Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Rejection Slips

Some rejection letters are treasures, some are trash. I just got a treasure in the mail.

Someone once challenged me to get to one hundred rejection slips and they’d buy me coffee. I’m notoriously frugal so I immediately set out to spend a ridiculous amount on stamps and envelopes so I could get a free cappuccino. I never got to one hundred. I never got to twenty. All I got was published. She bought me my coffee anyway.

I’m easy to trick like that.

I teach my students to send in their work. Anywhere and everywhere. What’s the worst that could happen? Rejection. The odds are against them but what is the cost for failure? Not even stamps, in some cases. The most it can cost is some time well-spent learning to revise and reformat.

And if a piece is accepted? Time to look at what the editor has said about your work. What did they suggest? What do they want? Changes. And with any of their suggestions you can do one of four things:

One: Just make the change. Sometimes the editor is right and when you see the comment you slap yourself in the head a la the V8 commercial and wonder how you missed such a bonehead, obvious error.

Two: Make the change. This is not a repeat. You think you are correct but you make the change anyway. Why? Is your writing making you money or bringing you fame sitting in your computer? Probably not. Is the edit one that changes the meaning of your work? Does it damage or degrade it? No? Then why not change it to the likes of the magazine and get it out into the public?

Three: Don’t change it - fix it. Explain why you are correct and the editor is not but that it is your fault. It happens. The editor suggests a change, perhaps one of word choice or punctuation and you believe it affects the meaning, feel or sound of the piece. Explain why it needs to be the way it is and take the blame for the editor’s confusion. Take the blame? Yes. Explain that if you were clear in your meaning it would have been clearly communicated, clear to the editor and clear to the reader so, if the editor did not get it, it must be your fault.

Why? The editor is your gateway to being published, for one. Don’t yell at your editor. Be kind. Also, it probably is your fault. If it read in a way that a word seemed wrong or another word seemed better, you are probably not getting your meaning across. Isn’t that what you want? To be read and understood? So, explain why the word or phrase needs to be there and then tell your editor you re-worked the section so the purpose and meaning were clear. Take the blame and make the fix but not the change.

Four: Tell her to take a hike. I don’t suggest this one. Your editor is the gateway reader. They stand in for the general reader of the magazine and, if they are any good, they read it the way their readership would. If they think a change should be made it is most often for a good reason. Think about it seriously.

Have your own copy of the work. In that, make editorial changes you agreed with and, otherwise, leave it alone. That way you have a solid, improved copy just the way you want it for publication later.

And the rejection letters. Print them out. Post them on the wall. They are your proof you are active. Richard Bach got rejected and so did e e cummings. Hemingway and Orwell. You too can be rejected. It means you are submitting. You are active. Celebrate every rejection slip.

I celebrated this one:

March 3, 2007

Dear Adam,

Thank you for your submission, “A Day at the Beach,” to Literary Liftoff. Unfortunately, however, its subject matter and its style are not suitable for our magazine. Because we are oriented toward a general audience, we are looking for stories and essays that are more conventionally structured and more suitable for family reading.

Because of its unconventional, free association style, I think you might be more successful in pursuing literary markets that are looking for more experimental work.

Thanks again for your submission, and I wish you luck in placing your manuscript elsewhere in a more suitable publication.

Revisions editor, Literary Liftoff

I love it. I sent this reply:


I LOVE that rejection letter. I sent it to six people and they immediately wanted to read the essay. If it doesn’t fit, I don’t mind a bit. I fully understand. In the meantime, it’s great advertising.

Thank you,


And, if you go here, you can read it too.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Powwow Suite

Those constant readers of my work will notice a theme running through much of my poetry: degradation or loss of cultural identity.

In 2005 I attended the Intertribal Powwow in Melbourne, Florida. I went at the request of my parents who are fans of such things.

What I found was how much was not there. People will tell me one finds what one already sees. In part, true. But if I find loss in the cultural heritage of native peoples, I am neither alone nor the first. Indigenous peoples all over the US are starting to question sending their children to state-run schools, have begun to teach their native languages, held on the tongues of only the eldest members of the tribe and often in danger of being lost, have started re-co-opting celebrations brought to them by the missionaries with their own, replacing the new myths with their old. Everything old is new again.

Some have handled this by bridging the worlds Native and Christian. They see syncretism and commonality in worship, celebration. They hold on to their heritage but practice, in many ways, an amalgamation. They flow back and forth and fit in.

And some hold on to their chains.

This is true of Native American groups.

This is true of African groups.

This is true of European groups.

It is true of me.


In his essay, “Jesus Is Lord on The Crow Reservation,” (Notes from the Dreamtime) Craig R. Smith discusses his own suprise as an outsider experiencing this degradation during his travels across the West.

So, here is an essay wrapped in a poem. Or a poem in essayic clothing. Either way, it’s a shame.


Powwow Suite


An Intertribal Unity Powwow
Is being held at the field at
The local community college.

Come early and stay late
We are told
Bring a chair and enjoy the festivities.

It advertises $10,000 in prizes for dancers
Education in tribal heritage
And a spectacular Grand Entrance.

We pay $5.00 each to get in
At a booth run by
The Boy Scouts of America.

We enter along into the Indian World
Row of vendors, frybread, hides, giant belt buckles
Plastic spears, buy and sell jewelry and kiddie bow and arrow kits.

And everywhere there are pictures of Jesus as an Indian.


