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Archive for April, 2007

Arg, the writer’s life! (Part 2)

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

I looked over the last post and noted that I’d failed to post anything truly awful, the kind of rejection you get that is like a knife through the heart.

Here’s one. It’s for a book I wrote called (variously) After the Fall or New Boy. Those are the only two titles I can remember, but no doubt it went through many others as well: all of my unpublished novels went through a number of title changes, as if this were all the awful thing needed to make it, miraculously, good. Never worked.

New Boy was about a really weird kid who moves to a new neighborhood, hooks up with a nice family and proceeds to destroy it, in the end burning down their house. Fun!

Anyway, here is what one savvy editor had to say about it. Note the asterisk, added by my then-agent, for moral support. That Jared was a very kind young man.

Ah, the writer’s life!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

Though I conduct almost all of my communication with other human beings via email these days, there was a time when this was not so. Other than actually meeting and speaking to them, people used to send me mail. Things that came in envelopes. Very little matched the anticipation of that walk to the mailbox, and it still lingers to this day, even though all I usually get are credit card offers.

When I was first starting out as a writer, the mailbox is where everything valuable happened, because this is where I would discover whether my latest offering was accepted or — much, much, much more likely — rejected.

Recently I discovered a box where I collected those sad slips I so often received: over a hundred of ’em, I guess. They keep coming, of course, but now, as an established writer, one isn’t rejected; instead, the kind editor passes. “I’m going to give this one a pass,” he might say, and it’s always via email . . .

So, for those who don’t know, here’s what a normal rejection slip looks like:

Not much to it. Not a word written on it by a human hand. It means they hated it, that the story had no value to them, and, for a day or so, I questioned my reasons for writing at all.

Luckily, that feeling passes.

Some are amusing:I wonder if they ever checked that next-to-last box . . . at least they didn’t for me.

And here is something wonderful, a real collector’s item: my first-ever (the first of, oh, I don’t know: twenty-five?) rejection from The New Yorker. Daniel Menaker was my editor there, by which I mean the editor who always rejected me. He was always so nice about it, nicer than he had to be, because my early stories were almost unreadable. And yet I sent them anyway. His personal note at the bottom of the page I have more or less written on countless student stories myself.

But most of them, alas, were form letters. And yet even some of them were wonderful. Here’s the best form letter I ever got. From the wonderful Gordon Lish.


It’s never easy to go to the mailbox and find a note from someone who doesn’t like your work. But the day you open up that little draw-bridge and find a real note there, from a real person, who says something really, really nice (i.e., We’d like to publish your story) it makes all those long, dark trips to the end of the driveway seem worthwhile. And it’s good exercise to boot.

Between novels, what’s a guy to do?

Friday, April 13th, 2007


He writes stories.

Novels take a lot of thought, a lot of time, and tend to take up a lot of room in my life and my head. For the last couple of years, Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician has been the center of my creative life, and even though it’s yet to make its way to a bookstore near you (that won’t happen until July), I’ve already let it go. Sure I worry about it, a little bit . . . but for the most part I’ve had to move on to something else.

That’s where short stories come in. Short stories, because they take a lot less time to write than a full-fledged novel, allow you to experiment and explore, without the risk involved in writing a novel. By risk I mean: what happens if the novel you’re writing turns out to suck? That’s serious and semi-devestating (I know, believe me). But a story (for me, anyway) can take a couple of days to a couple of weeks, and because I’m not betting the farm on it I can write something — oh, I don’t know — daring. Or not. Maybe something that’s slight, a diversion, for fun. Whatever, I’m glad I don’t just write novels.

Some of my stories will be out there about the same time MSATNM comes out. Ninth Letter, Land Grant College Review, and Salt Hill will all be publishing stories of mine this summer. An in-flight magazine will be publishing a piece I wrote about one special summer in my life. And (close to my heart) I’ve been working on a children’s book with an Italian illustrator. The book is called Elynora, and we’re taking the weirdly fun tack of submitting to Italian publishers first. Sort of like O Grand Rosenfeld!Oh. And I’ve started another novel. Go figure.

Etc.

Monday, April 9th, 2007


Here’s another example of ‘seeing’ the characters . . .

The beginning

Monday, April 9th, 2007


This is my first post on the new site, so I thought it would be appropriate to welcome whatever readers I have with a drawing. It’s a picture of Mr. Sebastian, one of the main characters in the novel, as seen through the eyes of the other main character, Henry Walker. I do “see” the characters I write about, especially some of the more interesting ones, and for a while I championed this drawing as the cover for the book; they (Doubleday) came up with a better one. To Henry, Mr. Sebastian is the devil, a very white devil, so I tried to make him a little ghoulish, and think I did.



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