Rejection: A Writer’s Love Story

Posted by admin - 07/08/12 at 01:08 pm

This is about bad news and good news, with a bit of a lesson I learned tossed into the middle of it. Bear with me.

About five months ago, I found out about an anthology from Biting Dog Press called “Fresh Blood, Old Bones.” I knew the editor, and even though it was a horror book, I felt like I could come up with a suitable short story to submit.

I always have felt like the biggest hook in a story is the first line, and I thought I had a good one.

“The first time I killed Danny, it was an accident. That’s why I’m glad that one didn’t stick. This time, though, I wanted to make it permanent so I used the crossbow.”

I started there and wrote a short story around it called “Retirement Plans,” about the final job for a vampire hunter. I threw in a couple of little bits I was saving for another vampire story, and put together about 2400 words worth of short story.

Read it. Re-read it. Proofed it. Tweaked a couple of things. Re-wrote the middle, adding some more action. Proofed it again. When I felt comfortable with it, I sent it in.

She didn’t want it.

Nope. She got back to me a few days later, and told me no. She was very polite about it, and told me it wasn’t my writing she was rejecting, it just wasn’t a very good story.

She was right, but more on that in a moment.

First though, rejection is always hard. Whether you get turned down for a job, a date, or a high five, it always stings. As a writer, you get used to it. Coming from television, it was pretty much part of the process for me. In some ways, it’s a lot harder to get rejected by someone you know. In some ways, it’s easier.

In all ways, however, it truly does suck.

The more sure you are of acceptance, the sharper the shock of getting turned down. The mildest rejections are a good hard slap in the face, while the worst are more of a steel-toed boot kick to a much lower location.

It was actually a good thing though, especially with the notes she had sent. Most rejection notices from publishers are so generic, they mean nothing. They could send you a Post It note with “Do Not Want” on it, and it would mean pretty much the same thing.

This one at least let me know that I was actually writing something, just not anything worth publishing in this arena.

I started to think about what I had written. It was…okay. It was certainly a workable short story, all the elements were there. But was it my short story?

No. Not at all.

I had slapped together 2400 words of serviceable narrative, but there was nothing in it to indicate it was me who actually wrote it. It could have been computer generated.

Anyone who knows me understands my style of writing. I’m a comedy guy. No matter what I write, there’s a touch of comedy (or black comedy) in it. Whether I was writing, doing radio play-by-play, or on television, I always put my voice into it.

And no, it doesn’t always work. Thank you elderly television viewers of East Texas for pointing that out to me whenever you see me at the gas station.

Check my Facebook or Twitter to see how I write. I’m a born smart-ass, and I can no more deny that than I can flap my arms and fly to the moon.

But looking at my story, my voice wasn’t in it. It was just generic, and generic isn’t good unless you’re filling prescriptions on a budget. It wasn’t good enough, and it wasn’t me enough, either.

It was easy to see why I got rejected. Hell, I realized I didn’t even have it formatted right. I guess I thought since I knew the editor, I could just send it in with no formatting, no name on it, no spacing, all in lower-case letters with candy stains all over it, and it would be rubber-stamped on the way to a million-seller.

My editor said if I wanted to submit another story, I could try. I wasn’t certain though. To be honest, I’m not a horror guy. Love to read it, never saw myself writing it. Horror has little moments to make the big ones more terrifying. Comedy has big moments to make the little details resonate funnier. I wasn’t sure if I could write anything in that genre, but I figured I’d start over and give it a try.

I had an idea a while back after watching a TV special on exorcisms. It just dawned on me that most teenage kids are little assholes, so it must be kind of tough to figure out which ones are actually possessed.

Well, that idea grew into another story, which didn’t really have anything to do with the initial thought. I used a favorite character of mine who I had actually started a novel with, and sat down to write.

“The most important thing to remember about performing an exorcism is to wear old clothes.”

And this time, the story flowed right from me. It felt…better. Easier. It’s a horror story called “The Exorcist’s Best Friend,” but there’s enough black comedy in there for it to feel like me.

I sent the story in, but honestly not for publication. I told the editor to not worry about reading it for inclusion in the anthology, I just wanted her to read it as a friend and see if that was closer to what they’d be looking for in the future.

Once I had that story down, that led to a couple of other ideas in the same vein. A couple of other shorts stories came pretty easily, then I wrote a flash fiction story (100 words) about Frankenstein murdering an NBA player for his oversized blazer, and it got picked up at the Necon site. I actually dreamed up another short story for the same character, woke up, and narrated the idea into my phone’s voice recorder for later.

By the way, if you want comedy, do that one night. Roll over and still half-asleep, try and describe a dream you had into a recorder. It took me ninety seconds to say twenty words, and five minutes to translate it later in the light of day. I sounded like I had just woken up after a NyQuil shot to the heart. There’s one section where I still have no idea what I was saying, it sounds like “something…blah…uunh…then he…the cheese.”

“Then He…The Cheese” is probably not the name of my next book, by the way, but back to the subject. Much like a video game, reaching a new level unlocked several other possibilities for me. I got a good burst of creativity, and more confidence in what I felt like I should be writing.

A week or so later, I heard from the editor again. She liked the exorcism story, and wanted to use it for the book.

In that moment, the rejection was gone completely. My work was going to be published, and it meant much more to me because it was something I was proud of, not just something I had thrown together.

No one likes rejection, but through that rejection I found my voice. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching over the last year, and there’s one thing I’ve learned that keep coming up over and over again.

“When you realize what you are, be that.”

And so now, I have my voice back. I understand what I am, what I enjoy doing, and what works best for me.

And I promise to you, no matter what comes next for me, I will always be that smart-ass. I vow to you to always be the lone voice of sarcasm, crying out in the wilderness, pointing out how the wilderness sucks and there’s too many bugs, and you can’t get good Wifi there and all that.

For all the authors who made the book, I’m honored to be one of you. And to all the authors who didn’t make it into this one, I was proud to be one of you, too. I appreciate the lessons I’ve learned, and look forward to the next obstacle.

— Reid Kerr only liked rejections when they were delivered by Dikembe Motumbo. If you liked the blog, check out Reid’s vacation column, where he goes a little bit crazy on the road.

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