I Guess this is Good

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about one of my stories recently, one I’ve worked on quite a lot because the story is very short but the ending is really tricky. I submitted it a while back to Fantasy and Science Fiction, and I hadn’t heard back. I assumed that their email rejection had not reached me due to my ongoing difficulties with my ISP (it was fine until the Germans took over). I started to get my head around the necessary modifications to the ending, but before I did anything rash, I thought I’d best contact the editor to make sure I was rejected.

It turns out I hadn’t been rejected, at least not until I asked about it. He’d been sitting on the story, on the bubble about whether to take it or not. When I asked directly, he had to say ‘no’, since he had no place to put it. Apparently the moon is common these days. Ultimately, I was almost there, but not quite, which bodes well for this story finding a home in a pro publication eventually.

Isaac Asimov, I’m told, advised writers to not revise stories between submissions. Let’s face it, the thing is never going to make a whole bunch of money and meanwhile you can be working on something new. It’s about that whole diminishing returns thing. Still, I can’t help but fiddle with this one. I’ve had endings that were lyrical, and others that were emotional, and others that were tight, but I haven’t hit all three. Maybe it’s impossible, but I have to keep trying. So I’ll tweak it, but not too much, and send it on to the next magazine.

Rejected At Last!

I sent a story off to Wierd Tales, a venerable monthly magazine that publishes stories that fit under the broad category ‘horror’. It is the magazine that H.P. Lovecraft published most of his stories in, back in the 1930’s. When I sent off the story I thought publication in that magazine would count as a pro sale for the Science Fiction Writers of America, a group I would like to qualify for someday. Turns out it wouldn’t have counted.

On top of that, after I submitted I had a lot of thoughts about how to make the story better. The thing was, as long as there was a possibility that they would publish the story in its current state, it was a bit of a waste to go editing it.

Time passed. A lot of time. I began to assume that I had been rejected but had somehow missed the notification. Then I heard that the two magazines that publisher puts out (the other one named for Lovecraft) were consolidating into one. One less market for genre writers. Now that their reorganization and shrinkification is complete, I got the rejection I’d been waiting for. Hours later, I have a better story.

On the subject of shrinking markets, one and a half true pro publications have also bit the dust. One is gone completely, the other is going from twelve to six issues annually. That’s the publication that has been kind to me in the past. Tough times. I have a better story, and now I need to find the right place to send it.

Hangin’ With That Girl

I write this while sitting at John’s XLNT Foods. The waiter just asked me, “You doin’ well, buddy?” which struck me as an odd combination of casual address and unusually correct grammar. I am in a neighborhood called Willow Glen, which has a nice little main strip of shops. Most of the places are trendy and upscale; there are at least five coffee shops — only two are Starbucks — and there are no bars. OK, actually there is an upscale-looking wine bar, and I bet they even serve beer, but it didn’t look like the kind of place to settle in and open up a laptop. So I’m at John’s, and while (as you will see) there is no reason at all for me to order food, I noticed that they had egg salad sandwiches on the menu, and a craving ensued. It was, um… excellent.

Things have been quiet here the last few days. The drive from Arizona to the bay area was routine; I stuck to the big roads and arrived much sooner than I expected to — and earlier than That Girl expected me to, as well. I cooled my heels for a while in a nice little deli, ate a remarkably good sandwich, and read a few chapters. Overall, it was a good way to transition from life on the road to life in an apartment.

When enough time had passed I popped over and was made welcome. There’s something different about the second time you come to visit someone. The first time is an unknown; anything could happen, it’s an adventure undertaken with limited expectations. For the second visit there is history, and it has been recognized by all that there is something going on that is worth developing. Consequently, there is something to lose. It is the visit, to harken back to a previous episode, when you open the mysterious door. (My mysterious doors have proven to have rusty hinges and missing handles. That Girl is patient about that; she figures I’ll manage to pry them open when the time is right.) The second date is the time you regret not mentioning you don’t like mushrooms during the first visit. There’s a lot at stake, and already the misunderstandings are piling up.

