When a story gets rejected more than a dozen times and I deem it a lost cause, I could let it collect cyberdust on my hard drive.
I could muster enough courage to share it openly with you fine people. If I choose the latter, we all get a chance to tear a story apart together, to learn together as a community and grow as storytellers.
See, it’s easy to give abstract advice on writing—every blog on writing or publishing does that all of the time. Heck, I do that. Why? Because it’s easy to dish out advice. What’s hard is giving practical, real-life examples like “Watch this replay where I fail miserably. See that? Epic fail. Don’t do that.” Real-life examples require vulnerability.
Then again, there’s an entire website devoted to failing, a subculture founded on #fail and #winning. It all started with skater culture, skaters who love watching old clips of their buddies racking themselves during an insane attempt to grind down some fifty-step rail. Thus Johnny Knoxville. When we learn from, laugh over, and accept failure it leads to success… or at least good slapstick. That’s why we writers need the reformation of rejection slips. So yeah, I’ll have to find some chutzpa to share the crap I keep in the “Boneyard” folder on my wife’s MacBook. But you know what?
It’ll be worth it.
Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. I choose to bury this snubbed story, to plant it in hopes that we learn something at its funeral. To heck with the word funeral, let’s call this a wake.
Ask yourself: Why did this story get rejected? What’s wrong with this picture? And then join me in the comments for a discussion on this story and storytelling.
I’m sharing the following literary short story, warts and all. It’s entitled “Attachment” and was rejected 20 times:
April 20th, 1949
Four days since I saw you. Feels just about like forty. Fort Bellvorde’s nice compared to Fort Scott’s patch of grass. More ways to spend rec time than Scott. Damn good Irish whiskey. Some of Bellvorde’s training facilities don’t meet standards. Asked about it and the little shits, scuse my French, told me it had to do with Bellvorde’s sway in the department of defense. One of our commanders must a been promoted there, because they get away with murder or could cover on up if they wanted. No discipline. Didn’t like me talking about it so much, so I’ve dropped the “safety” topic on base. At least out loud.
How are the ladies? General Gordan? Anything new and exciting at work? Know you don’t like this three year deal. Neither do I, but I promise it’ll work out. I think they’ll keep me here until my discharge in three.
Tell Grayson “hey old timer” and Darcen too. News about Korea probably’ll come soon.
All my love,
DELIVERED BY: Courier Vernon Ross, East Coast Express ON: 3 May 1949 ATTACHED: 1 Doz. Red Roses 2 Boxes Dutch Chocolate
May 3rd , 1949
So happy to have your letter come at lunch! Vernon, that nice ECEX man, dropped it off. And thank you for the roses! They were lovely, where did you get them? Chocolates tickled my tongue. They from somewhere else?
Peggy, Margaret, and Gloria are fine. Marilyn not so much. She came down with the chicken pox. Didn’t have them when she was little I suppose. Doctors counted them – one thousand from her neck to her shoulder blades. Stopped counting. She says dozens squish when she sits anywhere. I think she’ll be all right once they finish all of their popping and spreading.
General Gordon reassigned me to the office down the road from the Pentagon. Still the private sector, but no more kids toys or “children of our troops need reading material” jobs. It’s entertainment for the government and armed forces. All that to say yes, something new and exciting at work has happened. The other day, I believe it was Monday, I got a call from a man trying to see if his reel of Citizen Kane was in. I said, “Hello.” And he said, “Hey, it’s Harry.” And I said, “Hello. This is Ella. Harry who?” And he said, “Truman. Your president, Ella.” Almost fell out of my chair! Well we tracked down his movie and he got it all right.
No, I don’t like the separation – who would? But I understand, Jack Bandy, I understand. And I love you.
Grayson says “hello,” but Darcen was relocated. Overseas. Asian theatre, Margaret tells me.
Be good, Jack.
DELIVERED BY: Courier Turner Max, East Coast Express ON: 10 May 1949 ATTACHED: 1 Pocket watch (inscrip. Pennsylvania Railroad)
May 13rd , 1949
A pocket watch! You know my weak points. This one purrs like Uncle Mike’s kittens. Took it apart and watched the insides whirl. And the polished gears remind me of grandmother’s white gold pendant, the one with that solitaire that floats inside the diamond circle. Well anyway, I love it.
Harry Truman called you? That’s great fun, great! I bet you did fall out of your chair! Darcen’s over in the Asian theatre? Hope not the land war. “Never get involved in the land war over there,” I’ve heard them say. Hope he’s safer the the squad here – good Lord, You’d think these men never heard the word “accident.” Saw men pulling pins out of grenades and\o put them back in again before they blew up, for fun. In and out and in and out, and if a pin got jammed, then they had to throw it or die. Don’t understand these kids. So far so good, though. No one wounded or anything, figures, but I’m telling you this sense of entitlement is just terrible. Make it sound like they got the right to recklessness.
Anyway, I’ve got another something headed your way. Bought it from a man at the flea market, a friend of mine who’s collected for a while. I asked him how he was doing, and he said, “You know . . . living the American dream at the Northpark Market.”
