On Rejection

So let’s talk about rejection.  It’s the inevitable and unpleasant companion in the journey of every writer.  The Rejection Beast walks before us and beside us, it eats up our energy and dogs at our heels and bursts into the room to knock you down when you least expect it.  No writing career is free of it.  It’s only a question of how to handle it.

So, how does one handle it?

Well, like so many aspects of the writing life, the answer is, it depends on the writer.  So if you find yourself with this unwelcome house guest, here are some strategies you can try out.

View rejection from a different angle. This is my preferred strategy.  I look at rejections not as signs of failure but signs that I’m actively sending my stories out into the world.  I may not always succeed, but I am making the attempt.  Trying is better than doing nothing.  After all, the presence of the Rejection Beast in my living room is only a reminder that my front door is open for when Acceptance finally arrives.

Make like a mad scientist and take the “I’ll show them!” route.  This is a good strategy for those who need a little bit more fire in their belly to keep them going.  As Neil Gaiman once famously wrote,

“It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn’t allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering ‘Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!’ and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there’s nothing left to write.”

Granted, Mr. Gaiman probably has less to worry about when it comes to rejection these days.  But using rejection as fuel to push your own improvement and perseverance is a win-win.  It’s a hard climb up the mountain, and sometimes you need to hit the red button and fire up the turbo-boosters.

Get yourself a cheerleader. Let’s face it:  writing is a lonely business, and it’s easy to get deep inside our own heads.  That’s why it’s good to have companions on this road:  beta readers, fellow writers, and cheerleaders.  Sometimes people will fill more than one of these roles for you; but when the Rejection Beast squats in your best writing chair and just Will Not Leave, the cheerleader is there for you, giving you a much-needed boost when you’re feeling down or adrift and the words just aren’t coming out right.  And cheerleading can be a reciprocal act, too!  Let’s face it, it’s incredibly fun and uplifting to stan* your friends when they need it.

Remind yourself why you’re doing this. Whenever I hit a slog, when the words aren’t coming and I need a little more motivation, I love reading books where writers talk about their experience living the writing life.  It helps to put me back into a good mental place, reminding me why I want to keep doing this, despite the obstacles.

Those are just a few strategies I know off the top of my head.  Whichever one you try, the important thing is to keep trying, to find the strategy that lights that fire in you.  The Rejection Beast will come, whether we want it to or not.  And we can yell at it, or blend it in with the décor, or call up our friends to vent about it.  But eventually we need to keep doing what we love doing, and refuse to let this Beast stop us.

*Yes, I know ‘stan’ is a trendy new word that All the Kids Are Using These Days, but it fits so neatly into a hole in my vocabulary that I find myself using it a lot!  It’s a great mash-up that encompasses cheering, supporting, and promoting something/someone you love in one easy one-syllable verb.  What’s not to like?

Getting Away From It All

I spent last weekend camping in Linn Run State Park.  The timing was less than stellar:  we just missed peak foliage, and we drove in late Friday evening under a blanket of chilly rain that turned into the season’s first snow overnight.

But the cabins were heated and cozy, and the cold wasn’t that cold once I was out and walking in it.  The next morning, the four of us–myself, my husband, and our friends Bill and Lauren–walked up the Beam Rocks trail through a pristine inch-thick layer of snow on top of fallen leaves.  And we had a nice view of the woods under a mostly blue sky, and a distant smudge of gray where a snowstorm was drifting past.  It was time well spent, unplugged from the world and focusing on good company and long conversations.

Linn Run
A view from Beam Rocks at Linn Run State Park.

You can probably guess where this story goes.  That unplugging for a weekend somehow changed my life, that severing myself from the constant flood of the internet left me open to blessings by the muse.  And maybe it would, if I gave it more time than a day and a half.  I’ve written before about the value of cultivating mental green space, of giving one’s thoughts space to play, about changing up the scenery in order to nurture a sense of wonder.

But I didn’t write a single word while I was away.  I chatted with my friends, I walked in the woods with them, we played board games, cooked, did a little shopping in the local town of Ligonier 20 minutes away.  We just took our moments as they came.  When I woke up two hours before my husband on the chilly, frosted-over Saturday morning, I climbed up to the upper bunk, threw a blanket over my lap, and played games on my Nintendo 3DS with the volume turned off while I waited for the sun to grace us with its presence.  The whole weekend was cozy and pleasant and I had a great time.

And I came home with lovely memories I’m going to toss into the stewpot in my head.  And maybe some time in the future, the crunch of frosted leaves and the musical rush of the creek and the feeling of waking up in a dark cabin on a chilly morning will make its way into a story.  And that’s fine.  Not every weekend spent camping is going to come with a revelation.  Maybe all I learned about myself in the woods is that I had a lot of fun and I’d love to do it again.  And that’s enough.

Coffeehouse reading

The reading for the Steel City Speculative Series went swimmingly!  The event took place at Steel Valley Roasters, a coffeehouse I’ve never been to but it was very nice.  Large artworks dominated the bare brick walls, a low counter was piled with old board games, and I got to relax on a huge and incredibly comfortable couch that filled most of one wall.

There were five readers total.  Jamie Lackey, who organizes the series, started us off with something short and sweet, “The Straw Mother,” one of her stories which appeared in Triangulation 2014.  Then I read the first few pages of “The Evening Path,” which appeared in Triangulation 2016.  And because that’s a heavier story, I followed it up with the beginning of my much sillier story, Why I’m Asking for an Extension on my Paper. It seemed appropriate, since it’s Halloween Season and if there’s one thing Pittsburgh does well, it’s zombies.

