“The Value of Literary Rejection”

April 25, 2017

On the Death of Miklós Vajda (1931–2017)

I’ve just learned from George Szirtes that Miklós Vajda has died. He was a translator and editor of The Hungarian Quarterly — and he taught me an enormously valuable lesson early in my career. It took me a long time to understand that every editor who has rejected my fiction has done me a favor. That’s especially true of the man I once heard described as “Hungary’s greatest living philosopher.”

The first story I ever published, in a now-defunct print journal, required twenty-five fresh drafts. When it finally appeared it did so next to some prose by one of my heroes, Andy Kaufman. That made the whole maddening process worth it; those twenty-four rejections proved invaluable. The most formative rejection I’ve ever, however, came from Vajda in 1995. It said:

“Thank you for sending your story. I am sorry to say, however, I found it crudely written, superficial and much too long for the little it says to say. It seems your main concern must have been finding expression for the contempt you feel for your colleagues, for modern art, people in general. You have talent but this story does little to prove it.”

That is a tremendous rejection. Over a decade later, I read a subsequent — and published — version of that same story at my MFA graduation. The opportunity to continue to improving a story is one I’ve learned to appreciate. To this day, every story I write needs to pass my internal “crude, superficial and too long” test before I send it out. RIP Vajda Miklós.

[Adapted from something I once contributed to The Millions.]

Bit by Bit review in Electric Literature

April 24, 2017

There’s a long review of Bit by Bit in Electric Literature. The reviewer wrote:

“Importantly, Ervin makes it a point to introduce as many view points from underrepresented populations as possible. There are many female critics, game developers and players interviewed and quoted in Bit by Bit. For a population that (by some measures) encompasses half of the gaming world, women are not mentioned or addressed enough. That Ervin made it a point is a step in the right direction. […] Bit by Bit is an engrossing and necessary read.”

Washington Post // Review of Compass by Mathias Énard

April 3, 2017

My review of Compass by Mathias Énard ran in the Washington Post on 4/3/17.

“It’s a novel that looks closely at the intersections — historical, personal and, most of all, musical — between East and West. It also provides another welcome look at the kinships that bind the Middle East to Europe. In doing so, “Compass” reminds us that these are not static places, but in fact dynamic combinations of cultures and traditions.”

Philadelphia Inquirer // Review of Collected Essays on Evolution, Nature, and the Cosmos by Loren Eiseley

November 27, 2016

My review of the Collected Essays on Evolution, Nature, and the Cosmos by Loren Eiseley ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 11/25/16.

“The Library of America edition comes at a great time. Perhaps, at long last, we can understand what Loren Eiseley spent his life attempting to tell us: ‘Perpetually, now, we search and bicker and disagree. The eternal form eludes us – the shape we conceive as ours. Perhaps the old road through the marsh should tell us. We are one of many appearances of the thing called Life; we are not its perfect image, for it has no image except Life, and life is multitudinous and emergent in the stream of time.'”

Tin House // Get Up Every Day and Do an Unseen Thing: A Conversation with Nicholas Mainieri

October 17, 2016

I first encountered Nicholas Mainieri’s fiction in those great baseball issues that Hobart used to put out every spring. His first published story “The Tools of Ignorance,” which appeared in the spring of 2008 and was titled after an old nickname for a catcher’s gear, carried itself with such authority and deep-in-the-grain understanding of our national pastime that it stuck with me for months afterward. Later that same year, I accepted a two-year position at The Southern Review at Louisiana State University, and, knowing Mainieri lived nearby, I looked him up and we began to meet regularly to watch baseball—my beloved Phillies won the World Series that fall—and talk about writing stories, including a novel he was just beginning to formulate. Back then, his book had a sort of Heart of Darkness sound to it.

Read the entire interview here.