So, picked up my obligatory reject from Realms of F. for my abortion story, “Two Girls.” Though Carina gave me the Blue Form of Death, she included a substantial handwritten note saying she really liked the story, but it had no fantasy element, and I might want to try women’s studies mags.
I had to laugh. No fantasy element? A woman gives her womb to her husband and gives him the task of childbearing. He rebels violently. They end up being a barren couple, and as per the social rules of this society, they’re stoned to death.
After I laughed, I burst into tears.
I admit, I was having a shitty day. I’ve got 200 rejections or more to my name right now, and I’ve been submitting stories for 10 years. I should be used to this. I shouldn’t be bursting into tears at rejection letters.
But here’s the thing:
I’m already a ghetto writer. I work in spec fic. I find the idea of further ghettoizing myself into “women’s studies” deeply offensive.
I’ve never written a story that everyone seemed to like, but nobody can publish.
I knew Datlow would like it, and I knew Carina would like it (she’s my age, and her academic background is in gender studies), but fuck it all if I can sell the goddamn thing to the print mags. About all I’ve got left is Strange Horizons, and maybe Talebones, if they can squeeze it in (it’s 1800 words).
I don’t want to tailor-make my fiction. Everytime I get one of these frustrating rejection letters (the, “you’re a competent writer, but…” kind), I interrogate what I’m writing and question what I’m doing. As a competent writer, why don’t I just write stories that’ll get published? Why do I keep writing S&S stories? (Swords and Sociology) Why don’t I just add some fairies to the abortion story?
When I was fifteen, I tried to write stories specifically tailored for the now defunct Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. I read a bunch of sample issues, bought her Sword and Sorceress anthologies, and tried to imitate the style and subject matter I saw there. The rejections got a little nicer, but I still never sold anything to her, and worse – I was now really miserable writing useless drivel that I really didn’t want to write but that seemed more immediately marketable than what I was doing before. MZB went belly-up, and I stopped writing stories tailored for specific markets. It bled all the fun out of what I was doing.
Now I’m back to writing what I want. And I have a deep belief in the idea that if you stick to what you’re doing, and you love what you’re doing, that the rest of the world will come around. Even if I have to wait around until I’m, say, 80, like Carol Emshwiller.
It’s a persistence game. I’ll be the first to say that, and the first to get pissed off about it, dammit. How the hell else do you winnow down pools of artists? You beat them over the head until 98% of them give up.
The masochists – er, headstrong – keep at it.
I’m writing what I want to write. Can’t get better than that. Except maybe getting paid for it.
Here’s to being 80.