Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Making a pig of myself

It's been a while since I've been able to advise you of the publication of any new poems. There are a couple of reasons for this: a) I've been lax about sending stuff out and b) those that have been out just take so long to come back.

So I made a dent in my submissions a week ago and sent out thirteen batches, two of which (much to my great surprise), came back right away; one was a rejection and one was an acceptance and I can't complain about those odds.

I don't know whether the short story magazines are worse than the poetry magazines because up until a year ago I'd never submitted a story anywhere but I've a whole batch dating back to November 2007 and you're not telling me that it takes eight months to read a story and say, "Sorry, son, but it's not for us." It's not the rejection that bothers me but I do think not replying is just plain rude. Of the twenty-five stories I sent out, eight were rejected, two were accepted and I've heard not a tweet or a chirrup about any of the others.

Back in March I chased up one of them. I won't name names but the magazine said that it responded "promptly" and so I sent a short, polite enquiry attaching the previous e-mail and not a dickybird: nada, nihil, nowt. And I don't know about you but I just think that's plain rude. And unprofessional. But it's worse than that, it's deflating for the author. Now, I know I could go down the simultaneous submission route and I don't know why I don't but I never have. I have loads of material. That's what happens when you write for ten years and don't send anything out.

I feel old. I've felt old for a long time, longer than I should have but as I write this I feel especially old. I'm becoming my parents. It had to happen but I thought I might be able to hang on a bit longer. It's not that all my heroes are dying off in droves (Is 'drove' the correct collective noun for heroes?) it's just that everything is changing faster than I'd ever imagined. And most of it is a double-edged sword. Even the blessed computer.

When I was a teenager I remember walking into The Third Eye Centre as it was back then and there were poetry magazines to be bought … lots of 'em. And they were cheap, maybe 35p or 70p for a thick one. The last time I was there – the place was called The Centre for Contemporary Arts – there was next to nothing, not even the big names. It had become the kind of arts centre I lampoon in Living with the Truth. And I felt like Jonathan, out of my time.

Meaning has changed too. That I really, really never expected. I'm not sure what things mean anymore. This wasn't supposed to happen so quickly. Now I submit my poems and stories to e-zines, magazines than don't exist, not in any tangible sense of the word. If someone turns off the server they're on then they're gone. There's one copy somewhere in the world and we all get to share it. The idea is good – very green – but, I repeat, there's one copy somewhere in the world and if their server crashes or there's a natural disaster or an act of God or if some loony takes to it with his favourite axe then it's gone, pffft! I've had stuff published on the Web before and I went looking for it and it's not there anymore. These should be collector's items. There should be people bidding for the stuff on e-bay. But they're gone. I can't even remember the names of any of them.

I don't think I like virtual reality. I like real reality, the kind you can stick in a box and pull out every few years, the kind you can show your daughter and say, "See, this is the kind of stuff Daddy wrote when he was your age," only she's now ten years older than most of the stuff you'd want to show her and there's never time for stuff like that when she visits.

Where was I? Oh, yes, I got a poem published in Ink, Sweat and Tears. It's one of the few journals I actually subscribe to. I like it because I get one poem to look at and I don't have to fret about flicking through cyberpages to find something I can actually be bothered reading. There's one poem, take it or leave it, Jim.

Well now it's one of mine, a little poem I ran off a few months back called 'If Only Pigs Could Fly'. It's not the one I would've picked out of the selection I sent them but I've never understood how editors make their choices nor do I worry overly much about what they've published before because it's rarely anything like what I produce anyway.

I've been writing a lot about the nature of poetry of late. I think it's been because I've been nearing my one thousandth poem (actually I've passed it now) and I've been thinking about my craft such as it is. Poem #1000 was actually a waste of time, a poem about wasting time reading a poem. I'll let you read it some day. 'If Only Pigs Could Fly' is #974. It was inspired … only that's not really the right word … I had in mind the story from the Bible about Legion.

I know Bible study isn't a big thing anymore and although I adhere to no kind of religious belief nowadays I cannot help having been taught what I was taught as a child. The imagery is powerful and it stays with you and I wouldn't fret if the only book I was ever left with was an old bible but that's a subject for another day I think. (Actually I know it is because I've already written the blog).

Anyway, here's the story:

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.

