Monday, December 22, 2014

The Grinch Was Right

Every December I love to watch the animated version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". The song is hilarious ("You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch") and the animation adorable, but my favorite part is when the Grinch finally "gets it" and his heart grows three sizes, giving him the strength to rescue the falling sled full of stolen decorations and presents.

It occurred to me when we received our 1,000th catalog in the mail the other day that many people chase happiness as if it were something to find or buy or hold in their hands. They haven't yet reached their Grinch moment. I hope they will someday.

Now that I've tasted the bitterness of grief, loneliness, betrayal, cancer, depression, and anxiety, joy is all the sweeter in comparison. It comes from within us, and it is meant to be shared.

How can we find happiness or its deeper expression, joy? It's deceptively simple: being thankful in all circumstances, seeing the good in ourselves and others, giving rather than taking, and putting the needs of others above our own desires.

Here's to your own Grinch moment. May you find joy and spread it to others. After all, it's a gift that never stops giving.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The 10 Best Books I've Read in 2014

Old bookstores are my favorite places to shop. It's like going on a treasure hunt. Kindle books are fine, but there's nothing like the feel of a book, turning pages as you pore over the words and immerse yourself in the story. Although I've read some ebooks this year, all of my favorites I purchased as paperbacks. You'll also notice all of them can technically be termed "fantasy", either epic, urban, or science fiction. And all but one was written by an indie author who is a member of Clean Indie Reads. Here they are in order, from #10 to #1:
10: Ben the Dragonborn by Dianne Astle, an epic fantasy adventure about a boy who discovers who he really is by traveling to a dangerous world of water with mermaids, dragons, and all manner of creepy things.
9: Beyond the Hidden Sky by Marcha Fox, a science fiction adventure written by a scientist which is a coming-of-age story about a strong-willed and talented girl.
8: Alora: The Wander-Jewel by Tamie Dearen, a fantasy about a girl from Earth and a boy from another world who discover they are "soulmates" and will die if they can't stay in physical contact with one another.
7. A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr, book one of an epic fantasy trilogy about the most unlikely hero ever, with writing so superb I could NOT put it down.
6. In the Enemy's Service by Annie Douglass Lima, one book of a fantasy trilogy from the point of view of a girl forced to serve the enemy who has shattered her life.
5. The Gypsy Pearl, Book Two: Craggy by Lia London, second installment of a science fiction trilogy about a ship-bred girl who must save an alien species from destruction by becoming their queen.
4. Prince of Alasia by Annie Douglass Lima, another book of the fantasy trilogy, a coming-of-age story about the young prince who must escape the conquerors who murdered his parents.
3. The Gypsy Pearl, Book One: Caren by Lia London is the first of a science fiction trilogy following the painful adventures of a ship-bred girl who must find a way to unite three worlds and save an alien species.
2. Song of the Mountain by Michelle Isenhoff is a must-read epic fantasy with an Eastern feel which tells the story of an outcast boy, his elderly mentor, and a dragon. This one is Newbery award quality writing.
1. Prince of Malorn by Annie Douglass Lima is the third book of the epic fantasy and a fantastic coming-of-age story about the prince from the conquering nation who was not part of the invasion and must stop it. I love this book so much it has replaced Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong as my all-time favorite YA fantasy!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

If you like to read books that don't make you flinch, check out this great site!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Life's Little Ironies

One definition of irony is "a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result." This is illustrated by two things that have happened in my life in recent years.

Irony #1: The Iron is Mightier than Chemo Brain

Hubby has always liked to look "well-pressed" and since I can do a better job of ironing than he can, it became my job when we first married 36 years ago. But not all irons and ironing boards are created equal, and the frustration of using cheap equipment, scorching pricey dress shirts, and badly burning my arm in a clumsy ironing accident combined to increase my hate for this odious chore.

But when I underwent chemo nearly 10 years ago, the poisons made my brain so foggy I couldn't read or watch a movie or even THINK. Low blood counts drained what little of my energy the nausea didn't steal. Ironing Hubby's clothes while sitting on a stool was the only activity I could always do, which helped me feel like I was accomplishing something, even on the days I felt utterly worthless, pretty much like a burnt piece of toast.

Since then I no longer dread ironing, even if it's a week's worth of clothes; it's a good excuse to listen to music or a chick flick while taming an unruly pile of wrinkled shirts and slacks. (It also helps that Hubby researched irons and found a GOOD one!)

