Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rainy day redux, vol. one: advice for would-be scribes

From 2006 through 2009, I was a regular pop culture columnist for the now defunct Cleveland Free Times. The following "Rainy Day Woman" column ran on Jan. 16, 2008.

Actual rejection slips fielded by an actual writer who shall remain unnamed

Yeah, Write 

This is what it says:

Dear Writer, Unfortunately this submission does not meet our current needs. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read it and good luck. 

- The Editorial Staff. 

But you're certain it says this:

Dear Fuckhead, 

Thanks for sending this piece of shit submission. We laughed our asses off over it! Greggers thought the crap about the broad knitting booties for the dead baby was so funny, he highlighted it and tacked the page on the break room bulletin board. Trudy laughed so hard at the blood scene that Diet Pepsi squirted out her nose. 

Publish it? Yeah, right. Maybe in our "Greatest Shits" issue. Ha! 

You poor chump. Are you butt-ugly on top of being a no-talent hack? Got a body odor problem? Thank Christ you're miles away in the Mistake-on-the-Lake and not in our hallowed New York. 

Why not trade in the keyboard for a nice repetitive factory job? Or you could learn how to extinguish burning rivers. Get it? Burning rivers? God, I'm killing myself over here! 

If you have any more melodramatic slop like this, do send it our way. We can always use a good laugh.

- The Beautiful, Thin, Copiously Published Staffers of Machete Magazine

Now baby, I know you've honorably honored their no-simultaneous-submission policy for the 17 months they've had your story. I know that, per their 42 submission guidelines (which you had to request via USPS with a self-addressed stamped #10 envelope), you used 11-point Lucinda Grande font on 24-pound bond paper with the inclusion of your name, address, Social Security number, age, weight, height, sexual orientation and dental records (on the title page only). I know you sent the submission 12 weeks prior to their annual reading period (Nov. 1-7) as directed. Hence, I understand why you want to respond to this rejection with a letter that begins with "Dear Cocksuckers."

Resist this urge.

The writing world is small. You do not want to find yourself in front of "Dear Cocksucker" as his eyes narrow to slits and his lips curl into a thin smile. "Oh yes," he'll slowly purr. "I remember you." Not good. But I understand that you need to do something, so I offer the following suggestions.

1. Eat. 

Cheese is a good theme. Kraft Pimento Cheese spread. Cheetos. Schuler's Bar Cheez. Comfort food is what you need. Hey, I know! Cheese fondue! Mmm, dunk that chunk of bread in there and horf it down. Let the hot cheese drip down your chin as you go for round two: a half-pound blue cheese bacon burger with a side of curly fries doused in Cheez Whiz. Top it off with a fat slice of Oreo cheesecake. Nummy-num-num. Comfort yourself enough and maybe you'll land a spot on The Biggest Loser. Who doesn't want to be harnessed to a medicine ball as Jillian screams, "Keep crawling. Come on, crawl! You can do it, crawl!"

2. Drink.

Best to do this at a dark nameless bar heralded only by a neon "COCKTAILS" sign that glows blood-red in the window. Accept the ministrations of a thoughtfully nodding gent named Nick or Johnny or Sam who swabs down the otherwise empty bar with one hand while pouring you a shot of Dewars with the other. Say things like, "They wouldn't know a double entendre if it bit 'em in the ass." Then put back the shot in one deliberate motion and swallow it with a grimace. While the low jazz thrums in the background, stare intently at your empty glass for a meaningful beat. Then shake your head in disgust and defeat and say, "Pour me another one, Johnny."

3. Screw. 

A solid roll in the hay is one of my favorite ways to dampen the hard edges of rejection aftermath. Unlike the cheez-a-thon, it's carb-free and will not act as a suppository for your aorta. Unlike option 2, you can do this at home and you'll remember it. So go find a willing partner and break out the Batman suit and Crisco. As you lie upon the bed with smoky-eyed satisfaction, take a moment to congratulate yourself for succeeding at something. And hey, if you need to do it alone in order to circumvent any additional rejection, that's fine too. Just don't tell anyone about the Batman suit.


Now that you've amply soothed your fragile ego with gluttony, booze or sex, it's time to step out of the self-pity cloud.

Get a steaming cuppa something and sit down at the computer. Open that short story and print it out. Read it. Yeah, that second section is anemic. Cut out all those modifiers and let the verbs do the work. Delete, delete, delete. Fix the language at the end and give the main character a perfect detail, anything to help flesh him out (maybe he loves cheese fondue to a fault). There you go. That's much better. Now sleep on it.

In the morning, go over it one more time and polish. Pull out your Writer's Market. Run your finger down the pages. Stop at the first literary magazine entry listed after Machete Magazine.

You know what you have to do next.

* * *


Anonymous said...

I believe I remember the first printing of this column. I'm old. On par with rejection.


John Venlet said...

Dear Writer, Unfortunately this submission does not meet our current needs. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read it and good luck.

- The Editorial Staff.

The editorial staff has these little rejection notes printed in bulk, in the thousands, and they also use them as kindling.

Pretty good column, Erin.

Anonymous said...

Release...the KRAKEN!

Ooops, sorry, wrong movie...

Print the one with the stilt-walker. 'at der wuzza good'un


Erin O'Brien said...

The day I got the call that my Rainy Day Woman column got the budgetary axe, I flopped onto my bed and cried and cried and cried.

All I ever wanted was to be a columnist.

After the Cleveland Scene gobbled up the Free Times, it wasn't long until all the links were scrubbed. I don't even think you can find my RDW stuff in a way-back machine.

yeah, yeah ...

Anyway, I thought I'd reanimate them here. Particularly since I'm up to my eyeballs in freelance work.

Thanks for reading, gents, and for sticking with me for all these years.

Michael Lawless said...

I loved your work in the Free Times. And I am addicted to Kraft Pimento Cheese spread.... The other pimento cheese wannabees are only sad containers of lumpy orange goo by comparison. And that Goddamn little jar always forces finger licking at its depths...since no pretzel sticks can do the job. Ohhh, I always figured I would be an addict...but Kraft? What have I become?

Anonymous said...


'Analog content distribution coordinator' looks better on a resume than 'paper boy.'

Hiya Ms E-

Upon departure that column (and a few others) took with them my last remaining interest in local print outlets. What they're doing anymore is the 'journalistic' equivalent of radio station voice-tracking.

Let's hope the Plain Dealer goes the way of Carrie White's house or the one in 'Poltergeist' before Brent Larkin and Kevin O'Brien can take a mattock to any vestigial honesty and integrity that still remains in Cleveland 'journalism.'


Kirk said...

"After the Cleveland Scene gobbled up the Free Times..."

So it wasn't a 50/50 merger as was advertised at the time?

An alternative newspaper monopoly seems wrong, even more wrong than the mainstream counterpart. But then an alternative newspaper owned by a big chain never seemed right, either.

Take heart, Erin. They got rid of Derf, too. That puts you in very good company

Erin O'Brien said...

Now I want some Kraft Pimento Cheese Spread.

I don't know the details of the demise of the Free Times, but I think when Scene deleted every FT link, it spoke volumes.

Thanks for all the kind words about the RDW column.