7He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" 8For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!"

9Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"

"My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." 13He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. - Mark 5:1-13

Translations differ. In the one I remember they throw themselves over a cliff (kremnos: overhanging, i.e. a precipice – steep place) and that's the image I had of all these piggy wiggies sailing over the edge of a cliff but, forgetting they no longer had the wings they were used to, the demons plummet into the sea.

A common expression is wrestling ones demons (an expression that's always puzzled me because Jacob wrestling an angel (Genesis 32:1) which is where I expect the expression originates) and that's always struck me as an appropriate metaphor for the whole writing process. I've never found it especially easy. It's as if I'm dragging a part out of me and shaping it into a poem or whatever. Yup, more biblical imagery. Anyway, all of this stuff is in my head and I dip into it as and when necessary. None of which you actually need to know to get the poem. But that's what I was thinking about when I wrote the piece.

Of course, I could've given it a more biblical title, like 'Legion', but, as I've just pointed out, people aren't as au fait with the scriptures as previous generations were so why make life hard for my readers? "If only pigs could fly" is one of those expressions that is still in common use and it carries the notion of wishful thinking. And that's really what the poem is about. We write 'em, we send 'em out and they crash and burn. It's a poem about the rejection process. We take our demons, cram them into poems, drive them away and watch as they fail.

The structure is a simple 4-2-6 count in the first two stanzas. The last one is 4-2-1-1 and is meant to suggest the falling process, the stanza crumbles away. The irony, of course, is that this poem didn't fail. And we like irony.


Jena Isle said...

Wow, Congrats Jim! I understand the feeling. I started having published articles in our local mags when I was already 32 yrs. old (late- don't you agree?)and these were small pieces; short stories and a poem or two... I would not agree that you're old. Your ideas are new and dynamic...

I feel young when it concerns my writing as I'm still beginning on this writing journey.

Thanks for your helpful insights and pointers.

All the best .

Jena Isle said...

I wish I could publish one book too, even it it would be a self-published one. Thanks for the pointers, I still have to buy your book. Cheers.

Jim Murdoch said...

I suppose thirty-two is late, Jena, but it's not too late. The world is changing faster than I care for but there are good things. It's no longer a major consideration to get yourself in print. Getting a book deal is certainly not what it once was and so much of the work to promote the book is falling on the author's shoulders that self-publishing is looking more and more attractive. At least there you have total control. You should investigate what's available locally. You'll never make your fortune, in fact you'll be lucky to recoup your outlay but who's in it for the money anyway?

Rachel Fox said...

May I suggest, my friend, that it is time for a break...a holiday...a long weekend by the sea?

Plus I sometimes think the whole lit mag submission thing is an evil plot devised to keep writers distracted, bitching and miserable (like most need help in that area...). Are the editors twisted's a, you don't want's a few're desperate, you want more don't you etc.
I only sometimes think that. Mostly I think about other wider subjects!

And saying that 'ink, sweat and tears' is good. Really varied. And I like your pigs. They fly!

Ken Armstrong said...

I was at an anniversary mass last year and the 'Legion' story was read out. You hear better readings during the weekdays, Sunday is like a Bible Greatest Hits.

I think it's a great story and the line you quoted, ""My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many."", is a completely killer line.

I like your poem. In the version I heard, the little piggies certainly toppled over the cliff and that is as it should be.

Jim Murdoch said...

Ah, holidays Rachel, now there's a subject. My family was never big on holidays and, as I started to get older, holidays became projects and this continued into my working life. The real issue is an inability to relax. When I was about twenty I took on a hobby, comic collecting, to try and do something which didn't involve me bent over a desk (no computers back then – Christ, I feel old) but I really don't do anything these days that isn't in front of a computer; all I do is change machine from time to time. As for a weekend by the sea, I be knackered by the time I got to the train station.

As for the whole submission thing… we just have to rise above it. There are plenty of magazines out there. Just keep you database/spreadsheet up-to-date and check it routinely. It's easy to blink and months have passed. I've added a column for turnaround, which I never used to have but some of these sites tell you up front not to expect anything for several months. I don't get it. I don't need to get it. This is the way the world is.