Irony #2: How do I love thee? Let me make some pancakes.

When I was in 8th grade my mother went to work full-time, leaving a weekly chore list for my younger sisters and me. I almost always traded "cooking" for cleaning or laundry because I (1) wasn't very good at cooking, and (2) didn't like it anyway. There was always something more important to do, like practicing my flute or writing stories or drawing pictures or sewing or crafts.

When we first married I tried to impress Hubby with my culinary "skills" but I had so many disasters I soon gave up trying new recipes and just stuck with what I could easily make. This mindless rut preserved my creativity for more satisfying outlets. Cooking was a "waste" of valuable creative time.

Since Hubby and I have been living with his 86 year old father, I've cooked 3 and sometimes 4 meals a day (Hubby and I eat about 6:30 a.m. and Pop doesn't wake up until 8:30 or 9:00). At first I resented having to cook all the time, especially when it was not even in my own kitchen. But something happened. I saw how Pop responded to eating regular meals of healthy, home-cooked food, and I realized that cooking was an expression of love, not just a necessary evil.

Most, if not all, of life's "big" lessons can be learned from the smallest things. Ironic, isn't it?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Art of Listening

This photo shows how I feel: lonely
For years Hubby and I have had a running not-quite-joke. He will ask me, "Whose life story did you hear today?"

Most days I can reply that some total stranger poured out their heart to me, at the doctor's office, the grocery store, etc.  Long ago someone stenciled "sympathetic person" on my forehead, because I seem to attract people who need someone to LISTEN to them.

I often reply I should become a counselor and get paid to listen, but I realized that would never work. From my own recent experience talking to a grief counselor, I now recognize that my own desperate need to find someone who will listen to me makes me empathetic to those with the same need. I could never say at the end of a client's allotted time, "Okay, we'll continue this at your next scheduled appointment."

The need for a listening ear is closely tied to our need to be loved. For isn't the ability to put aside one's own needs in order to truly listen to another a tangible way to demonstrate love?

When I listen, truly listen to someone, I give them my undivided attention. I make direct eye contact, nod or make sure they know I'm still with them, and do NOT think about what I want to say when they pause, or what I need to do in the next hour when this conversation is finished. From what I've witnessed and experienced, this is a rare and precious gift.

Every time I go to a nursing home, I see listless lonely people who no longer feel loved or that anyone cares they are alive. But say "Hi," and ask (genuinely) how they're doing, and watch how their faces become animated. Often I'll be rewarded with a smile and a rambling, even incoherent response, but even that is a connection between one human and another, a vital connection, as vital as breathing.

During the last six weeks my life has been turned upside-down. In that short space of time, since we discovered my 86 year old father-in-law could no longer live alone, we have made the decision to sell our home, buy a bigger one, and combine two households. When I've tried to explain how living 65 miles away with Pop, taking care of him, giving up my regular routine and putting my writing on hold, all while trying to MOVE long distance, has exhausted and often overwhelmed me, I realized how rare is the gift of listening. I've been met with bored looks, glazed eyes, and interruptions to steer the conversation to what they want to tell ME. It has been quite revealing and discouraging.

But then Pop, who has been a virtual recluse for almost ten years, will eagerly tell me interesting stories of his childhood and his Air Force experiences, and I'm able to focus on showing how much I really do care by giving him my undivided attention. I can't change the world, but I can make a difference in the life of this one precious soul, just by practicing the fine art of listening.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Redefining heroism

From my Dad's medal citation
I have an embarrassing confession:  Since I was a small girl I've wanted to do something "heroic."

Save the world from destruction. Invent something to make people's lives better. Make a discovery (historical, archeological, scientific) that would enlighten the knowledge of the ages. There was even a time when I very much wanted to go to Africa as a doctor or at least a nurse and help the suffering children.

Pretty grandiose ideas.  No one could ever accuse me of dreaming too small.  (In fact, my husband used to tease me about all the "hero" dreams I used to have.  He would ask in the mornings, "So, who did you save last night?")

Even into adulthood I had some not-quite-as-grand aspirations of saving this, or fixing that, trying to make things better but always on a scale much larger than my immediate sphere of influence.

