Four Hundred and Forty-One Days

That’s how long I waited for a rejection to a story I submitted on December 19, 2015. I waited that long because — on the off chance it was accepted — it would have a lot of exposure. 

That brings the total for my short stories rejections to fourteen, but it also frees up the story for submission — and rejection — to other markets. (note: I have more rejections in the flash-fiction markets)

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At this point, my confidence in these stories is unfounded but remains unshaken. I like my stories, so that’s understandable.

At least, this time I received a bit of feedback . . .
“This one was a little heavy on the exposition for us, but another editorial team might respond differently to your story, so I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.”

I had to stop and think about what that meant . . . 

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The story in question is The Shirt, first of five written before my sojourn at the Viable Paradise XIX workshop. By the way, that story is password-protected. It’s also the unedited rough draft. The version I’m submitting has gone through a couple of beta reads and subsequent editing. If you are a new subscriber and want to read the story, ask for the password below (do not include your e-mail address; I’ll respond to the e-mail address associated with the notification).

“Heavy in exposition” . . . I appreciate the feedback, but that is a bit cryptic. More than I usually get, but cryptic. For them who might not be familiar with what they mean, welcome to the club. I mean “heavy in exposition”, not cryptic; I assume my readers would know what cryptic means. It would be ironic if they didn’t. 

OK, I could give you links to many definitions, but my interpretation of “exposition” can be encapsulated by the time-tested “As you know, Bob, . . .”

Meaning, it’s something that has to happen so that your readers can properly frame the story, but also something that can quickly bore readers to tears. A correct balance — whatever that means — is tricky to achieve. 

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For example:

Josh drew the Clavick and tossed it to Bruce who used it to dispatch the vampire. And they all lived happily ever after. 

That is what one might call not enough exposition. We have no idea what a “Clavick” is, how it might be used, and why it would kill a vampire. 

Here’s how that might be rewritten:

Josh had been waiting for this moment. He drew the Clavick from its hiding place and tossed it to Bruce.

Clavicks had once been supreme weapons in the war against vampires, but in the years since The Slaughter, the memory of them had passed from history. Some even doubted their existence. Constructed from walrus ivory and incorporating the runes discovered in an old Romanian monastery, they resembled a slimmer version of the Wahaika, a traditional Maori weapon of war, with an added bi-forked hooked spike. Typically used in close quarter fighting, it was a skin irritant to vampires and deadly when it came in contact with their liver.   

Bruce had studied its use but never dreamed of ever actually holding one. He knew the best strategy was to use the slight hook to catch the vampire’s arm and force the beast to turn, giving him access for a strike to the liver.  He had never practiced with one but now relied on ancient tribal memory to execute the perfect parry and attack. The vampire too late realized what she was facing, the surprise registering on her face as her liver reacted to the contact by sending now poisoned blood coursing through her vascular system.   

Josh and Bruce would now be free to marry, the dissenting vampire sent back to its demonic realm. 

That is an example of too much exposition. I imagine the proper balance is somewhere in between the two. 

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The above might also be exposition at a wrong place and time of the narrative. One might have taken care to disclose some of that to the reader in some other way, like, for instance, earlier in the story an old man showing Josh how to construct a Clavick . . . and just lose the crap about ancient tribal memory. 

The rough rule of thumb is “show, don’t tell”.

It’s sometimes a fine line to thread. In the case of The Shirt, there are only two protagonists, and one of them is a shirt. There can only be so many ways to do exposition, and most of it is through Todd, the human protagonist, “explaining” things. 

I’ve been re-reading it and have made some modifications but I guess my story-telling skills are not up to removing a lot of the exposition . . . perhaps if I sleep on it. 

The thing that bothers me is this portion of the feedback:

” . . .  but another editorial team might respond differently to your story, so I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.”

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That’s the problem . . . it’s subjective. 

One approach is to revise every time one gets feedback. The problem with that is that unless asked to resubmit, the etiquette is to not submit the story to the same market. 

Do you see the problem, Bob? Say I change it, swapping the exposition for more action. How do I know if the next editorial team would have liked the original better? 

The other approach is to submit this around and if the story eventually exhausts all the markets, well, then, maybe it needs heavy revision. 