And, Ken, yeah, the Bible has some damn good lines but that one's right up there. I have to say when I was looking for a bible to quote online I was surprised by the number of translations that show the pigs running down a hill. That really lacks dramatic impact. Now, chucking themselves off a cliff … sheer Hollywood. It just struck me that being ex-angels they might've forgotten that swine (much filthier than pigs) don't have wings and that's a pure Wile E. Coyote moment.

Dave King said...

I'm with you all the way on this one: I think it is totally unacceptable for editors to simply not reply; I, too, feel old, have become my father; I find meaning has changed and prefer the old reality to the new; and I am steeped in the language and myths of the Old and New Testaments - which I am in no worry sorry about. Sorry, though Jena, can't agree that 32 is old... 32? You're joking! I can double that and then some before I submitted anything. You're at the height of your powers.
My big beef, though, is poetry comptitions, the business of "filters", poetry "experts" who decide what the judges get to see.

Anonymous said...

Good read. Yes, the irony is incredible. I'd suggest you start simultaneous submitting right away. You're not getting any younger and life is too short. If some editor somewhere bans you because you had a piece accepted elsewhere and you had to pull out, I say his loss. And you can also submit to journals that don't mind SSs. Poet's Market and Duotrope's both list that feature and it's helpful.

On another note, I appreciate the dilemma you spoke of concerning publishing online. That's why I've taken to re-publishing everything that makes it into "print" online on my own properties. That way, I control it and it will be there as long as I want it to be, which at this point I'm planning to be another 40 years.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, rise above it...I typed that to someone only the other week! There is so much more to life than poetry magazines...

Mostly I just don't do much submitting any more (a little...not much). There are other ways to get poems out and about and energy and time are limited. Likewise competitions - now and again when the urge takes me I send something off (sometimes even a rhyming poem even though I know with that I may as well burn the entry's a weird kind of protest...useless really but there you go...a bit like shouting over the cliff 'poems can still rhyme you know' as the pigs crash to the ground...).

Jim Murdoch said...

Ah, Dave, age, yes, and at 49 I shouldn't be feeling nearly as old as I do despite how much I've overworked myself over the years. And yet I do. I expected a good few years get before my body started to object, so, Jena, you make the most of the energy you have right now.

Allen, I suppose I'm in an enviable position in that I have so much material which hasn't been published so I've never really felt I had to resort to simultaneous submissions but I think I might do it with the stories because they appear to be the worst offenders. Oh, and good luck with that next forty years thing.

And, Rachel, of course you've now published a lot of your poems yourself so no one hardly will touch your stuff which I've always scratched my head at. Back in the seventies I didn't have much of a clue and I sent the same poems out to every magazine I came across. In fact I'd have no real qualms about submitting my poems 'The Pathologist' and 'The Venereologist' to today's magazines despite the fact they've both been published in four different magazines in the seventies, because – seriously folks – most of the editors that'll be reading them today weren't born when I wrote them and they're still good poems. Good poetry doesn’t go off and it deserves exposure.

Marion McCready said...

The submission process feels like a necessary evil, becoming impatient I sent an email the other day to chase up a submission and was told that I'd make it into the final selection pile and that was why the delay which cheered me up no end even if they don't publish my poems, so no news could indeed be good news!

Rachel Fox said...

Yes...some would call it shooting yourself in the foot but really it's a different cliche (different strokes for, well, you know...). It just suits me to have everything on my website - that's the kind of girl I am, open all hours! Some magazines and sites don't mind that and still want to include poems of mine and really...they're the ones I want to work with most of the time anyway. We all have our ways of working, of approaching publication and dissemination.

As for the holiday... I think your readers may have to come and kidnap you Jim and take you away from it all. We'll take Carrie too of course.

Conda Douglas said...

Yes, it's not only frustrating but downright rude--however, it is a "buyer's market" as my mom would say, so what are you going to do? Not submit? Part of the frustration I feel is that I "play by the rules" and I have to "pull the story" before I can submit it elsewhere. And yes, I usually don't get a reply to the "pull e-mail" either!

It's always been bad, long response times, etc. for any submissions (inc. agents) but I've noticed with the internet subs that they are more prone to NO response.

Of course those subs are easier, cheaper and quicker, too.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

If you think the non-responses are bad, you should see how many literary agents just come out and tell you they won't respond unless they're interested. You never know if the e-mail to them even went through.

