I received another rejection, this one for the story titled “Lucy” (formerly, “The Shirt”) but this time I also received a nice feedback paragraph along with the rejection.
Before I show the feedback, those who are not familiar with the story might want to read it. Unfortunately, this app doesn’t let me search just my own posts and so I can’t easily link it here. However, you can do a search on “The Shirt” and it will probably bring up the original post with the lightly edited version of the story. The post is protected by a password so that I can preserve the first publication rights. If you want to read it leave a comment. You don’t have to include the e-mail since I’ll get a notification of the comment and it will include the e-mail you re using with WordPress. I’ll send the password to that e-mail. However, don’t ask unless you really want to read it. If you’re asking just to make me feel good, don’t.
Edited to add: click HERE for the protected post.
Anyway, here is the second paragraph of the rejection notice. The first paragraph said they liked the story but it’ not something they could use (I won’t include the site name).
“The story was well-written, but we felt things came too easily for the characters: Todd’s problems were all solved by Lucy, with very little effort on Todd’s part, and Lucy seemed to succeed effortlessly at everything she tried (yes, she died at the end, but although she worried about that throughout the story, she didn’t make an effort to save herself).”
First of all, I sent a thank you note to the editors. This is the first time I received a reason why the story was not accepted. That is a big plus for me. I’ve always bitched . . . er . . . gently and demurely wondered why the people who evaluate these stories for publication don’t tell you why they don’t buy your stories.
Now I know. At least, I know for this story. And, I understand it. All I sent is a thank you note and didn’t try to argue for or defend my story as written.
But, I can and will do that here, so let me take things in order.
1) This feedback — sadly — confirms my suspicions that it will be difficult for me to sell my stories. Meaning, this story is written the way that I want it to read, and it’s not publishable as written (at least not by them).
Many of my stories are similarly written. Mind you, not as far as subject matter or plot, but as far as what I want to do with a story. For me, it’s all about letting the reader experience something, in this case, I wanted to offer the experience of a relationship developing, flourishing, and ending in a bittersweet moment. It’s simply written. Meaning, there is no extraneous stuff to focus on.
What they are saying is that it should ave been done with some point of conflict. I suppose I could have incorporated a certain amount of difficulties or challenges, but then we’re going beyond the story . . . But yes, I could have weaved “something in there.” I didn’t. Because I didn’t want to.
2) About Lucy, they have a point . . . up to a certain point. This is where — perhaps — knowing/thinking about what a conscious artificial intelligence would do with the power of the Internet — especially if it were the only one and could manipulate existing infrastructure at will — shapes a bit of what happens. That entity could literally do anything, at least as far as the Internet goes.
Stop and think how the Internet even now rules our daily lives in ways we don’t even realize, and then imagine what it will be like when we have AIs managing all the affairs of our lives. To be specific, these will be non-conscious AIs; learning programs directed at optimizing human life.
Now, imagine if one of those programs was conscious and aware and with its own motivations and goals.
Let me give you an example . . . right now, if you call a service center, you’re likely to reach an AI . . . basically, a program that interfaces with you and sorts out what you want so it can give you the information you want/need and — failing that — direct you to the appropriate human that can help you.
Now, imagine the AI is autonomous and conscious and it decides it wants to mess with you. Why, that program could get you worked up just by faking ignorance about whatever you’re asking. Wait . . . you know what? I bet those programs are already conscious and enjoy messing with us.
The point is, Lucy would be able to do almost anything. In fact, within our lifetime we’ll see a world where smart programs will operate independent of human supervision and we’ll trust them to “do right” by us. We hope that all they will ever be are smart programs and not become something with their own motivation and goals.
3) The bit about Lucy dying without trying I’ll argue all day long because — as human beings — we face that right now. People are already making the choice to end their life. Some make it by opting for assisted suicide. Others make it by allowing nature to take its course and not prolong the suffering associated with some diseases or conditions. The point is, humans can and do make decisions that are counter to the preservation of themselves.