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Left to right: Jennifer Hykes (that’s me!), Jamie Lackey, Diane Turnshek, Frank Oreto, and Doug Gwylim

Diane Turnshek, the creator of the Triangulation anthology series, read her intriguing short story “Vegan.”   I won’t give it away but I will say that the title has a double-meaning.  Frank Oreto, one of the anthology co-editors, read a short story from Triangulation 2017 that managed to be both horrifying and hilarious (a rare combination to pull off well); I unfortunately failed to get the name of the story or the author, but it involved a giant statue of Elvis carved out of jello.  And Doug Gwylim, the other co-editor, finished us off with a reading of “Soulmate’s Song” by Christina ‘DZA’ Marie, published in Triangulation 2018.  It’s a story that deals with the heavy topic of race relations in World War II, but it was an incredible story.

Overall, it was a great night for coming together and enjoying some excellent stories with some amazing people.  A perfect way to spend a crisp autumn evening.  So if you’re in the Pittsburgh area and you love a good SFF tale, this is definitely a reading series to look out for!  And if any of these stories pique your interest, definitely check out the Triangulation series!



Reading on November 5

This Monday, November 5, I’ll be doing a reading at Steel Valley Roasters in Homestead, PA at 7 pm.  This particular reading will feature several authors whose works have appeared in the annual speculative fiction anthology Triangulation.  So if you enjoy good SFF, come out for a nice evening of storytelling!

The reading is part of the Steel City Speculative Series, which hosts regular SFF readings featuring local writers.

Not gonna lie, I’m a little excited and nervous, since this is my first public reading.  So we’ll see how it goes!  If you’re in the area on Monday night, and you like my stuff, feel free to stop by and show your support!

New Story at Cast of Wonders

A new story of mine is now available over at Cast of Wonders!  It’s called The Sound of Her Voice, and I am super excited to share it with you!  It’s read by the lovely voice of Dani Daly, and is also viewable in text.

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Step into a book, and step into a whole new world.

This story is part of Cast of Wonders’ Banned Books Week, because it is a story about books and the power they have to change our lives, sometimes literally.

I’m particularly exited for this story because it takes place in a world that is very near and dear to my heart.  So perhaps you’ll see more stories of mine in the future that take place in the same world!  A world of gate-keepers and gate-crossers, where magic and monsters lurk just on the other side of everywhere…

Banned Books Week – Day 7

On this, the last day of Banned Books Week, I decided to cast my net a bit further in defining what counts as a book.  And I chose 20th Century Boys, a Japanese manga series by Naoki Urasawa.  It’s an amazing story—honestly, one of the best stories I’ve ever read, hands down—executed with a deft hand for character and pacing and emotional weight.  And it’s in book form, so it counts!

20th Century Boys
20th Century Boys, Volume 1, by Naoki Urasawa

I’ve been a fan of graphic novels and manga for many years now, and I’m incredibly impressed by the breadth and quality of stories told in this serial art format.  From stunning, complicated art styles to very simple styles, these creators weave amazing stories, using panel composition and framing, color and linework, to guide the reader through.

20th Century Boys, in particular, is a favorite of mine.  It follows an ordinary workaday Japanese man named Kenji, thrust suddenly into a conspiracy involving a cult trying to take over the world.  And the seeds of this cult—and the means to stopping them—lie in Kenji’s past, in the stories he and his childhood friends wrote together when they were just kids hanging out in their secret fort.  There’s a LOT more to it than that.  But suffice to say it’s equal parts mystery, thriller, horror, and intense character drama, and the time I devoted to reading it was time very well spent.

I think (I hope) that graphic novels are being viewed more often these days as the mature, varied medium they are.  They encompass a wide variety of genres and have a lot to say to us.  And honestly, there are so many I could recommend to those willing to give them a try.

Anyway, that wraps up my week of talking about books that have had an impact on me!  There are so many more that I could have included here, that I’d love to talk about in future posts.  So, watch this space!

And in the meantime, if any of my listings have inspired you to pick up something new, or at least gotten you thinking about books that have impacted your own life, I’d be happy to hear all about it!  After all, the world can always use more Book Love.

Banned Books Week – Day 6

As I approach the end of this week, I’ve found it harder to narrow down “books that have had an impact on me” to just seven.  In truth, books have shaped me in so many ways over the course of my life.  They’ve taught me lessons, opened my eyes to new ways of seeing, pushed my writing further, introduced me to characters who’ve made a home in my heart, and brought me countless hours of joy.

All this is to say that I may just continue these book love posts as a regular feature here at the blog.  Because the world could always use more book love!

For today’s entry, I decided to cheat a little, and select an unusual anthology I stumbled across many years ago in a used book sale.  1000 Beautiful Things, by Marjorie Barrows, is a curiosity cabinet in book form.  It’s a collection of poems, short stories, essays, psalms, quotations, and excerpts of larger novels and plays.  Whatever Ms. Barrows found to be examples of beauty in word form.  Compiled in 1945, its contents may show their age, may come across as a bit stuffy to modern readers.  But there is something very dear to me that I can open this book and find a few paragraphs from John Ruskin, writing about the transcendental majesty of water.  Or find a tiny poem about a quiet, starlit night.

1000 Beautiful Things
1000 Beautiful Things, compiled by Marjorie Barrows

Ms. Barrows and I are alike, in that we are both magpies, collectors of beautiful words.  I have files and folders in my computer where I store quotations and poems and favorite short stories.  I have a little tin full of short phrases and interesting images written on slips of paper, that I can dive into whenever I’m in need of inspiration.  I once papered an entire stairwell with photocopied poems.

Words are my joy, and that joy can come from so many sources in so many ways.  So I plan to keep adding to my little curiosity cabinet.  And when I am feeling down or discouraged or uninspired, I can open up my collection, and find something to refresh my heart.