Friday, February 22, 2013

A Sad Story

I remember a sad story about an old classmate. He'd gotten two layoff notices from the university and hadn't appeared in public for a couple of weeks. One afternoon a couple of friends went to his house to check on him. He appeared at the door with a small glass of whiskey, wearing an open housecoat and boxer shorts and quickly motioned his friends into the house. Once they were in, he was happy to see them, and when they asked about his absence he showed them the layoff notices. They asked him what he thought that meant. He said the president of the university wanted him dead.

I have no idea if the president did want him dead, but I don't think so. I recently got two notices two weeks apart, each from a different assistant at a literary agency. They both told me the book was not for them. It does seem a bit much.

Then I did a similar thing today, rejecting a story that had previously been withdrawn from consideration. Wow, the response was swift, and it made me happy I hadn't sent a response to the agency (though my imagined response was a joke, not angry like this one). The response to my small error was quite indignant.

It reminded me, too, of a time a few years ago when I worked with a graduate student, trying to make her thesis, which was about something interesting, into a serviceable piece of non-fiction. It wasn't a project I took on because I believed in it, but because the publisher thought it would work. She had never written a thing in her life aside from academic papers for school. In the end it failed, after I worked for two months with her, reading revisions, responding to questions, suggesting directions, etc. The deadline came and went with nothing publishable to put in the journal.

So what happened? I received a long angry email from her accusing me of being unprofessional and just generally a bad person. It didn't hurt my feelings, but I was angry; often things people say in those emails would not be said in person, of course.

I didn't respond, because it would have been of no use, to me or to her. But I wanted to explain that she had published nothing nowhere and written nothing in her life and what did she know about this "profession?" It would have just been venting, so who cares?

It does make me wish, sometimes, though, that I might send real rejections and not polite ones. And if I was meaning to, I have an idea of the authors to whom I'd send multiple.

But then, I suppose, I don't want to make someone retreat into their house for weeks afraid I wanted them dead. I don't want anybody dead or even sad or angry, I suppose.

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