Self-doubt and rambles

I’m having another one of those self-doubting moments today. The one where I think I’m never going to get a break with the whole publishing thing. I mean, I have my debut publication, but that was as a staff contributor. I think it’s a pretty good story anyway but would it have gotten through the normal way? I’ve participated in a couple of anthologies now, and that’s been great fun, but I’ve yet to get something published from submitting and going through an acceptance/rejection process. So far, I’ve just had rejections.

Now most writers who’ve been at this a while would probably laugh at my naivety. Two stories: one rejected twice, the other once and currently pending an acceptance/rejection. Of all the stories I’ve written (that weren’t for anthologies) the only two so far I’ve considered good enough to submit anywhere. I know it depends a lot on the personal tastes of the editor of the magazine, and I know successful authors receive rejections all the time. I guess the problem is, I’m NOT a successful author. I’m new, and I want to be published. On merit alone!

One reason I’ve started dwelling is the response to the story “Ponies” from people I thought might get it… not writers, but people I thought might understand the metaphor and see some value in it. I can’t quite pinpoint how I feel about the things that have been said… I didn’t write “Ponies” but as a short story writer I understand what it is like to have stories misunderstood, rejected, critiqued in a way that surprises you. Just to clarify, the story was a joint winner of the 2011 Nebula Short Story Award. So a few writerly people obviously thought it was a decent story.

But I wonder, are modern short stories accessible to the reading public? I’ve only been reading short stories for about a year, and there are definitely times I’ve wondered why a story has been published; does the author know the editor, is the author well-known and thus people just think their stories are “good” based on the name, or did I just miss the point of the story? When I read a story like that I feel intense frustration about my own rejections. There is a short story I’ve found in two anthologies now, I hate the story, the subject matter is horrendous (worthwhile, though, I do love a good dystopia but the main character is so unlikeable that it was torture) and there is no redemption/satisfaction for the reader at the end. It might be well written (or not, my reaction to it was too emotional to really critique the writing) but it’s the kind of story I wish I could un-read. It prevented me from buying the second anthology as I had no desire to own it twice. Yet obviously it has been to the taste of editors. Stories like that make me wonder if I’m just cruising along missing a vital piece of the publication puzzle.

Do short story writers start to write for other short story writers? Are we writing in such a way that only someone who immerses themself in this culture could possibly hope to gain anything from it? I love the mystery that seems to come hand in hand with short (especially flash) fiction, the slow reveal, that never quite reveals everything. I love the struggle to situate oneself in the moment, to get into the character’s head as quickly as possible. I love the subversive elements, the non-commercialism of a lot of speculative fiction. The way writers are forced to explore innovative ways to express themselves concisely but with prose that excites. Short stories challenge me, they make me think, they shake me out of my comfort zone much more readily than novels do. Novels offer an easy escape from life, but short stories often provoke me uncomfortably and ground me firmly in reality – even the surreal ones!

And I realise you will never please everyone… my rejections are proof of that! But there is a part of me that thinks, as I move towards finding a way of writing that lands me acceptances from editors rather than rejections, does it mean I will move away from writing as the general reading public expects?

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