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“The Namesake”: The Story Behind the Story

Usually, I post these when a story is available online or the issue can be ordered. But for whatever reason, the issue of Sandy River Review that contains this piece seems not to exist anywhere but contributor copies. If you’d like to read it, send me an email and I’ll send a PDF.

I can remember the moment in Image of library card catalog he shower when the idea for “The Namesake” came to me. It was one of those flashes of inspiration that come rarely, but I had nearly the whole story at once, it was just a matter of writing it down.

And editing it.

And editing it.

The accepted version of the story was draft 6. It was rejected 40 times , including a very encouraging note from Conjunctions indicating that they’d have taken it if it hewed closer to the theme of the current issue, before it was accepted. Twice.

It turns out that one of the publications I sent it to on the last round of submissions who I assumed were just not going to respond (they didn’t answer when I inquired about the story status after a longer than usual wait), were going to respond so a week after the initial acceptance. A few weeks later, I got the following rejection from The New Yorker.

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Digging through my records on the story, this dates back far enough that it was among the stories that I workshopped on Critique Circle back in the day.

Writerly resolutions: October status

The biggest change in my writing life this monthGraph of progress on the novel in October—slow progress  is returning to having a critique group. Trying to balance critique group responsibilities with my own writing has been a bit of a challenge and I need to do better with this. I did manage to complete chapter 23 and make some progress on chapter 24 in fits and starts, but I’m not writing at the pace that I’d like to be. I had a sense of what I wanted to do with chapter 24 last month, but I never bothered to write any of it down and now I only have a vague notion of where I was going with that.

I did get some great feedback on a story that I’d sent out last year and had a number of near-misses without success. I now know exactly what was wrong with it—and it’s a simple matter of deleting a single section. It’s still a story that I can see generating form rejections when it goes out for a second round of submissions, but I feel confident that it will get accepted somewhere.

The submittable queue has drained a little bit more with a promised response arriving in the form of a rejection. I’m down to just three pending responses with the two youngest pending responses about to turn a year old in the next week.

Writerly resolutions: September status

September was a pretty goodGraph of progress on the novel month for progress on the novel. I finished a first draft of chapter 23 and have done most of the rewrite draft although I’ve slowed down as I need to get into the weeds on some questions of Jewish theology to write a conversation that takes place. Even better, I have a decent sense of where things will be going in chapter 24 which has often not been the case in the past.

The submittable queue, on the other hand, has been sitting at four items without any changes although I did hear back from one journal assuring me that, while they’re further behind than usual, the piece isn’t lost and will get a response. I’m increasingly suspicious that Whiskey Island Magazine may be defunct.

Writerly resolutions: August Status

August finally felt like a return to normal—whatever that would be in my progress on the novel. Progress on the novel. Looking pretty pretty good.  managed to finish chapter 22 and get a good start on chapter 23 without too much dithering about what’s happening in the novel. It’s still a challenge to get myself to re-read the pages when it’s time to rewrite/revise, but I’m spending less time procrastinating about it than has been the case before.

My submittable queue is slowing down its draining with only one rejection coming in after prompting (plus another rejection for a non-submittable submission). One prompting did get a response sayin that I should hear from them soon and that it might take “up to eight months” to get a response. It had been nine months when they sent that. September should see the publication (finally) of two pieces accepted earlier in the year.

A story of a word

I got an e-mail yesterday inquiring about the spelling of a word that I used in a poem that will be published this fall. I had written “galabiyya”Image of galabiyya in reference to the robe-like garb that some Islamic men wear. My editor, doing due diligence found spellings of “galabeya” and “jalabiya.” 

I honestly didn’t even remember using the word in the poem (it’s been over a year since I originally submitted the poem and longer still since I wrote the first draft—what’s more I’ve since retired the notebook where I wrote that first draft along with any notes and would be hard pressed to find it at the moment). My best guess is that I googled something like “What is the name for the robe that some Islamic men wear?” and went with the first result that came up with a picture that corresponded to what I was thinking. (I almost wonder whether I really wanted was taqiyah, the skullcap that some Muslims wear).