Is it because the world only attributes "heroism" to those who perform some mighty deed, such as staying cool under fire and saving lives in a battle or a natural disaster?  Isn't it even more important for each of us to do our best to influence those around us for good?  Smiling at an elderly lady in the grocery store may not seem like much, but what if she'd had a really bad day and felt like no one in the whole world cared?

I never will have the opportunity to become another Mother Teresa or Albert Schweitzer.  But that's okay.  There's been other work for me to do that will never be "recognized" but is just as important.  I now believe that heroism is, at least in part, how we treat the most helpless among us.

To paraphrase Jesus when He commended an otherwise unremarkable woman, "She has done what she could." (Mark 14:8)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All Good Things

Me as a fifer
After marching as a Colonial Militia fifer in the September 12, 2009 march in Washington, D.C., I realized what a great living history lesson could be had wearing period costumes and playing period music from our nation's founding.  I went home and shared my excitement with my home school band students, and several of them wanted to join me in forming our own fife and drum corps.
Our 1st gig October 2009 for the Conservative Lunch Bunch
All I knew about a fife and drum corps was what the Delaware corps had taught me in our several hours together in D.C. I read everything I could find plus watched many youtube videos of competitive F&D corps as well as more amateur groups of children to get ideas. From our humble beginnings we gradually added a uniform and better instruments.
December 2009 Christmas parade--it was 32 degrees here!
"Washington Crossing the Delaware" float followed us
The many groups we played with or for didn't seem to mind that we weren't "professional." They were thrilled that a group of homeschooled children were willing to dress up and play Yankee Doodle, British Grenadiers, Rally 'Round the Flag, Chester, the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and God Bless America. For our first (Christmas) parade in nearby Boerne, Texas we asked my tall, handsome, noble-looking husband to be our General Washington, and he eventually had a more authentic costume, too, once I learned the hang of the very complicated 18th century coat pattern.
Before the local April 15, 2010 tax day tea party rally
September 11, 2010 memorial at courthouse
Our reputation grew, and we were invited to Houston four hours away for a large Tea Party rally in which we marched with a man who is a SERIOUS George Washington re-enactor.  He has his own white ponytail and a white horse!
General Washington in Houston
"Our" General Washington who's a good sport & wears a wig
We marched in parades and to open various events, once for the Daughters of the American Revolution, and twice for the Sons of the American Revolution.  Our last performance was in March 2012 for the SAR State Convention.  After that the students were all just too busy to devote so much time to this venture, especially when it appeared that we were going to have more and more requests.  I still occasionally get requests more than two years later!
When Governor Perry came to town (behind me)
Our only formal "portrait" (I'm front row, far left)
I still have my fife, and I still practice it.  I'll probably never have another chance to participate in a group this cool again, but it does help me keep my piccolo embouchure in shape, and the piercing sounds of "Yankee Doodle" bring back a whole lot of fond memories.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mrs. Jones Goes to Washington

In the summer of 2009 I heard about a march and rally protesting out-of-control government spending and unconstitutional mandates being organized for September 12 in Washington D.C. and decided I wanted to go. I had bought a T-shirt and cap that said "We the People" and was deciding what kind of sign to make when I heard there was to be a group of Colonial-era re-enactors, including a fife and drum corps, who were to lead the march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the rally at the U.S. Capitol. I emailed the man organizing the re-enactors and told him I was a professional piccolo player, and could I join them? He said to dress as a Colonial militiaman and meet them in Freedom Plaza at 9:00 a.m.

After a little research I put together a costume on short notice, and bought a purse big enough to carry my piccolo on the plane with me. I explained to the TSA guys on both flights that the funny-looking case in my purse was a piccolo. One of them said, "Hmm, we don't see many of those."

