Rejecting Rejection

This post may be six months too late. On the other hand, as I say on my author page on Facebook, inspiration can only be followed, not forced. And while the conversation I am about to relate may have taken place half a year ago, rejecting rejection is a timeless message. What Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare (“not of an age, but for all time”), some contemporary sage will say of this post.

Before you ask, yes, I am tickled that the title is alliterative. But I’d have been tickled pink had the title been “Rejecting Reader Rejection.” No one made me omit “reader.” I did so of my own accord, with Brutus and the Forum Scene in mind: not that I loved alliteration less, but that I loved authenticity more.

I omitted “reader” for authenticity because this post is not about you, dear reader, much as I love you. Mark Zuckerberg having given like a new meaning in social media, I cannot say I like you, but I do love you. That’s why I call you dear, an endearment I will never use of the creature this post is about. That, dear reader, is a species I neither love nor like, in social media or out of it. Truth be told, I feel so little for them that I don’t even bother to detest them. But for the fact that they are critical to rejecting rejection, I would ignore them altogether.

Ignoring You

To tell you about the creature I neither love, like, nor detest, I’ll have to tell you about someone who falls in the same species as myself in that he is a local author: Mark Ozeroff. We first met at the Eastvale local author fair on January 11, and we met again at a similar event in Perris last Saturday, July 19.

At Eastvale we chatted about writerly things such as the agonies of first drafts and the ecstasies of writing by hand. We also spoke about our late dads (but mum’s the word). At Perris Mark told me about his mom (mum’s still the word), and I brought up a subject that could be classified under the subversive category “Planning a Blitz.” I was planning the blitz and needed Mark to supply the ammo. He has written a book (Days of Smoke) set during World War II and knows a thing or two about the Blitz. More significantly, a friend of his had supplied some pretty potent ammo back in January. It came in the form of a question posted beneath this photo on my author page on Facebook.

Sharon Edwards and Mark Ozeroff

“Mark, I love those starfish thingies above you. Are you now making art out of rejection letters instead of using them for wall paper?”

The questioner was a naval officer, judging by the lovely battleship in his cover photo, and his genial good looks belied the explosive nature of his question. The detonation took the form of comments.

Mark Ozeroff: Yes, Bob. I call this new art form, produced from rejection slips, Crushed Hope Origami.

Sharon Edwards: Mark, you really ought to write a book on how to recycle rejection slips. It will be a bestseller. I’ll buy a copy.

Mark Ozeroff: Rejection slips are part of the game (although 69 for my first book did sting a little). I’m just happy when publishers or literary agents aren’t throwing heavy objects and calling their lawyers.

Sharon Edwards: Why should you be afraid of lawyers? You’re a professional liar. 

(That was an allusion to Mark’s first comment when I posted the photo: “I like the fiction sign hovering over my head, Sharon. As a fiction writer, I often tell people I’m a professional liar. I sure enjoyed the authors fair, though – that’s no fiction.”)

The genial officer’s question was a blitz-generator because it helped my Facebook page break the 200 Views barrier for the first time. That’s why I wanted Mark to help me plan a blitz after the Perris author fair. I am writing this before posting our new photo on Facebook, so I don’t know if Mark’s friends will blitz my author page a second time. And I don’t know if anyone will mention rejection letters, but the term reminds me of a creature closely associated with rejection letters, a creature I neither love, like, nor detest: the literary agent.

Rejection

In my quest for a publisher, I sent queries to around forty agents. Many never deigned to respond, and I am grateful to those who did. Even if they didn’t consider my manuscript worthy of acceptance, at least they considered me worthy of a rejection letter. Time has erased every letter from my memory except the first, which was sent, as fate would have it, while I was flying back from England on October 13, 2011. It was the first email I read next morning.

I’m not superstitious about the date, and I honestly don’t mind what the agent said about the two full excerpts he had read. Every honest opinion is valid (honest being the operative word). At his request, I had submitted 30 pages, which amounted to two-and-a-half stories. What he read were early drafts compared to the published book, so he might have a different opinion if he were to read Pioneer Boulevard today. Or he might not. And that’s fine too.

Even in October 2011, what the agent said about my stories didn’t hurt. It’s what he said about love that was the most unkindest cut of all (making it another reminder of Brutus and the Forum Scene). I have underlined it (in the color of a dagger wound), in case that’s all you want to read of my first rejection letter.

