Archive for October, 2016

Sending Stuff Out

I just sent a short story to four journals.  Same short story; four literary journals.  Now comes the waiting part.  I may not hear from one or more of those journals for up to six months.  Which means I will be looking around for other journals for which to send the same short story.  I think it’s one of my best short stories.  I’ve sent that short story (in several slightly modified forms) to at least twenty-three other journals over the past seven or eight years, and gotten thoroughly rejected by all who received it.  (Except for one journal whose editors did say they liked my style of writing, but they didn’t like the story’s ending and so declined to publish it.)

So, now I will wait for the results, which, if past history is any guide, will probably also be rejections.  That may sound somewhat pessimistic, but my scientific training tends to look at numbers like this in an objective, dispassionate way.  Granted, that’s probably not the best way to look at my submissions history because writing is such a subjective field.  A frustratingly subjective field.  One has to look at each submission as a separate, unique event, and hope someone else will like my style of writing.  (In case you’re wondering, yes, I did change the ending.)

But still, I send stories out.  I continue to cling to the hope that someone, somewhere, will like my story well enough to publish it, and that would mean they might publish another story, and I might get still another story accepted at a different journal, and so on.  There’s a real endpoint here, a point at which I can say I’m a published author.  But the only way I can reach that goal is to send stuff out.  No sending, no publishing.

I’ve heard that some people have difficulty sending their work to journals and magazines.  For some indefinable reason, they’re hesitant.  Afraid of something, I guess.  I’ve never suffered from that phobia.  That may stem from the requirement of my profession as a scientist to publish any results I obtained in the lab, and working in the lab was fun as well as life-affirming and profitable.  Well, reasonably profitable, anyway.  I enjoyed sending stuff out.  For several reasons.  A published paper got my name out into the scientific world, it added a little to the total knowledge about viruses, and I became known to a very tiny group of other virologists as an expert in an even tinier aspect of the overall field.  What’s not to like?

So, where does this hesitancy to send writing out come from?  I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I wonder if people are afraid the editors at a journal will laugh at them, or throw their submission in the trash, or send out an all-points bulletin to other magazines as to just how bad a writer they are, or even worse, send the writing police after them to yell at them, “Don’t ever send anything out again.  EVER.”

Ridiculous.  No one is going to laugh, or try to intimidate you if you send something out.  The worst that could happen is that they’ll say no.  And if they do, there are plenty of other journals to send to.  It’s a numbers game.  If you’ve vetted the story well enough, and polished it until you can’t make anymore changes, it stands a good chance of being accepted somewhere.  Send it out.

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Obsolete, Part 2

Two years ago (see my post of 9/14/2014, “Obsolete”) I posted about words that are going out of style.  Words such as “actress” and “comedienne” are disappearing because of the tendency to use one word to refer to both male and female performers.  A female playing a role in a film or on stage is an actor, not an actress.  There are other words that are going out of use or changing their definition, and there must be several of them in the English language.  The one that I’ve been wondering about for several years is the word “depot.”

“Depot” isn’t actually disappearing, but its definition is changing.  There are several dictionary definitions of “depot.”  It can be a place to store goods or motor vehicles, or—and this is a definition I’m most familiar with—it can be a place to store military supplies, such as vehicles.  A “supply depot” is common at a military base.  But most often, especially in civilian life, the term “depot” indicated a place to board a train or bus.  Depots were common all across the United States when travel by railroad was much more common than it is now.  Any town on a rail line had a depot, sometimes combined with the bus depot, though mostly those were separate.  The depot might have been a large building serving several railroads and hundreds of people every day, or a small shack where a only few riders caught the local.

Nowadays, however, rail travel is only a fraction of its former self.  We travel by car or plane or, to a lesser extent, by bus.  Greyhound still has depots.  The only large intercity rail travel in the US today is Amtrak, which has been around since 1971, and they usually use the word “station” rather than “depot.”  To most of the younger crowd, the term “depot” probably indicates a big box store such as Home Depot or Office Depot.  Why those two companies decided to use that word in their name I don’t know, but it may have to do with the fact that they have a large selection of items, much like a military depot.  But for those of us of somewhat advanced years, the term “depot” in a name evokes the a train station, and catching the train in the middle of the night, and sleeping on the train, and getting off the train at another depot in the early morning and meeting friends and family you haven’t seen in years, and so on and so forth.  It was a fun way to travel.

In any event, the meaning of the term “depot” is changing, and I suspect the definition of the term to mean a place to catch a bus or train will eventually be lost.  Watch your dictionary to find out.

