Feedback & Its Role in Publication

I thought I’d share my experiences with editorial feedback, constructive criticism, the art of revision and following one’s creative instincts. Newer writers tend to get defensive when it comes to feedback. Learning how to respond to feedback is an essential skill for writers. Eventually, some kind editor will provide some good advice and the writer’s job is to listen, decide if the advice is solid, and if it is, then revise accordingly.

Trying to change the editor’s view on why your work doesn’t need to be changed or that you know best will not only alienate the editor, it will most likely prevent you from getting traditionally published.

Should you decide to not revise your work and send it elsewhere, just as is, I recommend not getting surly with the editor. Simply thank him or her for their time and consideration. Ditto should you receive a rejection. Getting snippy at the publisher for not recognizing your artistic vision will get you nowhere fast and slamming her/him with a “obviously your publication is too mainstream for my cutting edge style” just proves that you are as far from a professional writer as street-meat is from a fillet mignon. You may think you’re Kafka, but opinions are allowed to vary, so keep all correspondence courteous and leave snip-snaps out of your tone.

I am somewhat fixated on the work of Edward Hopper, and this sketch…

evening-wind edward hopper

…Inspired this poem: 

Violation original

This poem was part of a submission to The Dalhousie Review, submitted January 2017. It can take close to a year to receive a reply from a literary journal. They receive thousands of submissions, and their acceptance rate is usually somewhere between 1 -12%. I was overjoyed when the editor let me know that one of my poems had received a ‘conditional acceptance.’ They requested that I revisit two lines. One word they felt needed to be changed, and another word was suggested to be removed.

I spent a full day sweating out that one word (Poets will understand this. Most novelists will chuckle, I think) The poem was eventually accepted with my minor revisions.

This is the revised version:

Violation revised and published

Now, I have yet to find online any poet sharing a request for revisions (edit notes) or their correspondence with a journal –perhaps in fear of a breach in confidentiality or maybe it’s an ego issue? I have removed the name of the editor, who is a kind soul and so encouraging. I am sharing this as a teaching tool so that those who are still seeking publication understand the process.

I’ve taken two screen shots of my poem—the original version and the revised and published version.

Also, I love reading through a journal and finding a stand-out piece. It’s wonderful to let other writers know how their work affected you, how you were moved. Social media is not only about touting your own work. Make sure to share what you’ve enjoyed as A READER.  I did so with this journal

My facebook post thanking TDR

Cheers,
Cyndi

About The Dalhousie Review:

The Dalhousie Review was founded in 1921 and has been in continuous operation ever since. During the early years it published scholarly essays by notable political thinkers, historians, literary scholars, poets and novelists, such as Archibald MacMechan, Sir Robert Borden, Eliza Ritchie, E.J. Pratt, Douglas Bush, Charles G.D. Roberts, Frederick Philip Grove, Hugh MacLennan, Hilda Neatby, Eugene Forsey, Thomas Raddall and Earle Birney. In the second half of the twentieth century TDR also began to publish short fiction and poetry, including the work of Norman Ward, George Woodcock, Mavor Moore, Owen Barfield, Miriam Waddington, Alden Nowlan, Malcolm Lowry, Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer, Margaret Atwood and Guy Vanderhaeghe. TDR is thus one of the oldest and most prestigious literary journals in Atlantic Canada, and it has developed an international reputation for publishing consistently high-quality work by established and emerging writers in Canada and around the world.

From initial feedback to a published poem: a look at the process

 

Editor comments I received:
MacMillan, “Violation” (After Evening Wind by Edward Hopper) Acceptance with minor suggested changes:

In the liminal, sketched, ordinary-bent-sideways moves of this layered piece, two moves jumped out as not fitting the rest, both in the final stanza: might these 2 moves be pulled back a little – so the ending doesn’t land so heavy (at odds with the rest). Specifically:
line 11: “beast” – are there other possibilities here, that aren’t as blunt and overt and weighty? (hoping the “coiled as daybreak” is somehow kept, that fits)
line 12: “…, yet again” – does the poem need this? Consider cutting; or, if kept, pull back a little — the comma plus “again” feels plenty, can makes the same gesture with a slightly lighter hand (to fit the piece that’s led us here).

My Email response to the editor:

Dear xxxx;

I’ve made the recommended changes to “Violation.”

I agree with the editors that the word “beast” was too weighty; it has both biblical and mythical connotations which don’t serve a purpose in this particular poem. I had used the word because it appears as though Hopper intentionally rendered a sleeping dragon in the twisted sheets ( a kind of Rorschach test for the overly imaginative, I suppose) and I wanted to pay tribute to his artistic vision.

In order to surgically remove the word and to provide a proper setting for the new one, I also changed the first word “becomes.” I wanted to capture the original connotation of beast, lighten the line, but keep it wide. So, here is the new line.