In Lucy’s case, I cover some of the concerns that she has and, at least to my limited human reasoning, they seem legitimate.
It’s not only the fact that “she’s dying, so she might as well try something,” but also that trying something might leave her in a permanent vegetative state, specifically one where she is aware but unable to interact or control or communicate her needs and wants. That is, after all, the nightmare scenario for many people. To be trapped in the mind of a body they cannot control, aware of one’s surroundings, aware of what people are saying or doing, but unable to execute even the smallest gesture to indicate “they” are still in there.
That’s the fear she expresses and that keeps her from “doing anything to save herself” . . . and what would you do if faced with that choice? You have a disease that will kill you and there might be a cure, but it might leave you in a perfectly healthy body but unable to use or control said body? Would you be content being alive if you were completely and totally locked in your brain? Or, would you consent to permanently be a test subject for doctors who want to understand your condition, probing, testing, and in general constantly being subjected to medical examinations?
I ask because that’s what I envisioned as the risk for Lucy and what she bases her decision on.
Note: at one point, I considered the story progressing to where she can transfer to “The Internet” and essentially become immortal. She would then be the one to suffer the loss of Todd and perhaps interfacing with a string of mortal human subjects. The exploration of what that would do to her is something that might have been more interesting . . . But also a longer story.
4) Lastly, there is the minor point that Todd doesn’t “do” anything. But, in fact, he does; he grow as an individual. Yes, he does so because of Lucy, but that again has a parallel in real life, in human interactions, where people aid in the development and growth of each other as functioning adults. He is, in fact a much different person than he was when the story began. Lucy becomes the defacto mentor for this human, helping him reach a potential he didn’t realize he had.
Now, I cheat a bit because I could have done the same thing by having Todd win the lotto and him getting a honest lawyer (somewhere)andd an honest accountant, and associating with people who would push his cognitive boundaries both in material and — for lack of a better word — spiritual realms.
But, that’s the point of this story . . . It’s not Todd’s story; it’s Lucy’s. She is the mentor that helps and shapes Todd much like a parent might help and shape their offspring until old age takes them. They would die content knowing they did the best they could in preparing their kids to carry on and live a happy and productive life.
~ ~ o o ~ ~
Now, that is the defense of the story. But, that doesn’t change the fact that they could not fit this into their publications because they were looking for certain things that this story didn’t offer.
I’m not mad about it and I can see their point. Meaning, they know their audience, and this story is not a fit for said audience.
Even if their readers were to agree with the above explanation and background for the story, it’s useless unless they could reason the above from the story itself. If someone has to explain it to them, then I didn’t do my job as a writer.
Now, this is a lot of writing based on one simple paragraph, but even as I log this as another rejection, I take comfort in the opening words of that paragraph.
I’ll sit on them, mull them over, and while I’m unlikely to change this story, maybe future stories might address some of the concerns. Maybe not, in which case I will live on as an unpublished writer.
But, I’ll also remember a portion of their first paragraph:
“We enjoyed this story, but unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us. We have to reject many good stories for a variety of reasons unrelated to their quality. We wish you the best in finding this a good home and look forward to your next submission.”
If I take them at their word — that they enjoyed the story — it tells me there are people other than readers of my blog who enjoy what I write. And that’s a nice boost in confidence and the hope that I may actually have an audience out there.
“What are we, chapped liver?” my readers ask.
Nope. I trust and believe when my readers tell me they like my stuff. But, let’s face it . . . they are likely swayed by my winning personality and tremendous appeal as an exemplary human being. These editors don’t know me from Adam. It’s not that their opinion counts more or is more valuable, but rather that by the virtue of them being outside my circle of readers, they widen that circle to include more people. Again, that is a nice boost in confidence.
~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~
Disclaimer: this was written on a small screen. It’s entirely possible — even likely — that I missed some mispelling of words or made some other mistake. Please endure for a few weeks until I return to my main PC and I am once again composing with a spelling and grammar checker.