A Short History of Rejection

Be careful what you wish for.
My latest rejection letter came last night.

I had been kind of out of the swing of things. There was a time when I would mail out a story to 20 different literary journals at a clip. A much loved grad school professor had come up with the figure of one in 30. For every 30 submissions you sent out, you would probably end up with only one acceptance. My odds were much worse.

I had over 70 rejections in the kitty before I got my first acceptance. And maybe only because I hadn't been the one actually doing the submitting. Brian had. But you know all that already.

After that first acceptance I wondered if I maybe I were on fire. I sent out a submission and was immediately rejected. I was apparently not on fire.

Several years passed. I wasn't writing much of anything. I finally managed to finish up a story I had been kibitzing with for almost four years. I passed along the story to someone who passed it along to someone who passed it along, and it ended up on someone's desk, and BAM! one day there was an and acceptance email from the Kenyon Review in my inbox.

In November, I finally finished up another story I had been sitting on for years. My productivity is really abominable. But I called the story done. I was curious to see if now I was on fire. I submitted the story to a couple more publications and received a couple more rejections.

I recently did another submission mailing to six more publications. I got a rejection back from one last week. At first, it made me feel pretty lousy, but then I got over it and adopted a newly invigorated "Bring it on!" attitude. Which was tested last night. When I got home, I asked Brian, "So, did I get any new rejection letters today?" He said, "Actually, I think you might have."

Here it is:

Thanks, Mid-American Review! Oh well. Two down, four more to go. Bring it on.

Past, Present, Future

We saw The Naked City last night and I thought it was fantastic.
It made me think about how much I love images of old New York.

When we got home, we looked around the web for old images of the Williamsburg Bridge (because of the last scene in the film) and I found this: New York City Actualities. I thought some of the old movies were pretty neat.

I especially loved Brooklyn to New York via Brooklyn Bridge 1899 and
Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street (2 parts) and
Blackwell's (Roosevelt) Island, New York 1903 and
A Wake in "Hell's Kitchen" 1903

Then I remembered that I don't think I ever posted this link: Brooklyn Revealed.

Get your Brooklyn Historical on.

Over It

Okay. I'm over it.
I just had a lousy first reaction to that rejection letter. But I'm feeling fine now.

So fine, I've even been sort of almost looking forward to my next rejection letter. The last two nights I was almost breathless with anticipation when I peered into our mailbox. But, alas, nothing.

On a completely different note, my father forwarded along an article from Wired, "Recipe for Disaster: The Formula that Killed Wall Street." It was actually quite interesting. I feel like this article plus the "Ponzi State" article form a kind of power couple. Reading both of these articles has given me better understanding of how the current financial sh*tstorm might have been allowed to take place.

I am someone who is generally mystified by numbers. But it looks like so were some of our nations top financial people. Things were being created and sold that no one quite understood, but as long as there was a market for it .... To help fuel the sale of these things that no one quite understood, everything down the line began contorting. The sale of mortgage-backed securities leads to a push to sell more mortgages. Everything began double-helixing out of whack. But as long as the system wasn't horribly broken, why fix it? People were getting rich.

When you're on food stamps, the goverment says you shouldn't be spending their money on beer, ciggies, and cat food. Shouldn't we have at least as many restrictions on corporate welfare?

Meanwhile, I still pay more than a third of my measly income in city, state, and federal income taxes. Which I am fine with, because I think it's important to fund things like schools, libraries, museums, police, fire, and sanitation services, keeping the traffic lights working, the parks hypodermic-needle-free, the court system arguing and defending while hopefully always producing the body, protecting the widow and the orphan, housing the homeless, and feeding the hungry (some restrictions apply). These things are important, and I am willing to pay a large portion of my salary to keep them.

As of June, that and $2.50 will get me a ride on the dirty, overcrowded subway. Thanks, nation's top bankers and economics. Everything's awesome. You deserve a raise.


No amount of acceptance can take the sting out of rejection.
On Sunday, I got a very nice email from the editor of the anthology that wants to reprint my story. It was very nice. I felt so good, I even sat down and wrote for a bit.

When I got home on Monday, I was greeted with a rejection letter from the Missouri Review .

It was entirely hand-written, which seemed oddly kind. And yet, they said my word was "a little too generic." Ouch! My first instinct was to try to get the last word. My first instinct was to scan in the rejection and email it around, to post it on facebook, to display it on the internet for the world to see.

And then I remembered that this has been my reaction every time I've been rejected so far, and that the "rejection" page of my website was one of the first webpages pages I ever built, one of the first of which I had ever conceived. In fact, I think the only reason I started dabbling in internets back in 2000 and 2001 was because I wanted to post all the nasty little form rejections as a kind of F*** You to the places that had told me my stories weren't good enough.

