Slushpiles and Rejection Letters

My day today has been rather full.  After reading homework in the library, I had the privilege of spending three hours going through a slushpile for someone I know (for the uninformed, a “slushpile” is what you call the vertiginous heaps of unsolicited submissions received by agents and publishing houses).

It was enlightening, and somehow encouraging and discouraging at the same time.  It puts me in mind of the internal rejection notes from Houghton Mifflin Company that I read while doing research last spring; I found reading committee notes on why HMCo shouldn’t print Poul Anderson, Philip K Dick, or even George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square.  That’s two iconic mid-1900s sci-fi authors and the 1961 Newbery Honor recipient, all rejected with pithy and sometimes caustic internal notes exchanged between the various submissions readers.

It was enlightening because I found myself rejecting anything that didn’t closely match the guidelines I’d been given, even things that I thought might have been perfectly decent books.  There were no hard feelings, the submission simply wasn’t *exactly* what I was looking for.  It was encouraging, because a number of them weren’t very good and I’d like to think that I could do a better job than that.  And it was discouraging, because in order to submit something and get an editor you need a finished manuscript, and finishing a manuscript that would be accepted is much easier with an editor.

Basically, you could do it if they’d let you, but they won’t let you until you do it.

It’s a mess.

So, it’s time for me to figure out how to finish my work.  Again.

And if your work has been rejected by people, don’t give up.  Submit again and again and again.  Everywhere you can.  Maybe you should tweak things, but do keep trying.

Brotherhood of the Wolf and the Importance of Editing

Monday night I introduced two of my friends to the oddly enjoyable mystery-adventure movie The Brotherhood of the Wolf.  At least, that’s what I thought would happen.  Instead, we suffered through an interminable introduction, nonsensical pacing, a piss-poor mystery plot that was never explained well enough to make the reveal make any sense, and some CGI that has aged a little harder than I remembered.  It was a train-wreck of a film, and I’m not sure who exactly signed off on releasing it.  I was at a complete loss and repeatedly apologized to my friends, because the movie that we watched was not the movie that I remembered seeing years ago.

It turns out that it wasn’t the same film at all.  Oh, the actors were all the same, and the footage was clearly all collected at the same time.  I doubt that the CGI aged any more gracefully in the version that I do remember, but at least the rest of the movie would still be there to back it up.  The problem, you see, was that we watched what we could only guess was the edit intended for UK theatrical release.  It was atrocious.

The version of the film that I first saw, and the one which I would recommend to my friends, is a lovely action-mystery-thriller which features slowly building tension surrounding a series of wild animal attacks, culminating in a wonderful set of reveals and some good old ass-kicking.  The protagonists gradually piece together that the mysterious beast responsible for the local deaths is no natural creature, and recognize that there are connections between the beast’s killings and a secret society which appears to be trying to supplant the King’s authority in the land.  The film is still a trifle weird, but it has pretty costumes, fun action scenes, and a rewarding reveal of a conspiracy plot.  It has inspired several of my own RPGs, and I would consider it decent background material for anyone looking for adventure ideas.

And thus we come around to the importance of editing.  I was already aware of how much influence editing can have on others’ impressions of your work, but I’d never seen such a painfully clear example of it with something which titillated in one form and disappointed in another.  The experience reminded me of Alison J. McKenzie’s good article on drafts, an intimately related topic, and to be honest I’m quite glad that I have chosen an art form in which the overhead costs for creating and prototyping new drafts are so low.  The costs and scheduling associated with film make it far less forgiving.

Unfortunately for the version of Brotherhood of the Wolf that I just watched, I can’t really bring myself to forgive it.  The experience that I wanted to share with my friends, the one that I thought I was sharing right up until the film started to diverge from my memories of it, was effectively ended by the bizarre editing choices that went into that version of the movie.  It was bad enough that I can’t really blame my friends for not wanting to find and watch the version that I remember.

I would still recommend Brotherhood of the Wolf to you for all of the same reasons that I wanted to show it to my friends, but be sure that you’re watching the more standard US release.  Otherwise, you may be sorely disappointed.