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All The Stuff We Throw Away

Several weeks ago the apartment complex where I live suffered a breakdown of its trash pickup system.  Normally, trash is emptied from the dumpsters on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  That means, in a normal week, trash accumulates usually for only two days, and for no more than three days over a weekend.  But during this particular week, no trash was picked up for the whole week.  In total, that meant that trash wasn’t picked up for ten days, from Saturday of the week before to Monday of the week after the hiatus.  On an average week, the dumpsters get full just in the short time from one pickup to the next.  Two days can really fill a dumpster.  So when trash pickup was interrupted, a huge amount of material accumulated around the dumpsters.

That was a good time to see just what people were throwing out.  Most often, that is, during normal times, articles to be discarded are hidden within the dumpsters and not visible.  But when trash pickup was stopped (and I never did find out why), much of it became visible.  And what stuff it was.  Mattresses and box springs seemed to be the largest items that were thrown out, but furniture made an appearance too.  Chests of drawers and large chairs, especially reclining chairs, as well as a huge number of the ubiquitous white garbage bags.

Most of the large items like the mattresses and furniture didn’t appear to my eye to be re-useable, and taking them to Goodwill or some other place that has used items for sale wasn’t an option to the owners.  (I doubt that Goodwill will sell a used mattress under any circumstances, anyway.)  I can understand that these large items were totally worn out and seemed to be in need of discard instead.  Yet, even with their logical appearance in the trash pile, I still find myself wondering what happens to all these large items.  Sure, they go to the garbage dump somewhere near town, but is that all that happens?  Isn’t there some way these large items, unusable in themselves, can be recycled?  Do they simply sit in the dump, only to slowly disintegrate or sink into the ground?  Our dumps are getting to be places where, when we have something we don’t want, it just finds its way there and we conveniently forget about it.  The large garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean is a good example of the same thing.  So much of our material lifestyle in this day and age is simply discarded and forgotten.  And too much of the material we discard is either non-degradable (like plastics), or degrades very slowly.  Some of it is even toxic, like electronics, and poisonous materials can leach out of those and make their way into the ground and seep into the water table.  Our society has the mind-set that, if we don’t want it, we just throw it away and don’t even think about where it goes or what happens to it.  This isn’t a situation which can continue for much longer.  We need better recycling, especially for the items we normally don’t consider recyclable.  A civilization is known by the trash it throws out.

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Learning From Donald Trump

In this season of hotly contested political races, including the Presidential one, I think it’s interesting to sit back and try to learn something from all the commotion that surrounds them.  I’m speaking here of what writers can learn from the current Republican nominee, Donald Trump.  I’ll leave the political and economic and foreign policy and sociological and other lessons to be learned from this race to those better equipped to discuss them (as well as to those who have intensely held opinions), and deal with the more prosaic issue of writing.  Specifically, what can Donald Trump teach us about writing?

Shortly before the first Presidential debate, a comment was made by a TV reporter that the Democrats were wondering which Donald Trump would show up: the combative, belligerent, trigger-happy one, or in direct contrast, the more thoughtful or reflective one.  By the time of the debate, Donald Trump had begun to tone down his vitriolic attack on almost anything that moved, and the Democrats were unsure of how he would come off.

I didn’t watch the debate and I’m not sure exactly which Donald showed up, but that’s not the point of my essay here.  It is, rather, the fact that Donald Trump has (at least) two different public personae.  It is precisely this duplicity of personality which makes a character in a novel or short story far more interesting than a simple, one dimensional one.  That is not to say that all the characters in our stories have to be politicians, but that they should be complex and interesting.  We all are that way.  We all have aspects of our personality that might seem incongruous to others.  I, for example, am a PhD scientist, committed to using the scientific method (experimentation and logic) in my vocation, yet I have always been a deeply religious person too.  Some people will ask, how can you believe in something you can’t see or feel or measure?  I have my reasons, though I usually don’t speak about them.  It certainly isn’t necessary that all of our literary characters need be as dualistic to the same extent as “the Donald,” but they should be to one degree or another.  A few examples: the cowboy who writes poetry, the football player who does needlepoint, the banker who plays the horses, the priest who visits a strip club (probably in disguise), the jazz musician who attends the opera, the atheist who attacks organized religions yet surreptitiously reads the Bible or Koran—and there’s zillions more.  Putting these people in situations where their odd interests become the focus of the plot line can make for interesting reading, and, for the writer, interesting writing.

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