“hounds a restlessness as coiled as daybreak.”

‘Hounds’ gives that predatory feel I wanted to invoke. Restlessness has an ambiguous quality that works well, I think. The word also is sibilant. The hiss plays off of “coil” while “hounds” has an almost onomatopoetic quality… a howl.

This being said, I am eager to work with the editors should they feel the change is too much (or misses the mark!)

Though I think the poem now works better, I am still open to any suggestions. I welcome further feedback … all the while hoping I’ve fine-tuned the poem to The Dalhousie Review’s recognized high standards.

Attached, please find my revised poem and the signed and dated author’s agreement.

Warm Regards,
Cyndi MacMillan

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you, again, for this amazing opportunity to be published in your journal. I’m beyond thrilled.

PS- xxxx, I’ve also attach Hopper’s etching (and a close up of the balled sheet) with you and the editors to show why it “hounded” me so… snout, eye sockets, flattened ears… just thought I’d share the inspiration. The sketch is a poem in itself, I think… breathtaking….

Their response:

Dear Cyndi,

Thank you again for sending us your work as well as your revisions. The editors would like to proceed with the publication of “Violation.”

If you are still interested in publishing your work with The Dalhousie Review, please can you email me your assurances that the poem has been neither published nor accepted for publication elsewhere?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Take care,

xxxx

My happy reply!

Dear xxxx:

I am so glad the editors enjoyed the changes I made to “Violation”; the poem has not been published elsewhere nor has it been accepted by any other journal. I’m happy it has found a home with The Dalhousie Review!

Can you please let the editors know that I appreciate their consideration? I recognize there are thousands of poems they read and each has the potential to be published.

Thank you for making my day with this good news. I’d been out walking in the blowing snow, and I was rather numb from the cold. Your email warmed me right to my toes!

Will “Violation” be printed in the spring issue?

Gratefully,
Cyndi

Their reply:

Hi Cyndi,

Thanks for your quick response! I’ll certainly pass along your thanks to our editors.

I believe your poem will be included in our next issue, 97.3 (Winter). I’ll know more in the next few days, and will be sending along page proofs for your approval as soon as possible. (We expect that issue to be out before the end of January).

Stay warm!

xxxx

Further correspondence from the editor:

Dear Cyndi,

Please find attached page proofs for your work. Please let me know as soon as possible if you require any revisions.

Take care,
xxxx

… and my reply…

Looks great, xxxx!
No revisions required.
I’m looking forward to reading the journal in its entirety.

Cheers from Cyndi

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Top 50 Movies to Watch Instead of Trump’s Inauguration

 

Well, many of us WON’T be watching Trump’s inauguration. Some will read, spend time with family, clean out clutter, pray, weep, hit their heads against the wall,  wonder what the hell happened.
And some will be watching something else.
Why not watch a movie that peacefully protests the mocking, the grabbing, the KKK parading, the wall building, cabinet choices, the Islamophobia, the homophobia… Rent, download, look through your own movie library, call friends, have a “Boycott the Bull” party and revisit a favourite flick or check out something that you’ve always meant to see.
What follows is a list of movies I highly recommend that will validate your decision and remind you WHY you AREN’T watching as Trump slithers into the White House.

My Top 50 Recommendations

My Left Footthe-theory-of-everything
Children of a Lesser God
The Miracle Worker
Mask
Soul Surfer
The Theory    of Everything
The Horse Whisperer

 

12 Years a Slave
Crash (2004)
Amistad
The Help
Amazing Grace
precious-with-quote
Malcolm X
Precious
The Colour Purple
North Country
Suffragette
Thelma and Louise
Girl, Interrupted
The Stepford Wives
The Hours
The Passion of Joan Arc

 

Like Water for Chocolate
Real Women Have Curveshow-dare-anyone-tell-me
Frida
Mad Hot Ballroom
Silent Light
The Vanished Elephant

 

 

The Kite Runner
American East
Slum Dog Millionaire
Water
Syriana
The War You Don’t See
Occupation 101: Voices of the Silenced Majority
Rachel: An American Conscience

 

An Inconvenient Truth
Black Hole
the 11th Hour
Under the Dome
Vanishing of the Bees
Unacceptable Levels
If a Tree Falls

 

Boys Don’t Cry
Brokeback Mountain
Milk
The Birdcage
TransAmerica
Moonlight
The Danish Girl

Tell Trump he isn’t worth the time by putting him on “ignore.”

frankly-my-dearshocked-trump

And share this list, please! Tune Trump OUT as he’s sworn in.

My Pledge to Young Readers: Diversity, tolerance and Inclusion

Like so many Canadians, I watched the recent American election with horror.   I felt a sense of shock as you-know-who won state after state.   It hit me on multiple levels.  It’s been five days since the results were made known.  In that time, I had to come to terms with what that meant to me as a writer of children’s books.

