There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?
I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.
Why? Everything has a story.
And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.
EPISODE 17: REJECTION SLIPS, PART TWO: BURN THE REST!
A rejection slip goes up in flames in my writing buddy Al’s fireplace, February 23, 2008.
In a recent conversation thread on LinkedIn, several writers were sharing the best and worst rejection slips we’d ever gotten. Although I remembered a few of the worst ones (Lunch Hour Stories told me that little boys would NEVER torture bugs or caterpillars, and so how dare I put that in a story?), the funny ones (I once got one that said, “HAVE A HAPPY DAY!” at the end of it), and the best ones (either signed by someone really cool, full of compliments or offering helpful feedback), I knew that I could have more actively participated in the conversation had I not burned—that’s right—burned—most of my rejection slips.
Saying goodbye doesn’t always mean just saying goodbye to objects. Sometimes it’s saying goodbye to an era, a group of friends, even an annual event. In this case, it’s all three.
In the summer of 2003, I founded a writer’s group called Pencils! Writing Workshop in Norwalk, CT (our original website is still up here: www.pencilswritingworkshop.com, although I will tell you that the layout is nowhere near what it was due to the fact that when I set up the site, it was Google Pages, which changed over to Google Sites in 2009). While the group’s main focus was to meet twice a month to critique work, its secondary aim was to create a community of like minds who could gather socially, attend conferences, and embark on writing-related outings.
(Note: if you visit the Pencils! website may see some of the copy you’re about to read over there. It’s okay—I wrote that stuff, so I’m only plagiarizing myself).
One Valentine’s Day in 2005, when the weather had dipped below zero, five Pencils! who had nothing to do decided to gather around a fireplace with a couple of bottles of wine and a plate of pepperoni and cheese. Somehow we got the idea that, because of theHoliday, we should bring our rejection slips and share them.
What started as a share and wallow became a banishment of our angst and negativity toward rejection—after taking a few minutes to explain our frustrations and anger, we hurled our slips into the burning fire.
We couldn’t believe how great we felt afterward—unburdened, ready for another round of submissions. We dubbed the night “The Rejection Slip Burning Party,” and the difference it made in giving us the courage to go forwardthrough another year of submitting our work was so positive we made the party a Pencils! annual tradition.
There aren’t any pictures from that first event in 2005—it truly was a last-minute thing; I think we just all agreed to grab a snack and BYOB and meet at someone’s house at 5 p.m. But it was the start of something that grew exponentially, something to which everyone looked forward—and what was really great was that you could only come if you had submitted your work the previous year and had at least one rejection. Over time, the evening became an incentive—people who never would have had the courage to submit anything otherwise started sending out their work.
So, I share these photos of the four rejection slip burning events we had after 2005, and in doing that, I say goodbye to the era of mid-winter burnings with my writing friends in New England.
2nd Annual March Against Rejection 2006
A screen shot of the 2006 invitation. It was the "March Against Rejection" that year since the gathering had to be on March 4 instead of the usual mid-February due to a blizzard! No matter, we got that fire burning hot -- and our disappointments down to ash!
Al's FABULOUS sparkly fire! He bought the color powder so our unhappiness would go out in all the colors of the rainbow.
Kathryn, humorist and columnist, and Al, science fiction writer and our gracious host. Kathryn went on to pursue her MFA at Sarah Lawrence, have her humor columns published in numerous magazines including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and is now a professor at Quinnipiac College.
Writers at work! Jen, journalist and webmistress; Al, seated on couch; Peter Duveen, magazine freelancer who traveled to the Far East pretty frequently; and Kathryn, who was reading the rejection that pissed her off most!
3rd Annual REJECT-A-RAMA 2007
A screen shot of the 2007 invitation. Once I found I liked this layout, I just did it year-in and year-out and only changed the necessary information and the color scheme. Doing that also provided a “branding,” so that when members received it in the mail (yes, even though we used e-mail, invitations to events were sent via postal—made it more special) they knew what to expect from the event.
The 2007 rejection gathering, held on February 10, was a smash hit and saw a jump in attendance from five people to twelve. Amid shouts of “Burn It!” and some other things not appropriate for the web, feelings of anger, hopelessness and frustration went up in smoke.
The candles at the center of the buffet table.
What would ANY Valentine's Day be without candy hearts?
Hostess Maryann lets her hair down!
Our host, Al. At the time he joined Pencils!,Al was writing short stories in the science fiction and fantasy genres; his short story “Lucerange” was included in the Pencils! Writing Workshop anthology Every Other Tuesday. His most popular story, though, is called “The Christmas Man.” Al is definitely a Christmas enthusiast—it’s his passion, and it spills over into his basement woodworking shop, where he makes ornaments, sleds, and all manner of hand-crafted Christmas gifts. Al has also just completed the third rewrite of a fantasy novel he’s been working on for several years. Since this photo was taken in 2008, he has managed to read nearly all the classic novels including Moby Dick, Great Expectations, The Three Musketeers, and The Man in the Iron Mask. He’s the only guy I know who purchased one of those home library collections and really did read every single one!
