Rejections (the better kind)

If you submit to literary journals, be prepared to be rejected. The more prestigious (and paying) magazines will only accept a small fraction of submissions (sometimes less than one percent). An overworked editor may receive hundreds of submissions and can only accept a handful for publication. Even if your story is great, chances are you will be rejected. It’s simple math.

Most of the time, you will receive a simple form rejection thanking you for submitting but declining your work. Occasionally, you’ll receive a higher level form letter that indicates somehow your piece showed promise and encouraging you to submit more.

On rare occasions, you will receive a personalized response from the editor rejecting your story but providing their feedback. You may or may not agree with their thoughts, but you should be thankful that someone took the time to respond. At the very least take comfort in knowing that at least they read your work!

As an emerging writer myself, I’ve found a lot of value in these responses, even when they’re no more than a sentence or two. But other times the feedback can be quite personal, detailed, and helpful. I want to thank a few editors who haven’t published my work but who have given me direction.

Keith Cork and the rest of the team at The Colored Lens: Keith’s recent comments on one of my stories gave such strong feedback that I can’t wait to rework the piece. He wrote a very lengthy paragraph explaining what he liked but also why he was rejecting it. The Colored Lens will provide a personalized response to all submissions but typically provide more detailed feedback to pieces that are closer to acceptance.

Dylan Brie Ducey at Anti-Heroin Chic: Anti-Heroin Chic bills itself as a space safe for those recovering from addiction or those affected by addiction in some way. This is a heavy subject but Dylan responded in a warm and caring manner, matching the friendly environment they are trying to create.

Rick Taubold at Fabula Argentea Magazine: Fabula Argentea is one of the magazines under the Silver Pen Writers umbrella and I believe they all provide personalized responses. With Rick, I appreciate his candour. In one submission, he told me he liked the piece but unfortunately due to the number of quality submissions they get, he has to turn away pieces that he deems worthy of publication. For another submission, he was fairly blunt in saying the story started slow and then didn’t really go anywhere. (If you dislike the feedback, you don’t have to follow it–the comments are just one person’s opinion in a highly subjective field–but when the initial sting of the response subsides, look at your story with fresh eyes and see if there’s anything to learn from the comments. Chances are there will be. In my case, Rick was right. The story did start slow and I’ve begun to rework it.)

I am thankful for any feedback from editors. They don’t owe me anything other than the courtesy to read and consider my submission. I owe them much more than that. Their countless hours (often unpaid) of hard work to help publish writers like myself does not go unnoticed, and for that I thank them.

Smokelong Quarterly

One of my favourite things about my recent excursion into writing has been perusing the different literary magazines.

Some of the top publications can be somewhat dense or confusing; I’ve heard the term ‘academic jigsaw puzzle’ used to describe stories where it’s not entirely clear what’s happening.

But certain publications find the right balance between pushing the literary envelope while still presenting stories that are accessible to the average reader.

Smokelong Quarterly stands out above the competition. Each issue, they have several stories that really make you stop and think.

Here are two of my favourite stories from their recent issues that I wanted to share.

The first story is What Wasn’t Swallowed Was Exhaled by Tucker-Leighty Phillips. Tucker has a unique way of seeing the world and it comes through in his prose. In this heartbreaking tale, he uses the tangible nature of dust to show the protagonist’s sense of loss. His descriptions throughout the piece are truly poetic.

The second story is From Your Jerry by Kevin Sterne. This story also deals with loss but from a completely different angle. As the protagonist attempts to make amends to his late mother, the story becomes increasingly absurd until we’re left with nothing but emotion.

One fun thing about Smokelong is they have author interviews with each piece, so if you enjoy the stories, take a moment to check out the writer’s own thoughts.

The Human Experience

In 2018, I released a compilation of my short stories. I named the collection “The Human Experience” after the story that I thought best captured the overall mood of the book.

Some of my writer friends told me I was foolish to self-publish, as it meant I was giving away first publication rights and thus most magazines would never later accept these stories. That is certainly something to consider, but at the time I wanted to share my stories with friends and family, and I have no regrets.

The good news is that some magazines are willing to accept reprints. Case in point: After Dinner Conversations, led by the editor Kolby Granville.

After Dinner Conversations has taken the literary world by storm by creating not just a publication but a concept. Each story is meant to provoke philosophical conversation, and Kolby prepares five probing questions to accompany each story.

I thought he did a great job at elucidating the moral dilemmas in my story. Is it right to genetically alter an unborn child? It’s hard to say. The story brings up many questions of morality and After Dinner Conversations was the perfect avenue to highlight them.

