Everybody has their rituals, especially at the change of the seasons,* whether it’s engaging in ceiling-to-baseboards fall housecleanings orbuying back-to-school supplies. For example, Elder Girleen has been busily sharpening every pencil she owns (and she owns quite a few) and straightening her desk. Our neighbor down the street just cleaned out the gutters along the eaves of his roof.
Me, I’ve been “sending out submissions.”
Sending out submissions is one of those archaic things that became part of my life back in the dark ages of grad school in creative writing, 16 years ago. Conventional wisdom back then was that the way to start your writing “career” (in fiction, at least) was send out short stories to what were called the “little” magazines,(ie the literary journals usually affiliated with universities), the thinking being that your stories would be chosen by the more prestigious ones, your work would then be picked up by “the slicks,” which would be read by editors and agents, who would then contact you, and after that, through some mysterious alchemy, you would, if you were incredibly lucky, find yourself with a book contract for a collection of short stories, which would then lead to a contract for a novel, and and so on and so forth, until voila! — a Writing Career!**
Some of those hoary but venerable literary magazines now exist in the ether of the internet but most of them are still bricks-and-mortar, by which I mean they’re actual physical magazines available by subscription. Submitting to them requires tools of the trade that wouldn’t be all that unfamiliar to my father, who had a few poems published in such magazines back in the 1950s: cover letters, SASEs, manilla envelopes containing double-spaced manuscript pages.
Which explains why I found myself at the post office this morning — the post office of all places! How often does one find themself in the post office these days?
The person in front of me was purchasing a money order to send to some poor joe in prison. The person behind me was collecting mail held while he was on vacation. It was like I was standing there in brocade fancy dress and shoes with paste buckles, waiting for somebody to ask me to dance the minuet.
I know such intricate steps and sometimes I have such handsome partners — but to what purpose?
Also this week I saw the movie about which a recent New York Times column said once we lived life, now we blog. The movie’s blogger character received, the movie implies, dozens of calls from publishers and agents eager to publish anything she might write after her blog was covered by the New York Times. This, some would say, is the little-magazine, slicks, book contract path of yesteryear.
Except. Except blogs aren’t really narratives. Not rich, multi=layered, dense ones. Their relationship to a well-written short story is about the same as that of an episode of a reality tv show’s to, say, The Wire.
So many babies, thrown out with so much bathwater. So much — just gone.
*Granted, I’m pushing this change of seasons thing a little as the temperature still hover over ninety around here.
**The idea of pulling together a career this way seems about as feasible at this point as hanging out at a drug store soda fountain and hoping a talent scout will be sitting next to you at the counter nursing a cup of coffee.
Their relationship to a well-written short story is about the same as that of an episode of a reality tv show’s to, say, The Wire.
Sending out submissions was what separated me from the pros. Well, one of the things anyway. I just couldn’t do it. Dealing with the stamps, making sure the return envelope had the same amount of postage as the outside envelope, making sure the postmaster understood that, feeling the people in line behind me growing restless, then forgetting to write down who I’d sent the stories to and never sending the story out to somebody else after it got rejected (because I always took the “no simultaneous submissions” rule seriously, which I later learned nobody else does.) I still have mailing and postage issues, in personal and professional life. I just can’t bring myself to address an envelope and then log that in somewhere. So, see you at the soda fountain!
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