I am as predictable a sore loser as ever. I really wish that by now I would have been better with these things. But I am not. And I am disappointed in myself.

At AWP I ran into Kelly Cherry, the writer who had awarded me first prize in the Arts & Letters competition. I told her that despite getting accepted by the Kenyon I was still getting rejections. She said, "You will always get rejections. For long as you submit your work, as well-established as you become, for as long as you live, you will always continue to get rejections. It's just a part of the job."

I think about her words now, and it makes me feel a little better, less like a loser and more like a member of a guild. But still.... "too generic?" Really? The story is far from perfect, but I really didn't think its downfall was that it was trite or hackneyed.

Let it go ... just let it go. What a big baby I am.

Believe it or not, this is my first rejection from the Missouri Review . My first submission there as well. Do they normally send out hand-written rejections? The staff must have some serious carpal-tunnel.


Thank you everyone for your help.
It seems the anthology is quite legit, so the ball is rolling. Wow. Now if only I could find someone to finish my stories for me as well...

On Sunday, a strange thing happened. We were getting ready to leave the apartment when I saw something moving in our sink. It was a giant cockroach — like those palmetto bugs in Florida. Only this is not a swamp. This is New York City. What gives?

It was gigantic. And very feisty. I threw a paper towel over it and tried to smash it. But when I lifted the towel, it was still skittering about. I tried again. But my puny attempts were having no affect on the beast. I was getting frustrated. I used the papertowel to scooped it up into my hand, where I squeezed it. Hard. I felt it explode in my hand. I shrieked and dropped the paper towel.

"Oh god!" I screamed to Brian. "It burst in my hand. I think I'm going to vomit."

Brian rushed in and looked in the sink. "It's still moving!" he said.

"Kill it!" I said, and ran out of the room.

I heard Brian cry out, "Jesus christ! I keep smashing it, but this thing won't die!"

I was having a Blood Simple flashback, thinking about what would happen if we tried to bury the roach but it came back to life. Brian walked out of the kitchen, and I said, "Are you afraid to throw it in the trash because it might not be really dead?" He looked at me like I was a lunatic. Maybe at that moment I was. I had just squeezed a giant roach until it burst in my hand, but once I had let go, it was still up for making a run for it.

I've been a vegetarian for almost two decades, and I am a peaceable personal who doesn't like anything do die on her account ... except roaches. I want to see all roaches dead. And if I have to kill them myself, then so be it.

That evening, I saw another roach, this one sauntering along the baseboards in the hall. I grabbed a handful of paper towels and pounced on the little f****r, emitting an almost non-human battle cry.


When I lifted the balled up paper towels, not only was this roach dead, but I had squashed it so hard, I pushed it half under the baseboards. It was stuck. When I tried pulling it out, it started falling apart. I stood up and said to Brian, "I did the killing. Now you have to clean it up."

Brian crouched down and started gently removing the poor fellow piece by piece. "Really," he said, "Did you have to squash it that hard?"

"I was afraid it would come back to life again. Like the other one. I guess this one wasn't as feisty." I then apologized for my overzealousness and left the scene of the crime so I could wash up and put my vegetarian face on.


There was an email from the Kenyon Review in my inbox today.
I've been getting their e-newsletters and solicitations, so I didn't think much of it. I actually almost deleted it, because it always makes me feel bad to hear about what wonderful new things other writers are publishing. But I opened the message anyway, and when I did, I had to read it three separate times to figure out what it said.

Subject: Best American Fantasy
Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2009 10:16
To: kenyonreview


I am the series editor of Best American Fantasy from Underland Press, and am thrilled to let you know that our current guest editor, [REDACTED], would like to reprint two KR stories in our third volume, due out early next year.

The stories as [REDACTED] from the Fall issue and "The City and the Moon" by Deborah Schwartz from the Spring issue. If you could eiither provide me with contact information for the authors or give them my contact information, I would be grateful.

Many thanks, and congratulations--

series editor

"A cabinet of dark wonders, and an important—no, a crucial—map of the richness and strangeness and startling range of the modern American short story." —Michael Chabon, on the first volume of Best American Fantasy

I am a bit flabbergasted. I write genre fiction? I write fantasy? Do you think they even read my story? Is this a legitimate publication?

I forwarded the email on to my family. Within minutes, my father had already written back. His brief message was: "make sure you get paid."

I could feel warm, parental pride emanating from my computer.

Has anyone read or even heard of this publication? Holla back.

