Sunday, November 9, 2008

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps . . . Part II

This week I met with one of the members of my reading group and we came to a consensus on how to handle the triple “Maybe” piece we read for Permafrost. While each member of my group had different reservations about the piece, when I sat down and talked with the second reader, the one who had been unsure of the frame, we realized that ultimately, we both have a similar problem: between the frame and the story’s disaster aspect, it felt like there was too much going on. It just wasn’t clear (to us) what these two things added to the story, which was already very interesting and complicated without them.

So together we drafted an e-mail to send to the author, letting him know what we liked about the piece and what we were confused about. We encouraged him to revise the story, if he wants to, and resubmit it. It was a sort of exciting feeling to realize that our problems with the story could be traced to one specific issue, and to think, also, that while we couldn’t accept the piece as it was, we liked it enough to want to see a revision of it . . . in other words, that we were willing, on our end of the journal, to pinpoint why we weren’t accepting it and to let the writer know that if he fixed that issue, we’d be happy to consider it again.

This is something, I’ll admit, that a lot of editors for a lot of journals, especially the higher profile ones, probably rarely have time to do. But it’s a nice thought, somehow, to be reminded that the first priority of a literary journal is to find good stuff to publish and not just to reject, reject, reject. We liked this piece, we enjoyed reading it and felt we would be proud to have it in our next issue. And we didn’t want to reject it, for that reason. But at the same time, as good as it was, it wasn’t good enough, not with those seemingly irrelevant elements still in the story.

It was interesting to consider, too, how much we seemed to influence each other when considering the piece. When I passed the piece on to the second reader, I made sure to let her know how I felt about it, and by the time the story got to the third reader, he had two people’s opinions about it to filter his first reading through. It would be impossible to say how much we influenced each other, but I think we certainly did and I think people can be influenced in the opposite way, too (that is, you get a packet of stories and look at the ones that already have two “No”s - you’re much less likely, aren’t you, to spend too much time on those pieces that you already know the other members of your group didn’t like?)

It’ll be interesting to see, now, what the writer will choose to do. It could very well be that we are simply not getting what he’s trying to do. And that’s fine. Just because it didn’t work for us, doesn’t mean he should feel obligated to change it. But it may be that, once he reads our comments, he’ll agree and rework the story for a much better final product. Either way, the experience demonstrated, I think, some interesting behind the scenes elements of how a literary journal works, how difficult it is to come to a consensus on acceptances, and how much more there is to getting accepted than just having an engaging writing style or an interesting idea.

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