Monthly Archives: June 2016

8 from 8: Things I’ve learned in eight years of submissions


In mid-2008 I decided to get organized around what had until then been sporadic literary submissions. A color-coded Excel spreadsheet was born (of course). Over the years it grew to multiple tabs, and the 2008 tab tells me my first submission tracked there was June 26th, 2008. Since today is June 28, 2016, cursory mathematics indicates that I have been at this for eight years!

I aim for a submission a week. I’ve hit something like 70% of that target, racking up 297 total submissions. My stats (so far) are:


Besides getting published, and having lots of fun with Excel along the way, I’ve learned some things. Here, for your perusal, are eight lessons I’ve learned in eight years of doing literary submission:

  1. There’s a lot of research involved. Not all journals are created equal- Some publish only a fraction of a percent of what they receive, and may not be worth your time, especially if you’re just starting out. Some have a reputation for being dynamic, others conservative and stodgy. Some have particular preferences for style & genre, or focus on a particular gender, geography, ethnicity, or subject. I needed to learn to pay attention to all of this in order to increase my odds.
  2. The process has its own rewards. There are many ways to go about this research. Duotrope can help. So can New Pages. Pay attention to where your writer friends are submitting. (If you don’t have writer friends, get some! Writing is a solo activity, which makes community even more invaluable.) When you see a bio of a newer writer you like, look at where they’re publishing. Flip through journals to see what you like. Subscribe to some, or read their online selections. After I’d done this kind of research a while, I started to see connections between my writing, others’, and the publishing world. Ideas about where to submit, and even what to write, bloomed.
  3. A rejection with content is worth its weight in gold. I’ve written about this before, but rejection is not the enemy. Form rejection, with absolutely no clue a human being actually read it, is. The vast majority of rejections I’ve received have been via form letters/e-mails. The rejections that mention something they liked or didn’t like, and maybe even have a suggestion or two, are totally welcome to me now. Both for their rarity, and the fact that they give me something I can use to improve.         
  4. You may never hear back from some places. If you look at my stats above, you’ll see that around 25% of my submissions are still pending. Some have been pending for years. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, for example, the 25 submissions I still have pending from 2008-2010 probably aren’t going to get published. Some journals will tell you up front that they do not promise a response. Some don’t, and you won’t hear anything except the eerie whistling wind echoing through the dusty, abandoned caverns of the Internet…                                                                               
  5. Being asked to send something else doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get published. This one was a surprise to me. But, in fact, when I submitted something new to places that had passed on something earlier but said they liked it and wanted to see more, they more often than not didn’t publish my new submission. After editing at Mud Season Review, I have some sympathy for this. Whatever the intangible “it” was about the almost accepted piece, the next thing they send often doesn’t have it. Maybe the lesson for publishers is to take the first thing?                
  6. Having something accepted doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get published.
    This was even more surprising to me. But, things happen. Editors leave. Editorial schedules and directions change. Journals run out of funding for the planned issue. Or journals run out of funding, period. Which brings us to..
  7. If you keep at it, you’ll outlast some of them. More than once, I’ve had the experience of getting an e-mail (or even, in prior years, a letter) that turned out not to be an acceptance or a rejection. Instead, it was a journal announcing, regretfully, that they were hanging it up for one reason or another. It turns out it’s a tough gig for everyone, publishers and writers!                                                            
  8. It’s totally worth it. Somewhere in the midst of the vale of research, rejection, missing communications, vanished journals, etc., a real live publication happens. Then another. Eventually, you have an actual body of Published. Work. It’s not only gratifying to see yourself in print, it leads to connections with readers and writers that can be inspiring and rewarding. You have to submit to get there. It’s worth it!                   

So there are eight things I’ve learned in eight years. How about you? I’d love to hear from you about what you’ve learned from the submission process!

Clinton vs. Trump: 4 1/2 months out, the needle points to…


First of all, before we go any further, let’s stipulate that polls at this stage of an election are not very good at predicting final results, though not as bad as they are a year out. You really need to start looking at polling a week or two after both conventions are over, which would be mid-August or so. But you just can’t help it, can you?