The Human Experience is currently behind a paywall, but I strongly suggest you purchase the February edition of After Dinner Conversations to read my story and the works of other talented authors. The lead story in the issue questions what the world would be like if humans no longer required sleep. It’s really quite fascinating. One of the best stories I’ve read in ages.

Anything You Want

Published on January 1st, my story Anything You Want kicked off the year on a note of inclusion. Judy Darley, the editor at Reflex Press, commented how it was the perfect story to start the year on. I couldn’t agree more.

After publishing darker sci-fi and humour pieces, it was nice to share a kinder look at the world. I enjoyed trying to capture this family’s dynamics and liked how the story bounced between the four characters’ perspectives.

Nine Minutes into the Future

I always believed in the viability of my story Nine Minutes into the Future, but I received many rejections before it was finally accepted. Two different editors told me that they enjoyed the world building, but that for a sci-fi story, they didn’t want to read about a date gone wrong.

I considered tinkering the story to their suggestions, but I ultimately stuck with the story I wanted to tell. I’m glad I did. Hugh and the team at Literally Stories snapped this story up only a couple days after I’d submitted it.

Literally Stories is a difficult publication to get accepted to, but they are incredibly supportive. They have a loyal group of regulars who comment on each story. I was very appreciative for everyone’s kind words and their unique takes on my view into a potential reality.

I enjoy writing sci-fi because of the freedom it gives me. I get to build the world and set the rules. The worlds I create may not be the worlds I want to live in, but let’s be honest, the present hasn’t exactly been stellar lately either. COVID and all…

Thank you to everyone for their outpouring of support with this story. It’s nice to know when a story lands with readers.

Buddy’s New Friend

I had a lot of fun writing Buddy’s New Friend. Everyone who knows me knows how much of a dog lover I am. Chances are I will like your dog more than you. No offence. It’s just how it is.

This story is told from Buddy’s perspective. It was fun crawling into the head of a dog and imagining what he would be thinking. After much tinkering, I used regular font to describe the action, italics to describe Buddy’s thoughts, and capitalized words like BARK and CHASE to describe his instinctive behaviours.

There’s also a little robot friend and a couple of (unlikable) humans. The story, like much of my writing, jumps between sci-fi and dark humour. What’s not to love?

A big shout out to J.L. Corbett of Idle Ink for publishing this piece. I apologized for (at that time) not yet having a public writer’s page to promote this piece, but she was understanding and encouraging. I shared the piece with my private network of friends and family and J.L. said the story had performed very well.

Buddy thanks you for your compassion to his plight. If you’re looking to help other dogs in need, consider a donation or volunteering with Soi Dog Foundation. BARK. BARK. BARK.

Toilet Humour

Unlike virtually all of my fiction, Toilet Humour is loosely based on a true encounter. Back when I was in high school, my friends and I were eating dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory on The Esplanade (which is funny in its own right – heading all the way downtown just to eat at a chain-style restaurant).

While in the bathroom, an older man looked at me and a friend and said, “Don’t you hate urinals?” He paused. “They’re where all the dicks hang out!”

I thought it was pretty funny, even if his raunchy unprovoked joke to a couple of teenagers was bordering on creepy.

The rest of the story is fictionalized, but the initial encounter did happen.

I was glad to publish this story in City.River.Tree. The editors referred to themselves only as “Him” and “Her” and awarded “The Prize” to their favourite story of the year. Clearly, a magazine that doesn’t take itself too seriously was a perfect fit for a story set at the urinals. I chose to become a Patreon in lieu of payment, as a thank you for their hard work.

As with Paradox, I wish I had come up with a more creative title for this story. Never send out your work until it’s complete!

Paradox

I’ve been writing for many years, but I only started submitting my work to literary magazines on the suggestion of my talented writer friend Dave Brown. Dave and I both compete in the NYC Midnight writing contests, and he began taking his completed stories and finding places to publish them.

When I first started submitting my work, I received many form rejections. I made the cardinal sin of submitting to magazines without first understanding what sort of work they publish, and in doing so I wasted editors’ precious time.

Finally, I got an acceptance, from Emma Kalson, who was compiling an anthology of flash fiction pieces titled Escaped Ink: Tall Tales and Short Stories. She enjoyed my story Paradox so much, she placed it at the beginning of the anthology, which means it’s available to read for free as part of the preview designed to entice readers to purchase the entire anthology.

Compared to many of my other stories, I hadn’t spent much time on this one. It’s rather simple and the acceptance actually caught me off guard. But it lands on a note of situational irony, which my talented photographer friend Marcela Kadanka says is a hallmark of my writing.

If I could change one thing about this story, it would be the title. Paradox was always a working title, one I meant to go back and change, but I never did. Too late now. Live and learn.

Thank you to Emma for taking a chance on my prose. I hope you will check out her collection.