Insist (Learning the Wrong Thing So Well)

When faced with the truth, she said, “well, that’s not nearly as impressive.”

Today’s prompt is insist.

I read a story earlier today about a student at Southern New Hampshire University who failed a comparative culture essay because her professor didn’t know Australia was a country. “It’s a continent,” the instructor said. “Yes,” said the student, “but it’s also a country.” The student sent links from Australia’s “about us” page, but the teacher was adamant. The story went viral, the student got reimbursed for the entire class, and the teacher got fired.

I’m sure you’ve been in that student’s shoes to one degree or another.

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher taught us that Thomas Jefferson was on the quarter. This is not so. I corrected her, but she would not relent. The same thing happened in second grade with a different teacher in a different school in a different district.

Sometimes, people learn the wrong thing so well, it’s very hard to learn the right thing.

I know of someone else who believed well into her 40s that the presidents’ heads on Mt. Rushmore were naturally occurring. When faced with the truth, she said, “well, that’s not nearly as impressive.”

Rejection Letters for Your Short Stories, Poems, and Other Bits of Brilliance: A Guide

If you’ve spent any time trying to place creative work for publication, you’ve probably experienced what seems like more than your fair share of rejection.  Your stuff is good, after all.  The thing is, thousands of people have good stuff.

It’s the piece you got into your MFA program with?  Great.  That just meant it has promise.  It workshopped well?  That’s another step, I guess.  Your professor, a well-respected, accomplished writer, really, really believes in it in its current form?  Then keep submitting.

Until the acceptance letter comes, you’ll get lots and lots of gentle letdowns and maybe a few unintentionally terse rejections.  Get them out of the way.  Don’t take them personally.  Editors, like writers, are highly subjective and idiosyncratic.  They have to be.  If you’ve written a something you know is ready, something that has been revised and re-written and imploded and rebuilt and exists now in the best of all possible worlds, you’re ready to submit, and you’re ready to be rejected.  But remember, it’s not you being rejected.  It’s not even your talent.  It’s the proposition that the piece you have submitted, even with its clear merits, is the right fit for a given publication.

I’ve listed below three typical rejection-letter formats.  If you’re new to the process (or new to rejection), you might find it helpful.  Behold, the highly abridged and not-so-secret hierarchy of literary rejection letters:

1: The standard form letter like the one seen here*.  Not very gratifying, but don’t take it personally.  You’re busy, they’re busy, and that’s just how it goes.  That said, I don’t submit to markets that don’t allow simultaneous submissions. In my opinion, publishers have no right to tell you not to submit elsewhere, especially with the proliferation of people writing publishable material.
2: The form letter with your name and the title of your piece.  Pretty standard practice.  I think most writers get more rejections with this level of personalization than without.
3: The personalized rejection letter with a personal note telling you how much they liked your story, even though it’s not for them, and encouraging you to send them more. In the super-competitive and completely subjective literary world, this can feel almost as good as an acceptance when you’re moving along this spectrum.  When you’re at this point with a specific piece or a specific market, you know that the editors really looked hard at your piece, thought about it, and saw enough promise (or whatever they look for) to personally encourage you as a writer.  No one owes you that, so when you get it, it’s a good thing.  Follow up with a thank you.

*This particular form letter, which I received some years ago, is perfect in a very important way:  it starts with the word “unfortunately.”  While not the most encouraging way to start correspondence (this is a rejection letter after all), there’s considerable courtesy in this approach.  Most importantly, is lets you know right away that the rest of the email is not about your Pushcart nomination.  It’s my conviction that after the salutation, the very first word of the very first sentence of every rejection letter should always be unfortunately.  This saves writers from having to scan the rest of the text for the word, the emotional equivalent of tearing the bandage off quickly.  But you still need to read the rest of the email, because their may be specific comments or requests for more work.

Keep writing. Keep revising. Keep workshopping.  Keep reading.  Keep rebuilding.

Keep going.

Is Harry Potter a Squib?

Hear me out on this.

In Chamber of Secrets, we learn that Harry can speak  parseltongue  because Voldemort can speak parseltongue.  Dumbledore believes the former Tom Riddle transferred some of his power to Harry Potter when he attacked the Potters 12 years prior. Later, of course, we learn there’s more to it than that (classic Albus), as Harry is actually a horcrux.

But what if all of Harry’s considerable powers actually came from Voldemort? What if Harry were born a squib, and can only do magical things because of his first brush with the Death-Eater-In-Chief?

I know Harry does magical things after the horcux within him is destroyed, but we could certainly imagine a sentence or two of exposition dealing with residual magic and so on. It’s not necessarily elegant, but it’s no midichlorians.

And it makes for a more ironic, tragic, and better story in the end.  Had Voldemort failed to attack the Potters when Harry was an infant, Harry never would have been able to defeat Voldemort in the late 90s.  Voldemort would have risen to power unchecked.  This makes James’ and Lily’s deaths absolutely necessary to the story and to the survival of the entire wizarding world, putting even more weight on Harry to ensure they didn’t die in vain.

Doesn’t that make a better story?


Did Mark Budman lnvent Smell-o-vision?

Mark Budman is the founder and co-editor of Vestal Review.  He’s also a former IBM engineer.  Check out his patent for aroma sensory stimulation in multimedia.Born in the Soviet Union, Budman is currently working on a novel about Lenin running for president of the United States.

You other Pushcart nominees are starting to look like slackers.

I wonder if there’s a connection between Budman’s scientific and literary pursuits, and if that connection is, as I suspect, about the visceral, emotive triggers of sense and memory.  Smell evokes, and so does flash fiction.  It’s a brain and gut thing.

And is it just me, or is the official website of the US Patent Office just a little sketchy?  Better than Warren Buffet’s?  I dread the day some BH successor decides it’s time for a proper site.  My favorite part is the text that says “Official Home Page” as in, “no, really, we’re not kidding.  Warren’s really, really cheap.”


Everyday Genius Closes Shop; Real Pants is a Thing Instead

From Adam Robinson at the former Everyday Genius:


Probably you sent work to Everyday Genius long ago—mystifyingly long ago to be honest—and because of the guest editor system at EG (where many times no one was considering submissions), your work wasn’t read. I kept hoping the next editor would want to pull from our submissions, and sometimes they did. Even until January 2015, guest editors were reading from Everyday Genius’s Submittable account.

However, it is finally necessary to respond to your beautiful and worthwhile piece, because after six great years, Everyday Genius is hanging up its hat. We’ve moved on to new things at

Your participation was meaningful to me, a genuine encouragement. I look forward to seeing you around the literary corners of the Internet.

Best wishes,
Adam Robinson

Open Submissions: Blog Posts, Features, and Fiction


Rad Infinitum is a venue about many things. Pop culture, politics, people. Poetry and pilgrimage. Sports and science and social media. Business, and the business of health and food and communication. Art. Guys and girls and geeks and Good. We all have our obsessions, ephemeral or otherwise. Maybe it turns out that self-reference matters, and the things we like, our many fandoms, are part of how we fit together.

Starting today, you can submit blog posts, features, and original fiction to Rad Infinitum through Submittable.  We’re looking forward to hearing from you.