Monthly Archives: March 2015

Story Shots: Rejection

Story_Shots

J.K. Rowling said, over a Twitter interview, that Harry Potter was rejected “loads” before it was accepted by a publisher. And, after that story was published, J.K. Rowling not only became one of the most popular authors of her time, but one of the wealthiest as well. What’s the moral of this story? We all get rejected, but it’s what we do with our rejections that makes us who we are.


No one likes rejection letters.

You know the ones: “Your work was one among many excellent submissions, unfortunately…”

However, have you ever been on the other side of the editing table? If you have, you know the task of an editor is arduous and exhausting. And maybe somewhere along the hundredth rejection you decide on, you start to forget that these are writers your dealing with behind the blind submission numbers.

My mistake during this process was using my position as an editor for a literary journal to my own advantage: getting to listen in on the discussion process about my piece. I submitted my own work, which I knew would not be sent to me or my group of editors, but would be sent to another group I worked with for consideration.

Once blinded and given a number, it was handed out. I decided to find my submission’s number and locate the group it was assigned to.

I sat close to them as I eavesdropped on their deliberation, but this did not last long.

“So what did we think?”

“Mediocre at best.”

Suddenly, the passive rejection letter didn’t sound so bad.

– Nicole Neitzke


“Everybody gets rejected straight out of their bachelor’s degree,” Professor Powers, soon to be Dr. Powers, said.

I got the first rejection January 31st, 2015. It was from USC – the school I had been able to visit and speak with professors at. I didn’t take that as a great sign.

I was applying for my Ph.D. in Early Modern English, with an emphasis in critical theory, namely performance theory, and digital humanities.

I was applying so I could one day teach and share my enthusiasm for Shakespeare.

“If you want to teach Shakespeare,” my friend and former professor yet again continued offering much needed insight and advice, “you’re going to have to do lit. If you do rhetoric they won’t ever let you teach literature, especially not Shakespeare.”

Other rejections soon followed. On February 6th, 2015, UCLA rejected my graduate application. Ten days later, Cornell sent a rejection. Three days after that, UC Santa Barbra rejected me as well. UC Santa Barbara had a professor there that had, kindly, sent her regrets at my rejection.

“In my graduate program at the University of Iowa, only one student of the thirty was straight out of their undergraduate degree. Only myself and one other student of the thirty were two years out. It’s really competitive. They want to know you’re a serious student. They don’t want to waste their time on English majors who are just continuing school because they don’t know what else to do,” Professor Powers continued.

UC Santa Cruz rejected me February 27th and the University of Pennsylvania rejected me March 10th. I was getting numb to the rejections by now. My last hope was UC Davis.

Choose Your Own Unreliable Narrator

We’re all biased, for we are all thinking, feeling beings with opinions and experiences all our own. This means that, no matter what we write, the nature of the text will always be slightly unreliable because what is presented through the text is a projection of our understanding of reality, not reality itself.

Now you can do your best to hide your bias and hide the unreliable nature of your text, or you can embrace it and choose to present your literary vision through a set of unreliable eyes.

There are a few different varieties of unreliable narrators used in text and some great examples out there in literature.

Humbert Humbert from Lolita

Lolita, if you haven’t read it, is a book with a charming, literary, intelligent, protagonist who tells the story of his love affair with a 12-year-old girl to justify the murder of her other lover. Let that sink in for a minute. The opening lines of the book illustrate just how seductive this unreliable narrator is:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Humbert Humbert’s command of language can sometimes mask his unreliable nature, but in the book the audience he is addressing with his tale is a jury that is trying him for murder. Humbert Humbert is being charming and displaying wit to literally try and get away with murder. When it comes to unreliable narrators, Humbert Humbert is a plain old liar, or an unreliable narrator that deliberately tells a skewed version of events that take place within the story. Humbert Humbert is most certainly twisting reality to serve his purpose of avoiding a conviction.


The Narrator from Fight Club

Fight Club‘s never-named narrator isn’t unreliable by choice. You see, he suffers from insomnia and, despite everything he tries like visiting doctors or joining support groups for diseases he doesn’t actually have, he cannot sleep. This lack of sleep creates a split personality and a disconnect from what is really taking place in the story that completely catches a reader off guard.

Dear Mark Grist, I’m (Still) Totally In Love with You

This morning I found this amazing video by Mark Grist and his preference on girls:

 

After seeing (and swooning at) this video, I started doing some research about the poet and, holy heck, I love this guy.