We have a good rhythm, That Girl and I. We talk a lot, snuggle often, and when we need to we get out of each other’s way so we can work. That Girl has a square job, so her weekends are valuable for doing what she really loves doing. Yesterday she spent several hours tucked away in her office, working on her own media empire, and I know what it’s like to have other personalities around pushing into your space. We went to our respective work places, enjoyed the quiet, but (at least in my case) it was just a little better knowing in the back of my head that the mental elbow room was a gift happily given by someone close by.

That Girl cooks excellent meals, and I pay her back by making yummy noises as I eat. I feel like this arrangement is one-sided, but one thing I’ve noticed about relationships is that it’s OK for things to be lopsided. There are even times when both parties feel they are getting the better end of the deal, and those times are what we have relationships for.

Weekdays when That Girl is at work I’ve devoted to getting my work done. I have The Screenplay That Refuses to Get Shorter to wrestle with, and last night I submitted “The Short Story that Probably Should Be Longer” to another paying market. It is the third time I’ve submitted the story; the first time it was 1100 words, now it’s up to 2000. At some point the words will be there to allow the reader to see what was in my head. If it gets rejected enough, it will end up an epic. But a good one.

So now I sit at John’s XLNT Foods, sipping Sam Adams, belly full despite the large amount of really tasty leftovers filling the fridge back at That Girl’s place (and cookies! Cookies cookies cookies! And home-made truffles! yum!). Paying John six bucks for a sandwich, however XLNT, is really pretty dumb, but there you have it. I mean, come on! Egg salad!

Common Errors

Got an email from an agent today, which was exciting until I realized that I had submitted my work to the agent the same way. Still, I’d never had an email from an agent before, so I dared hope.

The message read, in part, “You have a nice storyline and a flair for storytelling. The problem is you’ve made a number of common errors that most writers fall victim to.”

Of course, there is no enumeration of what those common errors are. Clearly the agent is not prone to false pedantry about non-rules like ending sentences with prepositions. This is one reason I spend time critiquing a book after I read it, so I can identify those “common errors” and address them in my own work. In this case, the common errors may not even exist. This might just be the standard rejection email, praise and criticism alike. Everyone who submits may have a “flair for storytelling”.

So, how does one spot and stamp out these common errors? First, of course, is friendly but critical feedback from friends. If a few of you out there would like to read The Monster Within and you promise to criticize it ruthlessly, I’d be happy to send it along (although I’m reworking the first three chapters a bit at the moment, to better stun prospective agents).

Second, there’s writing school. I’ve been thinking about writing school for a while now; as with almost any other discipline professional instruction has to be beneficial. Nowhere would I find such consistent criticism than at school, and I would have a chance to air out my more literary musings. Putting a Masters of Fine Arts onto my biographical data in submissions would likely help as well, at least some of the time. I guess it’s time to look into what something like that would cost, and where the likely candidates would be.

Of course, once the Dark War screenplay is turned into a blockbuster, my worries will be over. Better get back to work.

An Email I Don’t Want to Answer

I was excited for a very brief moment when I discovered an email in my in box from the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction, a magazine that has published my work in the past. Rejections come by snail mail. (Of course, checks also come by snail mail…)

My pleasure was short-lived. He was checking to see if he got all the pages of my most recent submission. “This seems incomplete,” he wrote. He gave the last line of the story that he was holding. Yep, that’s the end all right. As soon as I tell him that, the rejection will be on the way. I wonder how many strikes I get before my slush pile free pass is revoked.

I think the problem may have been in part that the story has a similar feel to what they published previously, only this one is supposed to be funny. If he’s reading the thing with the assumption that it’s serious, it’s not going to work and the punch line will just hang there. (I actually backed off on the funny for the final version, not wanting to overdo it. Might have been a bad choice.) I’ll try the story next at a place that will read without preconceived notions and see if it goes over better. If not, I’ll just have to accept the fact that the story just isn’t as funny as I think it is. Inconceivable!

