Another early piece. This was published at elimae when Cooper Renner was the editor. It was a very good journal. This story is 100 words long.


Thaddeus, age 3, set the Evensong in shallow water. Small waves rose and fell, and, retreating, carried Thad’s small ship further from the shore. Squealing and on pigeon toes Thaddeus retrieved it, and, safely back, he cast the tiny schooner headlong into the sea. His father’s strides were long and easy and for a moment Thad was sorry for the rival ocean and the fight he’d picked. His father bent low and pressed Thad to his chest and from tall grass on the bluffs above, they watched a red sun sink behind the green and Thad said, “Bring it back.”

How All Literary Rejection Letters Should Start

This lets you know right away that the rest of the email is not about your Pushcart nomination.

After the salutation, the very first word of the first sentence should be “unfortunately.” This saves writers from having to scan the rest of the text for the word. It also means that if the writer’s e-mail service shows body text previews, the writer doesn’t even have to open the email to know they’ve been slush-piled. I still recommend reading the actual rejections just in case there are specific comments or requests for more work.

This message has been brought to you by the editors of a review somewhere in the formerly industrial Midwest. Remembering which story I sent them four months ago is pretty tough, and it looks like they forgot the title, too.

Since many of you visit this blog looking for bits and pieces about the MFA process and the nuts and bolts of trying to get pieces published, I thought I’d share the secret hierarchy of rejection letters.

1: The standard form letter like the one seen here.  Not very gratifying, but don’t take it personally.  You’re busy, they’re busy, and that’s just how it goes.

2: The form letter with your name and the title of your piece.  Pretty standard practice.  I think I get more rejections with this level of personalization than without.

3: The personalized rejection letter with a personal note telling you how much they liked your story, even though it’s not for them, and encouraging you to send them more. In the super-competitive and completely subjective literary world, this can feel almost as good as an acceptance.  When you’re at this point with a specific piece or a specific market, you know that the editors really looked hard at your piece, thought about it, and saw enough promise (or whatever they look for) to personally encourage you as a writer.  No one owes you that, so when you get it, it’s a good thing.  Follow up with a thank you.

The most important thing to remember?  We’re talking about subjective responses to art.  You will “fail” often, especially in the beginning.  The thing is persistence and, very often, revision.

Books are People, Too

Not mentioned when I wrote this post originally?  It was also my 30th birthday.  Almost a decade later, we still have books.

In the course of looking for a cover image of They Don’t Dance Much, I came across Book Worship.  You need to check that out, especially if you’re one of those people who isn’t made sick by the (looming?) death of book-as-object.  I get sad about the death of cassette-tape-as-object, so you can probably figure where I come down on totally paperless publishing.

Book Worship reminded me of this awesome Flickr set I found a few months ago.  There’s something about this mid-century design aesthetic that makes me want to write better.

Penmanship, the Engine of Democracy!

In 2009, I was very considered that we’d soon seen the end of physical books.  10 years later, I’m not.  I think we’ll have books for a very long time.  Concern about privacy, censorship, and surveillance has not similarly abated.

Every other day I read something about how books will stop being physical objects and exist only digitally.  Publishing houses are producers of information, not artifact, etc.

I love to read, but you’ll never hear me say that I like to do anything like snuggle up to or get cozy with a book.  But the continued existence of books as objects is extremely important.

From the beginning, at least in the West, books in book form have been subversive. The Gutenberg Bible was subversive.  Common Sense was subversive.  More to the point, the printed word as printed word on paper is an historic engine of unrest, access, and change.  All those pamphlets and papers. These things being swapped and smuggled and shared.  Tyrants burning them.  Schools banning them. People reading them anyway.

We talk so much about going “off the grid” in terms of energy consumption.  We long for it.  Can you imagine not being able to do one of the most basic human functions (read) off the grid?  The concept of a bookless society makes even less sense than that of a cashless one.  Subversion (and I don’t mean violence or lunacy), education, self-improvement without censor, these requires objects that can’t be deleted when political winds change, even as the economy depends on the 1 or 2/3’s of it operating off the books.

I’m not a publishing professional so I won’t pretend to understand all of the economics of the industry, but I know these aren’t exactly fattened times.  I’m not saying the general trend won’t be toward electronic publishing and distribution.  It probably will.  But if we need books, we also need books to be books, physical objects we can hand, physically, to others.  Things we can physically protect and need to.

Of course, much of this discussion is moot.  Let’s imagine a bookless society.  It should be easy to imagine that in this society, some branch of some government somewhere manages to track, or, even worse, decide what we read.  Not very far-fetched.  Maybe every computer even gets a patch that scans everything you send to your printer and uploads it to some database.  When the things people want to read are banned, deleted, or otherwise made unavailable, people will pick up papers and pens and start writing.  They’ll make their own presses and they’ll post their bills and broadsides and leave their chapbooks and pamphlets in donut shops and laundrymats and in hotels like the Gideons.

Unless, of course, we stop teaching kids how to make  letters and numbers by hand.

Penmanship, the engine of democracy.