Saturday, September 9, 2017

My roller coaster goes up

I apologize if any of my posts, such as the last one I wrote, come across as entitled or pouty. I've committed to blogging about the struggle to find my way as an unknown writer of what I hope is serious fiction. That's going to involve some dark nights of the soul. So I don't shy away from writing about them, because to do so would be dishonest.

I was looking up some information about the Pushcart awards yesterday when I stumbled onto this article. It's an "open letter" from some guy who advises writers not to list Pushcart nominations in their biographies.  I thought it was ultra-fastidious and ridiculous. He argues that because a Pushcart nomination is common to thousands of writers, it's meaningless. This strikes me as nonsense. In the first place, as I've said before, your credits really aren't that important. They might get you a more sympathetic reading, by which I mean if I don't like something, I might give it a page longer than I normally would if you have a top-shelf credit to your name. But 95% of my decision comes just from the story there. I usually don't even look at the bio before I start reading the story.

To me, a Pushcart nomination means someone not only published your story, but thought it was one of the better ones they published that year. It's not a huge deal, but it's certainly not a negative.

One commenter really nailed it. Here's an edited version of what he wrote:

Publishing a story anywhere is goddamned hard enough. You... should tout that journal and then go around and brag the hellz about it because here’s the deal:
No one flippin’ cares anyway.

Not your writer friends. Not your mom. Not your priest. Shit. Even if you get a notable publication in a place high up on Perpetual Folly’s Pushcart nomination list... find someone who gives a shit. ...

You know who does care. The damn editor who accepted your piece in the first place. Listen to him or her, strangle-hug him or her, and bragz the flying F out of their zine because the chances of you convincing another schmuck to like your crap is a million to one. Literally. There are a million lit journals and you happened to find the one journal that liked your stupid story. And you’d turn your nose up at that?.. Who the hell are you?

Unless you’re one of five writers in America (and I suppose Canada and maybe a few other quasi-American speaking countries) who can expect a call from the New Yorker, you should just assume your story is shit and it won’t be read by anyone. So, writers-who-turn-their-noses-up-at-the-only-lit-ragz-they’ll-ever-get-published-in, I bid thee thus: Play with the first damn dog who sniffs your butt. Then yip your nutz off.
100% of the world doesn’t care where or how you were published and the infitesimally small percentage who does care knows how flippin’ hard it is to get someone to, first, read your work and , .B., get someone to actually like it.

Be one of the 60,000. Print out your Glimmertrain finalist certificate and paste it to the back window of your car. Goddamnit. Make a bumper sticker that says “I’m a published Hint Fiction author.” And tell all your cousins that you placed a poem at and you have the 1996 anthology to prove it.
You’re writers, you bitches. Everyone hates you and no one cares.

Normally, the comments section anywhere on the Internet is a source of despair. But strangely, although this comment doesn't really offer much hope that anyone will ever notice what I do, I find that somehow hopeful. It was very hard to get my book published. It's an accomplishment. If nearly everyone now ignores it, that kind of just means I'm doing it right. 


  1. May I add my personal note to your post? I came across the grand news that your story was published when I was struggling with my personal situation over a long period of time, which you know some of it already. The crux of my struggle has been identifying my inner desire and ultimate liking of what I really want to do for the rest of my life. I mean not the entire rest of my life but at least while I'm healthy enough to do things that serve my purpose of living. I literally envied you. I truly admired your hard work and that courage to commit yourself to what your heart called for. And now I repeat the same and more for you and what you can and want to do. I'm smiling reading your post now - so glad to know how you feel.

  2. 1. This is your garden; never apologize for what you grow herein. If some of us express concern, it's because you have, guess what, created a community. That's the effect of genuine words.

    2. I'm afraid I have to disagree with the commenter in places, though I'm not sure s/he is commenting on the same thing throughout. Publication in Glimmertrain is a major accomplishment. A Pushcart nomination from them - or for any of Cliff Garstang's ranked magazines (including Baltimore Review and the late lamented Bartleby Snopes which never made the list but was still fantastic) - is also a huge accomplishment. However, a Pushcart nomination depends on the nominating entity, and most nominations are toilet paper. Trust me: I got a Pushcart nomination (shocked?) from an online site that never got close to the ranked list. It's like being runner up for Miss Eastern Missouri Auto Parts Queen. For that matter, I was on the Wigleaf Longlist for Annual Top 50 (actually, that was Zin, the lovable idiot alter-ego I created to pull myself out of a serious tailspin), and that meant a lot more, but only because I was happy for the publishing litmag getting a mention.

    3. Ken Kalfus wrote a story about writing called "The Un-" (the Agni issue containing it is available to read online via Jstor, if you have a (free, painless) Jstor account). If you let it, writing = disappointment:

    "You could go crazy as you ascended the ladder of literary disappointment. You could be disappointed that you hadn't written anything. You could be disappointed that what you had written hadn't been published. You could be disappointed that you had been published but hadn't sold many books. You could be disappointed that you had good sales but hadn't received critical acclaim. You could be disappointed that you had received critical acclaim but hadn't won any prizes. You could be disappointed that you had won prizes, but not national ones. You could be disappointed that you won national prizes, but every October were passed over for the Nobel. You could be disappointed that you had won the Nobel, but were one of those Nobelists no one ever read."

    If you let it, writing = joy at each step. Man, you got an MFA! That's amazing! And you got stories published in real places like Baltimore Review and BS. And, holy cow, you won a fucking contest! Well, no, not a fucking contest, but your collection was up against a bunch of other collections and a bunch of people picked it as the best one and spent their funds (which, presumably, are not free-flowing) to publish it. I mean, this isn't even a vanity press or a self-published thing on Amazon, this is a real book! Screw who reads it, forget where that stacks up in the pyramid, and take your wife out to celebrate (though you probably already did that, huh?). It's something special, it's something you worked for and you've succeeded.

    And if you decide to keep going, you'll probably have more celebrations ahead. And, of course, more disappointments. You'll have disappointments if you stop writing, y'know? But thirty years from now, you're going to have a book in your hand, no matter what. And that's awesome!

    1. Your advice is good advice, as usual. Taking it is another thing. The parts of writing I can control are hard enough; the parts I can't do sometimes get the better of me and drive me crazy.

      As far as the Pushcart nomination thing, I usually see it in bios like this: Jimmy Smith has been published by Lit Mag 1, Lit Mag 2, and Lit Mag 3. Lit Mag 3 nominated his story "Fiery Piece of Crap" for a Pushcart award.

      So I'm able to judge from the bio statement what it's worth. If you're going to list Lit Mag #3, is it really a big deal to add on that they also nominated you for a Pushcart? To me, that's just saying "Mags 1, 2, 3, and 4 liked my stories, and #4 really liked it."

      Thanks for the advice, and for commenting, although I've stopped commenting on your blog out of shame for not being caught up. Won't BASS start soon? Maybe I should just pick up there.

    2. Don't worry about not commenting, you'll get to it if/when you get to it (one of my fiction friends just today published a post about a story I urged him to riead about three years ago). BASS drops in early October. I'm stretching out the last few Pushcart posts to make it last until then.
      The post coming out tomorrow mentions you again, your "only a name author could get this published" remark from a few months ago. :)