(Another lesson – there’s a reason one is supposed to put [end] at the end of a submitted story.)

The First Fruits of the Submissions Drive

I got home last night to find a letter waiting for me on the stairs. I really wasn’t expecting to get anything back this quickly, and I assumed that a rapid response was not probably not a good sign.

I opened the envelope and found my cover letter with some notes written on it. That is unusual; most agents have a simple form letter they return. This saves the agent time, but more important it shields them from indignant rebuttals from would-be authors. So that was nice. Normally you have no idea why you’ve been rejected, and therefore you have no idea what to do about it.

I was rejected for two reasons, and both of them may be problematic. The manuscript is too long and i break a Rule. Cut 35% of the text, change it so there is no broken Rule and they would be interested in taking a closer look.

The note went on to say that judging by the opening few paragraphs I should have no trouble finding the words to eliminate. Ironically, those words are there more for the agent than for the story, setting the mood while I demonstrate my style. (Although I have tightened it up a bit since submitting to this agent.) Then it gets right down to the action and never stops. I’ve already gone through the manuscript a few times chopping out any deadwood I could find. (Well, OK, there is one action sequence that does not ultimately change the outcome of the story, but I like it. In a pinch, I have about 5,000 words to give. Only 35,000 more and I’m golden.)

There’s another way I could shorten the thing easily. I could just chop the damn thing in half, hang the reader out to dry when they thought they were buying an entire story only to get to the end and find out that they’ve bought the first of a series. I’ve read some books that make no pretense whatsoever at providing a satisfying ending, and it pisses me off. Some of them may as well break mid-sentence for all the concern they show for their readers. Still, it’s an option…

Then there’s the Rule. I’ll have to review how I present it in the cover letter; the response seemed to think I broke the Rule for humor, which can’t be farther from the truth. Breaking the Rule is intrinsic to the way the story works, and I’m certain that if someone would read the thing they would agree with me that it works pretty dang well.

So, naturally, my first impulse was to write the very sort of rebuttal that makes agents afraid to give me helpful information. The thing is, even once I get an agent, that person is going to have to turn around and defend the length and Rule-breaking to a publisher. These aren’t arbitrary biases on the part of the agent, they are things that will make selling the manuscript to a publisher more difficult.

Hm… chop it in half, then sell the second part first. No Rule-breaking there. I can just pick up mid-sentence and carry on!


Getting the Words Out

Writing, for me, is pretty easy. I sit, I think of things, I write them. Some days it’s difficult to think of the things I’m supposed to be writing, but there’s always something, even if it’s throwaway prose that I will never use. Still, it happens that occasionally I finish things.

This is where the trouble begins. I’ve got a novel, sitting there, waiting for me to find someone to help me sell it to a publisher. Novels are patient, just being piles of words, and they are happy to just sit there forever. Likewise, the heap of stories in my “on deck” folder are in no hurry to go anywhere.

It is difficult for me to submit my work for a critical review. My pals over at Piker Press were a great way to get started submitting stuff — I already knew some of them through NaNoWriMo, and they’ve always been kind to me. The only problem: they don’t pay. I’m sure they’d love to be able to pay the writers (or themselves, for that matter), but I’m pretty sure that will never happen.

Submitting elsewhere is more intimidating. I’m up against a bunch of folks all scrambling for the same few dollars. It’s not fear of rejection that bothers me, it’s fear of being rejected and remembered. “Oh, man, not this guy again!” Nightmare. This compounds the feeling I get in my gut when I send off a submission that the story is not ready yet. It could be better. There’s always something to improve. In this way publication is an act of mercy; I can stop trying to fix it.

Then there’s the part where I’m lazy. It’s time-consuming researching markets, reading over submissions guidelines, and crafting a cover letter. Whenever I sit down to this sort of chore, I always find something else to do instead (like write).