Rejection Letter

I read the letter calmly. Maybe I was too jetlagged for a different response, but I also had faith enough to believe that the right publisher would come along at the right time. And the more I thought about the letter – like a first love, I couldn’t stop thinking about it – the more I sensed that the phrase “absolutely in love” was significant. How, I didn’t understand until I decided to publish Pioneer Boulevard a year later.

Moments after that momentous decision, I realized that by bringing love into it, the agent who’d written my first rejection letter had set the bar for me. And he had set it high, very high. For love is the greatest motive there can be for any act, be it rejecting a manuscript or deciding to publish it.

Love is the key

What Flower Are You? Or, How I Became A Writer

Aspiring Writer

I do silly things on slow days. Often on fast days too, but I am especially vulnerable on slow days. On one such day last month, I went through my news feed on Facebook. That’s not inherently a silly thing, but given what I do with what I see in my news feed, it wouldn’t qualify as the sublime. Still, the silly things I do occasionally help me meet my posting goal, and that’s sublime.

On that slow day a friend had posted the results of a PlayBuzz test called “What Career Are You Meant For?” This friend has a successful career as a doctor, and I have a feeling he may have taken the test when he was hospitalized for surgery. It is a truth universally acknowledged that for all their patience, doctors generally make bad patients, and my doctor-turned-patient friend probably took the test to keep from going mad while confined to a hospital bed. (Crazy-mad or angry-mad, I can’t say. I don’t know him that well.) His post included this comment: “I should have been an architect. All those wasted years.”

Since it was a slow day, I did two things (one of them silly) when I read that post:
(i) I posted a comment to the effect that as a doctor he had been building lives, so he had been an architect after all.
(ii) I took the test myself.

I was sure they’d suggest a career I’d never have thought of and was looking forward to discovering something about myself. The result caught me by surprise because it was unsurprising, so I took the test again, changing a couple answers. Instead of a fish I picked a turtle (both of which I’ve had as pets), and I chose Small Building (though there’s no place like Home). But the result remained the same.

The Typewriter

Greg Summers, who designed this test, mentions a skill for language and a vast imagination among my qualifications for this career, and then says:

Your brain is just overflowing with ideas, and all you have to do is get a piece of paper and share it with the world. 

If only it were as simple as getting a piece of paper, I thought when I read that. And I can’t share with the world what I thought of “share it with the world.” Nevertheless, I shared the result on Facebook, with an apology to my friends for not having a story to go with it.

My post got three or four likes (I may be exaggerating), and since no one posted a comment, I did so myself. (I realize that’s a version of talking to oneself. Guilty as charged.) My comment went something like this:

If they had said I was meant to be a firefighter, I’d have been able to write something writerly like: “Had I known in my twenties I should be a firefighter, it would have spared me years of heartache trying to be a writer.”

There being no story to go with it, the status update didn’t take long so I took another test: “What Country in the World Best Fits Your Personality?” (You know that “in the world” is redundant. I almost didn’t include it here, but since I detest it when my book’s title is shortened to Pioneer Blvd. I let the test’s title stand.)

I began the test imagining (and hoping) I’d be Italy or Greece, and the result was even more surprising than that of the career test. Once again, I retook the test changing a couple answers, and again they said that the country that best fits my personality is India! Perhaps the result would have been different had sushi been a food option, and since I am pescetarian I imagined eating the chicken curry without the chicken. (A vast imagination has its uses.) The test designer, Lara Kosheez, tells me:

You are driven in life by the search for meaning and have a passion for culture and religion. You are a deeply spiritual person . . . You see life as an adventure and enjoy conversing with others on the big philosophical questions of life. Whether you are spending time in a bustling market, or meditating in a quiet garden, you are nourished by a society that is devoted to serving others.

For the record, I am not interested in the big philosophical questions of life for their own sake. Apart from how it is actually lived out and what it looks like in praxis, philosophy is not inherently interesting to me. Yes, I know that’s the second time I have used inherently in this post, but what to do? My vocabulary isn’t as large as the population of the country that best fits my personality.

World News - July 26, 2010

I might have taken another test – the Disney Princesses looked tempting, I must admit – but something came up to distract me. I think it was work. At any rate, I could not continue testing myself. I forgot the PlayBuzz business, but some days later another friend’s status update included a link to a test designed by Rachel Addine: “What Type of Flower Are You?” Naturally I was keen to discover my botanical counterpart, but sorry, I can’t tell you what that is. I took the test three times, changing only one answer each time, and each time I had a different botanical counterpart.