Books are powerful tools.   They teach as they entertain.  They become friends and they live-on in memories.   Stories encourage, transport us and nurture character.

ruby-bridges   Today, I went to the library and took out several books for my seven year old daughter to read.  One is called, Ruby Bridges Goes to School by Ruby Bridges.  It is about segregation.  Another book which we borrowed is titled Tolerance by Connie Coldwell Miller.  Now, more than ever, it is essential that we discuss racism with our children. It is a difficult subject, but it is one that cannot be ignored or put off.

As a children’s book writer, I realize I have a responsibility during this highly turbulent time.  Acts of discrimination and sexism are increasing.  Swastika graffiti is on the rise.  Minorities are being threatened, and the threats are very real.

Recently, I read a cautionary article about minority characters.  The piece advised against including characters of different cultures simply to include different cultures.

I am sensitive to cultural appropriation, and I understand that culture should not be used to marginalize or stereotype or denigrate.  But I refuse to segregate my characters, to commit literary apartheid.

 

milo-and-jazz
Milo and Jazz by Lewis B. Montgomery

I live in a multicultural country, and I believe in its diversity.  And the more I think about it, the more I believe it is imperative that I include that diversity in what I write.

So often, I browse through early chapter books and see princesses and fairies and girl protagonists with fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair.  Surely, we are more than this?  What does this say of our diversity, our national commitment to inclusion?  Do best friends need to have the same skin colour, religion, family background?  What are we saying to our readers when characters only play with their own ethnicity?  Aren’t these questions we should be asking ourselves?

So, here is my vow to young readers:

1) The characters in my books will come from a range of cultures.  They will each have their own unique personalities, and I will do my best to respect both traditions and beliefs.

2) Some of the characters in my books will have both a mother and a father. But some will have just a mother or just a father.  And some will have two fathers or two mothers.  Love is love.

3) I will include women firefighters and male nurses. Some dad’s will stay home, and some mothers will be managers.   My characters will enjoy activities based on their interests, not on their genders.

4) Some of my characters will have physical or developmental challenges. Some may be in wheelchairs and some may use service animals.

5) One of my next books deals with bullying and gender roles. I feel strongly that villainizing a bully does not belong in early chapter books.  My stories will allow for change, self-realization, sincere apologies and healed relationships.

As writers, we have a responsibility to our readers. And our stories must embody our commitment to diversity, now more than ever.

Thank you.

Blowing Kisses to ROOM Magazine

room-39-4-cover-back-and-front

The editors of ROOM Magazine are delightfully energetic and generous with their encouragement. Chelene Knight, the Managing Editor of ROOM, https://cheleneknight.com/about-me/ , has sent the cover for the 39.4 issue to its contributors so they may share the artwork with friends and family via social media.   I am so excited!   Three of my poems will be included in this issue.  I’ve long enjoyed reading ROOM, as the poems and stories they choose target both heart and mind. https://www.facebook.com/roommagazine/  the issue will be available in bookstores across Canada in a few weeks.  To say that I’m deeply honoured to be one of its contributors is an understatement. They receive over 2,000 submissions a year and of which they are only able to publish 80-100. The magazine is in Vancouver and I’m much, much further east.  So, I’m blowing kisses to ROOM, THE literary magazine for women writers of Canada.  CANADA NEEDS YOU!  https://roommagazine.com/issues/bodys-map

 

 

 

 

 

CRUEL TO BE KIND, WRITER VERSION

As a fiction writer, I know that I must put my main character through a series of life trials. The protagonist must suffer.   The reader wants someone to root for, someone with an indomitable spirit.

As I write for children, I need to remind myself that the protagonists in early chapter aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaheidi-spyribooks must also face difficulties, foes and hardships.   And the conflict must escalate into a moment of crisis.  Think of your favourite children’s book .  I guarantee is it chockfull of challenges.

Mother-Me and Writer-Me had to come to terms with my need to make an eight year old girl miserable, lonely, stressed and exhausted. Those of us who write know how real our characters can feel to us. But the biggest mistake that any writer can make is to make everything easy-peasy for our characters.

 

Writer-Me understood how the aaaaaaaaaaa-clovers-luckcharacter grows through challenges, whether the challenge be a school bully, a house fire or the death of a beloved pet. But the Mother-Me wants to coddle my heroine, give her good grades and prevent her from stepping into the messy dog poop of life.

I am so very grateful that I was given the opportunity to rework my story. Writer-Me told Mother-Me that my character is strong enough to experience loneliness, fatigue, failures and frustrations.  Her  growth  and perseverance made my happily ever after all the more meaningful.

Yay for rewrites and the editing process.   Stay tuned as I cruelly throw curveballs at my next young heroine.  Watch as she rises to the occasion and handles each skill-building stressor like the  third grade Super Girl that she truly is! Can you hear her?  She said, “BRING IT ON!”

 

Cheers!