Thursday, August 02, 2007


As you all know, I've been working on writing and submitting some short stories. So, in keeping with the spirit of sharing my writing journey, I'll share this rejection from an editor at Boston Literary Magazine:

"Hi Shannon, thanks for the story. I have to be honest, nothing about it felt real to me... that a professional psychiatrist would be unnerved by a patient asking if they ever think about dying didnt sound authentic to me. And why would the psychiatrist have a gun in her desk? Are they in prison? Does this patient have a violent history? How did this patient have access to the desk to find the gun? Also I wasn't clear on the ending.. you say the psychiatrist unlocks the drawer to get the gun... and you say the "I" character lets her "feel the metal" and then leaps up. I wasn't sure if you meant the psychiatrist reached in and felt the metal of her gun... or if you meant the "I" character grabbed the gun and held it to the psychiatrist's head... if I were you I would go over this story again and resolve some of these issues... pondering what is human is a very interesting concept, but I don't think this story did it justice."

Again, I'm very very grateful that he even took the time to send a personal note. This does make me feel like I'm at least in the game.

Okay, now I'll share the quick fiction story since I'll have to rework it to the point of being a different story anyway:

Only Human

The psychiatrist’s office is chilly today. I caress the cool skin of my cheek, this mask that shields what is underneath. Pressing harder, I feel the bone, the skull, the eye sockets, the teeth. I think this is all that will be left of me one day. A skull like those in the science books and museums which have been excavated and displayed for the purpose of teaching, of learning. Of learning that time marches on. That we exist in a blink of an eye. That one day, we will be stripped of our masks and bleached white by the sun. I imagine when this happens, my soul will be freed and wonder where it will float off to. I know there is such a thing as a soul. I know because I can feel mine trying to scratch and claw its way free from the confines of my body, its prison. I know it is a thing separate from my mind, because my mind is its tormenter. I wonder if this is what it is to be crazy? I know this is what it is to be human.

A harsh noise pulls me from my thoughts. She has cleared her throat loudly. This is her signal that I should open up to her, that I should tell her what I’m thinking. I make eye contact. This is what I’m supposed to do and she rewards me with her most encouraging smile.

“Do you ever think about dying?” I say.

I see her trying to hold her encouraging smile, but I’ve said something wrong. I feel myself shrinking, sucked inward by the vortex of disappointment.

“Do you think you could hurt yourself?” she asks, her voice even and professional; her eyes a separate betrayal. “Or someone else?” Too casual. She is afraid of me.

I want to tell her I’m sorry. I’m sorry that my curiosity and my tiny silver lock pick have already discovered her revolver in the third desk drawer on her right. The one she is now casually unlocking. I look away and pretend not to notice the shadow of her foot begin to wiggle nervously beneath the desk.

Intuition. That’s what humans have.

“Yes,” I sigh.

I give her time to feel the cold metal but not enough time to think it through. I have had too much time to think it through myself. I jump up. I see the flash of light but I feel nothing. Maybe I am not human after all.

I lunge into the unknown.

So that's it. The funny thing is I was picturing the patient in a prison setting with a dangerous background. So, the editor got it--even if he didn't know he got it.

I'm beginning to wonder if I just don't spell things out enough? I want to give the reader credit, give them pieces and feel confident that they can put together the puzzle. I want to give them a bit of mystery, of challenge. I guess this isn't the best way to go about a short story.

Learning as I go.


Gary said...

I'd reject your rejection letter. In a few cases, maybe there is something to be gleaned from it, but honestly, I don't care if he's President-in-Chief, the story was NOT that poorly written. Maybe a thought or two on plausibility, or the like, but even on those I'm more than a little dismissive. I hate to tell you this, but I think you got a dope on that one. The story just is NOT that loose ended. In writing a comment, I cannot remember what the guy wrote, exactly, without having it in front of me, but I did think there might be a point or two on his list, but otherwise, I'd not ponder it much, besides.

Hopefully, you and I have talked enough for you to know I'm not one that's a fawning sycophant. I'm not saying I don't ever do it, but I hope you're getting to know me well enough to know I'm not doing it here. You're story just is NOT that convoluted. I'm not sure, from a personal perspective, you couldn't elaborate a little more, but given it's stint as a prose "moment" of sorts, I'm not all that sure it needs changing, period. And don't let my use of the negative affirmation be misread in any way: I think the story works, to reaffirm it in a positive way.

Anyway, given that rejection, I was really, really preparing myself for you're not having written well, and you pleasantly surprised me, as did the dope that wrote it, in a reciprocally negative way. Man, what a dope. In reading the list, I really, really cringed. I'm so glad I didn't need to. I repeat, what a dope. Kudos!

Shannon said...

LOL, Gary. I think you took that harder than I did! Yes, I've learned you'll be honest with a piece so thanks for the encouragement.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Okay, reading it before knowing the setting was a prison was a completely different experience from reading it after. Either way the story is wonderfully written, but if you could maybe wiggle in something to let the reader know they're looking through the eyes of an inmate. And I thought maybe the psych was nervous because she was relatively new there. *shrug*

Of course the editor knew the writing was good, because he gave you loads of feedback. I'm not familiar with that lit journal, but most of them generally don't give that much.

Thinking about it, have you tried any of the big journals with that story? Glimmertrain maybe? I think it could fly.

Shannon said...

Thanks Beth. I have been mulling over trying to fit in some info. about the setting, nothing's clicking yet.
I didn't think Glimmertrain did flash fiction? I'll have to check that out once the mulling is done. :-) I've got a longer story submitted there now, also--but the competition there is more than fierce.

bella said...

I'm a complete novice when it comes to submitting writing for publication and receiving rejection and feedback.
That said, is it just me or does this guy have something more going on than not caring for your story? Maybe he was trying to be "helpful" in a that very condescending sort of way. But mostly when I read his thoughts I kept thinking to myself, "What's your problem buddy? What did it trigger or bring up in him that made him harp like that"
Anyways, thanks for sharing and exposing this side of things. I have much to learn.

Shannon said...

Bella- I love hearing other writer's reaction to this rejection, it's a bonus I didn't think about when I posted. I did, too, find it odd that he went into so much detail, but really just took it as encouragement that he took the time to do so, when he could have just sent a standard rejection.

Anonymous said...

I loved the story, and "got it." However, I did not see it as a prison setting at all...which, for me, added a whole other level of intrigue to the storyline. I'd say that the person writing the so-called rejection note hadn't had his or her Wheaties that morning. Keep trying!

Shannon said...

Gracias. :-)