Let’s start with this basic fact: Generally, if a candidate had this kind of net unfavorablity rating, you wouldn’t give that candidate a very high chance of being elected:


Unless they were running against this candidate:


Score one for Clinton! What about head-to-head polls? Despite my above caveat, there is some sensibility to looking at the polls now. Trump has eliminated his opponents, Clinton’s has gone quiet, nobody really disputes that either is the prospective nominee now, and the last week’s worth of polls even captures reactions after a major news event involving two hot-button issues, terrorism and guns. If we start with the day that Trump became the Republican’s all-but-certain nominee and run through today, we get:


You can see that Trump gained some ground after wrapping up his nomination, and Clinton lost some as her’s dragged on. But she’s now gotten a drift up following her consolidation of nomination, while Trump has dropped. Note that RCP employees a straight averaging of recent major polls:


However, not all polls are created equal. Different polling firms have different track records of reliability, and also some built-in tendency to skew either Democratic or Republican. 538 does a good overview of this, if you’re interested. Ideally, you’d do some re-balancing of your poll weightings based on historical accuracy and partisan skew. Huffpost Pollster does some version of this, and they’re showing the following:


It’s worth mentioning that in either polling aggregation, Clinton’s lead is well outside the average margin of error. Of course, the popular vote isn’t everything. In fact, in a U.S. Presidential election, it isn’t even the thing that determines the winner. RCP doesn’t yet have a “no toss-ups” version of their electoral map, but based on the latest state polls, they’re showing the following solid, leaning and toss-up states:


You see a lot of the usual “toss-up state” suspects here, but you also see two that indicate the Republicans are stretched in more territory than usual: Arizona and Georgia. Meanwhile, based on recent state polls where available and extrapolations from 2012 where there isn’t good recent polling, has an electoral simulator that can be fun and terrifying to watch. This simulator does a run of 10,000 simulations a night, for which the latest results are:


They’ve been doing this for three weeks now, and there hasn’t been a lot of variability:


In addition to silly things like polls and electoral votes, we can also look at the betting markets. These can be much handier to pay attention to than the opinions of pundits because they do the same thing (indicate the opinions of election watchers) but with the advantage of aggregating many thousands of those opinions, and literally asking the opiners to put their money where their mouth is., based on the results of several different betting sites, is currently showing:


Finally, we can look at the popularity of the incumbent party. This isn’t as reliable as when an incumbent is running for reelection themselves (for example, Bill Clinton was sitting on around 60% popularity in early November 2000, but Al Gore ended up with 48.4% of the vote), but it certainly has some value as an indicator. Obama’s approval ratings over the last 6 months look like this:


It’s certainly early days still, but looking at every statistical leading indicator we have, you would have to say that Hillary Clinton’s chances look pretty good.



Everything is more complicated than it seems at first


I had the day off from work on Monday and was off doing things both Sunday and Monday that required real-world presence, so I didn’t get online at all those two days. Which gave me a fortunate and welcome breather from the partisan, ideologized, social media shitstorm that is now our national reaction to any major event. I was still aware enough that along with the tragedy in Orlando there was another, unrelated, arrest in Southern California, and that the Lieutenant Governor of Texas had said something that seemed outrageously upsetting as well.

So I was all prepared Tuesday morning to post something about how I stood with people who celebrate love and diversity, against those like the Orlando ISIL groupie, Southern California extremist and Texas Lieutenant Governor who oppose it.

Before I posted, I thought to look up the latest on James Wesley Howell, the man arrested in Santa Monica on Sunday on his way to a West Hollywood pride celebration with a car-full of guns and explosives. I learned that current indications are that he had a history of dating men and women, his social media indicated no animosity to the gay community, and he had not, as early coverage indicated, stated to police that he planned to do something at the Pride event.

Now, homeboy was rolling into town from Indiana with a prior gun-related charge, some heavy-duty weapons in his car, and explosives that were primed in a way that police can’t fathom there’s some innocent explanation for. So he was clearly a danger in some fashion, and there’s probably more to be revealed here. But one thing he is not, by currently-available evidence, is the kind of Christian/Conservative home-grown terrorist I had originally pictured.

With Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, I unfortunately didn’t look further into the story before posting. And I should have. His post Sunday morning of a Bible verse about sowing what one reaps turned out to have nothing to do with Orlando. It was something that had been pre-programmed days before to post at 7 AM that morning, oblivious to any news item. As soon as the unfortunate timing became apparent, it was removed, and his office released a statement of outrage and shock at the shooting, and a new verse was posted offering comfort in times of trouble.

