My very first piece of flash fiction was accepted and published this weekend. More on that later.
Many of you know from my constant blathering that my current pet writing project of late has been and is flash fiction, specifically the micro variety 500 words or fewer. [BTW, I hate the term "fewer" in this context. It has no rhythm even if it is the grammatically correct way to use it. 500 words or less just rolls better off the tongue.]
Sorry, I am easily sidetracked these days, I was talking about flash fiction, I think? Yeah, that's right. Anyway, I've been writing a lot of it: abstract, difficult, literary type stuff, because that's what I like to write. It just suits my writerly mindset. However, that sort of writing can be hard to place, and the more difficult, the more literary, and the more art-house you get, the more rejections you are going to get.
Now, being rejected isn't all bad. Sure, the form letter variety is annoying as hell because it says nothing of the writing. You're left in limbo to wonder was it them or was it you? I hate that, which is also why I rarely submit my work and why I went the self-publishing route directly with my novellas. I am way too high-strung of a scab picker to handle the whole submission/rejection process. I do it every once and a while for a piece of poetry or something, but I let the longer works alone. Lately though, I have been cranking out the flash and have quite the impressive collection at this point, so the question becomes: Now What? Sure, the work has improved my ability to think outside the cliché. The form works wonders if you are trying to expand your range when it comes to experimental styles and voice, and there is the off chance you may be able to slip some of it into a longer piece. Should a freak astrological occurrence occur, say if the sun happens to be in Aquarius on the third Tuesday of the month, which coincides with a gibbous moon, a particularly good piece might wind up as the inspiration for a novella or a novel, but barring all that, what do you do with all the dark fiddly bits?
I decided to slip a rubber bit in my mouth and submit a few to various online lit journals specializing in flash fiction. My very first story submission was titled Persian Cat and it tells the story -- in the very abstract surreal way -- of the reconciliation of two estranged lovers on a train.
It went almost 75 days in the submission queue over at Every Day Fiction. I was thrilled to death it made it past the slush readers. Sadly though, it was rejected, which I will share with you now because it was one of the nicest rejections I have ever seen, let alone received.
Thank you for your submission to Every Day Fiction. I regret to inform you that we are unable to use it at this time.
Very lyrical writing. Lovely. It reads more like poetry than prose fiction. Sadly it doesn't have enough plot for this venue. -- Nicole [last name redacted]
Nice imagery. But we tend to go for pieces with a strong story arc and good character development at EDF. -- Aliza [last name redacted]
The prose is solid and but for so short a piece it really makes the reader work to figure out what is going on. I don't doubt this will find a home in a more literary-minded venue, or a micro-specific market. Engaging read. -- John [last name redacted]
We wish you good luck in placing the story elsewhere.
This is the sort of rejection you very rarely see. It was clear that they liked the piece but that it just wasn't a good fit for their site as their editors tend to look for a more traditional story structure in the work they accept. My piece was just too abstract and too experimental, which is the whole reason I started writing flash to begin with. It's a very malleable form. Anyway, I probably would have set the piece aside if it weren't for their reassuring and positive commentary. The next day, I resubmitted the story to another online journal, one that seemed to favor the super literary, quirky, what-the-hell-just-happened sort of thing, and it paid off. Within a week, the piece was accepted and was published at Dustbin on April 10, 2011 with these remarks:
New author in the house, Cheryl Anne Gardner, writes this short, fiery story of a little over 100 words that stumped us the first time we read it. Then we read it again. And again. And again. And then, we smiled. We’ll leave you to experience it your way. http://d.ustb.in/week-26/
Needless to say, I was thrilled to death. This is my first published piece of flash, and I hope to have many more. Nevertheless, it wasn't the acceptance that thrilled me so much, it was the hope it gave me. Not hope for my own writing; as you all know, I do not lack confidence in my own writing. I mean, in order to survive in this business – the business of writing – you have to have at least a modicum of delusional belief in your work, and validation is just not my style. So what does it give me hope for, you ask? Well, it more revives my hope in that literary, or rather, difficult, abstract, art-house, thinky fiction is not a dying art and that there are readers out there who appreciate it.
What's the moral of this story? Rejection sucks, of course, but then sometimes it doesn't. Don't read into anything, and don't automatically think the work sucks rubber bands just because you got a standard form rejection. Lastly, and the most important lesson of all: Research Your Markets. The submissions process is work -- hard work. Don't spam your writing to the world. Before you submit, research the venue in order to ascertain if the work suits their style and suits their current publication schedule. I am a subscriber to both of the sites I submitted to. Both are literary sites, one is just a bit more edgy than the other is when it comes to form. I took a chance, lost out, and then ended up winning on the rebound. Your chances of this are much better when you make a good match. It works the same for review sites. Write what the market wants simply means find your market first and then write to it. You have to write what you love and what suits your voice. If you do, your odds of success are much better, keeping in mind that certain markets are harder to work in than others are.
Cheryl Anne Gardner