Two days ago I made a plan. For every paying customer at Jer’s Software Hut, I’ll submit something, somewhere. No sooner did I decide on that plan than I made three sales. I got the submissions out this afternoon — two short stories to paying magazines and one agent query by email for Monster. It feels pretty good.

The next submission will also be from the Great Pile o’ Stories, one that I think is ready for the big time. If only I could be sure…

Once again, too much left unexplained.

I mentioned recently that I got three rejections in a single day. Those were from literary agents, and were all the quick-glance sort of rejections. When one sends out queries in batches, one should expect that the rejections from agencies that are not grabbed by the cover letter will come back in batches as well. So, while it was disappointing that three came back that way in the same day, it was not entirely unexpected.

Meanwhile, I’ve been checking the steps up to my door eagerly every day because I was waiting to hear back from a major magazine about a story I really like. Today, there was not a SASE waiting there, but a small package. I assumed it was from my folks, but on inspection it proved to be from the magazine to which I had submitted the story. I mentioned previously that one gets a feel for when a rejection is in the envelope, and this was clearly an outlier. Eagerly I tore open the package.

Inside was a copy of Esli, the Russian sister of F&SF. The editor thought I would enjoy having a copy of the Russian edition with my story Memory of a Thing that Never Was in it. He was right; I think that’s pretty damn cool. (Illustrated, even!) I’m curious now whether there are any reviews of the Russian version. In the US, most reviews said “Good writing, the reader has to fill in the gaps.” For some reviewers that was a good thing, for others not so much. I wonder how eastern Europeans will react to it; one of the big criticisms of American literature over here is that too much is explained, and that stories always come to pat conclusions. With that in mind, Memory might appeal even more to Eastern sensibilities.

I’m not sure, but I think the Russian magazine picks and chooses stories from a variety of sources, which makes it a little more special that they chose mine. I could be wrong about that, though. I wonder if the translation is any good.

I can also say now that I have been published in multiple languages. That’s pretty cool.

There were two notes in the package with the magazine. The first said something like, “thought you might get a kick out of seeing the Russian edition. I have a story of yours I’ll try to look at this weekend.” The second note said, “too much unexplained.” That’s a paraphrase, the note was by far the most comprehensive critique to come with a rejection. The editor took some valuable time to give me his opinion. He also said the piece felt like part of a larger story. Mere days ago I said that I liked stories like that.

Sigh. This was a story I’d actually revised to make things clearer, so the reader didn’t have to work so hard. Still, I have to admit that the prose is dense and can be demanding if you let it be, and there are some things that I don’t come out and explain directly. I thought some of the things the editor cited were pretty obvious by the end of the story, though. Then again, I’m not really the guy to judge that.

I think I also have to accept that what these guys really want are what I consider my second-best stories — stories that are more stylistically straightforward and don’t have multiple layers of interpretation. I write a lot of those, and I enjoy them, but generally I don’t deem them ‘worthy’ of the big magazines. This despite people around me, even readers of these pages, telling me they also like (and sometimes even prefer) those stories.

As an experiment I think I’ll loosen up the style a bit, add more explanation, and see if it still sounds good to my ear. I get paid by the word, after all. At the same time I’ll see if a more literary venue might be interested in it. Perhaps I just need to find a market for speculative fiction for people who like to be challenged. (To be fair, Fantasy and Science Fiction does sometimes publish more challenging work, but it is the exception, and it’s not mine.)

Who knows? Maybe in Russia…

Dammit

It’s late. I climbed the steps to my rooms and as always scanned ahead for letters. They wait for me on the steps. Tonight as I ascended I caught the flash of white, and I rushed forward. There was an envelope there, artfully stamped. I didn’t have to pick it up to know that a rejection lay within. You get a feeling for that.

The Czechs are a precise people; when there is a lot of bad news they stack it carefully, so at first glance you might mistake disaster for misfortune. There was not just one envelope waiting for me, but three. I haven’t opened any of them yet, but I know what’s inside.

