Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Compost Pile

Ah yes.
As the Ice Dragon retreats slowly northward to its lair, one's thought turn that way - if you're a gardener and mess about with plants.
Analogies intrude when you begin to wonder what flowers may have survived the freeze-thaw and bitter cold.
The sap is running too.
It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to produce about one gallon of maple syrup, if I remember right.
Under constant heat.
Another one: every gardener knows that some plants spew; that is, by prolific seeding or by creeping rhyzomes, that nice tidy clump of shasta daisies or primroses have taken over half the bed.
We won't even talk about mint.
Along with the weeds, a serious gardner has to regretfully and ruthlessly trowel out and dump on the compost pile a lot of hopeful true plants.
Helps me figure out why some agents/editors are so anal about the technicalities in a submitted manuscript.
Verily, even down to the number of spaces between sentences, reading some directions.
They want a manuscript to be as print-ready as possible. They don't want to have to spend time having to edit and edit and spell-check before sending it out.
Time is money. It really is.
Of course, it really makes you grit your teeth when a website goes on about spelling - and they have a spelling mistake in their post.
Saw one this morning.
Well, goody for me.
I don't advise pointing those errors out though or rushing off to comment acidly on the ant hill of some writer's board about the hypocrisy of the industry.
Caesar's wife was not an agent.
Might as well tuck up your little rootlets and trot off to the compost pile all by your little self.
Every now and then, we see pleas from agents/editors reminding us that they are human too.
Remember that.
Think how a gardener feels about a species that stiffly pokes them in the eye or scratches their arms, or displays rust blight on its little green leaves, when there are lots and lots of other plants that do not.
And agents/editors are gardeners - whether a single cactus has ever, ever adorned their offices above the high-rise canyons of New York or not.
Weed, or you will be weeded, even if you're a true plant.
Just discovered I spelled "shining" as "shinning."


Erik Ivan James said...

Excellent post, Bernita. I'll remember this when I'm ready to submit something. And I won't submit until it's been well weeded.

Are you going to talk about the necessity of "fertilizer" in a next post? I've seen "Weed 'n Feed" do wonders.

Bernita said...

While my mantra in college was "bullshit baffles brains," Erik, I garden organically.

Rick said...

The most sobering thing I've ever read about slush is "Rats in the Slushpile" by Grumpy Old Bookman.

In a nutshell, he says that the slushpile howler stories that agents and editors love to tell are misleading. Yes, some awful stuff shows up, but a large proportion of slush is "not bad" - just not outstandingly good. So slush readers are looking for that handful of young plants that are so promising that they deserve to have everything around them weeded and some plant food trowled in to their soil.

Bernita said...

The big thing I got from Grumpy's dissertation, Rick,was that past a certain point, the 5- 10-15 percent or so of writers that stick up above the slush, is that publication depends on luck. Nothing else.
Right place, right topic, right agent, right time.
Not talent, not slavish adherence to every comma or space or spelling.
Just. Luck.

Savannah Jordan said...

Great post, Bernita! Wonderful anology. How the heck do you find time to come and comment on my little vignettes when you write ones like this???

As to agents/editors... They are busy beyond belief. I was a submissions editor, once; I was the one weeding the slushpile. It ain't pretty -- even got a rash. (really ended up with hives from the stress)

Ric said...

Great post, as always.

I do feel you are right about the luck part, however. Once you get the mechanics down, the rest is luck.
In the garden, once the plants are in and thriving, the fortuitous rain or long shadowy day creates the lucky circumstance of the great flowering.

The trick for us is to make sure the words are right, the lines are the correct spacing, the paper is crisp. And out there waiting for the luck to hit. If the bulb is never planted, it will never bloom.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Savannah.
I read each one of you every morning without fail, plus a load who are not on my blog roll (yet), and then check back to read the comments later, 'cause they're fun/interesting too.
I find you all inspiring, the different perceptions, neat turns of phrase, percolating ideas, different approaches.
I learn from you all.
As I said before, in some elusive manner, your rich writing helped me remove some awkwardness from my own. Might have been psycological, might have been example.
I think all your blogs are well worth the time.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ric.
And we have to fight that deep fear of being planted in the deep, dark earth, the fear of being crowded out, rotting away and never blooming.

Robyn said...

Nice analogies. Now if you could help a black-thumbed wannabe gardner transfer a peace lily that's taking over the living room into a bigger pot, I'd appreciate it.

I read a comment from an editor once who said the story might be fabulous, but if she had to wade through too many clerical errors she'd still trash it. She felt that the writer was being unprofessional at best, uncaring at the worst, if the spell checker was too much for him.

Bernita said...

First you find the bigger pot...
Yes, one cannot blame them for assuming that.
I think it's best to begin early.
Surely, it's important to get the story down in rough, draft form, but I think one has to train/discipline oneself to not skip words that you think are mis-spelled in your haste.
Fix them then, not plan to do it later - you might miss.At least stick in a cue sign or something.
If your idea is so ephermal that you fear you might lose it if you stop, perhaps you didn't have it solid to begin with.
However, I've also seen the claim that the editorial brain and the creative brain are different, and it's best to wait until later to correct typs, etc.
But can't one train oneself to borg it?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I'm weeding now...and yes, it does hurt to have to throw good plants on the compost heap, cuase their crowding out all the others.

Just remember not to plant your bulbs to deep, and face the right end up!

"bullshit baffles brains,"...LOL

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Hey, does anybody know why Miss Snark got rid of her comments and turned off the comment thread?

Bernita said...

