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On Rejection

As I discussed in my last entry, I recently finished my second novel, the first one that I have attempted to market.  In short, my book is about a girl who is kidnapped and forced to train as a space pirate.  It is obviously science fiction, but it also has many characteristics of horror.  This has made marketing the book somewhat more difficult, as very few agents discuss their interest in seeing a sci-fi/horror novel.  I have attempted to read between the lines and hope that if an agent wants both sci-fi and horror, then they wouldn’t be opposed to a hybrid.  Is that truly the case?  The only way to know for sure is to query and see.


This, of course, brings me to my next topic: Rejection.  In marketing any piece of creative work, the artist must certainly deal with rejection at one time or another.  I’ve dealt with it countless times while marketing short fiction, and it has begun to rear its ugly head once again as I market my new novel. 


Every rejection letter strikes me somewhat differently, even those that are written in similar fashion.  The most common rejection letter is the form rejection.  Form rejections are tell you nothing specific, usually offering faint words of encouragement along with vague descriptions as to why the agent may have passed.  Writers dislike form rejections because they feel dry and impersonal.  They imply that the editor may not have finished reading your query letter.  If I’m in an especially self-defeating mood, I look at a form rejection and wonder if I should have written my novel at all.  It recalls that old saying about a tree falling in the woods.  If nobody reads my novel, was it even written?


Personalized letters are theoretically the best, often pointing out what you did right and why your work garnered strong consideration.  While this is all very encouraging stuff, it feels a bit like losing the Super Bowl.  Failure is always worse when it lands closely to success.


Lastly, there are the blatantly mean rejections.  I’ve never received one of these myself, but I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about rejection letters meant not only to reject the work, but the author as well.  These are the letters that tell you to give up, or otherwise personally insult you.  As intelligent human beings, we know that it is best to ignore this kind of “advice,” but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.  Discouraging words tend to ring much louder than encouraging ones, which is why it’s important to have a strong support network that will weather the storm with you.  I imagine that if I were to receive such a letter, it would take me days to start writing again.  I’m sensitive that way. 


But you know what?  That’s okay.  It’s okay because eventually I would start writing again and I would have one more experience out of the way.  I would have one more story to share. 


Rejection letters hurt, but in all honesty, they probably shouldn’t.  A rejection letter simply doesn’t mean that much.  When you walk down the aisle at the grocery store and select Captain Crunch, does this mean that you hate all the other cereals?  Are you consciously rejecting them?  Sure, Cheerios might have better nutrition content, or maybe tomorrow you’ll want something with a chocolaty center, but today you’re in the mood for Captain Crunch. 


The same can be said for an agent.  They sift through a lot of material, dedicating more than ninety percent of their work to something other than reviewing query letters.  They don’t have time to carefully read ingredient lists and nutrition information.  Either the work will instantly pop out at them, or it won’t.  Referrals and substantial writing credits help their decisions too, but you can write the best novel in the world and expect to see a nice handful of rejections. 


For all of these reasons, it is important to keep writing and submitting.  In the various writing forums that I’ve participated in over the years, I’ve seen a lot of folks spend their time complaining about agents and forming opinions about how those agents should behave and react to writers.  I believe delving into such negativity only hurts the writer.   

More than 99% of the time, rejections are nothing personal.  As writers, one of the best things we can do is learn how to accept rejection with grace, and how to bounce back with renewed enthusiam.




Returning to the Fold

It’s been several years since I have contributed to this blog. I started it during a period when I was writing lots of short stories and submitting them to publication through resources found on Duotrope. Like many people, I am an aspiring writer. I love creating stories, crafting characters, and building worlds. And while I feel vulnerable by saying so, I love to be read. I feel that my fiction shares certain aspects of my personality that may never be revealed otherwise. In fiction, I can reveal thoughts and philosophies that are more difficult to squeeze into daily conversation. I can delve into my fears and insecurities, tapping into my deepest, darkest thoughts, all while filtering them through a medium that is, for the most part, make-believe.

When I began this blog, I wanted it to be a forum from which I could share my fiction. I planned on discussing writing from time to time, but ultimately I wanted to create a tool to share and promote my work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up with it, and after gathering a very modest group of readers, I fell off the grid. I still wrote, but I began focusing on longer works. Since I last contributed to this blog, I have completed many more short stories and finished drafting my first two novels. I’ve submitted one of those novels to a handful of promising agents, with the hope that one of them appreciates what I have done.

While I would like to keep this blog loosely wrapped around writing and fiction, I will also use it to discuss ideas and creative works of all kinds. If I feel so compelled, I may write a review for a movie, a book, or a video game. I may discuss my own techniques in writing, or I may discuss why I enjoy the works of others, and why I think they are successful writers.