My Telvision is in My Head

I got a rejection from the Atlantic Monthly yesterday. My first thought: if I knew how long it would take them to reject me, I never would have sent it in.

There’s no shame in being rejected by that magazine. It’s possible that there are periodicals that accept submissions that are tougher to get into, but none with the sheer whamness of Atlantic Monthly. Sending them a submission was an expression of faith in myself.

I got rejected. I’m OK with that. What I’m not OK with is that right now I hardly have anything out there trying to find a home. The business side of things is languishing, even as I write some words I quite like. I have a pretty sweet story ready to go, and I know where I’m sending it. All I need is a cover letter, and a message to my stateside postal enabler (Hi Dad!) and it’s done. That has been the state of things for three weeks.

NaNoWriMo. Bless it, curse it, dance in the meadow, bludgeon myself with a sharp rock. I need NaNoWriMo. I feel my productivity fall off as summer wanes, and November rekindles the fire. This year is the toughest since the first, and when I’m not too busy whining about it I’m having a blast. Add hundreds of new Jer’s Novel Writer users, though, and there’s no time for anything else. Say, writing, for instance.

I think December may be busier than November.

To veer suddenly to the side, yesterday I was at the Little Café Near Home, and I was thinking about a Chapter One I posted in this blog a while back and dang if the idea didn’t grow. I looked over the previous episode tonight and it didn’t have the punch I remembered, but Natasha has developed in my head since then. I spent a few hours spinning the tale through various scenarios, and it was fun. I came up with a nice twist I’ll be able to use somewhere eventually.

I feel oddly guilty about spending all that time with Natasha, though. Guilty because I have so many things going right now. Oddly because most Americans spend more time watching television each day than I spent developing a frighteningly compelling character. A great new character who stands on her own is the pay dirt of my profession, her birth a moment to celebrate, and I missed the party, frustrated by my lack of productivity. My blue-sky time was pure self-indulgence. Sitting around imagining ridiculous things is my television. I could do it all day, but I’d never get anything done.

Too much left unexplained

In fact, should I rate a tombstone, I’d be all right with that. I got a rejection today that at first glance was just another impersonal note stuffed in the return envelope. I almost didn’t read the text of the note; I’ve seen it before. This rejection was different, however, for two reasons. First, the text of the note actually was different: it said in part, “… your work shows a great deal of promise, and we’d very much like to see more from you.” They don’t have to ask me twice. Second, and even better(ish) was the personal message scratched at the bottom in handwriting worse than mine. The message read, “Some nice writing, but too much was left unexplained.”

Too much left unexplained. I’m trying to explain more now, really.

The reviews of “Memory of a Thing that Never Was” were generally good. There were a couple of professional critics that really liked it, and a bunch of armchair critics who thought it was pretty good. On the other hand, there was a minority of folks who said “I didn’t get it. What happened?” This issue of the magazine had been promoted to the blogosphere, promising free copies in exchange for honest reviews. That would seem like an open invitation to the nutjobs, but I read many reviews and most of these folk stepped up with fair and well-reasoned criticism. Those who rose to the challenge really were passionate about the genre, and ready to help it grow. So, when they ask “What happened?” it’s worth remembering that they are avid readers and champions of the genre.

Too much left unexplained. Some of my good friends here have said the same thing. (It takes a good friend to say something like that — caring enough to risk giving offense and trusting enough to know that the criticism will be taken constructively.) Graybeard, when he read “Memory”, thought for a bit and said, “this should be 600 pages.” From Graybeard, a brutally honest individual, that was for me a great compliment. “Memory” hints at a lot of other things that would take pages and pages to explain, but wouldn’t enhance the short story.

