One candid rejection letter

April 10, 1928. Publisher Angus & Robertson Ltd. in Sydney, Australia sends this letter to Frederick Charles Meyer of Katoomba:

Dear Sir,

No, you may not send us your verses, and we will not give you the name of another publisher. We hate no rival publisher sufficiently to ask you to inflict them on him. The specimen poem is simply awful. In fact, we have never seen worse.

 Yours faithfully,



The letter was brought to public attention in 2017 when Letters of Note shared it on their Twitter page.

Frederick Charles Meyer apparently didn’t give up but published Pearls of the Blue Mountains of Australia on his own in 1929, followed by Jewels of Mountains and Snowlines of New Zealand in 1934, and Bijoux of Mountains and Valleys of Tasmania in 1940.


A couple of his poems were among the contestants in a bad poetry competition run by Scoop magazine in 2001. He didn’t win.

A few lines from “My Pet Dog” by F.C. Meyer:

“Pluto! come here my dearest little dog,
Don’t get mixed up with every rogue,
And do not run into a fog…”

Angus & Robertson, now Angus & Robertson Bookworld, is still in business, selling books to Australians, as they have done since 1886.

WordPress Daily Prompt: Candid

10 short-short stories

Brighten your horizon with a short story, “a perfect companion to a cup of coffee,” to quote myself from another post. Here are ten short stories to take you into the weekend, and maybe give you the inspiration to write your own stories and submit them to the many short story sites out there:

Bed Hole Syndrome, by Carla Lancken: “The day I was fired I came home, undressed, and went to bed for five years.”

First Flight, by Bobby Warner: “Folks called her Old Witch, and she was Timmy’s friend. … ‘Would you like to fly?’ she asked.”

The Postcard, by Arleane Ralph: “Contractors discovered the postcard upon pulling out the kitchen cabinetry.”

Painting the Sea, by Conor Kelly: “My father paints the sea. That is how I remember him.”

I’m With the Band, by David Cook: “The drummer battered away at his kit with venomous incompetence…”

The Painter’s Wife, by Brian Castleberry: “The poet had been sleeping with the painter’s wife for three months…”

A Royal Feast (aka Eat Your Vegetables), by Iain Kelly: “Gefjun brought the feast to the table. Her husband, Skjöldr, son of Odin, sat silently in his anger.”

Sky Love, by Emily Manno: “What a magnificent thing, to fly in the clouds.”

That Girl, by Heather Beecher Hawk: “My first real boyfriend, Alan … he asked me to meet his family…”

Required Summer Reading, by Kimberly Tolson: “My grandma kept her pocket paperback romance novels in the scary spare room…”

WordPress Daily Prompt: Horizon

Photo: ismagilov/

The flight of the creative mind

“…my mind takes flight like a butterfly.”

In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French original: Le Scaphandre et le Papillon), Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952–1997) reminds us that whatever circumstances, the mind is free like a butterfly, even if the body is locked inside a diving bell. He would know better than most of us, his circumstances being as they were. A massive stroke left him with locked-in syndrome, physically paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking his left eye. That’s how he dictated his memoirs,  his “bedridden travel notes,” blink by blink, four hours a day for ten months. 200,000 blinks, an average of two minutes per word, 29 chapters, 130+ pages. He composed and memorized the text before each writing session: “In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.”

The creative force inside us is truly amazing. Bauby, the editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine, trapped inside his body, kept on writing, one blink at a time. He died two days after the book was published in France.

Watch the film or read the book and be inspired. I love this snippet from the prologue:

“My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.”

WordPress Daily Prompt: Blink

The art of limitation

Her eyes were blue beyond blue, like the ocean. A blue he could swim into… Boy sees girl and the writer cannot decide how to best describe that blue beyond blue eye color. “Like nothing but blue,” says the editor. No need for marine life references.

This is a scene from Genius, a film about the relationship between Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). It’s the 1930’s. Wolfe walks into Perkins’s office with a 5,000 (!) page handwritten manuscript, out of which Of Time and the River was carved ― and eventually cut to 900 pages.

In this scene, we see the editor hard at work while the writer keeps adding more pages, arguing that every word is vital. The 200+ words long boy-sees-girl paragraph was cut to 25 words.

I’ve transcribed the dialog in another post: An editor’s life: Cut. Cut. Cut?

Short version:

Describing the scene where the boy Eugene sees the girl across the room, Wolfe starts with the girl’s arms: “…ivory arms, but now sun-kissed as a blush, as the incarnadine discovery inside a conch shell seen for the first time by a bewildered zoologist as he is undone by its rosy, promising pinkness; those were her arms.”