Pencils! supporter and friend Andrea expresses dismay at someone’s rejection story, though I don’t remember whose. She and her husband, Jim, are close friends of Al and were frequently at Pencils! gatherings.
Since this is part of The Goodbye Project, I should probably mention that I still had these paper hearts up until a couple of months ago. Hey, party stores can be expensive, and if the stuff’s in good shape, you might as well re-use it. However, great shape or not, I’m not paying to move these to Florida!
Maryann and I always put out a nice spread, and we always enjoyed shopping together. That year we did typical hors d’eouvres. The half of the table in the foreground is empty because Pencils! members always brought a dish to share, so we had to leave room. I should also note here that Maryann’s talented in her own right—she does beautiful, creative centerpieces and flower arrangements and party theme design.
Vance, who writes mysteries set in the Italian Renaissance as well as shorter nostalgia pieces, kicks off the night with his turn to burn! Kathryn looks on.
I don’t exactly remember the exchange here, but I think Vance and Kathryn had had the same rejection experience with the same publisher. I seem to recall something like that.
Vance presents: "And do you think they'd at LEAST have the courtesy to use a FULL sheet of PAPER?" At left, me, and at right, Kathryn, laugh it up.
Joyce, a memoirist and travel writer who is working on a novel set in the 1950s, expresses her disappointment over a slip from a certain Review.
Al: What's this? We found this yummy box of very expensive cookies on the front porch when we got home from shopping that afternoon, but we didn't know who it was from! "Please tell me," he said, "that one of you dropped this on the way in." We said "no," and of course LOTS of wild theories presented themselves. (We found out later it was VERY thoughtful member Yvonne, who at the last minute could not attend.)
Both Al and Maryann had to take a turn posing with the cookies.
Jen, a journalist who now works for NJ.com, and Vance enjoy a snack.
Cally, who wrote short pieces about a country in which she spent a great deal of time—Greece—is a lot like me—always talking with her hands.
Chatting it up! Left to right, Al, Vance, and Cally near the bar. I just love Al’s expression here. It says it all about what that night was like.
Here’s me, all dolled up in a very appropriate pink and red. I just got rid of those earrings last week, and the hair band three weeks ago—the earrings I’m just not into wearing anymore, and the hair band was broken.
Pencils!’ newest member at the time, Jerry, who writes mystery and crime stories, welcomes Andrea, who’s just been invited in by Maryann.
We never had many leftovers at these parties; it always seemed like it was just the right amount. Here, Cally and Andrea have pulled away from the main crowd in the living room to enjoy some conversation.
I have no idea what rejection story Cally was sharing here, but it doesn’t look like it was pleasant.
Kathryn takes a moment to smile for the camera and show how much better she feels now that she’s gotten rid of her rejections.
I know. Jen is one of my closest friends and one of the things I love about her is she loves to clown around. She totally couldn’t resist posing between these hearts.
Our newest Pencils! member and mystery/crime/suspense writer Jerry, who presents his only rejection slip thusfar -- oddly enough, one from Pencils!, a private e-mail he wasn't supposed to receive! (I reacted a little badly to his first queries about joining the group; I'll admit it. Today, he’s one of my best friends and trusted feedback provider.) Ouch! I was HOSED! Pretty funny. Everybody had a laugh.
Jim, a Pencils! supporter and friend, chills out with a glass of wine.
I just love Joyce’s expression here. She looks like she was having a great time.
Kathryn tells her own horror story. Always funny, even when annoyed!
No, I’m not really that tired—just looks like someone caught me in the middle of a sentence when I was blinking. That was getting on in the evening, though, and so I probably was getting tired. Maryann and I had, as usual, been running around all day getting prepared.
Kathryn heads to the bar area.
Maryann and I would always purchase plates and cups in an appropriate theme. Believe it or not, I just used up these napkins (we’d bought way too many) in the past couple of weeks. One of the processes of The Goodbye Project is using up all those paper goods that everyone seems to have leftover from parties.
The 2008 event, held on February 23, was the most well-attended and celebratory burning of them all. Highlights? For starters, somebody got ballsy and burned a bestseller (We have proven over time that just because it is a bestseller does not mean that it has the best, or even decent, writing.) Someone else brought an entire BAG of slips to burn. And the capper? Well, the Pencils! gave me a great big surprise that was so awesome I couldn’t even accurately express my gratitude; basically, I was stepping down from many of my duties as founder and moderator of Pencils! that year because I had my hands full with my MFA.