I stayed with my aunt, who lived in Fairfax, Virginia, and she took me to the metro station to catch the 7:00 train, so we had to leave her house at 6:30 (remember that time….). The train was FULL of people going to the march, many with signs, patriotic shirts and hats, but I was the only person in "period costume" so I got a lot of attention. Everyone I met that day was so friendly and eager to say where they were from. It turns out there were people from ALL 50 states at the march and rally!
Me with the dark brown waistcoat
I arrived at Freedom Plaza (just east of the White House) at 7:45 and already there were hundreds of people waiting for the start of the march. I found our "leader" and a group of re-enactors from Georgia. They had wonderful costumes, much better than mine. There were five musicians in the group: one drummer, one fifer who also played piccolo (and knew what she was doing), her husband who was shaky but reliable on fife, and two beginners. Fortunately a four-person fife and drum outfit from Delaware showed up who REALLY knew what they were doing. We would not have sounded so great without them!
The fife and drum corps from Delaware
The march wasn't supposed to begin until 11:30, but there were SO many thousands of people crowding the two block wide plaza, spilling into the streets and adjoining blocks that the police said we had to begin at 9:30 just to relieve the "congestion"! So our "fearless leader" led the march, followed by his "sargeant-at-arms" who gave the commands (we had to MARCH like a regular militia unit), and then our fife and drum "corps" followed marching in a single line across the street (I was on the end on the south side).
Halting in front of the Capitol
Photo op in front of Capitol
Not only did we play "Yankee Doodle" (and I now know the "authentic" version) but "Rally Around the Flag," "Rakes of Mallow," and several other songs. I learned the "fife up" drill, and then had to guess what key we were playing in and "sight-read" (actually "hear-read") while marching in step, avoiding people getting in our way, AND breathing! It had been a l-o-n-g time since I was in a marching band....

We marched to the front just below the Capitol steps. Eventually we had to move farther back, but we still had a great view of the speakers. Each and every person present was an average American--young, old, black, white, brown, male, female, and many had never done anything like it before. Many carried creative and original signs, others carried flags: American, "Don't Tread on Me," and many, many states' flags. It was inspiring to see flags from nearly every state!

The national news reported that there were only "60,000" people, but that is NOT true. There were easily 1.5 million, maybe more. There was a SEA of people from the Capitol all the way to the Washington Monument, plus there were people spilled out to either side of the Capitol and way down all the other streets! It was an absolutely amazing sight!

The most moving moment for me was when we all sang the National Anthem---a million voices raised together! Wow!

We shouted ourselves hoarse cheering (and sometimes booing) as well as chanting "U.S.A." but the atmosphere was more like a gigantic pep rally, not an "angry mob." It was so encouraging that so many came from so far to participate, and many of the speakers (a black Marine, I felt, was the very best) were outstanding and spoke from the heart. Periodically a lady came to the mike and said, "Nancy Pelosi, can you hear us now?" and we would FILL the air with noise!!!

I did leave at 3:00 p.m. There were more speakers yet to come, but after being on my feet since 7:30 I was exhausted. I hadn't seen a bathroom since 6:30 so hadn't been drinking my water and gatorade like I should have, so I thought I'd head back before it got so crowded that I would collapse. Even so, enough of the others were also leaving that I had to wait 45 minutes at the metro station for the train (after walking more than a mile back from the Capitol) and when a train finally came had to stand crammed like a sardine for the almost one hour ride back to Fairfax. The train was slower than usual. Everyone was very kind and patient, though, even though most of them were just as tired as I was.

By the time I got back to my aunt's house it was 5:30. Eleven hours is a l-o-n-g time without a bathroom. Yikes!

I'm SO thankful I was able to go and dress up and play my piccolo and be a part of such an amazing event with a couple million fellow American patriots. And I was so inspired I went home and formed a fife and drum corps, but that's the subject of another blog entry….

This is a video one of the re-enactors made. Near the beginning you can see (and hear) me--I had a long brown ponytail back then! Once the march begins I'm on the far end, the only one with a dark brown waistcoat.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

One reporter's idea of an "arty pose"
In 1994 I published a short article with an American History magazine for kids (Cobblestone) about the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. I found the subject so fascinating I wanted to write a book for children so they could learn about my new heroes. When I couldn't interest any big publishing houses, I found a small one that marketed primarily to schools and libraries, since I really was more interested in sharing this remarkable story with children than making a "name" for myself.

