Archive | March, 2013

More Common Body Part Terms

27 Mar

Leading Edge 1

I have received “notes” on a rejected story precisely once, from Leading Edge magazine.

Leading Edge is, of course, the student-run science fiction journal based out of Brigham Young University. Per their submission guidelines:

Stories with sex, profanity, excessive violence, or that belittle traditional family values or religion will not be considered … We will not edit works that include sex, homosexual content, graphic violence, heavy drug use, excessive profanity…

Well, then!

I wonder if there is some weird Orson Scott Card connection at play here. Card, you will no doubt recall, in addition to being a raving lunatic and out-and-out bigot, is a noted alumnus of Brigham Young U.

For whatever reason, I decided to send my 10,000-word story “Wombie” to Leading Edge. Some weeks later, I received six pages of notes in the mail. A sampling:

Leading Edge 2 Leading Edge 3 Leading Edge 4

These notes, clearly written by college students, provide a window into the minds (and perhaps souls) of my prospective young Mormon reader base. Some highlights:

Consider cutting out some of the expletives.

I will do no such fucking thing.

They aren’t necessary and detract from the story.

Indeed they are, and they do not. Also: fuckfart.

page 20 — since Chrissy’s name hasn’t been mentioned since the beginning of the story, I had forgotten who she was at first. Maybe say “her daughter, Chrissy” here or mention her name more often throughout the story.

(vigorously simulating tugjob)

on page 23, the description of the animal uses such advanced words that I have a hard time picturing the animal. Could you use more common body part terms?

The biggest word on that page is “intestines.”

I like how you show Dr. Sarvas’ character, it is quite easy to pick up on his dry humor, pissimistic (sic) outlook on life, and slightly egocentric personality.

“Pissimistic” is my new favorite word. Kolledge kids say the darndest things!

The beginning is rather slow, not much to put the reader in with

The story begins with an 80-pound rodent being wheeled into a veterinarian’s office leaking slime from its anus.

The climax is well paced with the bug popping out, attacking the cow, then trying to escape while the Doctor tries to kill it.

Well, duh.

Very interesting idea to have the invading alien race implanting themselves in native species.

Thank you.

Is there any special significance to the alien “Eie” call stuff? Is it just what they say, their vocalizing sound?

When reading these notes, I imagine a room full of buttoned-up 19-year-old virgins, all crewcuts and good Midwestern manners, beginning each workshop with a little prayer, and then delving into an earnest and loving discussion of a story in which a giant boll weevil dissolves a cow with its corrosive saliva, and it warms my rotten heart.


Not Fiction, Still Rejection

19 Mar

By Sharon Stephenson

So here’s how it goes down for the wannabe in nonfiction. Actually, most of the process is exactly the same as for the poet and the fiction writer. We just have fewer places to send our work, and therefore, less variation in our rejection letters. With knots in our bellies, we still send out our essays and manuscripts either by snail mail or through some online submission portal. I prefer putting my weird literary creature and its stuffy little cover letter into a manila envelope. I walk to the post office and buy enough postage to ferry my beloved envelope off to a literary magazine like The Sun, a North Carolina-based class act that does not accept online submissions, period. But if I just submitted to those stately gentlemen of the literary world who only accept manila envelopes sealed with my DNA-rich saliva, I would be cutting of my published nose to spite my publishable face.

Every writer has Submittable bookmarked, since Submittable is the online giant for getting your nonfiction up onto someone else’s screen. However, the only writers who don’t hate Submittable are those currently not getting medication for their obsessive-compulsive disorder, because if you just take a quick glance below–hell, the font is so teeny you can’t even read it–all you see is that red word.  That word, dear friend, is “Declined.” The “Accepted” is a pleasant old-growth forest green, but who cares?  The thin-skinned writer only sees red, the color of rejection.


A few places accept either online or snail mail submissions. Some of those few also ask that you submit your work only to them because they will get back to you in due course, and you owe them some respect. My conclusion, based on one data point, is that one of these publications is run by Lucifer and his Legion.

Painted Bride Quarterly had a call for submissions to a themed issue on costume. I sent my manila envelope, stuffed with hopes, dreams, a cover letter, and a 3,000 word essay in keeping with their word limit. Six months later, no thumbs up or down, and another literary journal had an open call for a themed issue, also on costume.

Now, I have friends who not only write but get published and make money to boot. Most surprisingly of all, I have friends sit across the desk and select what gets published. (Note: I cannot submit work to these same friends because that’s just weird.) These friends with knowledge, with credentials, said it was entirely cool to email Painted Bride Quarterly and ask them for a status report.


