Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Gap in Perspective

"You don't have no Doctor Robert
You don't have no Uncle Albert
You don't even have good credit
You can write, but you can't edit..."
                               - Regina Spektor

Edit by Regina Spektor on Grooveshark

Well, it looks as though my story isn't getting published after all. At least, not the way it was scheduled to be.  A bit of back story, for those who need to catch up:

This past July, I wrote a short story called It's About Time, in which one of my two main characters winds up existing ever-so-slightly out of sync with the rest of the world.  Originally written as part of an assignment for the writers group I was a part of, the story was quickly identified as potentially a great candidate for the Gloaming Gap website, which is run by some members of our group.  At first I was reluctant, given my own internal critic's voice loudly and constantly reminding me that I do not write fiction well.  After sharing the story with several folks, including a few folks who read everything with editors' pencils dancing in their heads, the feedback I received was extremely positive.  "Hey," I began to think, "maybe I can write fiction after all!"

I submitted the story to the site in August.  Keep that in mind - that's six months ago.  Soon after, I was told that Gloaming Gap wanted to run my story, but the first available opening in the schedule would not be until February 10, 2012.  In the interim the story kept floating around my head, and I found myself seeing a number of ways I could and wanted to expand on it.  That short story turned out to be a seed that was quickly sprouting into a much a larger plant than I had expected, and as November came up on the horizon, bringing with it NaNoWriMo, I decided to jump in with both feet and start cultivating that short story into a full-fledged novel.  I informed the folks at Gloaming Gap about my decision to do more with the story, and was told that they still wanted to run the original short story.

As I shared here on the blog, NaNoWriMo brought with it many challenges that fed my demons and eventually helped them wear me down.  I was back to the mindset that I clearly am not able to write fiction, and by the end of the month had put the whole mess on the shelf.  I did not write a word through the month of December.  Still, I was cheered on by my writers group, and was constantly told how wonderful my short story was.

Publication date, February 10, soon appeared on the horizon, and as it approached I found within myself a renewed energy for the story.  Ideas started coming to me fast and furious, often fully-formed. I was writing again!  The story was growing again!  Then, the first of what would be a quick succession of punches to the gut while the rug was snatched out from under me:

On February 2 I received an email announcing that my publication date was being pushed back two weeks because another author had submitted a story that related to the Pagan holiday of Imbolc, which occurs February 1. Therefore, her story would be published on February 3, effectively rearranging the schedule for the month.  Of course, that last-minute change set off my OCD like crazy: for six months I had been building towards a February 10 publish date; now, suddenly, at the last minute, it was changed, and for what?  A story that turned out to have an inscrutable connection at best to an obscure holiday?

After a brief exchange of irritated emails with the Gloaming Gap folks, I calmed my OCD demon down and apologized for being out of sorts.  My story would be published on the 24th. Fine. Onward!

On February 10 (the originally planned publish date) I received an email from Gloaming Gap's team saying that one of their staff had edited my story, and took issue with my use of alternating perspectives.  Given that my story has to do with a warping of time and the confusion and discomfort it causes, I quite intentionally used changing points-of-view, as well as non-linear chronology, as a way to create an undercurrent of discomfort in the reader - to make the warping of my characters' reality vaguely palpable to the reader on a level other than simply describing it in the text.  This editor didn't get it. This editor also happened to be the author whose story caused the upheaval in February's publishing dates.

I exchanged emails with the Gloaming Gap editing team explaining why perspectives shift within my story; they came back saying, "Yeah, but sometimes they shift within the same paragraph. It's confusing."  Again, I reminded them, that was by design.  Further, no one who had read the story - literally not one person, some of whom were also professional editors - had said one word about being confused or even annoyed by my use of switching perspectives.  The feedback was unanimously positive.  I let the Gloaming Gap folks know that I did not wish to change the way the story was written.

Tuesday morning, I got an email from the editor-in-chief saying that, because he felt that stories told from a first-person perspective were most effective, those were the type of stories he really wanted; stories told from a third-person perspective were next on the acceptability scale; switching perspective stories like mine were not on the list.  He wrote that "...point-of-view is something that a lot of people struggle with," and that he "...will have to insist on resolving this issue."

I wrote back that his implication that I struggle with point-of-view was out of place, and for a third time I explained the purpose of the intentionally shifting perspectives.  Further, I reminded him that since it was intentional, there was nothing to "resolve."

Yesterday I got the notice:  "I'm afraid that as the story currently stands, without those corrections, we cannot accept it for publication. The way it's written doesn't fit in with the style for the overall project. Please let us know if you should reconsider."  I replied that there was nothing to reconsider because there was nothing to "correct."  Nothing was "incorrect" in the first place.

So there it stands.  After six months of being told my story was fantastic and Gloaming Gap was eager to publish it, my story gets nixed in the 11th hour by an arbitrary decision about point-of-view that, incidentally, was never mentioned at any point as a submission guideline, much less a deal-breaker.  Am I angry? Eh, more disappointed than angry, really, but bottom line is it's their site and they have the right to reject content for any reason - or for no reason at all.  I don't take issue with that.  I do take issue with the way it went down and the fact that over six months such an obviously major point of contention was held until the final week to be brought up.

And therein lies the eternal struggle between author and editor.  In what other art form does this take place?  What museums add brush strokes to an artist's paintings before displaying them?  When musicians are asked to alter lyrics for specific performances, cries of "Censorship!" fill the air.  But in the world of writing, the equivalent is accepted as the way the game is played.

Guess it's lucky I didn't submit something in the style of The Dragon Speaks.  Their heads might have exploded.

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