Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lessons from Nick Mamatas

My buddy Joey Nacino (who goes under stranger pseudonyms these days) just got a rejection letter from Clarkesworld for his short story (an important qualifier since publications don't reject writers, they reject stories!).

I'm reprinting it here--since the editor did give permission to post it, especially because Filipinos have apparently been submitting stories to Clarkesworld ever since Tin Mandigma's Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-Realist Aswang. (Good thing: Filipinos submitting stories to online markets. Hopefully not true: Not that I have any factual basis for such a concern but I hope not all of you are submitting aswang stories... we have a veritable selection of other myths after all including tiyanaks [cannibalistic changeling babies], tikbalangs [what I call the "reverse centaur" in terms of appearance] or simply something else that doesn't necessarily deal with local folklore.)

Part 1:


Thanks, but not for us. The setting was far more interesting than the protagonist. Writers have a difficult row to hoe when they start writing about very successful writers with writerly problems such as muses and writer's block. It fairly stinks of wish-fulfillment. Even well-regarded writers such as Harlan Ellison tend to take the opportunity for self-aggrandizement as he did in "All The Lies That Are My Life" (which parts of your story superficially resemble). We were much more interested in the idea of aswangs at call centers than in Alfaro's problems.

Also, this story was far too long for its actual content, thanks in part of Alfaro's carrying on. It was well-written, but certainly didn't need chapter breaks (rather portentous for anything short of a novella or an experimental piece). You run into the problem of writing a competent if mediocre story about how awesome stories are.

PS: Two quick notes: 1. No need to justify genre or other choices in a cover letter. If it's not in the text, all the special pleading in the world will not help. 2. Sorry for the delay in our response. One editor instituted a secret filing system without briefing the editor. Your story was, essentially, filed under "Lost, Subject to Rumor" until just now.

Part 2:

Hi Joseph,

I don't normally follow-up on the rejection slips, but since publishing Kristin's story everyone in the Philippines has been sending me something, so I figure you all must hang out and compare notes, so it's like talking to twenty people at once. This appeals to my sense of efficiency and my enormous ego both. Also, all the Filipino stories I've read have been pretty good; much better per story than the American junk, which are mostly just rewritten movies.

I would make a distinction between a line break, a scene break, and a chapter break, even if they all serve the same purpose -- to skip over something, recharge the reader, and signal a transition. A line break (or an extra line break;one more carriage return) is a mild transition. Putting in a # or other doodad is a signal of a greater break. A chapter break is a greatest of all. Take this line:

"You'll never take me alive, imperialist pigs!" Joseph shouted, raising his AK.

Now, two carriage returns:

Later that night, in prison, Joseph tried to enjoy his salisbury steak.

A bit of a transition. Not too much. Now with a doodad #

At Joseph's funeral, his son, Joseph Jr. vowed revenge on America.

Now with a portentous chapter break.

Harvey always enjoyed Martyr's Day. The government not only outfitted him with slightly longer leg irons for the holiday, it also let him eat all the pigeons he could kill as part of their statuary protection program.

Seem that all the busts of Joseph — Leader, Founder, and Father of all us — made a more popular toilet than anything else. Harvey wondered if there wasn't something in the way the bronze of Joseph's bald head gleamed under the sun.

See? Link tends to write longer stories and have pretty profound changeups when she uses chapter breaks. It's not only a deep breath for her, it's often a radical change of thematic position, even if it's not a change of subject or speaker. Read 'em again and I think you'll see what I mean.

Also, of course you can post the rejection slip or, for that matter, this.

1 comment:

banzai cat said...

Well, one thing I realized with nick's response is that-- if we're tired with the idea of an aswang in a call center-- the international market isn't because frankly they haven't been getting any stories about them.

And funny enough, that story in the FHM magazine IS an aswang in a call center story. ;-)