Mark Grist is a former English teacher who quit to become a performance poet, but his passion still lies within the classroom. Since leaving his teaching position, he has started to do workshops at schools to get kids interested in poetry again through the use of rap.

 

And that’s not all.

Springtime Poetry

Well, it’s officially five days into spring. To celebrate the hopeful end of snowstorms in the east and the coming of April showers in the west, today we’re sharing some of our favorite springtime poetry.

Lines Written in Early Spring
by William Wordsworth

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:–
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?


A little madness in the Spring
by Emily Dickinson

A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown —
Who ponders this tremendous scene —
This whole Experiment of Green —
As if it were his own!


Poem to Spring in a Time of Global Warming
by Michael Graves

The withholding spring,
The long-delayed,
The miser-like who will not spend
The wealth of warmth and light,
Or open up the long-denied,
Season most desired,
Salve for the wind and ice oppressed,
Yearned-for spring,
Is like a god
Who will not send a sacred child,
But unlike an omnipotent deity
Spring is neither doubted in its essence
Nor blasphemed against
By those who suffer winter’s bite.


After the Winter
by Claude McKay

Some day, when trees have shed their leaves
And against the morning’s white
The shivering birds beneath the eaves
Have sheltered for the night,
We’ll turn our faces southward, love,
Toward the summer isle
Where bamboos spire the shafted grove
And wide-mouthed orchids smile.

And we will seek the quiet hill
Where towers the cotton tree,
And leaps the laughing crystal rill,
And works the droning bee.
And we will build a cottage there
Beside an open glade,
With black-ribbed blue-bells blowing near,
And ferns that never fade.


The Narrative and Story in Video Games

I have a secret I think it’s time to admit: I like video games. I haven’t played in a few years to focus on school, but, since I’ve graduated, I’ve already started to amass a few games to play while I’m in between degrees.

I never really thought of video games as a reading-heavy activity, but one of my English major friends on Facebook noted that she reads an awful lot in the games she plays. And that got me thinking – I do too. In fact, a lot of the English majors I know from my honor society, and other bloggers here like Nicole, are all huge video game fans.

Some games are now being developed purely as a story and narrative delivery device, like Heavy Rain for PS3 that came out in 2009. The new Walking Dead video games also rely heavily on story telling rather than button mashing and gore to get the story across. These games are not exceptions either – games like Portal, Bioshock, Oblivion: Elder Scrolls, and so much more are all video games with exceptionally crafted stories that drive a player’s quest for completion with the desire to complete the story.

MMORPG like World of Warcraft extensively develop stories around every aspect of the game – from the characters themselves to the zones they play in to the armor the avatars wear. Old school RPGs, like the ones I used to play in high school like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate all had extensive lore as well. In fact, in these games you could pick up books and read even more history related to the game’s world.

Adventure RPGs like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda have always been story-driven games and these franchises have lasted well over 20 years because consumers of video games enjoy the way these stories are delivered.

Although, when video games cross into other media it doesn’t always work so well. While Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda are two successful video game franchises, the Final Fantasy movie was no one’s favorite and the 1989 The Legend of Zelda T.V. show was not just sexist (thanks horrible television writers) but didn’t last past a handful of episodes.

Throwback Thursday: Authors, Editors, and Readers Alike All Hate the Word Very, a Lot.

I’m guilty of using the word very. It’s probably appeared in more than one of my blog posts and academic papers. I have one professor, though, that always points it out in my writing and tells me to take it out. He says it’s useless. He says it adds nothing to further my point. He says it’s lazy writing.

He’s right, and there are others that agree with him.

So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.
N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
Mark Twain

Well, you could take Mark Twain’s advise, but I feel like damn wouldn’t be deleted as often by publishers now as it was when Mark Twain uttered those words sometime before 1910 when he died. There are other ways of avoiding the word very.

Kindle Scout: Crowdsourced Publishing Model for “Bad” Books

Kindle Scout is a new initiative from Amazon that allows readers to vote on the titles that they’d like to see published.

How does it work? Authors submit 5,000-word excerpts of their manuscripts to the website, where they stay for a 30-day “scouting” period. During this time, Amazon members are allowed to browse through each title and nominate the ones they’d like to see published.

In other words, Amazon would like all of you, dear readers, to be their unpaid interns, digging through the vast slush pile of—quite frankly—bad books that I’m sure arrive at their digital doorstep daily. Only, you don’t get any credit or, for that matter, have much of an incentive.