When things like the Orlando tragedy happen, I can get very reactive (actually mostly numb with grief, with a sprinkle of outraged and reactive). And one can easily understand why, based on the last two decades of American public life, I could have thought that a self-righteous official was using the tragedy to moralize at the Gay community’s expense instead of sympathize. You don’t have to dig very far into coverage to find people doing just that. But Lt. Governor Patrick was doing no such thing, and I should have looked before I leaped.

The motive for the shooting itself is turning out to be equally complicated. Once I heard the confirmation that the shooter had pledge support to ISIL in his 911 call, the shooting arranged itself immediately into a narrative about Islamic Fundamentalist-inspired terror in my head, with a generous heaping of homophobia on the side. In fact, there is an emerging body of evidence that indicates the shooter may have been gay, or at least struggling with his sexuality in some fashion. You’ll also find stories indicating that he mentioned three different inspirations inspirations in his 911 call, two of which (ISIL and a Syrian suicide bomber) are actually enemies of each other. And, while he had no particular interest in religion for much of his life, he did have a history of domestic abuse, possible shooting threats as a youth, and quarrels with a coworker during which he spouted invective against all kinds of social groups.

So it may well be that this was an extremely angry and troubled man who glommed on to a pastiche of Islamic radicalism to justify his lashing out at the world, rather than a religious fanatic whose fanaticism led him to violence. And that the animus toward the gay community may have been, much more primarily than religiously inspired, inspired by an internalized homophobia. Or not. Much more will be revealed here too. What we can say is that the real picture may turn out to be much more complicated than the initial picture that I, and many other, people formed.

All of this is a reminder to me that major events are almost always more complicated than they seem at first. Whatever our prejudices, Left or Right, Secular or Religious, may be, the real story is unlikely to be something that fits neatly into them. And so I continue, a little more humble than before.

And I still stand with people who celebrate love and diversity. Because what else can get us through such a complicated world?

The Meaning of Bernie Sanders


Well friends, here we are. One final Super Tuesday! I haven’t written an election post in a few weeks, mainly on account of:

  1. On the Republican side, Trump’s opposition spectacularly collapsed all at once, leaving him uncontested.
  2. On the Democratic side, the math hasn’t changed.

It still hasn’t. Yes, technically, the nomination is not decided until the convention in July. And neither Democratic candidate will have enough pledged delegates to win outright until the Superdelgates vote on the first ballot. But assuming, as all indications are indicating, that she stomps it in New Jersey today and does something at least nearly 50% in California, Clinton will only need a fraction- say 10% of the Superdelegates to vote with her to be nominated. The Superdelegates are not going to switch en-mass to Sanders. Nor should they.

Whatever one thinks of the system as it stands, under the system as it stands, Hillary is unambiguously winning- she has something like 55% of total votes, is several hundred delegates ahead, and has won a majority of individual contests. As I wrote a few weeks back, no self-respecting Sanders supporter, if the situation were reversed, would say it would be okay if the Superdelegates reversed a Bernie 55% of vote, several hundred delegates ahead and majority of contests won and voted for Clinton instead. I like to keep my principles the same no matter what personalities are involved, and the principle is clear to me here- there’s a set of rules, and under that set of rules, one candidate has clearly been chosen over the other.

So I don’t care to talk about that anymore. What I would like to talk about is the meaning of Bernie Sanders.

Exhibit A:


This is what Bernie did, as a virtual unknown running against a candidate with nearly 100% name recognition, a huge fundraising head-start, and overwhelming support from the party establishment.

Exhibit B:


Excluding the unregulated outside groups (Thanks Citizens United!), he actually outraised her. And did almost all of it with small donations from individual donors.

Exhibit C:


These are the vote totals that candidates coming from a similar ideological bent of the Democratic Party got in the previous most recent open contests. Sanders is on track to get around 45%.

To me, the conclusion is inescapable: Even in a very unfavorable party environment for it, an unapologetically Progressive candidate has flourished in this primary cycle. A significant portion of the Democratic base is ready for the party to push a bolder Progressive agenda.

One can imagine that if circumstances had been different- no candidate as predominantly established going in as Hillary, or Joe Biden stepping in and dividing the moderate/establishment vote, Sanders could even have been the nominee. You could also make the argument that Obama already ran and won the nomination in 2008 with this emerging Progressive plurality. While his policy substance was (and still is) pretty centrist/establishment as far as the Democratic party goes, his symbolism and the base he put together was very much fueled by these Progressive voters.  And one can easily imagine, in an upcoming cycle, a candidate who is slightly more polished and camera-ready than Bernie and who isn’t facing a Democratic dynasty running and winning with this agenda.

