On rejection

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Well, here we are in the last part of the summer, post-August 15th, at the time when you really start feeling the curve of the sunlight dropping slowly slowly slowly toward the golden autumn crispiness that leads again into winter. At my latitude we get about fourteen hours of sunlight in a day this time of year, down from almost fifteen hours at the start of the month, and by October 1st we will have passed the equinox, and it will be less than 12 hours of light in the day. Such a gradual process, losing the length of daylight, that one hardly notices. But there is a feel in the light this time of year that seems to suggest the passing away of time, even before autumn arrives.

Lately I have been thinking about rejections I’ve received on my work. I have been fortunate to receive a number of acceptances and to have my work published in some small fiction journals over the past three years. But the acceptances still fail to take the sting out of rejection. People say putting one’s work out there is one of the hardest things to do, and I always tell other writers that they should give themselves credit simply for being willing to take the chance to submit their work, even though it is difficult to take the rejections that inevitably come back from submissions. Even if one is confident in the value of their work, even if one braces themselves against the possibility of rejection, though, it can still be discouraging and frustrating to get back rejections.

When the rejection includes an indication, however small, that you might have some acknowledgment of the value of the work, it feels much less bruising. This week I got a rejection email from a flash fiction market on a story that I submitted, which is a bit of a quirky piece, but which I still like very much as a work of art. In this rejection they sent me the feedback from their 5 slush readers. While most of the five readers obviously did not like the premise at all, asking questions that indicated they didn’t get what I was trying for in the piece, one of the readers completely understood it, and they said they liked it. It was wonderful just to see that.

Today I would like to share a piece that is a one-sentence story of about 400 words, which did get rejected from the market I intended it for, but which I still like very much, and in that spirit I wanted to share it with you. By putting it out here on my blog I am choosing to publish it myself, so I will not be sending it out for first-publication rights to any other markets. But I have a feeling you will enjoy it, and that makes me happy to know.

About this piece: I wrote this in response to a one-sentence piece published in monkeybicycle some time ago. If you click on the link here, scroll down to Prelude Op. 02 No. 21 by Dean Liao, you will see the piece that inspired this one. I wanted a more upbeat tone in my piece, since that one is fairly dark in its ending.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Prelude in B-Flat Major

(After Dean Liao)

She sat on the windowsill in a hotel room on the 25th floor, a wide and deep sill from the 1930s when the hotel was built, a windowsill on which you could eat a five-course meal or play a game of checkers with your grandfather or make love to your most cunning crush from work, looking over Central Park like in the movies, freshly full from room service’s delicate poached eggs and tartly shredded hash browns, sesame-grain wheat toast with sweet jam from a tiny jar made for elves, a jar kept company on the room service tray by matching doll-sized salt and pepper shakers, all encased in a slate-steel protective heat cover that indicated her meal was crafted only for her, even though it was not, it was just one more meal in the kitchen for a guest on the twenty-fifth floor overlooking the park, but she liked to imagine herself as unique and worthy of attention, if only from the staff of room service in a hotel across the street from Central Park, because, as her therapist had told her, it is in the connections to one another that we can hold back the specter, the temptation, the impulse to take one’s life, and of course she did not wish to disappoint her therapist, Ms. Ramsay, who wore reindeer sweaters at Christmas and Fourth of July fireworks earrings in the summer, Ms. Ramsay who suggested this little holiday after their recent check-in session in which the therapist had pronounced much progress had been made, and wouldn’t this be the perfect time to take a break from your demanding job, to take care of yourself for a change with a stay at a New York hotel, yet in the back of her thoughts, hovering like a pack of jackals in the Serengeti, there it is, the thought you don’t deserve this, all this, that you cannot be happy while you know your son has died in a distant dry land and will never be back, will never cross the threshold of your home again, the thought that led you to see Ms. Ramsay last year, and how could she have known two celebrity suicides would be in the news this weekend, but for now you breathe, breathe, you savor this moment of not-knowing, and you smile at your flat reflection in the window, so familiar and so distant, so calm.

Happy writing!


14 thoughts on “On rejection

  1. Rejection is probably one of the most difficult and devastating feelings we can experience. Yet as difficult as it is we must fight against it and use it as fuel to keep us moving forward. I think of the novel “The Shack” by William Paul Young and his testimony of rejections. He ended up self publishing and after his novel became a huge success the publisher came back to him basically begging to handle his future works. Don’t let anyone steal your dreams Theresa! We liked “Prelude in B-Flat Major”!


  2. My dear friend, I so love the story. I never thought a story with 400 words can be written in one sentence. You just put Ayn Rand to shame. 🙂 Seriously, the picture and the emotions, even the thoughts, are quite vivid to me. I am so jealous right now. Well done!

    So, who cares about rejection right now. It isn’t because it isn’t good. It is great. It just isn’t for them.

    One day soon, I will again attempt my hand at flash fiction. My muse disappeared! She will be back. 🙂 For now, I am going to accept whatever I manage.

    Keep up the awesome work!

    Much love and hugs,

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the lack of reading got me here. I’m reading again so yes, my friend, there are more ahead of us. We’ve only just begun. Speed bump on the road… ❤🥰🤗

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Rejection is never easy for most of us. Even if you’ve had your work knocked back a few times, it is also not easy getting knocked back again. I think for many of us, we put a lot of our time, effort and personal selves into our work – and so when some rejects it, we might feel they don’t get it and don’t get us. After all, we all want to belong. It is lovely that the five readers gave you feedback and hope you could make sense of it. I have had countless works rejected by publications and most of the time I’d get some general rejection email. There were only a handful of times when I’ve gotten feedback, but it was only ever so brief. I think a lot of the time reviewers aren’t paid or aren’t paid that much, so maybe that’s why we don’t always get feedback.

    I like the imagery in your fiction piece – and I think imagery is something you do very well. Ms Ramsay seems like such an out-of-the-ordinary personality who does what she likes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mabel, you are so right about rejection and how most of the time it’s impersonal. I’ve run into some markets where they don’t even send a rejection if they don’t want the piece…that’s a choice, I guess! Yes, there was an article in Poets & Writers magazine last year sometime interviewing three various literary journal editors, and one of the main takeaways was how MUCH submissions have increased over the past few years with electronic forms (rather than paper and SASE). Like going from a few hundred to 5,000 a year. I’m sure they’re swamped, so I try to keep that in mind and keep a cheerful attitude!

      Thank you for encouraging the imagery in my piece, and I thought it was interesting that you connected so well with Ms. Ramsey, the therapist. Might have to do a follow-up about her! 🙂


      1. It’s similar to applying for a job – you submit an application and sometimes you never hear back.

        That is quite a lot of submissions in a year. I think many writers are realising that being published and the exposure which comes from being published can help them to get published on more platforms. It’s also easier, faster and more cost-effective to publish online these days.

        Anyone can publish online these. For instance, you can publish on your own blog. But publishing in an e-journal is another thing altogether.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Agreed! It’s so enabling (and empowering?) to consider publishing on one’s own. Such a strength of blogging and print on demand services. 🙂

        I also find it helpful to consider that, even when published by a conventional market, one’s book or story might not reach that many readers, if you are not a recognized name.

        It’s all about the work, eh? Something you mention in your writing too!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The attention to detail and easy swivel of focus of the story is too understated for a lot of today’s editors. They want something flashy from the outset to compete with video games. So annoying.

    Liked by 1 person

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