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The average time for short stories responses is seventy-six days. If I remove this latest as an outlier, the average drops to forty-seven days. That means that each story will — on average — take a year to make it through all the markets in my submission cycle. 

OK, OK . . . I know I should have more than four stories in the rotation but . . . you know . . . Trump took away my impetus to write. It’s difficult being optimistic. 

“Well, shoot, write dark stories!”

Oh, Bob, that’s so easy to say. But, once I go down that path, I know I’ll careen deep into the ravine. And yes, a segment of the population will revel in the misery and despair I can dream up, but that means I won’t ever read my own stories. Right now, reading my stories gives me a measure of calm, a measure of hope as I wallow in the idealized and mythical worlds of honor, justice, and hope; worlds that see no counterpart in reality.

Edited to Add: the above photos were added to THIS Gallery.

And now, this:

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

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Note: if you are not reading this blog post at DisperserTracks.com, know that it has been copied without permission, and likely is being used by someone with nefarious intention, like attracting you to a malware-infested website.  Could be they also torture small mammals.

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. . .  my FP ward  . . . chieken shit.

Finally, if you interpret anything on this blog as me asking or wanting pity, encouragement, or advice to better my life, know my subtle mix of irony, sarcasm, and humor is blowing right by you.

About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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27 Responses to Four Hundred and Forty-One Days

  1. I took an expository writing course in the mid-1960s at Indiana University and have no more of a clue than you. It might help if editors took a course in writing letters with content. Good Luck.
    Warmest regards, Ed

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  2. susurrus says:

    You’ve reminded me of a tutor telling me that Shakespeare’s exposition scene in The Tempest was so long that Prospero keeps resorting to little asides to tell Miranda to stop drifting off and attend to what he is saying in an attempt to keep the audience’s attention. It doesn’t stop it being my favourite play though!

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  3. oneowner says:

    I may have to add “heavy on the exposition” to my other go-to expressions like “alternative facts” and “hot dog or pancake?”.

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  4. Perhaps your short stories ar a bit like your posts.

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    • disperser says:

      Man, not that old canard!

      I contend my posts, and stories, are each exactly as long as they need to be.

      Still, be they long, medium, or short, they will never fit the needs of people with the attention span of gnats or the sophistry of feigned burden brought about by the demands of reading brilliant and erudite prose.

      I find it difficult to comprehend why such people would continue subjecting themselves to that which, they claim, causes them irreparable harm (i.e. forces them to think).

      One would think such people would limit themselves to the photos — themselves veritable works of art and included specifically for them who find reading a burden — and eschew laboriously mouthing out each word as they struggle to focus for more than a few seconds at the task at hand. Perhaps they are masochists, but then the responsibility rests upon their own shoulders and they should refrain from burdening me with their baseless, unfounded, and generally mistaken pronouncements.

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  5. Your stories are enjoyable to read and have great value. I like what you said about them giving a “measure of calm, hope”, etc. That’s why they need to be published…so they can do those things for other people/readers, too!

    I wonder if there is a book of “editorial cliches” for editors to use in their sometimes less-than-helpful rejection letters. ???

    I know you will keep writing and submitting. And I will keep believing in you and your writing and will continue to wish you bestest luck.

    I keep writing because it is good therapy for me…also a way to share my past, my thoughts, my feelings…I am always IN my writing or in one of my characters, so it is very personal to me, very revealing. I think my writing is good enough for others to read and would be enjoyable and helpful to them…but I’ve never been brave enough to submit it to anyone anywhere anytime.

    HUGS!!! :-)

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    • disperser says:

      Thank you diem3.

      I, of course, even as humble as I am, can do nothing but vehemently agree with you. It is, unfortunately, a cruel and uncaring universe we face; one devoid of recognition for the needs of my ego . . . er . . . I mean for the needs of mankind to enjoy what by all rights should be considered national literary treasures. I do, however, take solace that I manage to fool . . . I mean . . . I manage to provide a small number of readers the pleasure that is my writing.

      It might be that perhaps someday — hopefully while I still draw breath — the world will come to recognize my humble brilliance and afford — indeed, compel — people in need to experience the soul-healing salve that is my writing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • disperser says:

      As for your writing, at least what I’ve seen of it, I agree that it’s good enough to share.