Books that are selected for publication—the criteria for selecting a “winner” is still unknown—“will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50 percent eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.”

As Slate‘s words correspondent, Katy Waldman, suggests in her recent article on Kindle Scout, “The real winner would appear to be Amazon, which can leverage readers’ direct involvement to lure them to its website and profit from successful new titles without losing too much on clunkers.”

Waldman then goes on, attempting to paint a silver lining, by writing “A program with open submissions puts more voices in circulation. It amplifies different kinds of voices, razing institutional wayposts that tend to disproportionately welcome white men. It responds more nimbly to the demonstrated preferences of the reading public, asking us to rethink our inherited notions of literary merit.”

The reality is, however, that the chances of anything of “literary merit” being discovered through methods like crowd sourcing are awfully slim. For one, traditional publishers aren’t in the business of turning away true gems with literary merit. That same publisher can offer a much larger advance, an editor to help with the development of the manuscript, and a marketing team to support the book once it’s on shelves. You know, a real marketing team—not an algorithm that artificially pushes your self-published e-book higher on its sites own rankings.

Pinterest For Writers

I use Pinterest for a lot of things like looking up tasting recipes, crocheting projects, and, of course, for inspiration for writing. No, really. Pinterest is great for writers.

Earlier today I was playing on my Pinterest account and found this wonderful infograph:

All great tips you should follow!

In addition to this useful infograph, here are some boards I follow that I think would be useful for any writer to follow as well:

Are There Too Many Books Out There?

Writers, for me, are philosophers. And anthropologists. They search for meaning, and they observe and report.

Writers are smart. They have to be in order to survive, in order to create something worth surviving.

But quite frankly, there’s a lot of bad writing out there. Technology gives anyone with a computer access to a word processor. Anyone with enough time on their hands can sit down and start typing. Anyone with enough money can call up an editor, who can rip their work apart and build it back up.

I struggle with the flooded marketplace. There are simply too many books out there, many not worth reading.

A friend once told me, “I think most people think they have at least one great story inside them.” As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Forbes estimates that somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year (nearly half of those are self-published).

Writing initiatives, like National Novel Writing Month, seem to purport the idea that “anyone can write” if they only just pushed themselves, if they only just set aside the time. I have quite a few friends, people working in publishing, that have participated in NaNoWriMo. And when I ask each of them where these novels exist now, I get told that the manuscript is in a drawer or a trash bin—wherever it is, the answer is always the same: it wasn’t very good.

My point, I suppose, is that both readers and aspiring writers need to remember what it is that drew them to books in the first place. The goal of writing shouldn’t be to hit a word count—to write 50,000 in thirty days. The goal of writing shouldn’t even be to leave your mark on the world. Because I get it, really I do. Life is short, but art lasts. The goal of writing should be, in my opinion, to give readers something of value.

In a recent interview with Guernica, agent Chris Parris-Lamb, of The Gernet Company, stated that this problem is actually the most common one he sees. On the manuscripts in his slush pile? “I just wish I read more submissions where it felt like the author had taken great care with it, had spent a lot of time on it, and had a better idea—or any idea at all—of the books they saw their own as being in conversation with, as well as how theirs was unique. Most submissions I see feel like someone checking ‘write a novel’ off their bucket list.”

Literary Paraphernalia: Bookish Candles from Hearth & Hammer

I have no more classes to attend—forever. On Monday, I’ll turn in my last final project and kiss academia goodbye.

It’s a funny feeling. Before this, I could map out my future. Community college, university, graduate school. And what’s left now hasn’t been drawn yet.

It’s a little thrilling and a little freeing and a little stressful. Since I graduated a term early, I now get to watch my friends deal with preparing portfolios and final papers. And because of that, this week’s literary paraphernalia (and probably the next few) are inspired by items to help relax a book lover.

These literary candles are all from the Chicago-based Etsy shop, Hearth & Hammer. All candles are made with natural soy wax.

Burning Books

Inspired by Fahrenheit 451. Scents of cinnamon, orange, and fir. According to the owners, it “smells like you’re sitting by a fire reading your favorite banned book.”

Signal Fire

Inspired by The Lord of the Flies. Scents of leather, tobacco, amber, and musk. According to the owners, it’s “to make you feel like you’re right on the island with Simon, Piggy and the boys.”

Open Road

Inspired by On the Road. Scents of meadow grass and sandalwood. According to the owners, it smells like wandering “through sawdust-covered towns and feel the meadow grass on your bare feet with Kerouac and Moriarty.”