After watching (okay, fast forwarding through) last year’s X Factor I wasn’t too keen on following another season. The judges–besides Simon–were pretty detestable. Even LA, who I think is genius as a producer, seemed to just be voting and commenting to keep Cowell’s proteges from getting further in the show. But anyone who watched knows the final four should have all been Simon’s team. Except for the winner, Leona Lewis light. Drew should have won. Chris Rene deserved to be there, and that guy with the bad skin and crazy hair on Team Nicole. I only decided to watch again this year because of Britney Spears. Her happy birthday song to LA left no doubt in anyone’s mind why she lip syncs. I wonder how some of the preliminary contestants hold their tongues when she tells them singing isn’t for them. But this blog isn’t about Britney, or even Simon. It’s about My Simon, an editor at a university literary magazine, who punched me in the face with her critique of my writing.
For the past two years I’ve branched out into short story territory, some very uncomfortable terrain for a writer like me who likes to develop characters over time and have them change and interact with each other. Most literary short stories are not plot driven; some aren’t even character driven. I read one that took three pages to describe a stalk of wheat, it’s hue and growing pattern and smell and dance in the wind and how it must feel compared to all the other mighty stalks of wheat. You’ve heard of location, location, location? Lit mag stories are description, description, description. Hard for me to describe a stalk of wheat, or a house, or even a sunset. It’s all been done before anyway. People. THAT my sweeties, I can so describe. And I did, in a short story I titled Three Girlfriends @ Dinner. It’s about a woman who is so preoccupied with studying and internally criticizing the three women at a nearby table that she is missing out on discovering the intricacies of her own date. I sent it away to Michigan Quarterly Review and crossed my fingers. Less than two weeks later I got a standard rejection letter with a personalized note. The first sentence? Rachel–Turn off the TV and read some classic short fiction! Seriously? What does My Simon think I’ve been reading the past two years? Okay, she noticed me for the script writer I am, but I’ve got a bookshelf full of journals published by every major university in the United States. I know more about a certain stalk of wheat than the last person I slept with. My Simon goes on to tell me I need to learn about writing with compassion and kindness (underline kindness). She called me snarky. She asked me to make her care about people and not how they look. Then she wished me luck. Someone needed to wish her luck; I was ready to go to the University of Michigan and roam the halls and show her who lacked compassion and kindness. Oh, how I hated hated My Simon. After I cooled off it dawned on me; My Simon liked my writing. If she hadn’t, she never would have bothered to pen a personal note. I moved her. I pissed her off.
Now I don’t usually respond to rejections, even when they are signed, like this one was. I dust off, move on. But I didn’t want My Simon to think I was without compassion. I have written many a heart-tugger. I just sent them to other universities that month. And although I didn’t want to look like one of the real Mr. Cowell’s rejectees (“please let me sing a different song, I know you’ll love it, please, just one more . . . oh my love, my darling, I’ve hungered for your love . . . a long . . . lonely time”) I couldn’t stop myself from sending My Simon two of my other stories. I wasn’t hoping for publication; I was hoping she wouldn’t hate them. I mailed them off with a cover letter dripped with blood from my bitten tongue and crossed my fingers. Two weeks went by. A month. Three. I thought I’d done it; My Simon thought I was a whack job. Then the rejection came, with another personalized note, this one longer. And what it said . . .
My Simon said she didn’t work for MQ anymore, but they passed my stories onto her. She said she was a writer too with her own pile of rejections. She said my writing had great potential, that obviously it moved her because she rarely writes personal notes to anyone. She told me to keep trying and hats off to me. She told me to stop sending to university backed magazines because they publish only established writers; in an entire year this one in particular published only six outside submissions. She recommended other magazines. She told me the odds are against me no matter how good I am but that someday, SOMEDAY it would happen for me. She said, “Okay, today is not that day, but you get what I’m saying.” Yes, My Simon, I totally get it. And thank you for giving it to me.