Michelle Wittle On Another Rejection Letter

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

I haven’t been writing my writing blogs on here. I know how annoyed you are with me. But I really do blame teaching. I am working really hard trying to get my students the best education while every month I battle an unknown sickness.


I mean my doctor just keeps telling me I am sick. I don’t get medicine or anything; I just get a doctor’s note and orders to rest.


I digress.


Today I got another rejection letter. If you look at my whole attempts to get published, it is really less then ten times. Yet each rejection letter keeps pulling me further and further away from trying again.


Don’t worry, I know all the lies aspiring authors tell themselves at times like this.


It takes a story at least twenty tries until it finds a home.

That story just wasn’t right for the magazine.

The person who read it had her period (oh wait, that is just the one I use. It’s not effective at all and I am sure not even close to the truth, but I still give myself a bit of a chuckle when I say it to myself).


It’s just really frustrating because I don’t have much of a writing ego. I certainly do not think I am great at it.


Perhaps that is my downfall.


Maybe I need to stop being so passive when I send my work in. Maybe I need to be more like, “hey, this piece is AWESOME and your magazine will die of lack of style and wit if you don’t publish it…now….right now.”


Being a writer is about having a tough skin and just believing in your own writing.


I don’t have either of these things.


I just know that I am most happy when I am writing. I love making a story happen. I think it is a miracle to watch a story take shape and form right in front of you.


So then my problem becomes more of an “is this what I should be doing” then “this is what I am going to do”.


I don’t like to use the word gifted; but I think I have to use it. I take for granted my ablitity to write. I pretend that it isn’t such a big deal to write a story and make someone else feel an emotion just from looking at words on a paper.


Writing is such a powerful and personal thing and my fear is that I am not giving myself completely to writing. For that train of thinking, I am rewarded with rejection letter after rejection letter.


What do I do then? Do I continue to keep trucking along or do I cash it all in?



The National Virginity Pledge: Review by Marc Schuster


The National Virginity PledgeAs the driving force behind the flash-fiction journal Dogzplot and the Achilles chapbook series, Barry Graham was well on his way to making a name for himself in indie publishing circles before his latest collection of “short stories an other lies” came on the market. With the publication of The National Viriginity Pledge, he comes one step closer to having a full-scale juggernaut on his hands. A frenetic, jangled, edgy, tragic, disturbing joyride through angst-ridden Middle America, The National Virginity Pledge feels like a cross between a David Lynch movie and a trip to your favorite dysfunctional uncle’s house — and I mean this in the best way possible.

Let’s start with the David Lynch movie.The first image we get in the collection is that of a vaguely-remembered hit and run accident that leads its protagonist to separate negotiations with a prostitute and a used car dealer in a seedy motel bar in Las Vegas. From here, Graham moves the reader through a series of short stories and vignettes that, through a process of accretion, begins to chip away at comfortable notions like individuality and identity. The hit-and-run driver we saw in the first story may or may not be the online gambler who watches from inside a closet while his girlfriend has sex with a stranger. In turn, the gambler also may or may not be worn-down father who loses and later contemplates killing his children’s hamster. Throughout the collection, Graham provides enough details to suggest that, yes, these are all probably different characters, but the unifying theme of desperation that runs through their lives–and the uncannily identical forms that this desperation takes–hints that they may all be one and the same. Of course, this may well be the point of the collection: the details may be slightly off, but there’s a striking (and horrifying) sameness to the near-infinite number of variations on the American dream throughout the country. We’re not leading lives of quiet desperation, The National Virginity Pledge insists. We’re all leading the same life of quiet desperation–because each of our own lives is more or less interchangeable with everyone else’s.

But then there’s your favorite dysfunctional uncle’s house. As disturbing as they can be, there’s something endearing and familiar about the characters in Graham’s collection. There’s the guy who keeps digging a deeper grave when, after giving the matter some thought, tells his girlfriend that he’d sleep with Monica Lewinsky if he had the chance. Then there’s the woman who honestly believes that winning an Atlantic City bikini competition will lead to something big. There are gamblers and strippers and people in cars. There are people trapped in bad relationships, and people stuck in dead-end jobs. But they’re not just strangers. They’re people we come to care about, and this is possibly Graham’s greatest gift as a storyteller: he depicts what we might otherwise dismiss as the dregs of society in a way that reminds us of their humanity. And of how much we have in common with them.

One other thing worth noting about The National Virginity Pledge is that it’s published by Another Sky Press, which, according to the book’s front matter, operates “under a progressive publishing and distribution paradigm that aims to directly benefit both audience and author.” In short, you can read digital copies of Another Sky Press titles free of charge and pay for what you like–a little like public broadcasting. Additionally, Another Sky offers a sliding scale for bound titles; there’s a set minimum price for each book ($2.68 for The National Virginity Pledge, for example–a great deal in any economy), but you can pay more if you really like the book–not, I suppose, unlike tipping your bartender. And if Graham’s work is any indication of the caliber of titles this press is producing, Another Sky is absolutely worth supporting.

Final thought: I don’t know what font was used in this collection, but its capital Q is pretty amazing. Shell out the $2.68, and turn to page 14 to see what I’m talking about.

Marc Schuster is the author of the forthcoming novel, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl.

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? — Review by Marc Schuster


The first glimpse we get of Charlise Lyles in her recently updated memoir, Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?: From the Projects to Prep School and Beyond, is that of a young woman trying to find her place in the world. She lives in a housing project in a poverty-stricken section of Cleveland, her father is largely absent from her life, and the memory of the Cuyahoga river catching fire is still relatively fresh in her memory. At the same time, however, the young Lyles is filled with hope and ambition; she has a loving, driven, practical-minded mother who will do anything to see her daughter succeed, she has teachers who recognize her potential, and, perhaps most importantly (as far as the narrative is concerned), Lyles has just earned a scholarship through a program called A Better Chance, which means that she will be attending a largely white high school in Cleveland’s suburbs starting the following Fall. Given the tension between the forces of hope and despair operating in Lyles’ life, it’s no wonder that her memoir amounts to a complex and compelling meditation on class, race, gender, and education.

Take, for example, Lyles’ complicated relationship with her father, Charles. Though absent for the most part from his daughter’s life, Charles is, nonetheless, a presence, a ghost who haunts his daughter’s every step. In his only sustained appearance in the memoir, Charles comes off as a man who yearns to be an intellectual and who, given vastly different circumstances, might have made something of his life. He reads voraciously and is, in his own fashion, an expert in history and astronomy. Yet poverty and alcoholism have weighed Charles down, so even as he inspires his daughter to pursue the intellectual interests he can only dream of following, it’s impossible to miss the fact that the man has no prospects. Subsequently, his complete disappearance from his daughter’s life serves as a catalyst: Charlise must pick up where Charles has fallen short, must become the intellectual that her father always dreamed of being.

Overall, Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?, is an insightful and enjoyable book. Moving dramatically from a life filled with Black militants and violent, rat-infested housing projects to the more idyllic yet no less challenging setting of her suburban high school, Lyles paints a detailed, thoughtful picture of race relations in the 1970s and, in so doing, demands that we continue to examine these same important issues as we move into the future. Highly recommended.

Marc Schuster is the author of the forthcoming novel, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl, which will be available in May from PS Books.