The publisher was good about marketing to schools and libraries, but I decided to try to sell a few more copies by setting up book signings. The first one was at the local independent bookstore in our small town.
Invite to the local booksigning (my first)
Thankfully I had ordered quite a few copies directly from the publisher (at 50%) because the bookstore manager only bought ten copies, which were sold out in the first few minutes. I asked my husband and son to run home and bring the box of books I'd just received from the publisher. Thanks to my alert nine-year-old son (who counted the copies of my books) I wasn't shorted at the end, because the bookstore manager didn't count them correctly!
First presentation at a San Antonio Barnes & Noble
I quickly developed a presentation and discovered I could sell many more books after people heard the story (and my excitement). I didn't set out to do a lot of presentations, but word spread and I had more and more invitations.
First book signing at SA B&N with proud hubby & son
Then in 2002 the movie "Windtalkers" came out. Prior to the opening, a new World War II museum in San Antonio contacted me about doing two presentations in conjunction with the opening weekend of the movie, in order to generate interest in their museum. The local Hastings bookstore also contacted me, and I set up a presentation with them for the day after the ones at the San Antonio museum. Usually they advertised book signings with the author's name on the marquee, but I asked them to put "Navajo Code Talkers" since my name isn't a household word, and I thought it might tie in with the movie, too.
One of many ads for the museum event
I had NO expectation of what happened that weekend. The museum had its own PR director, who set up a radio interview, an interview with the San Antonio Express-News, and a TV interview at 5:15 in the MORNING (which meant I had to leave my house about 3:45 in the morning to make sure I could find it and not be late--my son came too on this different kind of homeschool "field trip"). As a result of all this publicity, I sold (and autographed--ouch) more than 300 books over the two days, and after a book signing at a San Antonio Barnes & Noble the following Saturday was featured on TV again, on another station. (Boy are those lights BRIGHT.)
Article in San Antonio Express-News
You know what I learned from this experience? (1) Interviewers hear what they want to hear and never report things 100% accurately, (2) don't take yourself too seriously, and (3) don't try to smile just a little bit; smile with your whole face and the picture will turn out much better.
I'm just very thankful that because of my feeble efforts many people, children as well as adults, learned the true story of the Navajo Code Talkers.

P.S. About those reporter inaccuracies: The radio guy wasn't happy that I was "just a children's author" so he later identified me as "one of the original Code Talker historians" which is totally inaccurate and really annoyed me for a very long time....after all, I was only 11 years old when the Navajo Code was declassified.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Reality of Survivor Guilt

Me at 2007 Relay for Life; 2 yrs remission
What is "survivor guilt"?

The WebMD site defines it this way:  "Survivor guilt derives from situations where persons have been involved in a life-threatening event and lived to tell about it (such as Holocaust survivors, war veterans, rescue workers, transplant recipients, relatives spared from hereditary illnesses, and long-term survivors of acute and chronic illnesses).  In the special case of chronic illness, survivor guilt can occur after the deaths of peers who faced the same diagnosis."

After seeing one of Don Trioani's Civil War paintings, I realized why battle survivors feel guilty that they lived when so many of their comrades died.  In many instances, surviving the bullets, shrapnel, etc. can be a matter of luck so it's easy to see how survivors would think, "Why them and not me?"

In the last nine years since surviving aggressive and atypical non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, I too feel an unreasonable guilt when those I know and love (and even some total strangers) succumb to cancer.  I think, "Why them and not me?"  These feelings can really drag you down into a hole depression and despair if you let them.  You can waste precious time wringing your hands instead of rejoicing that you're still alive, or as my Dad used to say, "on the right side of the dirt."

Last year my beloved, full-of-life sister-in-law died from cancer that had become widespread before it was even diagnosed.  It seemed so unfair that she be cut down when she had so much more life to live, but she died at peace with herself and with God, and that certain knowledge has helped me more than anything.

Now when I begin to think, "Why him/her and not me?" I just imagine Charlotte's Tennessee twang scolding me and saying, "Now, Sis, it's just not your time yet.  You have work to do before you can join me."
Charlotte and me 1995--thanks, Sis!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Little Book That Could

Sometime around 1990 my writer friend and fellow bibliophile gave me a copy of Pauline Baynes' Good King Wenceslas. This simple picture book fired up my imagination, and I wanted to know MORE about this young man, since there was obviously a great story beyond the scene portrayed in the Christmas carol.

I did a lot of old-fashioned research, reading everything I could find about Wenceslas. I found a copy of a rare book through interlibrary loan--a "Life of Saint Wenceslas" published in 1929, the thousand year anniversary of his death. I discovered this 10th century ruler had been a duke, not a king, and his Czech name was Vaclav. I decided to write his story through the eyes of a servant boy.
Another great NF source

I first submitted a summary and sample chapters to an agent I met at a writer's conference.

