Interview with Terry Barr

Terry Barr’s essays have appeared in The Bitter Southerner, Red Savina Review, Full Grown People, Hippocampus, and will soon appear in South Writ Large and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. He has a new essay up at Melange Books. His essay collection, Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings From My Alabama Mother, was just published by Red Dirt Press.

3288 Review: How and when did you start writing? Was there a specific event or moment which sparked your interest in the written word?

Terry Barr: I think I’ve always written, but when I got to 9th grade composition, something different happened. My teacher taught us Shakespeare, and then my 10th grade teacher let us write fiction. I read one of my stories to the class, and my best friend—a much better writer than me, I thought—looked back at me in a way he never had before.  But back to 9th grade—that was the first time I really kept a journal. Each day at the beginning of class, we would write “non-stops,” five minutes of intense writing where the only rule was that your pen could not leave the paper. I kept those writing notebooks for years, and employ that method in my writing classes, only I force them to write for longer periods without stopping—maybe 20 minutes.

But I didn’t think a lot about my own creative writing until I joined a writing group in grad school, at the University of Tennessee. I wrote a story about the first time I saw the word “fuck.” My father slapped me for saying it, and then I saw bats circling our favorite neighborhood oak tree. Something about those moments and images cohered into a story back then that I later revised—one of my very first published Creative Nonfiction pieces.  That publication was four years ago, and I have since published over 100 other CNF stories, all using events, moments from my past.  So, journals, bats, the word “fuck” and non-stops. That did it for me! Continue reading →

Upon Writing 150 Rejection Letters

In the third week of January I attended the ConFusion science fiction convention in Novi, Michigan. As cons go this is one of the smaller gatherings, and the mix of panelists and attendees seems to skew toward the professional. In addition to fans, authors and writers of all varieties, there were editors, publishers, marketers, etc., with most wearing more than one hat. As a secretary/chief operations officer/editor/editor in chief, I get how this works.

Last week I sent out the last 75 rejection letters to authors who had submitted work to issue 1.3. To give some perspective: For our first issue we had around twenty-five submissions. Forty writers and artists submitted to issue 1.2; and 1.3—the current issue—saw 175. We can thank DuoTrope, NewPages and Poets & Writers for the bump in visibility.

Why do I mention these two facts together? Because one of the convention panels was titled “The Business of Rejection”. Not all—indeed, not even the majority—of panels at this convention are specific to genre. With careful planning an event like ConFusion can be used as an intensive educational course on the business of publishing.

Having been on the receiving end of no small number of rejection notes, I now find it interesting to be the person handing them out. Here are some of my notes, cleaned up and made relevant to our journal:

  • Don’t take rejection personally. The fact that your submission is not a good fit for this venue at this time does not mean that it won’t work somewhere else.
  • Rejection of a single piece is not rejection of your entire body of work. Unless, of course, this is the only thing you have ever written and submitted.
  • Don’t necessarily edit based on the feedback of a single rejection letter. Each editor will see something different. If you get half a dozen rejections of a poem, and each has the same comments, then maybe take another look at their suggestions.
  • The job of a writer is to write. As an ancillary benefit you may get published, but first and foremost, write for the sake of writing.
  • Rejection can mean different things. A flat “No” means that your work in no way matched the criteria, needs, or taste of the venue to which you submitted. A “No, but please submit again” could mean this one piece was not quite right, or that there were more acceptable pieces than room in the journal, and for whatever reason your work simply didn’t make the final cut. “Please revise and re-submit” (usually accompanied by suggestions) means the editors do want to publish this piece, but it needs a little more refinement.
  • If you get feedback with your rejection letter it means that your work had enough promise for the editors to pay extra attention and offer some guidance.
  • “Rejectomancy” is the dark art of sussing out what is actually being said in a rejection letter.
  • In aggregate, rejection letters can be as useful as writing courses for refining talent.

So thank you to everyone who has submitted work to The 3288 Review, whether we printed you or not. Every piece we read broadens our minds and helps us improve our editorial skills.