinking how lame it is.  We all know the Paris Review would never send an author such a silly rejection envelope, which makes it even funnier for me that they stuck a (lame) form rejection inside this cute little masterpiece.  To give you some historical context, this isn't the first time I've pulled off shit like this.  Back when college students used to send in FAFSA postcards, I'd write embarrassingly personal/dirty messages to myself, which the Department of Education would have to send back to me to confirm they'd received my completed application + I would laugh my ass off imagining a DC bureaucrat shaking his head at me.  Sometimes I do the same shit when I enter a short story contest that asks for a stamped, confirmation postcard.  I dunno, that's just how I roll I guess, forcing sober bureaucrats + iconic literary journals to be way sweeter (cuter) than they clearly wanna be.

Good Rejection from Esquire

Dear Jackson Bliss:
 

Thank you for sending us " ---". We really enjoyed this piece, but we didn't feel it was right for Esquire at this time.
 

We hope that you will continue to send us your work. When and if you do, please keep the following in mind:
 

*We want stories that feel especially timely and urgent and speak to current events and the state of the world around us.
* We cannot consider stories longer than 5,000 words.

* We ask that you use 12-point font, double-spaced. Verdana or Times New Roman preferred. Be sure your name, contact information, story title, and word count are at the top of your document and please remember to number your pages

 

Sincerely,
 

The Editors of Esquire
2013-08-16 12:27:01 (GMT -4:00)

Good Rejection from Narrative

Dear Jackson Bliss:

Thank you for sending your work to Narrative. We are always grateful for the opportunity to review new material, and we have given " . . " close attention and careful consideration. We found many strengths to recommend your work and, overall, much to admire. We regret, however, that " . . . " is not quite right for us. We encourage you try us again in the future, and we hope that you will.

Sincerely,

The Editors

Good Rejection from Conjunctions

Good Rejections are tough, especially when you get them from top-tier journals.  In fact, you could make the argument that the better the journal, the more a good rejection stings.  I think it works inversely too (i.e., a good rejection from a meh journal feels pretty damn good).  Still, it's hard not to take away something positive from this rejection, so I'll try to stick to the silver lining here, even though I've been sending Conjunctions stories for years now.  This is the second time I've gotten a really positive response for this short story (the first being from Electric Literature) + the second time I've gotten good feedback from this journal, so there's always that.

In case you can't make out this rejection slip, it says:

Dear Jackson,

I found your story delightful + intriguing, unfortunately we are looking for stories for our animal issue, "A Menagerie."  

Since when did Conjunctions starts becoming a themed journal?  Who fucking knows, since now, I guess.  Still, if I had to pick a reason for my story to be rejected, I guess this would be it.  I think the reader was very gracious to write these words + I'll remember them the next time I get a form rejection in the mail.

Good Rejection from the Paris Review

Yo, I realize this rejection is a far cry from an acceptance.  In fact, they're not even in the same orbit.  I know, I know.  I also realize that the axis on this note is crooked, no editorial assistant or editor bothered to sign her/his name or write one incomprehensible but encouraging sentence in pen, instantly humanizing the cold, mechanical rejection process.  I'm painfully aware of all of these details--trust me.  If I paid any more attention to detail, people would stop accusing me of being metrosexual and start accusing me of being The Other Sex, to be wildly essentialistic.  But after getting nothing but impersonal form rejections from the Paris Review for years, it is just a tiny little bump to finally get a good rejection from such an awesome literary journal.  And while I think having a literary agent would make this process so much more damn viable for me, and while I've read fiction in the Paris Review that is as good, occasionally, better + also worse than the story they just rejected, I feel like it's very possible with more hard work, determination + a lot of luck, that I will get a story published in this journal sometime sooner than later.

Anyway, Paris Review, expect a new kickass story in the mail as soon as I'm done with this motherfucking dissertation chapter.  Then it's your turn!  And I'm bringing the big guns this time.  I'm gonna glock my way to publication.

Good Rejection from N+1

Dear Jackson,

Thank you for submitting " . . ." to us. I enjoyed reading it; it is a very strong essay that deftly explores its subject matter. Unfortunately, however, we're unable to accept it for publication at n+1 at this time.
 
I wish you the best in finding publication for your essay and in your writing career. And please feel free to submit again to us in the future.

Sincerely,
W*** W*******

Quasi-Obnoxious Rejection from Chicago Review

I rarely take rejections personally anymore, even ones from agents.  And I don't take this rejection personally either, not only because I've always had mixed feelings about the editorial direction of the  Chicago Review (different reasons at different times), but also because, well, art is completely subjective + each editor is entitled to different aesthetic + stylistic tastes in her/his journal.  But, I do find the tone of this rejection to be completely fucking obnoxious + for that, I'd like to point that out.  In case you can't read this little masterpiece, it says:

Dear Author,
Thank you for submitting to Chicago Review.  We're sorry to report that we are not going to publish your story.  Good luck finding a bitchier rejection anywhere in the whole world placing it elsewhere.
The Editors

(Another) Good Rejection from A Public Space

Dear Jackson Bliss,

Thank you for your patience. We had a chance to read " . . . " this month, and while we are returning this piece, we would be interested in reading more of your work and encourage you to submit again when you have new work.

Our submission system reopens on September 15. In the meantime, please join us on Twitter or visit our website (www.apublicspace.org) to keep in touch.

Thank you again for thinking of APS for " . . . " We hope you have a lovely summer!

With very best wishes,
A Public Space