Time for another Ranks of the Rejected. This time, I’ve convinced fellow horror and fantasy author Mark Allan Gunnells to reveal the dark, squishy truths about writing and rejection. I first met Mark over on the Shock Totem forums where he was a regular in the bi-weekly one-hour flash challenge. I was immediately impressed by his style and subtle grasp of horror . . . and his ability to knock out a bad-ass flash piece in under an hour. Mark has definitely been around the block in the publishing world, and he’s published a slew of excellent novels, novellas, and short stories. If you like horror or dark fantasy (or just great writing), do yourself a favor: read this interview, click the links at the end, and pick up one of Mark’s books. You won’t be disappointed.
1) What genres do you typically write? Do you have a favorite? If so, what about that genre draws you to it?
I favor fantasy and horror, by far my preferred genres. I do step outside those genres from time to time to stretch my creative muscles. I even have a romance novel under my belt. However, fantasy and horror keep me coming back. I’m not sure what it is about those types of stories that draws me, I have loved them since I was a child. I do love the limitlessness of fantasy and horror. It’s a playground for the imagination.
2) What does your typical writing work day look like? Do you have daily goals? Word count targets?
I’m actually very lucky in that I get to write at work. When I was on third shift I got a lot of writing done, but since I’ve been on first, I don’t have quite as much spare time. I’ve trained myself to write in the pockets of downtime that crop up. I may get fifteen minutes at a time or five, but it all adds up. I tend not to pressure myself regarding daily goals. My only goal is to write. Some days it may be several pages, others, only several paragraphs, but as long as I’m writing, I don’t beat myself up.
3) Okay, this blog is called Rejectomancy, so tell us about your first rejection letter or the first one that had a significant impact on you as a writer.
I started submitting as a teenager to various small horror magazines I found out about through the Writer’s Market, and I quickly started racking up form rejection letters. I had read that Stephen King had collected his when he started, so I copied that, posting them on the wall above my desk. While an acceptance would have been nice, when I would look up at the rejections I would feel proud because I was trying. I was writing. I was submitting. I was working at making my dream of being a professional writer come true.
4) In your opinion, what is the most important lesson writers can learn from rejection?
I think I have two answers to that one. One, you can learn a lot from rejection. You can’t let your ego get so big that you can’t see that sometimes criticisms have merit and you can actually use it to strengthen and tighten your writing. Two, not ALL criticism has merit. Some of it is just opinion, and those can vary from editor to editor. I’ve received some rejections that have really torn a story apart and then found an editor that loved it just as it was. If you believe in your story, you have to just keep putting it out there until you match it with the editor that gets it.
5) Got a favorite rejection? Memorable, funny, mean, just straight-up weird?
Recently, I posted about a rejection I got from a small magazine where I’d submitted several times. The editor finally sent me a message asking me to stop submitting because I wasn’t a very good writer. He went on to provide a detailed and loooong list of all the things that made me a bad writer. Basically he didn’t like the types of stories I told or the types of characters I used, and said, and I quote, “You may not realize it, but your stories consciously or subconsciously (whichever) are written to appeal to middle-class audiences and lifestyles.” As if the middle-class is not an audience you should be interested in. I used that rejection as great motivation to keep writing the kinds of stories I love.
6) What’s the toughest part of rejection for you? Pro tips for dealing with it?
I guess the toughest part for me is when I write something, I’m very excited about, and I have a deep desire to get it out there for others to enjoy. I crave feedback from readers, which you can only get once the story is available. Rejection keeps me from having that two-way relationship with readers. As for dealing with it, just keep writing what you love. As long as you are enjoying the process, everything else will just be gravy.
7) Okay, plug away. Tells us about your latest project or book and why we should run out and buy it.
Most recently, I released three books back to back (talk about over-saturation): two collections and one novella. FLOWERS IN A DUMPSTER, COMPANIONS IN RUIN, and FORT. I have a few projects coming out, including two collaborative novels (one with James Newman and the other with Aaron Dries) and a sequel to my earlier novel THE QUARRY. I’m currently working on a couple of novellas.