West Coast Recap

I took almost no pictures while we were away.
So all I have to give you are some thoughts I had on the city we visited

Los Angeles: The Takeaway


  • It appears that what Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote back in 1968 still holds true: L.A. is a great big freeway. It was difficult to drive three blocks without taking a freeway — or three.
  • There are buses, but I was told that only poor people ride them.
  • There is a subway, a real underground one, but I was told that NOBODY rides that. I was told this was because it has almost no stops and goes basically nowhere. Oh well.
  • The city of Los Angels did not appear to have an obvious downtown area.
  • When we asked where the downtown area was, people looked at us like we were Martians.
  • Most people appeared to have a sunny-to-lethargic disposition.
  • Except poor people. All the poor people with whom I came in contact seemed extremely angry and aggressive.
  • People working in retail seemed especially sunny-to-lethargic. They wanted to chat instead of ringing up my merchandise. I thought I might kill someone.
  • Everyone seemed to be somehow linked to the "entertainment business" — even if this meant pole dancing.
  • I am guessing that no one in L.A. is any more than two degrees from Kevin Bacon.
  • Also, I had a sneaking suspicion that almost everyone I met was high as a kite. This annoyed me.
  • Liquor is sold in grocery stores.
  • Liquor is sold in pharmacies.
  • Several stores had whole shelves devoted to colon cleansing products.
  • Products made from flax were also extrememly popular.
  • At night, people seemed to get much more dressed up than they generally do in NYC. I saw a lot of high heels and strappy, glittery tops.
  • When people are not dressed up, they are dressed similarly to the way I looked in college: old sneakers or sandals and rumpled t-shirts.
  • I. Hate. Shorts.
  • Everywhere I went, the water pressure was great and the water was tasty.
  • However, I am told that the city is completely parched and fires burst out everywhere every now and again.
  • There is a Los Angels River, but it looks less like a river and more like one of those many freeways.
  • So many great literary and film noir takes place in L.A.
  • But the weather is sunny and dry and the mood is groovy.
  • My friend Erin said it probably had to do with the great disparity between rich and poor.
  • Brian's friend Josh said it probably had to do with the great disparity between rich and poor.
  • I said, "But NYC has no small disparity between rich and poor. Maybe we're all just shoved closer together?"
  • A coworker later said where he grew up (Redondo Beach), he never even saw poor people, but he had heard they existed, and that they rode the bus.
  • I must say, I still don't completely get the noir thing, but I'm interested to know what you think.

Those are my L.A. thoughts in a nutshell.

East Coast / West Coast

I've been feeling totally blah.
Tomorrow we're headed out to L.A. to visit Brian's brother. I've only been out there once. On a family trip. I think I was 13 or 14. My recollection is that it was during my "high hair" phase. I think we started in Yosemite and drove down the coast. We were in L.A. for maybe 2 days. That part of the trip was apparently not so memorable.

Most of what I know about L.A. I have derived from my many viewings of Annie Hall. But maybe that's wrong. Maybe L.A. is not all plastic surgery and yoga, palm trees, sunshine, tooth whitening, vitamins, and long car trips from the front door to the mailbox. But why shouldn't it be. After all, New York really did  turn out to be all black turtlenecks and roaches, blaring radios, jostling strangers, foreign films, tiny apartments, red wine, broken dreams, and the rumble of the subway.

I like a place where knishes are sold side-by-side with kibbeh, cocoa bread with quesadillas. I like that I can pick up pornographic magazines at the same news stand as the morning paper. I like to be jostled in a crowded train every once in a while. It gets the heart pumping. Will anyone jostle me in L.A.? Does it matter?

We'll only be there through Monday morning. Maybe that's not enough time to get jostled. Are they going to make me wear shorts? I hate wearing shorts.

Here is a picture I took of some random people staring off into space on the subway.

Ah! The fetid smells and pounding sounds of my beloved city!

New Digs!

I've been doing a little redecorating
It's something I've been meaning to do for about 4 years now.

Things have looked roughly the same since I first built this place back in September 2002. There was so much on this blog — as well as on my entire site — that was woefully out of date. The thought of fixing things became just too overwhelming. But I finally got too disgusted. The way I solved the problem was to simply sweep most of the messy, outdated material under the rug using

I set up a series of collapsible menu trees (I hope they work right). It feels kind of like the time I got my closet organized. Phew! I can finally see the floor.

I'm still tweaking this new template and adding back links. In the meantime, make yourself at home. We don't get cable, but there's some beer and orange juice in the fridge. Also, feel free to weigh in on the new digs.