A lot of my stories have holes in them. It seems I’m not writing the holes well enough. Sometimes when I write a short story I’m trying to create a single instant, a moment in a person’s life. A mood. These are my favorite ones and the ones that are the most difficult to write. I worked at a pace of about a paragraph per hour on the rejected story’s opening. The time was well-spent, I think, as the Rejecting Authority appears to have enjoyed the prose. Often I write background bits that I subsequently delete because I see them as distractions. Unfortunately many people find the lack of background to be distracting. If I were to add that stuff, however, it would change the nature of the story.

Thinking about it, I write plenty of stories in which everything is explained. Some of them I even like. (My hard drive is a graveyard of stories written that will never see the light of day, unless I decide to hire some poor slob to find the ones I dropped only because I was in the wrong mood when I reviewed them a week after writing). But my favorites are the very short, very dense stories that are more like a painting than a movie; a single frame in a longer narrative.

Tonight I looked at the rejected story with some frustration. I really thought I was hammering on the important parts, almost embarrassingly so. There is much unknown, but no one in the story knows the answers. They even say as much. The story is about a moment of awakening, but one that has happened many times before. So what can I clarify? The mountains are forbidden. Why? I don’t know. Nobody in the story knows. Why is not important; what matters is that they all believe it enough to kill a friend rather than let him get there. In a novel or even a novella I would explore those questions, but there’s not time for that now.

Obviously I have some work cut out for me as a short story writer, but at the same time I can’t help but think that there is a readership that likes to fill in the blanks. I am more appreciative than ever of the people at Fantasy and Science Fiction for having faith in their readers to put a more difficult story in their pages.

I joked tonight that perhaps I should write my stories in czech because the last thing they want here is an answer. Of course that’s silly; I’m blaming the audience (or actually in this case, a single underpaid slush-pile reader) for failing to understand me when it is my job to be understood.

Too much left unexplained. Isn’t that just like life.

Be careful what you wish for…

In a comment to a story I posted a week or two ago, I mentioned another story I had sent to a smaller publication because I didn’t think it was A-list material. In the intervening time I went back to make it better for the next submission, and I decided that it was better than I had originally thought. In fact, I was starting to feel that it was pretty darn good. So I expressed hope that the small mag would reject it, so I could throw it into the shark tank in more visible markets.

Well, I got my wish.

The only thing is that the rejection was by far the most perfunctory dismissal I’ve ever received. Now I think the story sucks again.

The oddest rejection to date

A couple of days ago I sent an essay to a national magazine. It was an account of my time visiting friends in a small town and going with the family to a Little League game on a hot summer afternoon. I’m pretty happy with the piece, so I’ve been sending it to larger magazines, which, as a side effect, tend to pay pretty well (relatively speaking, of course). Within hours of sending the story I had a reply. “That’s not a good sign,” I thought. It didn’t seem like it was enough time for anyone to read it at all.

Well, in fact, someone did read the piece. The message was a polite note from the publisher himself, and said, in part:

Thanks for this submission. It’s a very nicely-written piece, and I enjoyed it. However, it appears to be a fictional piece (although you said it was non-fiction) and we do not publish fiction.

[snip]

I was really anticipating that the trick play was going to work…nice twist.

Nice twist indeed. I’d be proud of that twist if it weren’t for the fact I didn’t make it up. In fairness, the style of the piece is, well, mine, and sometimes when I’m on a roll I can give the world a fairy-tale feeling. My favorite blog episodes are that way. Also, I must confess that I am quite flattered by the italicized “very”. It’s a bit of extra effort on his part for no other purpose than to pay me a compliment. It’s funny how much I cling to those things, these days.

And hang on a sec… was I even rejected? There’s no actual “no” in the message. Perhaps he just wanted clarification and now a check is in the mail.

The message also included a conversational question, so I used the opportunity to send a response assuring him that the piece is entirely non-fiction, but in the two days following he has not responded. I probably should have composed my response more carefully; I have (in my mind, anyway) put myself in an ambiguous position. If I can convince him it’s non-fiction, is he still interested, or does he feel that his readers will think it is fiction in any case? Maybe I can ghost-write an accompanying article with the coach of the team, diagramming the trick play.