Only 1% of Native Americans are recorded as following an aboriginal spiritual path.

Jesus Leads The Grand Entrance

It is Grand Entrance
And the participants enter
In silver and feathers.

Headdresses and hides flow
Over iridescent polyester dresses
And buckskin pants and flashing flag buckles.

Traditions succumb to Wal-Mart
As the sequined parade
Shines its way to the arena.

A snake through the fairgrounds
Dancers follow in a line
Behind the headman and headwoman.

In beaded regalia they lead
The troops of nostalgia
And Indian style.

Women march with children
All dressed in blue print covered
With small white crosses.

And I can’t tell
If they are offering themselves up
Or laying themselves low.

I cannot tell
If it is a symbol of sacrifice
Or ownership and surrender.

But I wonder
Who has nailed you to these
And sells you to the willing crucifixion?

In old Hollywood westerns the cavalry
Would come over hill
Just in time to save the Christians.

By killing the Indians
And leaving the skulls to bleach,
Each a small Golgotha.

Now, without bidding
You march your nations
To Calvary.

And you bring your own nails.


Identification with the aggressor is a well-documented defense mechanism.

Opening the Powwow

In the arena
The microphone passes to the MC
And he begins the Veterans’ Dance.

Joined by Vets from the crowd
In a circle they move, stomp, walk
Following the Flag of the United States.

Next to me stands a man
Wearing a T-shirt showing
Four Comanche warriors.

The picture is pulled crisp by fat
As he stands to attention
I read the caption.

Homeland Security
Fighting terrorism
Since 1492.

As the dance closes the MC
Leads the prayer
To open the Powwow.

The Veterans are blessed,
The dancers are blessed and
The venders are blessed.

But the grounds are never blessed
And the sky is never addressed
But they are thankful in the name of Jesus.

Or they are walking proof
Of the Stockholm Syndrome
And where is the great father now?

And what has Jesus done with your buffalo?


By 1885, the government estimated only 200 buffalo were alive in the wild.

Sawhorse Buffalo Guards Coyote

Spotted Pony Traders has a sawhorse out front
Higher than your head
Longer than your father’s body.

It takes the place of the bone and integrity
Of a buffalo whose skin
Rides the horse.

Draped down the sides
Massive and empty
Smooth and soft and I swear.

I pretend I can feel some
Remnant of the life that was once
So much a part of the beast.

Hanging lifeless
One could hardly picture it
Herding across the plains.

As creature of beating heart and pounding hoof
One could scarcely imagine it
A sawhorse hide.

Inside the booth, faces
Fox faces, Raccoon faces
Coyote faces.

Five dollars each and two for eight.
I never pick one up
But lay my eyes, my hand on the table.

Atop the tipping piles of faces,
Feel the fox nose,
Another kind of skin.

Feeling the ears and finding an opening
My finger slips inside
I realize.
This is where the brain was,
The seat of the living,
Once breathing fox.

I never touch the coyote.


Native Americans are 2.8 times more likely to have diabetes than whites.

Fast food Native American Style

I don’t know if the old Sioux
Knew he was stuck,
Blind, he was in his wheelchair.

Pushed by his old wife and his daughter
He ended three inches deep in the mud.
The women linger over him.

He cannot get out of his chair,
Stares ahead from his seat.
But he doesn’t see anything.

The old woman pulls at the handles.
These are part of the old man now
And she cannot move him.

Her daughter pushes it this way and that
Wiggles the chair but the only thing that shakes
Are the old handles.

She slips in the mud.
Her moccasins are covered with mud
Her mother’s moccasins are covered with mud.

I’m wearing crapstompers and dungarees
And don’t care about mud
As I wade in.

I pull hard at the wheelchair
To free the old Sioux
Of the mud.
It is nothing to do.
He is old and pale,
Wan, disappearing.

He is ancient, waifish,
Head to toe in buckskin,
Clothed in heritage.

The old lady thanks me
And I tell her it’s nothing,
It was nothing to do.

And it is a blessing
To be of use and
I’m happy.

She tells me how hard it is
To take care of him, blind,
Lame, and diabetic, as is she.

And so many of her relatives
Her tribe, Other tribes.
Her daughter.

It’s a long line for frybread and lemonade,
Elephant ears and curly fires and coke
At the booth marked Indian Food.

Frybread is the symbol for Intertribal Unity.


We are admonished to come early
For the Grand Entrance
And stay ‘till dark for the exit.

For all the great dancing between,
The vendors and
Fun to be had.

Stay for the Closing Dance
We were told.
A one of a kind event.
And the closing ceremony
Prayers and the
Magnificent Grand Exit.

At the Melbourne Native American Indian Intertribal Unity Powwow
We spent a little under three hours
And $44.28 including admission.

That is my willing sacrifice.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Let's Get Fictional Moves Out on its Own


This has been popular. Popular enough that I have given it it’s own space to grow and become what it will.

It's new blog space will allow our intrepid fictionauts to travel where they will with their story.

I hope to open this space up to other writers as well who wish to write team-fiction or team satire or team-whathaveyou. Be inventive. Be creative. Be on the team. Send in your comments and, if you are intrepid and stalwart, we’ll make you part of the blog team and you will be able to post on your own.

Right now the team consists of Susan Dellert, Jason Ard, Craig Smith and me. It could include you.

Read, comment, post. Want to get fictional? Join us.

Part three is up and ready for you. Go on over and read what happens next.