I’ve got a story coming out in Heavy Feather Review this summer, and it’s another story about a trans person. I think I’ve written exactly one story that’s not about a trans person. Even in that one, there’s a secret trans teenager in the background. She only has one line of dialogue, but I’m pretty sure she’s thinking about coming out to her best friend in the drive-through lane of a Starbucks.
There’s no shortage of writers out there talking about rejections and how to deal with them, so I don’t have much to add to the conversation about that. Thank god for the internet, though, because it really IS nice to know that someone once told Alice Munro that her work was unsaleable. And Octavia Butler, and everyone else I love, probably.
In truth, I don’t usually mind rejections, because it means that someone read (presumably) the first paragraph of my story before shooting me a polite no-thanks. It means that I’m still in the game, that I had something to send out two months ago, and that I might have something to send out in another few months or so. I’m not terribly prolific.
It also helps that I’ve been a reader and editor for a few publications, and I know that when I’m rocketing through a slush pile, I’m not thinking personal thoughts about the writer or feeling competitive or like I’m Ruler of the World. I am just looking at the writing and wishing sincerely to be moved. That helps.
There is one rejection, however, that I do wish to talk about, because it causes a different kind of anxiety, and not one that is wholly about writing and/or publishing. My story collection, which is a bunch of stories about trans people, was rejected last year from a trans-centric publishing house for being a little too “Trans 101.” They’re looking for the “next step in the conversation.” I got it, immediately. They were right; my stories are full of fucked up self-loathing folks stumbling through transitions they don’t want to deal with. Or running away from transition, or running away from someone trying to beat the shit out of them. Or they’re just already dead and pretty cool with that.
What I wonder is this: when writers are obsessed, is there a next step in the conversation? I can’t help but think that I will need to come to some sort of peace with transition before I can even start to consider the next step, and I cannot imagine being at peace with transition.
I know it happens for some people. There’s a river to ford, a safe place to bank on the other side. Then it’s over, and everyone (including you) moves on. Drivers licences are different, names are printed in the paper, nobody tries to punch you in a public bathroom. However, It’s been 13 years and I still can’t make a solid pronoun choice. What’s more, I don’t even want to. I don’t know if I’ll be able to participate in the next conversation when it happens.
My favorite writers, the ones to whom I return frequently, offer me the consolation of similar obsessions. Every story I read by Michele Faber, for instance, or Rachel Ingalls, or Shirley Jackson, or Octavia Butler, unsettles me in familiar and winning ways. I can return because I have not outgrown their prose, and I don’t have any answers to the questions posed. Often, I don’t even remember the stories – I only know that when I open the book I will be reminded, and then mystified again.
I don’t have any answers here, either, only questions about how to write a story outside an obsession. Why would I spend my time writing that story? I probably wouldn’t.