The “Alice’s Restaurant” Rule
So yesterday Kate came into my humble little writing studio carrying a cast iron frying pan. This is never good news.
“Uh-oh,” I said to myself. “Duck!”
But she didn’t immediately swing it at my head. Instead, she just said, “William, we are going to go through the slush pile. Today. Now.”
“No buts! You told people you’d get back to them within 30 days, and it’s been 82. Fire up your browser!”
She brandished her frying pan again, so I started clicking.
“You have to decide what we’re taking, and what we’re declining. And we have to start sending responses out. It’s not fair to people to just hold onto their work when they could place it somewhere else.”
“But…,” I said, “I hate the very idea of rejecting someone. I love everybody. I’ve never pushed away any girl who tried to throw herself at me.”
Her fingers gripped the cast iron handle tighter. “You’d better be pushing them away, Mister. I’ve pushed away plenty of men since I married you! Why, just last week…”
“Oops!” She giggled. “Forget I said that. Let’s get to work.”
So we started going through things. There’s a database of submissions, and a spreadsheet, and just to make sure we don’t lose anything, everything also goes to a secret gmail account. But just last week, we found out that older systems like AOL and Yahoo objected to some email settings, so some things weren’t going to gmail, and oh geez. Thank goodness for the database we made.
Anyway, we start reading them, one by one. So many good writers! Many of whom I’ve never read before. What a joy of discovery. But then, little clouds started creeping into our silver linings.
Perfectly nice story. Really well done. The kind of story that makes me smile as I read it, just because it’s so well written. And then, on page seven, a paragraph of pointless gory violence. Right out of left field. Nothing to do with the characters, or the plot, just stuck in there, why?
And Kate says, “Maybe the writer thinks it’s the only way to get accepted. Some journals only accept edgy. Perhaps editors or readers demand it.”
“But we said we only want beautiful work.”
“Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder,” she said.
“Of course it’s not. The idealists said it exists all around us, not in our eyes. There’s something universal about it, not individual. I can’t hold up a broken concrete block and convince you it’s beautiful, just because I say so!”
“You’d be wrong to try.”
“See what I mean? Some folks believe beauty is in the process of creation of the work. There’s something to that. And other people say it comes into being between the work and the viewer. Maybe there’s something there: we should be making love to our readers. And the process of love-making is both an action and a state of being.”
“If you say that, people will send us nothing but porn stories.”
“Well, we don’t want that. And we don’t want any stories about serial killers in trailer parks.”
“Ok, William. If you can’t tell people exactly what you want, maybe you should tell them what you don’t want.”
You know, she’s a really smart woman. Way smarter than I am. She sings better than I do, too. On the other hand, I know all the song lyrics. Doesn’t matter what kind of music, how new or old the song is, from “Leave the thorn, take the rose (Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa)” to “I like the way you work it, no diggity,” they’re bouncing around in my head all the time. It’s my only actual gift. And what bounced out of my brain at that moment?
Not the part about shovels and rakes and implements of destruction. Not the part about the 27 eight by ten colored glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, explaining what each one was.
No, what came to mind was the discussion in the draft board psychologist’s office. The potential draftee goes in there and says “Shrink, I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Heaped dead burnt bodies…” It goes on like that for a while.
So yeah, that’s what we don’t want to see. Please don’t send us stories about chopped up dead babies (yes, we got one of those). I’m pretty sure there are other journals who will love that kind of thing. Please don’t send us stories about a woman slicing her husband into pieces, frying those pieces up, and serving them to her next boyfriend (yeah, got one of those too).
Please do send us beautiful work, however you, as an artist, define the term. Send us things well-read readers will find beautiful. We know it’s really, really hard to articulate sweet sounds together, but we think it’s worth it.
And we do like to think we’re pretty open with our definitions. I have an American friend in Japan, and I’m pretty sure we were raised in completely different schools of aesthetics. His might even question the very definition and purpose of beauty. He sent in a poem, with a note saying it was about an old, tattered family photograph from the 30’s. I wrote him back and said I’d love to see the photograph. He replied, saying he’d try to dig it out, and maybe there were some others, and maybe he could work up a whole series of poems to go with those strange old photos. Would we be interested in a project like that?
Yes. Yes we would. Beauty isn’t always glossy. But it is always interesting, at least to me. And it’s always, to put it in Kate’s terms, life-affirming. And we’d love to see how you create it, on your own terms.
September 2, 2016