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!

 

April-days of poetry-study

Hello everyone,

I’m happy to report we’ve had rain showers this week. Here in Seattle we have such a reputation for rain. People say that it rains all the time, but I think my friends in Florida get much more rain than we do. We often have the drizzly, mostly-mist days that don’t give you a lot of rain volume overall!

Here’s something I saw this week when I was walking around downtown. I looked down at the sidewalk and thought, wow, that looks like a bear’s claw.

Photo by Theresa Barker.

After I’ve been doing all this poetry this month for National Poetry Writing Month, I think images might be popping into my brain, unbidden. Finally! Hah!

In the background I’ve been working on planning for a new novel. I’m cautiously optimistic, and I’ll be blogging more about that soon. When NaPoWriMo is over!

Some of the recent prompts for poems have been a bit surreal. That’s something I can say about the following piece, which I wrote last week (spoiler alert – it may be a bit of a downer, sorry!):

Poem and photo by Theresa Barker.

The goal was to use repetition and the inspirational poem was of this pattern – repeating one line to the next, followed by a new line. I liked how it turned out. Even if it is a strange mix of words and images…!

Take care and good writing,

Theresa

Briefly II

Hello everyone,

I’ve been studying poetry for the past two weeks with National Poetry Writing Month., in which each day I write a new poem, from prompts and looking at other poems. Some days are better than others! – Which reminds me, it’s important to be gentle with oneself even when we are striving for excellence and perfection. (Maybe especially so!)

This is one on cherry blossoms, from the point of view of the blossom! – Inspired by a prompt to present a point of view other than the usual.

Poem and photo by Theresa Barker.

And this one inspired by a poet writing in the 1700s, which celebrates his cat:

 

Poem and photo by Theresa Barker.

Did you know? Poetry comes from a Greek word meaning “to create,” poein.

I just learned last week that prose comes from a contraction of proversus, “to turn forward,” thanks to Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Day” podcast!

Take care and good writing,

Theresa

Briefly

Hello everyone,

Photo by Theresa Barker.

I was walking down the street last week with my son on the way to his student apartment, and suddenly we were surrounded by clouds of white-pink cherry blossoms. The entire block had tree after tree, planted in the parking strip, of these gorgeous flowering trees, the extra-fluffy type of cherry blossoms that feel like puffs of cotton candy. It was stunning. I stopped and breathed in the scene. I took a photo, too, and even if it doesn’t quite convey the feeling of being immersed in the petally flowers, at least it may give you something of the idea of what it was like. 🙂

This week I decided to try something new: National Poetry Writing Month. Each day in the month of April you write a new poem, following an optional prompt. Here are two of my attempts from this week:

Inspired by “The Two Trees,” Larry Lavis, http://www.napowrimo.net/day-three-5/.

and

Inspired by “[a poem about Naomi; unsent]” by Rachel Mennies, http://www.napowrimo.net/day-six-7/
Have you tried something new lately? Have fun writing, painting, photographing, poeming, singing, walking, dancing, enjoying time with friends!

Take care and good writing,

Theresa

On the ebb and flow of creativity

Hello everyone,

Photo by Theresa Barker.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity. Where does it come from, what makes one feel more creative, less creative, how we seemed much more creative as children than we do as adults, how to capture more moments of creativity … etc.

Just at the moment I feel like I’m getting nowhere on a major story project. Yup, I have writer’s block.

One thing I have learned is that simply demanding more productivity from myself as a writer does not help. If anything helps, it’s usually a side project that doesn’t have high expectations or imagined outcomes. So, as a side project, I picked up the book Creative Workshop by David Sherwin, a visual designer and writer on design. The book holds 80 projects, mostly for a visual designer, to develop their craft.

Aside from the 80 projects, though, in the first 8-9 pages Sherwin talks about ways to come up with more ideas. If you’re like me, you are used to basic brainstorming; you start with a blank piece of paper or a white board/chalkboard and jot down every idea you can. The wilder the better. But here David Sherwin goes beyond basic brainstorming. A couple of my favorites:

  • Word Listing, where you make 3 columns, put a list of ideas in column 1, pick one of those ideas and expand on it in column 2; in column 3 you write down opposite words to columns 1 and 2, then connect relationships among the columns for new ideas.
  • Picture Association, where you grab a bunch of different photographs and illustrations and jot down ideas suggested by the images; I like Flickr for widely accessible photos, but there are lots of image-banks out there.
  • Idea Inversion, where you take a concept that is not quite working and write down everything that is the exact opposite of it, then mix and match with the original idea to come up with an improved idea.
Photo by Theresa Barker

Although I had picked up David Sherwin’s book for no particular reason, when I came across these multiple methods of brainstorming I decided to experiment with some of them on my story. I’m happy to report I have made some little progress. Today I’m probably going to start over from ground zero – again – but at least the notion of where creativity comes from has been widened for me.

Just for fun I did a couple of design challenges from David’s book. This was from an exercise where you have to make an alphabet out of everyday objects. I arranged yellow Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils into letters. It wasn’t as easy as I thought! Since the pencils were all the same length, it was hard to get curves to come out. But it also helped me think about the way objects need to be broken down into smaller segments in order to be able to complete a task or reach a goal.

Here is the complete alphabet made of No. 2 pencils:

Photos by Theresa Barker.

And, for my work this week here’s a short prose piece on a line from the poem “Rhymes for a Watertower” by Christian Wiman.

Rhymes for a Ghost Town

After Christian Wiman

The town is so flat she sees her thoughts pass by her on Main Street before the sun goes down. The dusk is the color of brown-orange candy her mother used to buy for her in the five-and-dime. The row of school desks harbor ghosts of memories read by candlelight. A row of houses nearly demolished by harsh weather and winter storms. A courthouse spreading its wings getting ready to fly. A bank clock’s lingering hands. A gleam of storefronts not quite spare enough for her spare thoughts. A memory of libraries in the dusty street.

Take care and good writing,

Theresa