I SO feel your pain, especially as I've got a short story I want to start submitting around.

Jim Murdoch said...

Sorlil, we're all in the same boat, but at least you've had a positive response to your reminder, well positive-ish.

Rachel, the other thing, of course, is attracting more people to your site. As for kidnapping… you're assuming once you got me away from my PC everything would be fine. Remember, I'm old school, when I started the home PC was still years off. I remember (and a part of me misses) those days and it would be easy to return to them.

Conda, yes, playing by rules. It feels a bit like damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't doesn't it? I do appreciate the whole e-mail sub thing through.

And, Susan, it's not so much pain as a pain in the neck. But we persist. We persist.

Rachel Fox said...

Now I'm starting to worry that you are actually connected to the PC... as in plugged in. Are you a PC-related device? An experiment escaped from silicon valley? An illusion? Oh my's Jonathan Payne that's real and you're a projection or something...(can't think of a more technical term and my tech advisor is still in bed).

Maybe I need more sleep too!

As for getting people to a website...I don't do high-powered marketing or anything. I'm going more for the slow build...I'm not in a hurry particularly (to be what? To gain what? I'm just fiddling away here...rambling desire to join any international literary circuit or anything...). Plus sometimes I'm surprised who has visited the site...people I meet through all walks of life...and I like just having it all there so people can go back if they like something, not if they don't. There's so much hype in our world just now (and I worked in advertising briefly - horrible business) and I can't get worked up about joining in. Not too much anyway.

Jim Murdoch said...

It's not hype, Rachel, it's advertising. The word 'hype' says it all - it's hyper - what I'm on about is commonsense drawing of attention to yourself. You make comments on other sites and every one of those is an advert, a link to your site. Your ideal readers are out there looking and they don't even know you exist. Whenever I do a decent post (not just an 'Aggie and Shuggie') I make an entry on YearBlook, LitMixx and the Just Write blog carnival; it probably takes me about ten minutes but there are now three extra links to my site out there. And, remember, even if no one clicks on the links the links still count when the spiders come a'crawlin'.

If it's a really, really good link I'll drop Silliman an e-mail. My 'Beckett's Voice' post has had about 700 hits and counting and every one of those has the opportunity to stick around and become a regular reader. The whole "If you build it they will come" crap is exactly that. Even a guy sitting by the site of the road selling strawberries will have a sign saying "Strawberries for Sale" and the price per punnet just to save any potential customers the embarrassment of asking.

Since I started my site just over a year ago I've had 30,000 visitors and okay some of those just clicked and left but a lot of 'em didn't; 25% of 'em come back for more. Less that 2,000 of those were in the first six months. You can see when the advertising cut in. I just joined a pile of blog directories and bided my time.

Rachel Fox said...

OK,OK...I take back the 'hype'. Let's just say we all advertise ourselves in different ways then! You do a lot more web-based stuff than me...I do more going out and reading in public than you. Is that better?
(I'm not going to do a smiley face because I don't like them any more than you do...but be aware that the intention is there!)

Anonymous said...

Yes, silence is a gross insult in an area where arrogance and insensitivity prevails. But for me the ultimate put-down is the terse response that, in so many words, says 'Please don't waste our time with this drivel'. It is, as Conda says, 'a buyer's market', but it's a market that is entirely dependent upon the producer and, in processing their submitted work, the editor should accord them the highest respect.

Jim Murdoch said...

I've never been one for working with my hands, Dick, but if it was bird-tables I produced rather than poems etc I'm not sure it would hurt so much if, when I sent out my sample, it came back with a "REJECTED" sticker stuck to its underside. It's the fact that my writing is not simply a product that hurts. I have never written a single word of fiction for a 'market'. I have never pretended for a moment that my writing was ever going to contribute significantly to my lifestyle. I write – as I would hope the best of all writers write – for myself. This is not a job, this IS my lifestyle. I am sharing a bit of me in much the same way as if I'd gone to the trouble to bake a cake for my friends rather that select one of Mr Kipling's. For my guests not to turn up would be considered rude; a phone call at the last minute would be something but to be sitting there with all my goodies laid out in front of me waiting to hear from them … well, I suppose we've all been there before.

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