The Flower test reminded me of the Times of India daily crossword, which a neighbor got me addicted to in my teens. It was a cryptic puzzle, with the answers hidden within the clue and some very clever wordplay. Here are some sample clues, number 5 being my all-time favorite:
1. The burden is on us (4)
2. They say I’m patient but I’m not (9)
3. Be quiet and listen (6)
4. Ina is mixed up with this guy (3)
5. Late, but if on time, not late (4)

And since I’m kind, here are the answers:
1. Onus
2. Impatient
3. Silent
4. Ian
5. Dead 

In the cryptic crossword, flower usually meant river (flow-er). The Flower test on PlayBuzz made me wonder what river I might be, were I a river. I know I wouldn’t be any of the mighty rivers. I’m not an Amazon. Neither am I a White Nile, a Yellow River, a Red River, or a blue Danube. And notwithstanding the country test, I’m not a Ganga, a Yamuna, or a Brahmaputra. My world geography is too limited to say which of the humbler rivers I’d be, but having taken all these personality tests (and having seen it) I know which river I’d like to be. The crossword clue would be: “This flower is a backward nova (4).”

The Avon

I thought my relationship with PlayBuzz was finally over when they gave me three flowers instead of one, but while writing this blog I yielded to the temptation to have one more fling. Judge me not, reader. Apart from the very obvious fact that you have yielded to a similar temptation yourself (and probably more often than I), had I not had that fling, you wouldn’t be about to find out how I became a writer.

The last test I did was “What Grade Are You Mentally In?” I had a feeling it would be a low grade, but I wasn’t smart enough to know how low. Apparently I am mentally in first grade. Shira Lubin, the creator of this test, tries to make me feel better by mentioning “an enormous thirst for knowledge,” but I still feel no smarter than a first grader. (I know I’m not smarter than a fifth grader, so I won’t bother playing that game.)

Perhaps my being in first grade twice is why I am permanently in that grade. My first first was in Lucknow, and the second in Pune. St. Mary’s was still following the January-December academic year when we moved to Pune, but my writing wasn’t good enough to get me into the second with only half of the first under my belt.

My handwriting, I mean. Since I already had six months of first grade, I sailed through arithmetic (a feat I never repeated) so could concentrate on the other Rs: reading and writing. It was at St. Mary’s that I met Enid Blyton, who made a reader of me, and I would often copy lines from her books in lieu of S patterns in my Handwriting book. I know that reading made a writer of me, but I suspect that wielding the pencil so much also had a part to play, and I was a budding poet by the time my grandmother visited us that June.

My career as a poet bloomed through prep school, wilted in middle school, and withered when I left high school. My last poem was a sonnet titled “On Leaving St. Mary’s, My Alma Mater.” Well, I did write some lines in the throes of unrequited love in my twenties, but I won’t foist them upon you. The Avon would never do such a silly thing.

Sorry Brazil

Indian military band

I had national anthems on my mind on Friday, the Fourth of July, when Colombia met Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals. And since Messi wasn’t playing, for me it all boiled down to the national anthems, with more than a little help from Colombia’s only Nobel laureate.

Click here to read the full post. Sorry Brazil

Sorry Brazil

I had national anthems on my mind on Friday, the Fourth of July, when Colombia met Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals. And since Messi wasn’t playing, for me it all boiled down to the national anthems, with more than a little help from Colombia’s only Nobel laureate.

Garcia Marquez

I had discovered the Colombian anthem quite by chance, while writing an essay some months ago, and I liked it immediately – tune, words, et al. And on the Fourth of July I heard Brazil’s anthem for the first time. I hope all Brazilians love it, but there are three things I didn’t like about it. 

Disclaimer: I had posted these three things on Facebook on Friday, as the quarterfinal was in progress. They are a personal opinion, and this post is not intended to rub salt into semifinal wounds. I hope all Brazilians find my tweet of Saturday comforting: “Colombia’s greater loss was the passing of Gabriel García Márquez in April. The World Cup will be back in four years.”  Sadly, García Márquez never will.