1,000 Yard Stare

I have been spacing out for as long as I can remember.
I remember as far back as the second grade sitting in class, trying desperately to pay attention, but feeling my eyes constantly un-focusing. I remember going to the optometrist, positive there was something wrong with me. I remember him laughing cruelly. He told me something like, "They don't give out glasses for day-dreaming." Then he told my mother that there was nothing wrong with my eyes and that I just wanted glasses so I could get more attention.

He was a jerk. He made me cry. I still hate him.

While I was later diagnosed with a legitimate depth-perception problem, I believe I also suffered from the less-legitimate "far-away eyes syndrome." And this was compounded by an even-more-suspect diagnosis: a "staring problem."

My staring problem occurs when I see something that looks odd or fanciful. I unselfconsciously begin staring at it for a prolonged period of time. In my life this disorder has prompted many a mean kid get in my face and ask, "You got a staring problem?"

But sometimes it's actually just my far-away eyes syndrome. My eyes glaze over and I feel like I'm staring more into the back of my brain. It's hard to control, and I have done a lot of trouble-shooting over the years to mask it as well as to keep it under control.

Yesterday, while I was waiting for the A train at Fulton Street, a gnomey-looking bum walked up to the pay telephone, which was about two feet in front of me. He then proceeded to jam a messed-up coat hanger the wrong way up the change return. He did this for a minute or so, mumbling and cursing the whole time. To my surprise, several quarters did come out. But this appeared to only made him more unhappy. He cursed louder and tried again.

As you might have guessed: I was mesmerized. I couldn't stop looking. It did occurred to me that staring at a crazy mumbling bum two feet away and ripping off a payphone with a twisted coat hanger wasn't a great idea. Sadly, this notion occurred at the same time the crazy mumbling bum noticed my staring problem.

Think fast, Schwartz!

Like a superhero with a doofus superpower, I switched from uncomfortable-staring-mode to thousand-yard-stare without even moving a muscle. I stayed completely still and stared off into space, space well beyond the bum/hanger/payphone two feet in front of me, without even lifting my eyes.

The felonious bum grimaced, then looked back at the payphone. Then back at me. I didn't move. My eyes were still unfocused, looking into the back of my brain. I knew I possessed the perfect dead-inside-look of a trained New Yorker.

I could tell the bum was still looking at me. At one point he held up his hand and waved it around in front of my face. But I didn't flinch. I was in the zone.

My doofus superpowers freaked out the crazy mumbling bum. He looked confused, then nervous. Slowly, nervous morphed into indifference. Soon, he was agitated again and resumed jamming the coat hanger into the payphone. I held the look for another few moments, just for good measure, just because I could, then turned and walked down the platform with an phoney sense of purpose.


On Friday night, Brian and I went to a Yacht Rock party.
If you don't already know what this means, it can be a little difficult for me to explain.

You see, there's a website called Channel 101. It's, um, an online network for five minute pilots for shows. A kind of a short film festive. You can read more here. Yacht Rock was a fairly successful pilot that first aired back in June of 2005

"'Yacht rock' is a name for the popular soft rock that peaked between the years of 1976 and 1984. Significant 'yacht rockers' include Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross, and Toto. In the musical sense, yacht rock refers to the highly polished brand of soft rock that emanated from Southern California during the late 1970s and early 1980s." —wikipedia randomness

This "show" has a bit of a cult following, and a local bar in Gowanus held a Yacht Rock Party Friday night. Brian and I went, and were surprised to see about 150-200 people in attendance. A number of people (mostly dudes) dress up in captain's hats, aloha shirts, and fake mustaches. The bar gave out leis and served rum and tequila drinks. It was weird, somewhere between a D & D convention and an ironic hipster party.

Towards the end of the night, they had Smooth Karaoke, and Brian put in to sing Brandy by Looking Glass.

The karaoke was hosted by a fat John Oates impersonator, and by the time he finally called us up, it was after 2 am. The place had pretty much cleared out. But we sang our hearts out.

Well, Brian did. The sounds I make when singing can sometimes be mistaken for that wavering, mewing tune which eminates from a dying cat as it pronounces its final, painful utterances to heaven, so spared everyone and I just danced around and sang, "My love and my lady is the sea!" and "Do-do-dah-do-dah-do-do-do-dah-do-do!"

When we got off stage, we were approached by one of the Yacht Rock creators, who told us that he liked our style. He said, "That's a great song. You made a really good pick. I think our next episode of Yacht Rock is going to be built around that song." Then he gave us two free drink tokens. It was awesome!

In other news, the skies opened up today and dropped a crapload of snow on us. Here are some pictures I took this morning on my way to work:

Stay warm and dry!