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Internet: Rudiments of Courtesy and Respect

I have been on the internet since it was DOS, a big black screen with glowing green text. The early chat rooms and newsgroups were full of pedantic people trying to prove themselves in one way or another, from the spelling nazis to the socially insecure showing their scintillating intelligence and argumentative nature. In the new newsgroups, there are often rules against correcting someone’s typos but you can still get the know-it-alls. You also get the people who have to air their grievances against another for one and all to suffer through.

We live in a modern age of computers and instant messages. Before those came along there were phones and letters. Before that era, there were letters and pigeons. Before that, and during, there were riders on horses. Communications could always fall into the wrong hands, or not get through, or your courier be killed…if it was really important and political.

Some of our view of courtesy comes from the Victorian era but even before that, through much of the middle ages there were such things as courtly behaviour. Nobles and the higher echelon, even the peasantry, showed respect. Sure, rumours existed but they were and have always been perpetuated by people talking about the subject behind the subject’s back and never addressing the issue directly. Should one noble to the other have something particularly vicious to say, probably couched in witty ways, it was usually done face to face, because the fewer witnesses the better to deny it ever happened.

To call one out, especially one of any noble lineage was tantamount to a duel or a war, or maybe an assassination. Words had power, have always had power. Words can slander, can give respect, can color one’s view. But even as much as words reflect on the subject, they also reflect on the speaker.

No matter how wronged a person is, or how justified they may be in speaking of the scurrilous things people have done to them, when even the injured get on the soapbox it most often is not pretty. Be careful who you paint with that brush for the paint can spatter on you. I have seen this over and over, and used it as a good lesson. When the wronged one starts pointing a finger back
and getting to name calling, that person too loses credence. Sometimes turning the other cheek is the best policy.

To air one’s laundry, whether yours or the pilfered goods of the “other”, it is still airing your laundry in public. It is a tactic that holds the public hostage to a viewing whether they want it or not. It is a tactic that one does to shame the other. It is a tactic that shows the one who airs as callous, mean, little and low class. It is a tactic meant to anger and to justify one’s own behavior. And it is always lowly done and not of the noblest of intentions.

Here are a few rules by which I judge if there is courtesy and respect. I try to use these. Discussing is one thing but belittling or berating others is not acceptable.

1. If you have nothing nice to say, shut up.
2. If you hate someone, tell them personally. We don’t want to know.
3. If you want to be Machiavellian and stir the pot, well then you really think
you’re so witty that no one is catching on as you sit back and lick your paws.
You’ll believe yourself superior, but it’s not very noble either.
4. If you have to show off your intelligence and superior knowledge in a
pedantic manner, then you’re not very secure and it shows.
5. If you have to whine about how much you did and that no one ever notices or
wants you, then no matter your position you’re not doing this for noble means and
maybe there’s another reason no one wants you.
6. If you make yourself a martyr and make sure everyone knows, then expect to
be used that way and not to get sainthood at the end.
7. If you’re getting so out of hand in your vitriol that someone has to smack
your hand, well then maybe it’s time to go to mommy until you grow up.
8. If you can’t be constructive, or don’t know the facts, shut up.

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Writing: Rejection Letters

On one of my writers’ lists we started discussing rejection letters. These have ranged from the ones that say, “I love your novel but have no idea how I would market it,” to form rejections.

In the range of rejections I’ve received is the acceptance letter from a new magazine that said they had “excepted” my story. I thought they had rejected but they hadn’t. Though the magazine didn’t make it to the first issue, I did get paid.

I have had many form rejections along the vein of “Thanks for your submission but it’s not right for us.” Fairly banal and doesn’t tell you anything of why they didn’t accept your poem or story. I have had the form rejections that are annoying and less than helpful. They’re usually the ones that say something like: “Thanks for your submission but we have decided not to accept it. The reason we reject pieces could be grammar, spelling, we’ve seen the plot before, flat characterization, not enough conflict, the editor was drunk, the editor hates stories about X, bad phase of the moon, we’re not paid enough to care, we don’t like you or your little dog too, etc.” Okay, maybe they don’t say all of these things but they may as well because, really, it’s a shot in the dark for any one of the reasons.

Asimov’s used to have a super irritating one for slushpile authors. It inspired me to write a poem about it that Starline published. I gave Gardner Dozois a copy when I met him at a convention, and I did eventually get out of that slushpile and that annoying letter. There have been a few that were downright insulting and snobby. Why editors think they need to do this to authors, I’m not sure but it usually bespeaks of nonprofessionalism in the magazine too.

I received one from a humor publisher done in the form of a breakup letter. I’m sure they thought they were being cute and funny but I would have rejected it for not being humorous at all and I found it more annoying in its coyness than anything else.

Some rejection letters use a checklist where there are boxes with such things as: plot has been done too often, grammatical issues, not enough conflict, characters flat, dialogue unbelievable, etc. The editor then checks the boxes  that pertain to your submission. Many of these letters also have the box that says, just not right for us, which is a valid reason. These rejections are marginally better because they may give you an idea of what doesn’t work in the story. I haven’t seen any of these for a while now. Either I’m getting personal rejections or the places I send work to just don’t use them.

The best rejection is one that says something about why the editor is rejecting a piece. Although this can often be subjective and once in awhile, downright stupid, (editors are people too) more often it will give you an idea of what is stalling the piece. An example of receiving some information and trying to correct the story is displayed by this one piece that I have never managed to sell. It takes place on an alien world with insectoid and larval creatures. I’d send it to one magazine and would be told the story was too alien and the reader couldn’t relate to the creatures. I’d rewrite and send it out to another magazine and receive back a rejection saying my aliens were too human. I did this for a bit, always having it rejected. Then I didn’t bother to rewrite the story in between the submissions and sure enough, one editor would say “too alien” and another “too human.” I’ll probably never sell that story until I’m a famous chestnut. So rejections must be taken with a grain of salt.

In the writers’ group, most of the writers said they’d prefer an informative rejection. Sometimes that rejection, after editors have held the story for a second reading, seems to be less preferable, but then it means I’m getting close. A no-no is to write back to editors and lambaste them for rejecting your piece. Professionals take it as part of the process and we chalk the annoying ones up to part of the experience. I always try, as an editor, to give a reason for rejecting as it hones my own skills and I know how much writers appreciate it. And so far, I have had letters of thank you but no one calling me names for rejecting their piece of genius.

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