Thursday, May 26, 2011

Top Secret Notes from an Editor

I just finished the first round of shortlisting/rejecting submissions for The Midnight Diner and I'm sorry to say I rejected far more than I shortlisted.  I hated doing that, and I did what I swore I would never do--I sent a form rejection letter.  The more rejection letters I got, the more I realized that the form rejection letter is one of the most polite forms of rejection (after the form letter with the handwritten) note at the bottom.  If a letter is too personalized, i.e. telling you exactly why they didn't take your story, it comes off as insulting.  Because really, that's just ONE editor's perspective, and maybe that editor ate a bad crawdad the night before or had a fight with her boyfriend or any number of outside factors, so why should I take that editor's advice when I send it out someplace else?  Especially if it's not a "do this and resubmit."  I got some notes from PANK on "Hotel Jesus" with the suggestion that I submit it again, and I did, and it got published--but the "this isn't for us oh and make the main character have an eyepatch" is just stupid, and I would hate getting it so I hate sending it.

Switching gears . . . .

The Midnight Diner is a Hardboiled Genre magazine with a Christian slant.  Yet, I found that I was getting two types of stories--generic Christianity (angels, God, stories we all know and love told with guns) and generic genre ("I'm dead!" in Paranormal and "I'm killing somebody!" in Crime).  I rarely found one that had both a Christian slant without being generic, and a genre slant without being cliched. . . and what I realized was that too much of Christian genre writing is slamming those two elements together and hoping the pieces cling long enough to work.

I don't write what I call "Christian" fiction, but I've always been fascinated by preachers and I've lately been fascinated by the concept of Grace.  In the past six months I've written a series of unrelated short stories under this umbrella (not counting "Preacher Man/Absolution/First Night in a New Town") and I'm realizing that a good Christian story, like any good story, is about people.  Not just people of faith, but people saved by the grace of a force beyond their control.  For Lila Ann Albany, the narrator of "The Hand of God," it's a teenage preacher's son who saves her life with a hardback Bible in a violent, Flannery O'Conner-esq twist.  For Oren Barry, the protagonist in "Keyton's Keys," which features no direct religious references at all, it's about accepting the grace that forgives his past and trying to be a better man. And for Oswald Lapis, the minister in the untited story I'm writing now, it's a girl who shows him mortal love when he can barely believe in the love he preaches every week.

I've read what seems like a million stories about angry angels, thinly-veiled retreads of well-known Bible stories (usually involving guns and swear words, ooh, how edgy), pedophile priests, one last romantic encounters with ghostly lovers and devils coming to church, and each time they get more and more and more tiresome.  There is so much more to Christianity than Thomas Kincaid schlock and badassed Bible verses.

The supposed Rapture came and went without incident Saturday night (except for my friend Jim, who didn't answer his phone when I called him at 6PM EST and has yet to call back, leaving me to assume that he was, in fact, assumed into Heaven.  Good for him, I say.  I like to imagine that he's eating sno-cones with Patrick Swayze).  I think there's a lot of really great stories in there--none of this "Left Behind" crap, but stories about regular people.  Such as:

--A non-believer laying awake the night before wondering what will happen next and still being changed even after the Day of Judgement fails to materialize.
--Someone who left everything behind and is disappointed that they're stuck here on Earth because they've been scammed into believe Doomsday is coming. (LOTS of good material to milk here) 
--Someone ends up Raptured due to a clerical error
--The character gets to Heaven and realizes that, because of the specifications on who gets in, realizes that all the people they really love are left on Earth and that "Heaven" has become their own personal Hell
--One person gets Raptured, while their lover/sibling/parent is left behind

 . . . and these are just my ideas.  Go ahead, take them.  I'll probably never get around to writing them anyways.  Good luck with them, and send them over to The Midnight Diner.  Direct your cover letters to me personally and although I make no promises of publication, I would like to read them.  And really, when was the last time an author gave away their own specific story ideas?  Not that I've ever seen.

Point is, these are the kinds of stories I want to read in any genre.  Stories about people, just normal people with average jobs and average lives who have something extraordinary happen to them--even if it's as simple as meeting someone on the street . . . but make it someone, some idea, that changes them, because one of the problems we all have in life is that we don't change.  And why should we?  We're always right, everyone else is wrong.  After all, Harold Camping himself said that there was no possibility the Rapture wouldn't occur at 6PM on May 21st, 2011.

Yet, here we all are, stuck in this broken world together.  Who needs sarcastic angels and apocolyptic wanderings when we're surrounded by so many people, all with their own stories to tell?  Find these same people in your imagination and tell their stories--give them words and breath and life.  That's how you write a good story. 

No comments:

Post a Comment