American dream . . .
All the best,
DELIVERED BY: Courier Vernon Ross, East Coast Express ON: 18 May 1949 ATTACHED: 1 Box, 2 Doz. Souvenir Thimbles
May 18rd , 1949
These are beautiful! I’ve got most of the missing countries now! Warwick was in there and Tunis! There was a Morroco, a Yemen, a Dubai, and the whole Southeast Asian peninsula. Did you get a good look at the pewter ones? They’re mostly from out east: Boston and Philadelphia and Gettysburg. The little figurines that top them off, a little canon or a miniature Paul Revere, remind me of old stories. Thank you, thank you, thank you Jack! After putting them on my thimble shelves, I’ve only five slots left.
Marilyn’s chicken pocks faded and she’s back to cooking, cleaning, cooking and cleaning for all of our houses. I swear, that woman’s a regular Martha – she don’t know when to quit! Made us a big batch of shepherd’s pie and peanut butter cookies. Sent some with the letter for you and the boys.
Do they have any movies on there? We watched this Katherine Hepburn movie called “Adam’s Rib.” It was a riot! Kate and Spencer Tracy going at it like a feminist lawyer and her husband attorney. Peggy hated it.
Anywho, we’re about to run to the store.
DELIVERED BY: Courier George Folsey, East Coast Express ON: 25 May 1949 ATTACHED: 1 Box Peanut Butter Cookies
May 27th, 1949
Dean doesn’t like peanut butter, so I get these to myself, thanks!
I’m glad you liked your thimbles. My friend told me that the few that have dates are all real. He triple-checked for me (takes his flea market seriously, I suppose).
Yeah, the boys and I went and saw this flick with that Gene Kelly and Blue Eyes –an MGM. Called “On the Town” about a buncha sailors using their 24-hour leave to chase skirts. We liked it, specially the museum exhibit dedicated to “homo erectus.”
Yesterday, one of the kids got hurt on the training ground, surprise surprise. This time it was bad. I’ll spare you, but he almost bled to death. Medic stabilized him and he’ll be all right, but it shook us up something fierce. I told Sarg I don’t do so well with blood, and he said, “Then you’re in the wrong goddamn profession, Jack…. Ass.”
He might be right.
I know you’re looking for new wine, so I found something for you. This stuff ages first in French oak, then in American. Or maybe it’s the other way around? Not sure, but it’s a stepping-stone to the European stuff, comes out of Ollauri, Spain called Beronia. Hope you like it.
All my love,
PS – Buy some feta to go with it, it’ll help cut through that thick, red body just like your kisses.
DELIVERED BY: Courier Vernon Ross, East Coast Express ON: 3 June 1949 ATTACHED: 1 Bottle 1945 Beronia Crianza
June 3rd, 1949
I suppose for a sophisticated wine, it’ll have to do. You’re right, cheese helped. Thought that was just a thing people did, strange. You know me, I normally taste first, see whether I need to give it away. Didn’t need to. I like it and can’t wait to have a bottle with you over dinner. Salmon?
It’s hotter than the hounds of Hell here, but Gloria makes fresh lemonade. I always use those newer powders, but Gloria buys lemon juice. One cup lemon juice. One sugar. One liter water and stir! You’d think fresh homemade lemonade’d be harder, but turns out most of the gals are like me: scared of homemade recipes. We don’t fit in much with the crowd without bringing something to share. Maybe I can make some when you come home. I’ll set up your hammock and everything.
Finished my project. Hope you like it because I thought of you the whole time. Used oils…
With care and concern,
DELIVERED BY: Courier Fred McVey, East Coast Express ON: 10 June 1949 ATTACHED: 1 Oil Painting
June 13th, 1949
They say that I’ll be able to leave sooner than planned – three months from now! All that I’ve left is some paperwork, delegating my tasks, raising up some green ear to take my place and finish out exercises: bayonet today, that savage grenade crew tomorrow and basic field meal prep. Home for Christmas!
The painting of that lady waiting stunned me, Ell! The waves looked like they might splash right out of the sea, past the porch and out of the frame. The gulls around the tower, the crags! It’s wonderful. Thanks. I’ll have to find a place to store it in the mean time – they don’t give us much wall space, let alone freedom for paintings. Where would you hide a front porch?
Lemonade sounds great, but I suggest steak for the wine I’m bringing. You know me, I like dead meat.
All the best,
DELIVERED, With deepest condolences, BY: Courier Vernon Ross, East Coast Express ON: 22 June 1949 ATTACHED TO: 1 American Flag, 1 Red Oak Coffin, & 1 Body (tagged: Jack T. Bandy)
Looking forward to the discussion on this snubbed story.
PS> If you have a crappy story that multiple editors have rejected and would like to work through it with me (and everyone else who participates), email it in a .doc, .docx, or .pdf to lanceschaubert [at] gmail [dot] com with “Snubbed Stories” in the subject line.
Please include your story of rejection or rejection slip count in the body of the email.
Together, we will destroy our crappy stories.
And learn to tell better ones.