(i) The Portuguese “O lábaro que ostentas estrelado” is sometimes translated “the star-spangled banner which you display.” Sorry Brazil, but there’s only one star-spangled banner for me, and Francis Scott Key wrote his poem in 1814, well before Francisco Manuel da Silva composed his lyrics in 1831. Perhaps Francisco hadn’t read what Francis had written, and the translation on Wikipedia calls it “the starred labarum,” but still.

(ii) I didn’t care for the tune – and not for want of trying. I don’t like not liking music so I listened to it at least six times, with and without vocals. Still this tune didn’t strike a chord with me.     

(iii) The phrase “idolized homeland” seemed ominous to me. Any human institution that’s idolized is bound to have feet of clay. Even if those feet can kick. I use the present tense because Brazil’s drubbing at the hands (by the feet) of Kroos and co. can’t touch Pelé’s greatness.

Pele

As I said, that was a personal opinion. I am expressing it on my own blog, and more politely than some people (hiding behind screen names) express their opinions on other people’s YouTube channels. For instance, one person has this to say about the Indian national anthem: “Most boring anthem only about rivers mountain and ocean” (quoted and punctuated as in original).

I don’t know whether this person was expecting India’s anthem to be as entertaining as a Bollywood number, but he clearly didn’t understand the song itself. Not only is it not only about geographic features, it is not about geographic features at all. The anthem is the opening stanza of a hymn composed by Rabindranath Tagore, India’s first Nobel laureate and the first non-European to win the Prize (Literature). The geographic features are only mentioned in the context of the prayer. India’s mountains and rivers and peoples, says the poet, all offer their worship to the One who holds the destiny of their land.

If the person who expressed that opinion on YouTube was reacting to that one rendition (which I must admit sounds most boring), he had confused the music with the lyrics. Hindustani classical singers (or Bollywood singers affecting a classical style) can make “Jana Gana Mana” sound like a dirge when they sing it slowly and mournfully. National anthems are not meant to evoke pathos; they are meant to rouse patriotic sentiments. Having been an Indian citizen for most of my life, I know that “Jana Gana Mana” can stir the finest patriotic sentiments when played by a brass band.

Indian military band

As a North Indian I’d have preferred Hindi or Urdu over Sanskritized Bengali – but Tagore won the Prize. I also like the idea of the anthem as a prayer instead of one that says, “Better than the entire world is our India.” That sort of thing is best said from a place with a view of the entire world. Like outer space.

In April 1984, when Indira Gandhi asked the first Indian cosmonaut how India looked from outer space, Rakesh Sharma replied, “Saare jahan se accha” (“Better than the entire world”). He was quoting from the opening line of a poem by Muhammad Iqbal, written in the early decades of the freedom movement.

I wonder if Sharma had thought up his reply before Mrs. Gandhi asked her question, or whether it was a spontaneous response, like Neil Armstrong’s words upon making that step/leap off Apollo 11. It doesn’t matter, of course. He said it – and saying it, won the hearts of Indians who were young in that Orwellian year.

Neil Armstrong

I started this blog with a reference to Colombia’s national anthem. When I discovered it back in February, I discovered that the singer Shakira is Colombian. All I knew about her until then was that she had sung “Waka Waka” at the last World Cup. And that I discovered only because a friend’s one-year-old daughter loved the song.

Don’t blame me, reader. I don’t get my kicks from soccer, and in July 2010 I was preparing for England. I didn’t have time for TV. I forced myself to watch the World Cup final only because a Dutch American friend was wearing an orange shirt that morning. He’d dressed his infant son the same, so I naturally asked what it was all about. After staring at me in amazement for several seconds, he told me what it was all about. So to remedy the gap in my education, I turned on the TV that afternoon. After the game was over, I sent him a one-word text: “Sorry.”

No doubt there have been other more beautiful goals in the history of soccer, but I was awestruck by Iniesta’s goal. Not because it won Spain the 2010 Cup (I was going Dutch that day), but because Iniesta kicked the ball, at an angle and past an aggressively positioned opponent, almost instinctively into the net. When I had recovered enough to think, it struck me that behind that two-second piece of action lay years and years of practice.

It was probably less than two seconds, but I like two-second for the wordplay. Having no soccer skills, I can only play on words. And I may not know much about any kind of football, but I know mastery when I see it. Iniesta’s goal was a demonstration of just that, because mastery is doing something so often until you can do it quickly, instinctively, and in less-than-perfect circumstances. And make it look effortless, to boot.

Iniesta goal 2010