Tag Archives: The New Yorker

a blue mist

Jonathan Harker may be my favorite dumbass in English literature.  His finest moment comes early in his sojourn in Dracula’s castle.  The count visits him in his room while he’s shaving.  Wolves are howling right outside (“Children of the night, what music they make!”), there is a blue mist creeping everywhere, and when Dracula notices that Jonathan sees that he casts no reflection in the shaving mirror, he shatters it with his mind.

Jonathan’s reaction: oh no!  Now I can’t shave.

I felt a bit like that when I woke up this morning and noticed that there was an uptick in the number of visitors to my blog.  Where did they come from?  The link in my stats read “The New Yorker.”  Surely that couldn’t be right.  I clicked.

My reaction: huh.  Well, this explains the increased traffic to my blog.

Followed by an intense surge of nausea, which is how I react to all strong emotions, especially the positive ones.  So–wow.  That was amazing.  So–this is what it feels like to be caught in the gaze of an animal much bigger than me.  (Hello!  You are a stunning entity.  Please don’t bite.)

Inadvertently brilliant casting, or just brilliant? Discuss.

In Valhalla there are no rejection slips.

So, a while back my agent sent a pdf of my novel to The New Yorker with selected passages highlighted she thought could be used in the magazine.  Unsurprisingly given my fresh fish status, the NYer editor did not bite, but sent my agent the nicest possible rejection notice.  I will go ahead and include it:

Shapiro is incredibly talented and this is quite a debut, but we didn’t see any way to excerpt from it, unfortunately—the pieces you suggested are strong but fragmentary—and we felt that she wasn’t quite ready for the top-20 list, though she’ll in all likelihood make it there eventually! Thanks, anyway, for sending it over; it was a pleasure to read. Stay in touch if she writes any stories—or if anyone else crosses your mind for this issue (or any other).

This is a stage in a writer’s career: flattering personalized rejections with an invitation to submit again.  This is, in itself, an achievement.  As far as I can tell, a writer’s career looks something like this:

Stage 1: uncontrolled production of thousands of pages of crap.  The afflicted asks herself, “why am I doing this?  I must be some kind of blithering masochistic idiot.”

Stage 2: some small moment of recognition.  The afflicted may be told by a writing instructor that she is good, or get into an MFA program.  The afflicted begins to submit work places, receiving a veritable avalanche of rejection slips that have been xeroxed so many times that the type on them is actually degrading.  The slips are literally slips, as the writer is not yet worth the expense of an entire sheet of paper–that is when the submission is ever acknowledged at all.  Often silence is deemed a sufficient rejection.  The afflicted may sometimes doubt her own existence, and asks herself, “why am I doing this?  I must be some kind of blithering masochistic idiot.”

Stage 3: repeated near-misses.  The afflicted may impress a writing instructor who will ask her to submit a story to his new literary magazine, which he is starting with a big-name editor who will subsequently not like the work in question.  The afflicted may start seeing hand-scrawled notes on rejection slips that read “good work” or “submit again.”  She may get requests from agents to see her full manuscript, which will inevitably get turned down after months of anxious fretting–but sometimes the agents may say something nice about it.  This cycle of crazed hope/crestfallen disappointment may last for years, and the afflicted will ask herself, “why am I doing this?  I must be some kind of blithering masochistic idiot.”

Stage 4: someone says yes.  The sky is ripped open, angels sing; the afflicted is elated that she hasn’t spent the last few years/decades/epochs talking to herself like a ranting homeless person.   At some point she actually said something, and someone heard.  This in no way means the cessation of impersonal rejection slips, which make the one acquiescence seem like some sort of perverse fluke.  The afflicted will then worry endlessly about being unable to make the magic happen again, and will ask herself, “why am I doing this?  I must be some kind of blithering masochistic idiot.”

Stage 5: in Valhalla there are no rejection slips.

Through all these stages, the afflicted keeps writing anyway, though she is too close to her own stories to be able to see that, in their slow way, they are getting better.  Improvement is like erosion: you can’t see anything happen, but if you take a measurement ten years later you have an inkling that, maybe, something did.

In the sausage factory

I’m going to take a break in the middle of a pile of grading to talk about spiffy writing stuff.  (I love teaching but oh my God, the grading–it hurts.)

13 rue Thérèse is wending its slow way through the digestive system of the Little Brown entity (wait–this would make publication defecation, but it’s too late to turn back now, I’m committed to this gross analogy), going through all the biological and chemical processes that turn a manuscript into a book.  I’ve seen a spec cover for it, and it is cool.  Frustratingly, I am not allowed to post it, because it is still super secret.

A development that tickles my heart: the book now has an ISBN number!  Seeing those 13 digits is like seeing the inky footprint of your new baby on the birth certificate.

Also, cool multimedia ideas are happening.  My editor mentioned the prospect of putting QR codes in the book, which are basically barcodes that look like runes that take you to a website when scanned by a computer or phone camera.  These codes would link to additional content, or sound files of me reading some of the letters aloud, stuff like that.  I am thinking it would be fun to have fragmentary mini-stories that are interlinked in unexpected ways, like a little internet labyrinth.  It’s an interesting new medium to exploit.

Also, my kickass agent and my awesome editor have asked me for short stories to submit to The New Yorker‘s summer fiction issue.  The odds that I’ll get in are quite low since I am such fresh fish but it is still pretty damn exciting to put together a solicited submission to the Holy Grail of literary magazines, which will likely be read by an actual editor instead of a glaze-eyed intern with a finger poised on DELETE.  (Note that I am not talking smack about the glaze-eyed intern; I’ve had the job of reading through slush piles and it is deadening.)

I should get back to grading…  Don’t wanna.  Hold me!