Then her eyes: “…her eyes were blue beyond blue, like the ocean. A blue he could swim into forever and never miss a fire engine red or a cornstalk yellow.”

Finally, the impact it all had on Eugene: “From that moment, Eugene understood what the poets had been writing about these many years, all the lost, wandering, lonely souls who were now his brothers. He knew a love that would never be his. So quickly did he fall for her that no one in the room even heard the sound, the whoosh as he fell, the clatter of his broken heart. It was a sure silence, but his life was shattered.”

The girl never notices him.

The result after cutting: “Eugene saw a woman. Her eyes were blue. So quickly did he fall for her that no one in the room even heard the sound.”

Who says editing is boring? And for the record, I love Thomas Wolfe’s writing.

WordPress Daily Prompts: Carve

To write more, write more

Undulate. That’s today’s writing prompt from WordPress. English is not my mother tongue, and I had to look it up:


“To move with a smooth wave-like motion.” Got it. I’ll “undulate” my way through this post, which is about the usefulness daily prompts have proved to have for the reluctant writer I used to be.

“I sit, I stand up, I walk, I sit down, I get coffee and then some more. I’m not a patient writer. But then, once in a while, I get completely absorbed in the task before me and ideas and words flow freely. The sun sets and when it seemingly suddenly rises again, I’m still sitting there in front of my computer.” This is how I used to describe my writing habits. I really wanted to write on a regular basis, but there was a resistance inside me so strong that it seemed like a physical barrier.

Then I discovered the daily prompts from WordPress. “To write more, write more,” they reminded their bloggers in 2010 and encouraged us to write a post every day in 2011, presenting us with a daily writing prompt. “Yeah, right,” I said but jumped on the challenge, and the resistance faded away as the days and weeks went by. I began to think about the resistance as birth pangs, unborn stories struggling to find their way into the world. There’s only one thing to do and that’s to sit down and start writing.

Another writing initiative I enjoy is the annual NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month, which is actually a global event), modeled after NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and founded by poet Maureen Thorson in 2003. The challenge is to write a poem every day throughout April. Cinquain, ottava rima, tanka, and pantun have been among the daily prompts, not to forget the dreaded sonnet. I’m a narrator more than a poet and didn’t expect much to begin with, but I was surprised by how easily the words and word-pictures came to me. Come April, I might give it a try again.

In the meantime, I rely on the daily prompts from WordPress to keep my writing going. They are like daily push-ups to keep the writing muscle in shape.

WordPress Daily Prompts: Undulate

Glockenspiel and Beethoven at noon

I hate glockenspiel and I love Beethoven and it was like beast meets beauty when the glockenspiel in the town hall bell tower started to play “Ode to Joy” to mark noon. In that precise moment, I slipped on the icy sidewalk.

Just another everyday moment to put in the writer’s notebook, maybe to be worked into a short story that begins with “It all started at noon on Monday, January…” Then follows a chain of events that leads from the glockenspiel to B to M or Z, maybe culminating with another glockenspiel at noon. Beethoven, too, in all his brilliance is somewhere in the mix.

Or maybe our character falls on the ice and blacks out to the tones of “Ode of Joy” and in her head, the glockenspiel turns into the mighty choir singing “Ode to Joy” at the very first performance of Beethoven’s 9th, with the deaf Maestro himself on the stage, a singer turns him towards the audience for him to receive the standing ovation. When our faller comes to, the glockenspiel is still playing and she sings at the top of her voice.

The options are endless. I like the title “Glockenspiel and Beethoven at noon.”

WordPress Daily Prompts: Brilliant

To travel and write, what a combination that would be

My dream is to travel and write. It can happen. Just a little something from a restless soul:

I sleep with
a rock
for a pillow

or rest my head
on the softest down
in a fine hotel,

I always dream
of being
to somewhere

Always underway

Are you lost? they ask
Are you trying to find your purpose?

No, never lost
Never forlorn

I’m a wayfarer
I’ve never been more found

Zol H, 2017

Not all those who wander are lost.
—J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

WordPress Daily Prompts: Forlorn

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

A clog in the funnel


I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.
—Gustave Flaubert

Yeah, been there. Sometimes, the ideas inside the head just won’t come out precisely through the fingertips. It’s as if there’s a clog somewhere in the funnel.

Until the right combination of words come along, approximations will have to do sometimes, but I’m not particularly fond of them because they interrupt the flow. I’m not a draft writer and I edit while I go. I like to have a good sentence or paragraph before I move to the next. Often, the problem solves itself the morning after when I read through the text with fresh eyes. Thank goodness for the overnight funnel cleaning crew.

WordPress Daily Prompts: Funnel