Now the fun part of all this is that Arabic is, of course, written in the Arabic alphabet and any transliteration of Arabic to English is going to be imperfect. As an added bonus, the Arabic word, جلابية will be transliterated differently from Egyptian Arabic than other North-African dialects because ج which is the first letter is pronounced g in Egypt but j (or dj) elsewhere.

Googling my spelling turned up the Wikipedia article which offered three different spellings (one in the title and body and two more in the introduction), none of which were my spelling: “Jalabiya,” “galabeya” and “jellabiya.”

Then I thought, what does my dictionary have? I dug into the dictionary on my computer and found:

djel·la·bajəˈläbə | (also djellabah or jellabanoun a loose hooded cloak, typically woolen, of a kind traditionally worn by ArabsORIGINearly 19th century: from Moroccan Arabic jellābajellābiyya.

(As an aside, despite the etymology given here, Wikipedia distinguishes between Djellaba and Jellabiya.)

Then I thought what about Wiktionary? Unlike Wikipedia, it doesn’t make the distinction between the two robes and unlike the dictionary on my Mac it leaves out the hood, but it is generous in offering twenty-four spellings, none of which is my original!

In the end I decided to go with “Jalabiya.” I’d seen it used in enough different sources and the poem really needed the extra syllable so the dictionary headword forms weren’t workable. 

Writerly Resolutions: July Status

Something has changed.Graph of progress in July showing pretty good progress I’m not necessarily having the progress I’d ideally like, but I’m doing much better at getting the words onto the page. Still a lot of flat stretches in the graph, but the vertical bits are more vertical than they’ve been for months.

The submittable queue has drained from 8 down to 5. Only one submission over a year old now. One press, upon being contacted this month realized they’d mislaid my submission and promptly rejected me. Another told me they’ve had a staff change and it’ll “take some time” to hear from them. I’m intending to be more proactive in contacting the other presses in August.

Writerly resolutions: June Status—They’re all quarantine editions I guess

June was yet anotherGraph of June writing progress mediocre month, although I did at least finish a draft of chapter 21. Now the only problem is getting myself willing to do a critical read of that chapter and start rewriting.

The submittable queue continues to trickle its way to empty, dropping from 10 down to 8. I have two submissions that are a year or more older now. I suspect that Storyscape Journal may have gone defunct in the wake of the COVID lockdown, but I have no firm confirmation of that yet.

Writerly resolutions: May Status—Quarantine Edition

See that graphGraph of May progress on the novel on the right? Looks pretty good at least for the end of the month, eh? Until you look at the vertical scale and see that I wrote less than 700 words the whole month. But at least things are starting to pick up and maybe June will be better.

As for clearing out the submittable queue, I got three more rejections this month which brought it from 13 down to 10. I have a “received” submission that’s due to celebrate a birthday June 27th if nothing changes.

Writerly resolutions: April Status—Quarantine Edition

April started off with Graph of progress on my novel for the month of April.some promise but quickly leveled off.  There were only nine days that I wrote anything at all. On the good news front, I’ve settled Catan numerous times.

My Submittable queue continues to drain, a little bit faster than last month, so now I’m down from 17 to 13 submissions. Half of this though was my submissions for the Nelson Algren prize being silently moved to closed.

Here’s hoping for some real progress in May.

Writerly resolutions: March Status—Quarantine Edition

So you’d Graph of progress on the novel in Marchthink that with quarantine I’d be more productive as a writer. You’d think wrong. I made good progress on revising the last chapter I wrote in the first half of the month, but the new chapter has been coming a few words at a time.

My Submittable queue has drained much more slowly this month, going down just a little bit from 20 to 17, but I also got an acceptance for a poem during the quarantine period.