Depth depends on soil, Bonnie, in light, sandy soil, plant 'em deep; in heavy, clay soil, plant 'em higher. Wonder if that reverses for genre.

I noticed that too, Bonnie.
I don't know.
Someone yesterday ( anonymously, of course) claimed to have "outed" her.
And then you have to wonder about cuthroats within the industry there, too. Her post about agents who are writers certainly stirred up considerable controversy.
Don't know if there is a connection, or whether it has something to do with her changing from Blogger, which she said she considered doing.

Savannah Jordan said...

As to the Miss Snark situation, ya'll might want to check this link:

That's all I have to say on that.

Rick said...

Yes, luck makes the final cut. And there's also the imponderable of personal taste. Some people who have read my ms haven't liked my characters or story that much, some have thought they were fine - and some have been ready to go on their knees and pledge Catherine their fealty. :) If the ms lands on the desk of an editor who falls into the last group, a contract will likely be forthcoming.

Bernita said...

Can't think why anyone would claim Anna Louise was Miss Snark.
Sounds silly to me.

I place "personal taste" under luck as well, Rick.
No matter how "professional" the editors are, their personal tastes do influence their choices - and there's no way we can ( perhaps should) cater to it.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think that mistake at Anna Louise's happened because of the way she worded the post. I had to look at it twice also, before i saw what she was saying.

HmmmBernita...good analogy...sand vs. soil!

ivan said...

Liked the cartoon about Cliff and his masculinity. Hilarious.
I have the same thing in a different way. Most overground women writers are better than me.
Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, journaists Christie Blatchford(my pal), Rosie di Manno, Gail Sheehy--the list is endless.
Now I've heard of something called typographic penis envy (my envy of John Updkike, for instance)--but vagina envy?
How do I write like Alice Munro?
How can I philosophize and produce great sprawling gothic novels like
Joyce Carol Oates?
I got myself analyzed by a Philippine shaman. Here is what he said: "Strap on a vagina."
Holy mackerel! That's radical surgery. "I have the tools," said the conjure man.
Like old Galileo, only just shown the instruments of torture, I backed off and renounced everything, right away.
Fiction is about relationships and women are masters at this.
Nonfiction is about facts and how they interrelate, but then there's Gail Sheehy, who can do both.
I got on the phone to Christie Blatchford over at the Globe, Toronto.
"Christie, all my life I've been trying to write like you and I end up like Elmer Fudd on a really bad day."
Take heart, Ivan, she said. I am doing something now at my desk and I can just imagine you sittin here right along with me.
A kind of female entreaty. Comforting, yet a bit charged.
I felt something stir.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ivan.
Blatchford and di Manno are columnists for Canada's two major newspapers, often funny, always acute.
Rosie di Manno, particularly, has grown.
BTW, Ivan, you chauvinist, women are just as good at non-fiction,logic and the relationship of factual material; and men don't suck at fiction - in fact, they're very good at it.
Practice, I guess.

ivan said...

Yeah. You're right.
I hope I haven't scared anybody off with my chimeric comments.
Chimera? You know, lion't head, goat's body, serpent's tail. But sort of feminine.
With your thirteenth century history you are probably more familiar with dragons and even basilisks.
I once had the strangest teacher of creative writing, a poet.
He wrote the work syzygy on the blackboard and dared us to define it. I thought I was a hotshot and immediately went for a Japanese motorbike.
He then drew a winged chimera.
"Anybody close?"
We finally got it.
"A syzygy is like a chimera, though the strict meaning is a conjunction of three planets. Here, we have a conjunction of three animals." Then he got up on his table, crossed his legs, flapped his arms, grinned --and spit.
"You don't know nothin' about original poetic thought until you see a chimera spit."
Rattled me.
But every time I get a good idea, I see the eccentric old prof as the chimera spitting.
Hey, wanna see a moth bawl?
I think I'm losing it.

kmfrontain said...

"Right place, right topic, right agent, right time.
Not talent, not slavish adherence to every comma or space or spelling.
Just. Luck."

As a proofreader, I know this is factual. It ain't about commas in the wrong place. It ain't. And it ain't about spelling. That's why they hire people like me.

nessili said...

No, we shall not mention mint. Nor mums nor ivy, both of which have taken over my yard from time to time.

Nor the fact that the first compost pile I built housed a nice friendly copperhead who proceeded to bite my dog on the nose, then birth her young under my shed. I wonder what that is an analogy for?

And where do you come up with these great extended metaphors?

ivan said...

The asp was wisdom. Writing ability. Also sex.
And kmfrontain, I haven't downloaded your novel yet, but it strikes me that you are somehow at the bottom of a well.

kmfrontain said...

::sniggers:: Chinese idioms anyone?

"All of us see the world with our own perspective. For the fortunate of us, we have all our senses plus our intuition, experience and learning. For the less fortunate, all is fair, there will be some other senses sharper than others. No matter the method we sense the world, we are no different from what a Chinese Idiom "A Frog In A Well" so adequately describe. Our vision of the sky from the bottom of the well where we live is so small compared to the larger sky...."


I couldn't say it better than on this blog, but every garden needs a decent well to water the plants.

ivan said...

Well that's a whole lot better.
Well, well,well. Who dat callin'

Bernita said...

KM, we could be more considerate of people like you though. I sometimes suspect that some editors have no greater a grasp on the wiley comma than do writers.
I make do with a garden hose,pails, and a fountain.

Thank you, Nessili, um...could I say that I write what I know? Thankfully, I only have mice in mine.
Chinese lanterns, Honesty and feverfew need rigorous attention as well.