Your hostesses: me, left, Maryann, right. The party was held at Al and Maryann’s for the third year in a row.
Me, left, and Yasmine, Pencils! supporter and friend. Yasmine is an actress who had come to the party bearing the good news that she’d gotten a part she wanted – so, here, I suspect the two of us are more than a little "winey"!
The 2008 buffet was desserts only—we wanted to do something other than the same old hors d’eouvres. We decided to start the party later, around 9, to make the dessert service work as an after-dinner event. Now that I think about it, that’s probably why we got such great attendance—it was later on a Saturday evening.
The black and white cookies have been a favorite of mine since I was a little girl. These aren’t as good as the ones that Dad used to get from the deli down the street every Sunday morning (the guy had them brought up fresh from NYC every week), but they’re close enough. Heck, I only eat the vanilla half anyway. It’s true. I was never a fan of the chocolate.
Hostess Maryann sweetened the deal with lots of sugary goodies!
Yasmine enjoys dessert before the party begins. I remember it was a pretty cold night, so that fire was toasty!
From left, the late David Roberson (standing), Maryann, and Jerry. Dave passed away suddenly in 2010. He was a science fiction writer who achieved the honor of being accepted to Breadloaf, but had many other passions: he was heavily involved in political activities in Greenwich, CT, and had worked at the NASA Johnson Space Center. He had a great sense of humor, especially about SF writing. I miss him.
From left, me, Tom Barker, who writes humor stories as well as science fiction and is now working on writing nonfiction about motorcross, John, horror writer and filmmaker, and Joyce. We’d usually sit around and chat before the actual ceremony got started.
Another view of the guests: the gentlemen waving in the chair is a friend of a Pencils! member, Al (standing against the wall), Dave, Maryann, and Jerry. I can tell by the position of Jerry’s hands that he was expressing a strong opinion. The original caption I’d written for this picture on the Pencils! website reads: Left to right, Michael, Al, Dave, and Maryann listen to Jerry complain about the state of the publishing industry. Why not?
That’s me, kicking off the festivities.
Burn, baby, burn! All flames burn hotter following a good long smolder...
I love this picture; it’s such a nice shot of the thing literally going up in flames.
Dave smiles for the camera. I really miss him. We used to have the most interesting conversations about the state of science fiction and tons of other things.
Joyce. It looks like she's hearing something horrible, doesn't it?
Roger. At the time he joined Pencils! he was working on a memoir about his retirement. It was his first burn with us, and it looks like he’s enjoying it! He had a few things to burn, too...good ones. We like those!
Now THAT'S the spirit! An entire BAGGY! Way to go, Lon Prater, sci-fi and horror writer extraordinaire! Yes, he’s the one who brought the whole bag of rejection slips, and it was incredible to watch. Lon now lives in Pensacola, FL, so I’m looking forward to being in the same state. Maybe we can get some kind of horror organization going down there, since at the moment, I don’t think there is one.
Joyce—it looks like I caught her by surprise.
John shares...this was a particularly important one, if I recall...
Is Maryann having a little too much fun?
John had lots to say...and more than a couple of things to burn. Just look at how happy he is! I'd say this is gleeful.
Roger socks it to 'em!
Left to right, Al, Yvonne, who was writing an ecothriller, and Dave watch things burn.
Lon's got piles...he's only just begun...
My pile of things to burn.
Lon gets started…lots to burn…
It's Joyce's turn...and boy does she have her say!
Maryann listens in.
Dave's got yet ANOTHER great story!
Lon and Roger share a hearty laugh. I believe it was during John's rejection story. Which had a fair element of $%^&*#@ you in it!
Dave tosses some of his in the fire.
Dave had a true winner...the rejection slip in his hand was his fault, he says...because he never changed the name of the magazine in the letter he sent out. OOPS!! I know I've done that at least once...maybe twice...depends on how much I've been drinking...
Dave brought quite a few that year, as I recall.
Jerry shifts the party’s focus—the group gives me a “goodbye” and “thank you” gift!
I’m standing in the archway with John and Yasmine, watching Jerry, and clearly I’m clueless.
Pencils! Writing Workshop outdoes themselves…
Well, here it is…the big surprise. Jerry headed the whole thing up, and the story goes way back to December, when Jerry apparently sent out an e-mail about surprising me with a gift — and he didn’t realize one of my other e-mail addresses was on the “cc” list! I did read the e-mail, but discreetly ditched it and said nothing.
At that time, my Dad was really going downhill. In fact, I came home pretty depressed on a Friday night…my family was descending that weekend, the weekend before Christmas, to go spend time with him in the hospital. I stopped to get the mail and there was a card in my mailbox from Pencils!. I thought it was going to just be a Christmas card.
