Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My Own Honest-to-God Nick Mamatas Personal Rejection Letter!

Hey, my very first personal rejection letter, this one from Nick Mamatas at Clarkesworld Magazine. He rejected “God of Chickens” a story I wrote specifically to submit to Clarkesworld, and specifically to follow his guidelines. With his permission, I am reproducing his rejection letter here:


Thanks for the story, but it's not for me. I enjoyed the ending and some of the more visceral imagery, but the "kids/teens finding something horrific" aspect drags the piece down. We get a lot of stories that hang on such a structure, and generally the problem is that whatever they find is so much more interesting than the process of finding it, and given more importance in the narrative than character development, that it ends up feeling like most of the story is there just to get us to the monster. As monsters go, the God of Chickens has a lot of potential, but this story would be much more interesting if it began a little bit before where it currently ends. We've all read the one about the little bastards who get their comeuppance before too; the bloody rampage of a God of Chickens and the way he might change the world is fresher and more exciting.

Hm. I find this encouraging (after several days of not finding it so). He does express interest in the story, although he did reject it. It’s funny, though, I nearly changed the ending because the submission guidelines say that “stories where the climax is dependent on the spilling of intestines” are a hard sell.

Hmmm. The guidelines also state that “stories about young kids playing in some field and discovering ANYTHING. (a body, an alien craft, Excalibur, ANYTHING)” is a hard sell, and this is where he categorizes “God of Chickens.” Hm. I have come to be aware that I like stories, horror or not, in which I can connect emotionally with the protagonist. I think Elizabeth Massie’s “Fence Line” was one of the best stories in Lords of the Razor because she treats the character so intimately. Drawn in by the character, I relate to the story much more intensely. However, “Fence Line” is a much longer short story than “God of Chickens”, and just can't afford to spend as much time on developing character—at 4,000 words, I have to get right into the story.

That said, looking at the story, Nick is right–the story is a one-idea story (ie an episode of Seinfeld, rather than The Simpsons), and the first third of the story is getting to the idea. The God of Chickens is interesting, (thank you Nick), but I need to do something further with it. A thousand words of lead-in and character development could be done in fewer words. I tend to lead in with a lot of character development, and I think it would be better if I focused more on establishing the characters in broad strokes early on, and then develop them as the action happens.

The little bastards getting their comeuppance–there’s a complex little question. I don’t see it as getting a comeuppance–there are two characters in the story, and I wanted to have one of them witness what was happening. I prefer that to the narrator telling the reader what’s going on–it allows me to put emotion into the description without feeling like I’m telling the reader how to feel. And I’d rather work through the more sympathetic character, and of course I want to bastard to get it. And again Nick is right–I have to ignore that urge–the morality tale has been done to death since Aesop, and if the audience knows who’s going to get it, there’s no sense of anticipation (unless you really set it up that the audience is just drooling in anticipation of the bastard getting it, something I’m doing with another piece). Since there are only two characters in the story, this leaves me with a conundrum, and my conclusion, once again, that the problem is more with the structure of the story than who actually gets it in the end. Because even if I flip a coin as to who gets glorked and it comes up ‘the bad boy’, it still feels like a comeuppance. If that’s not the end of the story, however, then it won’t have that morality-tale feel to it.

In a few sentences, Nick has provided me with enough though-provoking material that I’ve come up with a rewrite that does begin about where the current story ends and goes on from there. I won’t be able to send it back to him, unfortunately. Clarkesworld doesn’t take re-submissions.

So, a week after the fact, thank you very much for the for the personal rejection, Nick.

1 comment:

Maxx said...

I must say, it *is* a well-worded rejection and I appreciate that reasons are given so you can examine and grow. Learning to take the rejection letters is one of the hardest parts to endure I think - but at least when you get them with feedback and positive encouragement it's easier to swallow.

Good stuff.