Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Achey Breaky Heart

My second PRL from Beneath Ceaseless Skies came today.

Thanks very much for sending this story to 
_Beneath Ceaseless Skies_. 
Unfortunately, it's not quite right for us.  
Although I found Samael to be
an engaging character, the conclusion  
didn't quite work for me. I didn't
feel I had a new understanding of the  
world from the trickster's actions,
which made the details of the 'demons'  
feel somewhat disconnected from the
We appreciate your interest in our magazine. 
Please feel free to submit
other work in the future.
Kate Marshall
Assistant Editor
_Beneath Ceaseless Skies_

Kate's great because she lets you know exactly what she didn't like about your story, but she does it in a polite way that doesn't crush your soul. It got me to thinkin': would it be better if PRLs like this were a little more...I don't know...salty?

About a year ago I read Dreamsongs, the George RR Martin career retrospective, and there were these little (or not so little) introductions to each section written by Martin himself. Prior to the section featuring his story "The Meathouse Man", George gives some backstory:

Harlan [Ellison] returned my manuscript on March 30, 1974, with a letter of rejection that began, "Aside from shirking all responsibility to the material that forms the core, it's a nice story." After which he eviscerated me, challeneging me to tear the guts out of the story and rewrite the whole thing from page one. I cursed and fumed and kicked the wall, but I could quarrel with a single thing he said. So I sat down and ripped the guts out of the story and rewrote the whole thing from page one, and this time I opened a vein as well, and let the blood drip down right onto the paper.

Now, this isn't exactly an apples-to apples comparison; George had already been published multiple times, and had met Harlan in person prior to that, and the story in question was actually solicited rather than pulled from the slush pile. Also worth noting is that Harlan Ellison is a rather...salty...person to begin with, so his response probably was a bit harsher than the norm, to say the least. But there's something about getting challenged that really revs my engine. Aren't all the best teachers the ones that refuse to pull punches, the ones that hold a mirror up in front of you before they go about rescuing you from yourself?

I suppose I'm asking for too much. Editors are busy, and there are only so many hours in the day to respond to the hundreds of submissions, most of them probably crap. A personal rejection that challenges you probably requires more time and energy than the polite, straight-forward explanation. Maybe those Ellison-esque rejections are like gift baskets at the Emmy's--you gotta be somebody to get em.

But I still say there could be a little more oomph in these rejections. As much as I appreciate and value rejections like these, sometimes I feel like I could use a good kick in the ass, too.

Anyway, onward and upward. Back to the drawrin' board.

Oh, and since I quoted him, go ahead and buy George RR Martin's Dreamsons at There are two volumes, and both appear to be in the bargain bin. I picked them up a year ago and still go back to reread the stories from time to time. There's even a Dunk & Egg story in there. The finest collection of short work by one writer I've ever read, actually.

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