Maybe he meant… gah! I have witnessed this phenomenon in the correspondence of other writers; I call it thinking too much. Writers have a lot of time to think, and the imagination to really spin things to preposterous conclusions. It’s our job. If only we could turn this power to the good.

Another polite rejection

I cam home tonight to find a letter from Jennifer Jackson, an agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. It was a rejection, brief but polite. Almost too short to be a form letter, it included the title of my novel. Sure it’s a template, but some flunky had to spend an extra few moments plugging in the variables, rather than just slipping a piece of paper into an envelope.

It also mentions that my “credits are certainly notable”, which is certainly a reach, but this letter couldn’t be used for people with no credits whatsoever. That marks this rejection as the first in which someone at the agency actually thought about the appropriate reply. (Realistically, the mention of my credits is likely intended to forestall the irrational raving “But I’m Someone!” response, but at least they paid enough attention to my query to identify that threat.) They spelled my name wrong, but there’s a shortage of e’s these days, I’m told. As with all other shortages, China is to blame.

The letter was brief, it was honest (except for the notable credits part), but it was a tiny bit more personal than what has come before. In the meantime I have learned a bunch from Evil Editor and his minions, and I continue to hone my message.

But for all you agents lurking around, reading my blog (I know you’re out there), it’s funny what just a tiny bit of personalization does to a rejection. I’ve been shot down by the woman, yet my response is, “that Jennifer Jackson is all right.” Probably we will never work together, but it’s a small world, and she managed to slam the door in my face with just a gentle click of the latch. I appreciate that.

Mail Call!

I got four things in the mail today. Two were good, two, well, not so much. Goodness was proportional to size.

Mail arrives on the first step of the flight up from the landlord’s place to mine. Today I was heading out to meet fuego to watch some hokej (rhymes with hockey) when I discovered a stack of stuff waiting for me. On top, two envelopes. Two rejection letters, one from an agent and one from a magazine. Neither came as a surprise, but of course I would never have sent them anything if I didn’t think I had a chance. The magazine is a forcefully independent one-man show with a good reputation. I like the way Brutarian thinks, and when I raise my game, he will be hearing from me again. I can run with those dogs. (My submission had been previously published over at Piker Press, which couldn’t have helped its chances. Brutarian will consider previously published stuff, but not with the same enthusiasm. Or something like that. Although I consider it a paying market, I would not have received any money for this submission.)

A bigger disappointment was the agency. These guys are big time, and they don’t take many new writers, but dang I wanted to be one of the few.

Of course, these folks send out thousands of rejections every year, and they have no time to give me a clue how to make my pitch more attractive to their competitor down the street. Forward, ever forward, is all I can do. Hone the message, sharpen the pitch, and try again. This is not a business for the fragile, as much as we want it to be. (Show us your inner heart, we ask of the artist. Lay bare your soul. Artist complies. Never mind. You suck. People wonder why Van Gogh cut his ear off.)

Next in the mail pile was a package from a Muddled friend. I now have in my paws More Booze Than Blood, by Sean Meagher. He posted here a while back that he would send people his book and I was not slow to take him up on the offer. I haven’t read past the cover yet, but the story is calling to me in a language that I don’t know, but understand. I’ll let you know. Perhaps it was some subtle way with words he showed when he posted here, perhaps it’s just that he paid the postage, perhaps it’s the striking cover, but I’ve got a good feeling about this.

At the bottom of the stack was the birthday box. Cans of green chile, a nice card, and a squirrel. Alas, the squirrel took some damage on his trip across the deep blue sea — the tail, which almost but not quite can be used as a beer holder, was forcefully and brutally separated from his butt. A team of mocrosurgeons is standing by to attempt what before has only appeared in science fiction: a squirrel retail. While they’re at it, they’ll see about beer-sizing the little guy.