I was so overwhelmed with happiness when I opened it to see everyone’s signatures…and a gift card for Disney (they all know I go to Disney World at least once a year!). I just started to cry. Good tears! Here’s what I received on that cold, depressing day. I’ve gotta tell you, there aren’t really words to express how brightening and emotional this was. It made me realize that I’ve got the best thing in the world…good friends. And they’re hard to find.
In case you’re wondering, “Kaye” is my nickname. Several people know me by it, and when I move toFloridait’s likely the nickname I’ll use.
Here’s the envelope the Christmas card came in. The return address is Borders Wilton, where we were meeting at that time.
The front of the card.
The card’s interior. What’s really cool about this is the group did it through Zazzle, and so all of their signatures are different. It was a great way to do it, since Pencils! members were from a widespread area—everyone could e-mail whatever they wanted to say to the coordinator and whoever it was could order the card online.
The card’s back.
The Disney Gift Card Cover.
The Disney Gift Card Interior.
The Disney Gift Card Back.
Now, fast forward to our rejection slip burning on February 23. They totally shocked me with this other gift — because they realized that I had probably seen the first gift and therefore wasn’t surprised enough, the card and gift card in December were just a “Decoy!” Several Pencils! members pointed out that Jerry is so good at this stuff that if he wanted to overthrow a country, he could probably do it.
What did they give me? Well, besides a REALLY cool card with pencils on the cover –which meant so much to me because it just proves that great art comes from great people — it was another gift card to Disney World, and dinner with Lorraine Warren — someone I’ve always wanted to spend time with but never got the opportunity!
The card’s cover. I love the whole idea behind this card cover, because we had a slogan among ourselves: once a Pencil!, always a Pencil!
The card’s interior.
Disney Gift Card Cover.
Disney Gift Card Interior.
Disney Gift Card Back.
Lorraine Warren Gift Card Front.
Lorraine Warren Gift Card Back.
So, here’s me, being stunned:
After the big surprise, there was another one. Jerry decided to burn a bestseller. With good reason. The first few sentences were so poorly written, why pass it on to anyone else?
Jerry, on why crap should not be allowed to exist -- although, he didn't really need to justify it. At least, not to us!
“This is a piece of crap,” said Jerry, blithely. (Every tag line in this book had an adverb like that. I swear to God.)
Our hosts, Al & Maryann, yukkin' it up!
Bestselling crap in the fire! And, oh, what a nice pile of rejections it had to fuel its deserved demise...
5th Annual Rejection Slip Pyre & Potluck 2009
This was Pencils!’ last rejection burning event, and it was held at my house inDanburyas a luncheon on March 14, 2009. Several Pencils! were in attendance, but having it inDanburyallowed some other writer-friends who live locally to come on by and share in the festivities.
At right, Kay Cole, a Pencils! member whom I met through the original Truth & Lies writing group that met at Barnes & Noble in Danbury, and me.
Tom Barker, and, at right, Henderson Cole. Henderson, at the time, was working on a science fiction novel, but he had also published a book on theory and wrote many opinion pieces that were printed in The News-Times (our local paper).
The favors. Anyone who’s been to any kind of party at my house that has to do with a theme can tell you there are usually favors given out.
Nathan—who was pretty much responsible for Pencils!, and funny enough, Pencils! is responsible for us. In June, 2003, he was the Community Resource Manager for the Barnes & Noble store inNorwalk. He scheduled our first Pencils! meeting for July 15, 2003. That’s the day Nathan and I met. The rest is history.
Tom enjoys a soda.
Henderson breaks the ice and is our first presenter. Here, he presents a rejection slips from (if I remember correctly) a publishing house for his book, which, at that time, he had already had published with another house. Persistence pays off!
Obviously I’m horrified by Tom’s rejection story.
Tom chucks his stuff in the fire.
Rob Mayette, fellow writer and friend of mine since childhood, presents his rejection slips. Just a few months later, we would start up the magazine Read Short Fiction. In fact, I’m thinking that some ideas for Read Short Fiction may have been discussed later that night, after most had left.
Leon, a poet who had been with Pencils! since its inception in 2003.
Nathan chills out and listens in.
Jen has a laugh.
Henderson listens to Rob’s story.
Leon, left, and Kay.
The fire. Nathan is great at building fires, so we had a nice one going!
Rob gets rid of his rejections!
Nathan had pens for everyone in the group. They were nice expensive ones.
Nathan gives out his pens.
Maureen, photographer, stopped by later on to have a glass of wine and put a cap on the final Pencils! Rejection Slip Burning Event.
A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of both the New England Horror Writers and the Horror Writers Association. Follow her adventures at kristipetersenschoonover.com.