Guilt-Free Trash Talk


Posted by TERESA

Well, it’s well after midnight, and I’ve just learned that I didn’t place in the NYC Midnight flash fiction contest.  Ah, well.  I sort of knew it would be a long shot.  Such is the way when there are 40 writers and only 4 prizes.  Still, it was fun, it got me writing more fiction than I had been doing in a while, and I really think my final story could be something in a longer version.  The seeds of something are there.  I’ll put them in a drawer and plant them in the spring.

To those of you who wished me luck and thought good thoughts for me, THANK YOU.  🙂  It was nice to feel rooted for, and I’m lucky that I know so many people who root for me every day.

And now…some guilt-free, unadulterated trash-talk. You didn’t think I was going to lose gracefully, did you?  😉

This actually has less to do with the contest and more to do with my frustration with the randomness and subjectivity inherent in submitting to publications/journals/contests – getting rejected – submitting again.  The NYC Midnight contest does this great thing where they send you feedback on each of the stories you submitted with notes from the judges.  I love that they do this.  It’s very helpful, and when I got the comments back on my first story, I thought they were on the money.  I thought “Yes!  If I had more than a weekend to write this, and weren’t under the pressure of a contest, that’s exactly what I’d fix/change/work on!”

Today, I got the feedback for my second story, The New KidAnd it made me want to rip my hair out. But that’s because this story and I have a history.  Now, this is the story I whittled down from another, longer story I wrote years ago called The Sandbox.  It wasn’t a perfect story, but I’m still very proud of it.  At the time, I showed it to several people for feedback before I started sending it out, and they mostly told me that I was beating people over the head with the political symbolism and needed to be more subtle.  I agonized over that.  Maybe people will think the story simplistic because I’m being too obvious about the political undertone.  Maybe they’ll think that the politics is a gimmick.  I mean, naming the American kid SAM? Come on! Then, every journal to which I submitted it wrote me back saying “This is a great story about children, but it’s not what we’re looking for” without acknowledging the political aspect at all.

Earlier today (technically yesterday at the time of this writing), I asked the colleague who shares the office space with my boss – completely without giving him any context – “If you read a short story about an Arab kid, a Jewish kid, and an American kid, and it ended with the American kid befriending the Jewish kid, giving him money, and alienating the Arab kid, what would you think it was about?”  And he said “Well, you could probably see it as an allegory about the situation in the Middle East, right?”   RIGHT.

I asked him that question after receiving the following feedback from NYC Midnight about The New Kid:

”The New Kid” by Teresa Jusino – WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT – This piece works strongest during the debate about the hamburger – when we see simultaneously how alike and different these boys are, all at once.  ……Well-written.  Well-drawn characters.  Interesting story…………………….

………………………………………   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – The narrative voice and even the boys’ discussion doesn’t feel believable for a seven year old’s world.  Chlidren do not recognize differences so easily – it is our parents who point this out, delineate a line between ‘us’ and ‘them’.  That these children are so aware rings a little false to me.  I think ……While very well written, this is not a political satire.  It does not satirize anything………………………………….……..

First of all, if you’re going to criticize someone else’s writing, you’d better make damn sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors in your critique.  Secondly, children don’t notice differences??  They’re only taught them by their parents???  Since when?  Also, just about every bit about what the boys believe in the story is prefaced by them saying “My mom says that….”

And third?  Apparently I have really smart friends, and EVERYONE IN THE BUSINESS OF PUBLISHING OR JUDGING SHORT STORIES IS AN IDIOT.  WHY WON’T ANYONE LET ME BE GEORGE ORWELL??!! 🙂  You want to criticize the way I tell my story?  Fine.  I welcome that!  You want to suggest elements that will help me get my point across better?  By all means!  But if I spell something out with billboard-sized letters, surround it in neon lighting, and provide you an English to English dictionary and you don’t understand my story when everyone else I show it to does, without my saying anything to them ahead of time, it leads me to believe that there’s less wrong with my story and more wrong with how someone is reading it.

A friend I told about this feedback emailed me back, saying:

This is why whenever somebody says, “You don’t need to hit your readers over the head with this point, readers are smart” and getting that one point is crucial to understanding the entire story, I always err on the side of beating them over the head until their brains run out their ears.

Readers are idiots.

What do you all think?  I’d love your comments on this.  Are readers idiots?  Where does the responsibility of the reader end and the writer begin?  And vice versa?  And is there any way to actually figure that out?

Published in: on October 9, 2009 at 2:18 AM  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] glutton for punishment and has decided to enter the 2010 NYC Midnight Short Fiction Contest despite losing their Flash Fiction contest. She’s hoping that more words = greater […]

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