The manuscript won first place in our local writer's guild contest.
I received a lot of good feedback from editors, but no one wanted to publish it. Since I'd immersed the reader in the raw, gritty tenth century where human sacrifice and slavery and all kinds of yucky stuff was going on, it was either too raw or too Christian.
Editor critique at SCBWI conference, later rejected

Eerdman's wanted to publish it, and held it for about three years, but they finally went with a "safer" picture book version that merely illustrated the Christmas carol. My manuscript must have influenced the artist, though, because it's the only one featuring a young "Good King" Wenceslas.
Then I was distracted by cancer and working on Leandra's Enchanted Flute while poetry gushed from me in every possible form, so I didn't do much with the manuscript for almost ten years.

Then my energetic writer friend, Sally learned that Pauline Books & Media was publishing fiction, and I sent a query. They had actually rejected this story in 1994, but I'd always thought they would be the best publisher because Wenceslas is the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

Pauline asked to see the whole manuscript, and a few weeks later asked if I could make Poidevin a little older when the story began (he was originally eight years old) so they could fit it in their YA catalog. The oldest I felt I could make him was twelve, since Wenceslas/Vaclav was fourteen, and they liked it and sent a rather intimidating marketing survey for me to fill out.

That worried me a little since I still haven't learned the secret to successful marketing, but I ran it by my critique group, and they said it looked great and gave me some more ideas. I didn't hear back for a few more weeks so began to worry they weren't going to publish it after all, but the office manager sent an eleven page contract, and a follow up email from the YA editor I'll be working with gave a tentative publishing date of January 1, 2016.

All of that was pretty exciting, but it was even more exciting when I received a thick packet of information and a "Welcome to Pauline Books & Media." I think I better understand Sally Field's Oscar gush, "You like me! Right now you like me!"
Years between first submission and acceptance: 22
Rejections received: 17

Stay tuned for more updates as this publishing process progresses! (Alliteration intentional....)

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Good Thing About Rejection

A recent comment by a new writer acquaintance made me realize that receiving rejection slips is not the same as it used to be. Indie writers who self-publish without first trying to navigate the publishing jungle as well as new writers who are dealing with editors and agents and their "if you don't hear back from us in xx weeks, consider yourself rejected" policy do not share a common experience with me and other older writers. (Eek, I said it--I am one of the "older writers" now.)
My 1st reject--on a yellow sticky note from 1985
Even though I'd written short stories and poetry since third grade, I didn't begin to write seriously for publication until 1985. I was prolific then, churning out fantasy and science fiction stories as well as a few children's stories as fast as I could write them. I usually let my writer's group read them before sending them out to magazines, but sometimes I was premature in my excitement.
1st reject for my 1st novel
While I was writing dozens and dozens of short stories, I also began researching and writing my first novel, which was (thankfully) never published. Most of my rejects for that one were form letters, but the first rejection was a personally typed letter. Those types of rejections are always encouraging, because busy editors will NOT take the time to give you feedback unless they believe you have some hope of developing into a better and publishable writer.
Over the years I sent multiple stories to the same encouraging editors, hoping one of the stories would "connect." But alas, it took me over 600 rejections (yes, you read that correctly) and 7 years of writing, writing, writing and improving my craft to finally receive an acceptance.
Some editors are brief.
Some have neat handwriting!
This one always wrote real letters! (And did buy one of my fantasy stories.)
This one had a manual typewriter & really skimped on paper.
Form postcard with added note.
Form letter with brief encouraging note.
Sometimes the reason has nothing to do with the writing.
Sometimes they'll suggest other publishing houses.
I now have over 1,000 rejections crammed in an overfull folder (which I used to take to school author visits to show students the "reality" of publishing, but I may have to rethink that). The majority of them are "form letters" with no feedback.
Some form rejects are sort of "personalized"...
And others not--just stuffed in a SASE.
But those several editors who took just a few minutes to share positive feedback with a young and clueless writer encouraged me to keep writing, keep polishing, keep improving, and NOT give up submitting until I found the right editor/magazine/publisher for each publishable project. I now view my seven year journey to publication as my apprenticeship; in a way, these wonderful editors "mentored" me.

For all the acceptances I've had over the last 22 years, there are many more submissions that were never accepted: Some because they weren't good enough to merit publication, but others simply because of bad luck or timing. After all, good ideas happen simultaneously to more than one writer, and whoever "gets there first" is the one published.

And sometimes a well-written project just has to wait until the right time--but that's a subject for another blog. (Anyway, I'd rather wait until I have the signed contract returned and the advance check in hand before I write about that book's long journey. Stay tuned!)