Thursday, August 27, 2009

What ARE These Veggie Burgers?

Recently I got a rejection that said, essentially, “Good effort in a unique story full of interesting factual details, but I prefer clear concise writing. Some of your sentences were out of order. I could easily rearrange them to make them clearer. Often I realized what you were trying to say but the word order made it awkward and distracting to read. Many sentences rambled too long and there were grammatical errors...“

Wow. Sure didn’t sound like me. So I read the story over carefully...

...and found nothing wrong, aside from a couple typos. How, I wondered, did this editor and I see the same story so differently?

Going back to the rejection, I began to decode. What was it in the story this editor might find out of order? Less than clear or concise? Awkward and distracting to decipher?

What I came up with sat me back in my chair for a gut-punched moment. Was it simply my mix of compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences boggling this editor? Was it multisyllabic words chosen for accuracy over easier, less specific words? Was it the slightly baroque vernacular style chosen because the story is told in the voice and with the references of the protagonist? Was it that this editor did not understand that narration often employs grammatical errors as part of the speech patterns of the narrator, to add the local color of dialect? (Not that I found a slew of grammatical errors, please note: I was hard-pressed to find any.)

Was this editor then demonstrably reading on a lower grade-school level? Or was I writing at in too literary a tone? Did my writing’s fault depend more on my words, or my shelves?

The rejection went on to encourage me to work hard and improve, which we all can certainly do, but added that helping me would take too much time out of the editor’s busy schedule. This same editor who hangs out on Facebook and Twitter for hours each day of empty socializing, as has been both observed by a depressed writer of our acquaintance and also reported by others who know the editor well, cannot spare time to, cue the irony bell, edit my stuff in order to help what is viewed as a writer with promise.

Thank heavens, is all I can say, for Facebook & Twitter.

Editor has come to mean “someone assigned to choose mss” for publication in a magazine, anthology, or in book form. Needless to observe, in many instances an AI program or random selection -- tossing darts or dice, asking a pet to fetch one from the pile -- could do as well, especially if mss first were culled by recognized names.

As to being "literary", that dreaded genre charge seems to mean "Writes in an adult manner any way he or she wants." It is only genre that increasingly insists everything be readable by slow children with lazy eye and ADD.

And look:  YA novels clogged the Hugo list this year and one of them won.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that genre fiction is dumbing itself down to juvenile levels, perhaps to hold what little audience it has, or in fear of losing even that, or perhaps because, as genre fiction’s tropes become more popular, the popularity itself dilutes the original formula that isolated the genre in the first place. To have mass appeal, it must give the sucker an even break and begin using fewer specialized terms.

This addresses sf jargon, surely -- “fewer mathematical equations in the prose, folks,” -- but does not account for the childish scrawl that so many editors insist upon. 

Sure, there are exceptions, and they stand out like neon in noir. Still, the trend is toward simplistic, unchallenging, safe little stories any kid of 9 could grasp fully on one hasty reading.

Is this a reaction against the big scary changes in publishing? Is it a response against the influx of new influences such as romance and erotica? Is it simply the infant bleat of HAL 9000 as his higher functions one by one are switched off by a wider audience’s acceptance?

Time, and writers willing or unwilling to talk dumb, will tell, and in the meantime it looks like I continue to write deluxe gourmet veggie burgers in a world demanding basic Big Macs and sloppy Whoppers.

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