Peter Payne--Sports Illustrated insert card writer by day, aspiring fiction writer by night--puts his rejection letters to good practical use.
Published in Eureka Literary Magazine (Fall 2005).
Dear Mr. Payne:
It is my unhappy duty to inform you that Story Monthly will not be able to publish your short story, “The Denouement.” While well crafted, the story suffers from a weak opening paragraph. I am a great believer in the necessity of grabbing the reader’s attention right up front. Please keep in mind that this is just one editor’s opinion and that you may find a happy home for your story elsewhere.
Peter Payne taped his latest rejection letter to the kitchen wall. At this rate, he calculated, the entire western wall of the room would be covered over by February. A sad reflection on his literary prospects, perhaps, but a welcome home improvement nevertheless, the previous tenant having decorated the room with a trompe l’oeil mural he was more than happy to conceal.
Dear Mr. Payne:
Treble Clef is sad to report that we will be unable to include your story, “Rude Awakening,” in our next folio. While the story begins on a high note, the first paragraph striking a particularly powerful chord, we feel that the story quickly decrescendos and finally just falls flat.
In March, Peter studied the western wall of the kitchen, pleased with his work. From afar, the pattern created by letterhead ranging in color from pure white to ecru was eye-catching, giving the room a contemporary look he had so far been unable to achieve elsewhere in the apartment. Seen from a few feet away, the wall conveyed a sense of importance, the varied and striking logos suggesting that he was well connected to the world beyond the East Village. Upon closer inspection, when one discovered the true nature of the correspondence, the viewer would undoubtedly have even greater respect for Peter, discovering that his standards had not been lowered to the point where his work had become publishable.
Which is not to say that he was incapable of creating publishable work. As an insert card writer for Sports Illustrated, he knew his work was seen by millions of readers every week. No matter that most readers grunted with resentment when the cards fell out of the publication onto the floor or had to be ripped out to enable them to finish reading a story—somewhere in that community of readers, enough people took the trouble to read the cards, fill them out, and send them back to S.I.’s fulfillment center to keep him employed.
But his fiction was another matter. Here, no promotion department head reviewed his work, demanding that it conform to the magazine’s style guide or comply with the legal requirements imposed on all promotional materials produced inside the Time-Life Building. No circulation marketing manager stifled his creativity, insisting that his ideas be reigned in to conform to current marketing objectives. Here, he was his own boss, relishing the freedom to decide what to write and how to write it.
Dear Mr. Payne:
This to inform you that Chanticleer will not be publishing your short story, “Dark Morning.” Our best wishes as you seek another outlet for your work.
Ada M. Michaelson
Peter stared absently at his latest work in progress, a short story about the time he sneaked off to the woods to smoke a pack of cigarettes when he was a kid. In real life, he hadn’t smoked the whole pack and then been attacked by a pack of wild dogs while lying on the ground in a nicotine and tar-induced stupor, but he knew that fiction required these kinds of embellishments. Otherwise, he might just as well write his memoirs, and no one was likely to be interested in that. He debated whether to call the story “Confessions of a Juvenile Nicotine Addict” or “The Attack” but settled on “A Pack a Day.” He studied the eastern wall of the kitchen and wondered whether he could stomach the prospect of filling up another wall with rejection letters. Concluding that he could not, he put the story away.
We apologize for the impersonal nature of this note, but the sheer volume of submissions we receive makes it impossible to draft individual replies. We are sorry to report that your submission does not meet our current needs. Thank you for considering our publication.
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