I submitted an essay in hard copy format for the Costume issue in July. I may have inadvertently excluded my SASE. I’m not sure of your reading timeline for Issue #87, but I can resubmit electronically or just rely on the generous spirit of your staff to let me know the status eventually, even if no SASE made its way to your desk.

Please advise.

Best regards,

Sharon Stephenson

Pretty sneaky to use the old “I forgot my Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope” excuse, I admit, but I didn’t want to anger Lucifer and his Legion any more than necessary.

Lucifer and his Legion did not respond. My friends in the business shrugged their shoulders. Who can force someone to have manners? A full month later, I emailed again:

Dear Kathleen Volk Miller, Marion Wrenn, and the rest of the Painted Bride Quarterly staff,

Good afternoon.  I submitted an essay in hard copy format for the Costume issue (#87) back in July. I may have inadvertently excluded my SASE. I’m not sure of your reading timeline for Issue #87, but in case I did not submit a SASE, do you notify writers who have made such an oversight?

Just a quick reply would be appreciated.

Best regards,

Sharon Stephenson

Those who know me would be able to tell that I was mad as hell at this point–the “Just a quick reply would be appreciated” speaks volumes.

A month later, still no reply. I decided to look up a phone number to ring Lucifer and his Legion. I was always checking the Painted Bride Quarterly website, and so I it was easy to pop over to find a phone number. But in the few days since I had last checked, the Painted Bride Quarterly special issue on costume had gone live online, with the print version soon to follow. Of course, my 3,000 word essay was not in the mix. By this time, the deadline for submitting to the other literary journal had passed.

I made no phone call. Instead, I wrote this blog and sent it to Martin. Then, I resubmitted my damn essay.

Sharon Stephenson is currently Chair and Professor of Physics at Gettysburg College. Her literary nonfiction has appeared in The Dead Mule and Real Time. She blogs at

The Golden Sentence

4 Mar

West Carrick Church

I came home to this letter after a long, hard day at the hospital. It was pressed into the space between my storm door and front door. It reads:

Dear Neighbor,

I am sorry I was unable to speak with you personally. I stopped by to share some encouragement from the Bible with you.

You don’t have to be sorry, neighbor. I’m actually quite glad I missed the opportunity to discuss my faith with you–and you should be too.

You don’t get much useful information on this here blog, but I’m feeling generous today, and so I am going to tell you how to get rid of these hostile intruders–swiftly, non-criminally, and with as little effort as humanly possible.

You are going to say a single sentence, and repeat it as many times as necessary until all the Bible beaters in the world slink off into the mists of history. Now clear your throat, look that creepy Mormon dead in the eye, and repeat after me:

“I don’t discuss my faith with strangers.”

The above letter is basically an advertisement for a book called “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” a copy of which currently sits on the back of my toilet, in the event that I find myself entertaining drunk knuckleheads at 3 in the morning, as happens far more often that it should for a man of my age. I was not aware that the contents of the Bible were any more a mystery to the world than the molecular structure of water, but then again, I was raised literate, and my eyes are connected to my brain.

Now, I don’t mean to join the growing chorus of militant atheists who, galvanized by the popularity of intellectual “heavyweights” like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, are every bit as steadfastly crazy and cruel as your average homophobic, woman-hating evangelist. I don’t mind religious people. I went to a Catholic college. I work at a Catholic hospital. I was an altar boy for ten years. I admire Christians–that is, the nine or ten true Christians who still exist on this planet. And yet, at no point in my Catholic upbringing did I feel the urge to pamphleteer my neighborhood with brochures bearing bitter chestnuts such as this:

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES: At death, humans cease to exist. “The dead…are conscious of nothing at all,” states Ecclesiastes 9:5. Since the dead cannot know, feel, or experience anything, they cannot harm–or help–the living. –Psalm 146:3, 4.

My God, you people are terrifying. Who said anything about the dead harming the living? That is an even bleaker view of death than the one I currently harbor, and I’ve been suicidally depressed for a record 864 days in a row.

And another thing: Who the fuck goes around ringing people’s doorbells anymore? That is absolutely insane. Were none of you people raised in cities? Doesn’t everyone assume, as I do, that everyone is a murderous cannibalistic necrophiliac until proven otherwise?

Stay away from these nightmare peddlers. I’d tell you to not answer your door at all, but that’s unfair: there may be Girl Scout cookies on the other side. And I would never want you to miss out on some cookies. Alternately, you can do what my friend Stephen used to do in college: invite these weirdos into your kitchen, and encourage them to preach the Good Word while you lovingly stir a pot of hot chocolate laced with LSD.