      If you are afraid of negativity or rejection, let me posit something . . . assume for one moment that of all the people who would read your writing, one, and only one, would ever be helped by it, find it comforting, find solace in it. I contend there would be more, but even it were only one . . .

      . . . isn’t that enough of a reason to post it?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The fact that you received some feedback is very good. I understand the majority of rejections come via a form letter, so your story must have resonated with the person who read it.

    Gin’s War certainly didn’t have too much exposition. I’ve been busy and forgot to thank you for the additional story. I’m sure I’ll read it; I’m just uncertain as to when. :-)

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    • disperser says:

      Thanks, Maddie.

      It’s a bit ironic because for the majority of my writing I’m accused of exactly the opposite . . . I explain too little, I describe too little, I assume the reader can figure things out on their own.

      That particular story, by virtue of the limited numbers of characters, requires a different way to present background and information. Still, I’m re-editing it before I resubmit it.

      As for the other story, like I said, don’t worry about it. I sent it without any implied obligation or request.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. PiedType says:

    Definitely subjective. The editor in the next cubicle might have loved it. But either way, 441 days is a ridiculously long time for them to have tied up your ms.

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    • disperser says:

      It’s Tor. They announced they were closing submissions specifically because they got swamped with people sending in stuff. They said up front that it would likely take 9-10 months to go through everything and to let them know if anyone wanted at any time to withdraw their story from consideration.

      But yes, the subjective part is a crapshoot. Unless, of course, my writing sucks. Unfortunately, they don’t give that kind of feedback (various reasons for it) even if the writing does indeed suck.

      . . . I think they just want to feed the insecurity of writers . . .

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  8. paigeaddams says:

    Yeah, rejection letters can be rough and confusing. Feedback is fantastic, but can also be confusing. Some rejections are not very nice at all, lol. I once got a rejection from a writers group I wanted to join, and they were kind enough to include feedback, which I did appreciate but I needed chocolate cake afterwards. One of them said something like “I got bored about two paragraphs in and couldn’t finish the rest of the sample. Come back when you learn to make it interesting.” Ouch. My soul hurts. I think I need to lay down for a while.

    It is subjective though, which is part of the issue of submitting elsewhere. How much do you keep, and when do you listen to their advice? Someone told me to pay attention to whether I get the same comments from different places. Like, the writer’s group made that comment above. Then publisher A reports sudden onset of narcolepsy. Publisher B thinks my manuscript is cursed because one of their editors is now in a coma. That kind of thing. If I hear the same thing a lot I try to focus on that first.

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    • disperser says:

      First I need to hear from publishers . . .

      Seriously, my problem is that I know very well what I like and what I don’t like when I read. The question is: are there other readers like me? I ask because I try to read my stuff with a critical eye, and I still like it. Obviously, I’m biased, but am I biased strictly toward my writing or to a type of writing that happens to be like I write?

      If the latter, then I have some hope of eventually selling something. If the former, then my audience is as large as it will ever get.

      Liked by 1 person

      • paigeaddams says:

        There are absolutely other readers like you! I think we’re all probably a little like that when we write, as far as how our biases affect our writing.

        What I love to read the most is romance, and especially paranormal romance – lol, sitting down to try and write anything else turns into an exercise in futility. XD Somebody somewhere ends up romantically involved with someone else. I think we probably tend to write what we want to read ourselves, otherwise it might be hard to really put our all into it – at least it is for me.

        As for being biased towards your own writing in particular, I know for me I like to word things certain ways and put pauses different places. Lol, that’s why I have a bunch of incomplete sentences – I’ve convinced myself it adds character and drama. XD That’s just my own “writing voice” I guess – it’s probably the same again with a lot of writers. What we put out there does, and should, reflect us a little.

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gravitating towards a certain style of writing or a certain genre – I think it’s just natural. :) So don’t give up! It’s tough to get in with a publisher, and sometimes sounds downright brutal based on some of the stories I’ve heard. Keep going! Your stories are awesome! :D

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      • disperser says:

        Thanks for the “awesome” and no worries; I aim to keep writing. But, I also hold little hope for publication.

        In case anyone else reads this, I’m not playing the victim or complaining; just looking at the odds (long) and knowing how much effort I’m willing to put into wooing publishers (little) and arriving at a realistic assessment.

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