In the meantime, we organize (especially at the state and local level), we vote (especially for city councils, state legislatures, etc.).

And we keep the faith.





Music Appreciation: My All-Time Top Ten, Part 2


next six

After the recent loss of Prince, I noticed a friend’s post about expressing appreciation for music we love while the musicians are still around. It was somewhat jarring to realize how many of my all-time favorites are already gone, so I felt even more inspired to say something while I still could. Thus last month’s post about 1-5 of my all-time favorite top ten musical artists.

We had a few weeks of technical delays, but I’m back now with Part II, covering 6-9, and a sneaky tie for 10th place.

Johnny Cash Johnny Cash is a fascinating bundle of contrasts- social activist in a genre that was often less progressive, personification of Country who was also a Sun Records first generation Rocker, rebellious sinner who unashamedly preached the Gospel. One could go on, but the real thing that gets me about him every time I listen is the stripped down basic power of his music and the unmistakable sound of his voice. Is it Country? Rock? Heaven? Hell? All of those at once, in one unforgettable Man in Black.


Prince I could easily re-purpose a lot of the above to describe Prince as well. Today’s music scene is so segregated by genre that it’s even more amazing now than it was in the 80s how he straddled the divide between Soul and Rock like it was nothing. Not to mention that he was a genuine goddamn virtuoso- he liked to perform with big bands, but on his first two albums he not only wrote and produced the whole thing, he played every instrument himself. Buried at the heart of his music is a fusion of the sacred and the sexual that’s always uneasy and dynamic. How many people before, since, or ever, could make something with a funky beat, a guitar solo that Eric Clapton envied, a complex religious philosophy and hilarious sexual entendre all in the same album? Sometimes even in the same song… I was hooked when I first listened to 1999 at age 12, and I still am today.


Kristin Hersh You might think by the next two entries that I started off as a big Throwing Muses fan in the 80s. I was an 80s alt kid, so it would be reasonable to think that, but it’s not actually true. I ran in to Kristin Hersh’s solo work in the early 2000s, when her searing voice, surging chords, and willingness to not hold anything back got me through a lot of desolate-feeling post-divorce evenings. Then I back-filled to her 80s and 90s work with Throwing Muses (realizing along the way that I had favorite songs by them without knowing it was them), and forward filled to her mid-2000s band 50FOOTWAVE. Over three decades, in everything she’s done, she remains a powerhouse who can go acoustic or hard, throws out fiercely intelligent lyrics, and can sing the hell out of a song.

Tanya Donelly Pretty much everything I said above goes Ditto for Hersh’s step-sister and Throwing Muses co-founder Tanya Donelly. Her early 2000s solo albums were more like shimmering lullabies, but were similarly key to midwifing my emergence from a wrecked marriage and hollow way of life, toward reclaiming my true self. And damned if I didn’t then discover her Throwing Muses pedigree, and that she had been the driving force behind Belly, who I adored in the 90s. She tends to be both lusher and more subtle than Hersh, but is no less capable of rocking it out and producing haunting musical creations.


Bruce Springsteen When I was first putting together my top ten list, I hit a bit of a stumbling block. My 1-5 were clear as a bell to me. Without too much more thought, I came up with 6-9. But then I kept going back and forth on #10 between the Boss and the Clash. After a while, I realized they actually were flip sides of the same thing that was befuddling me, and decided to put them both in as tie for 10th. The issue was that I’m not always in a Clash mood, but when I am, I like almost everything they’ve done. On the other hand, I only like some of Springsteen, but I’m always in the mood for the version of Bruce that I like. For me, it’s his dark albums and songs that really get me. So, you can have your Born to Run, Born in the USA, and the Rising. Heck, you should have them. I like them too. Sometimes. But I’ll take Darkness on the Edge of Town, Nebraska, Tunnel of Love, Ghost of Tom Joad, and Magic anytime. There’s something about the spooky underbelly of America that nobody gets like Springsteen does.


The Clash Which leaves us with the other side of my tie for 10th. I like some of Joe Strummer’s solo stuff, and Mick Jones has made a lot of interesting music post-Clash- Big Audio Dynamite’s first album was one of my favorite things in the 80s. But there was something about the synergy of them together that was on a whole other level. Political without being polemical, rocking as hard as anything that the first generation of Punk came out with, and yet bringing in ska and dub, they continue to do what art should do at its best- inspire, entertain, and disquiet at the same time.