Most importantly, I want to create a forum that reaches out to other writers and readers. I want to contribute to your work, read your blog, and become part of a community. If you have a short story you want to share, let me know. I’ll read it. If you want a critique, I can help you with that too.

Consider this the relaunch of a long-defunct blog that may have been a bit misguided from the start. I look forward to meeting each and every one of you, and I hope we can help each other become better writers.

Thanks for reading.

Sometimes there are advantages to being the last one to arrive.  A Dance with Dragons came out five and a half years after George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows.  For most fans, the wait was excruciating.  After years of wishful thinking and inaccurate release dates, the latest installment of A Song of Ice and Fire is finally available on shelves.  Fortunately for me, I only began reading the series a year ago.

A Dance with Dragons is not so much a sequel to A Feast for Crows as it is a companion piece.  Both novels span the same period of time, but they focus on different characters and events.  When Feast came out, it disappointed a lot of casual readers, despite its literary quality. Adored characters like Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen did not appear in the book, instead paving way for new faces, like Victarion Greyjoy and the Martells of the south.  It was a difficult transition, and ultimately not as satisfying as previous books.

So where does that leave A Dance with Dragons?  Like the previous book, it leaves out pivotal locations and characters, but this time, the split is only temporary.  Towards the latter half of the book, the stories merge up again and many characters featured in A Feast for Crows show up to finish their story arcs.  Ultimately, all of Martin’s decisions paid off.  A Dance with Dragons is a fascinating read, filled with all the emotional ups and downs of his previous efforts while setting the stage for some new and interesting conflicts as the series moves forward.

As has always been the case with A Song of Ice and Fire, the characterization in A Dance with Dragons is the strongest highlight.  Atypically for literature, there isn’t a main character or primary protagonist, but rather a host of interesting characters, each working towards and against one another to achieve their own goals.  While this wouldn’t work in a lot of books, it is actually my favorite aspect of A Song of Ice and Fire.  Martin’s lack of reverence for any one character lends realism to the conflict, punctuated by the fact that anyone can face danger, and anyone can die.  As interesting and well-rounded as the characters are, they are not invincible.  Martin’s characters are human in every sense of the word.  While some are more sympathetic than others, even the despised characters are well-rounded with believable motivations.  This is the best cast of characters in fantasy today.

The strength of Martin’s characters comes largely from the moral issues that each of them face throughout the plot.  In A Dance with Dragons, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen return to the forefront, and despite being half a world away from one another, their stories are similar.  Each takes on a role of authority, and each has their strength and character tested by a whirlwind of political upheaval.

Daenerys Targaryen is an especially interesting case as she has settled in the Eastern city of Meereen to begin her rule as queen.  Though the setting is rich and thick with political intrigue, it is not as immediately accessible to the reader as other locations such as Westeros.  Lacking the familiar setting of swords and castles, Meereen is a land of pyramids, slavers, and scoundrels.  Many of the characters in these scenes are new, and their names are difficult to pronounce.  These little deviations from the norm make Dany’s story harder to follow at first, but as the reader becomes acclimated to the new environment, the story picks up and becomes every bit as interesting as the events on Westeros.  Objectively speaking, the sequences in Meereen are the best in the entire book.

And then there’s Reek, my favorite of the point-of-view characters.  Without giving too much away, the Reek chapters hearken back to what makes Martin such a great author.  There are many authors who depict violence and cruelty in their work, but when Martin chooses to do so, he underlines the psychology and the humanity behind every action.  There is social commentary lurking around every crevice, disguised as fiction even as it asks important questions about human nature.

Though I have little negative to say about A Dance with Dragons, it would be dishonest to ignore the shortcomings completely.  A Feast for Crows had a number of meandering travel-based chapters involving the characters Brienne and Samwell.  I was never a fan of these chapters.  This time, the meandering traveller is Tyrion.  In this case, the traveling is more interesting, perhaps because Tyrion is a more interesting character than Brienne or Samwell.  Even so, a lot of his adventures as he journeys from one place to another feel contrived and somewhat arbitrary.

In addition, Martin has always had a tendency to allow his characters to meet up with one another by chance, no matter how unrealistic that might be given the size of the world.  These chance meetings take place in A Dance with Dragons just like they do in the other books.  It’s a form of Deus ex machina, and even though it works to carry the story from one point to another, it is not masterful writing.

That said, there isn’t a book in the world without its shortcomings, and in this case, the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses.  The best chapters of Dragons start about three-quarters into the book when many of the conflicts reach their conclusions or jump to new heights.  It’s difficult to pinpoint everything that makes A Dance with Dragons so special, but the characters and their often overwhelming trials define the exceptional quality of the novel.  A Dance with Dragons is an excellent read and it earns my highest possible recommendation.