Monday, January 28, 2013

Writing in the Vacuum, Part II

Bleeding Sheep and “Fish of a Nazi Haven”

When we started up Umbrella Factory Magazine it was my desire to give a forum to writers. The best writers, if possible. We have not failed at that. It was also my desire to give constructive, and personal rejection letters to those writers we declined. Oddly enough, we were successful at that in the beginning. We grew and so did the number of rejections. The personal rejections stopped. They had to. It became a matter of time, and not having it. In a perfect world, the staff of Umbrella Factory Magazine, as well as all literary magazines, would have nothing else to do with their days except work on their magazine. In many ways, I lament the end of the personalized rejection letter.

In my early days of writing short stories, I used to look at literary magazines and wonder endlessly how it all worked. Please keep in mind that at this time literary magazines were pulp and ink, bound and purchased at bookstores with a high enough consciousness to sell them. I read a few of these lit-mags and since this was the 1990s, I read a few fiction-zines too. I've noticed that I am really no different than many writers in that it only took a few readings of literary magazines before I decided to submit to a few.

In the old days a writer typed the submission. There was no print button. Then there was the art of the cover letter. Since this was a “real” letter, it was best to take it seriously. After all, at the bottom of the letter there was a handwritten signature. Once the story and letter was ready, the writer addressed the envelopes both the one to get to the publication and the SASE. Then there was line at P.O. And once the parcel left that was it. I found that I almost never got a return even with the SASE. A rejection was just silence. Talk about the vacuum.

I think the rejection is what kills the aspiration of publication for many writers. The rejections pour in and it's easy to retreat into your room and continue working on whatever it is you're working on and thinking: “I'm just a two-bit hack who'll ever read my work?” Okay, a little dramatic, I know, but the point remains: it's easy to stay cellular, to remain alone in the vacuum.

I lament the end of the analog days in an obscure way. I miss the fact that when I walk on the street now I don't know who's crazy or who's on a cellphone. Everyone talks to themselves these days. I miss the rowdy conversations with strangers at the coffeehouse. I think the same conversations about politics and history and sex are still topics at the coffeehouse, I just think there's a digital middle man who wrecks posture and the vibe. I miss letters.

But, there are too many good things about the modern day to lament the ways of the past. For instance, I think this is a great time to be a writer. This is a great time to be a reader. There are many more literary magazines today than there were 20 years ago. The online magazine is hands and fists above the old pulp and ink publication in that it is nearly free to operate and nearly unlimited in its distribution. For a few bucks the DIY publisher can build a magazine, a community of writers and a community of readers. The old vacuum stumbling blocks of the past are done. We can have instant readership, instant relationships and an instant way of showing others what we've done. How about that?

And still, the vacuum exists. I can only feel like it's a behavior rather than mechanical. As a writer, don't worry about rejection. It's all part of meeting others. Subscribe to all the online magazines, especially the free ones. If there's a writer who you admire, drop them a line. Likewise, if there is a publication you admire, send them a note to the affect. Meet people and build your “writer's roladex” and soon, you'll know everyone. Share ideas. Share your work. Submit something. Create a blog. Work on a literary magazine. There are always jobs to do. And get out of the vacuum.

I suspect I got out of the vacuum with my first accepted short story. When I first read Bleeding Sheep, I knew what I had to do. I don't recall ever seeing my work in print. I don't really care. It's possible the magazine folded before my story was published. What was important to me then was that I landed an acceptance. And what's important to me now is that this was the first contact I made in the world of writing and publishing. The editor wrote to me on beautiful piece of bonded paper, and I've held onto it for nearly 20 years. Incidentally, “Fish of a Nazi Haven,” the story I submitted is lost on me now. I suspect I would be embarrassed by it now. 

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