Friday Fable: Sour Writers

You have probably heard the fable, Sour Grapes:

A hungry fox snuck into a vineyard where ripe grapes hung from tall vines. The fox stood on his hind legs and snapped his jaws, eager for a taste. But the grapes hung just out of reach.

The fox hopped and pawed and jumped and stretched and took repeated running leaps, but no matter what he did, he could not taste a single grape. Finally, he tired of trying. “Those grapes don’t look so good after all,” he thought. “They’re probably sour.”

The fox turned his back on the vineyard and walked away with his snout in the air, saying, “I wouldn’t eat those nasty grapes if they were served to me on a silver platter.”

And the moral is: We grow to hate the good things we want but cannot have.

That is a good old tale. But if Aesop were a modern slave to the written word, he might have called his fable Sour Writers:

A group of writers met monthly in a coffee shop where books and magazines lined the walls. Their conversation ran like this:

“Mmm. Good coffee. Hey, there’s a copy of Best Stories of the Year. What an amazing anthology. I submitted a story for next year’s collection.”

“Good for you. I sent some poems to Discriminating Ear Magazine. They publish such gorgeous poetry.”

“I wish I could write poetry. But at least I have a novel out there. I hope it gets nominated for a Smart Readers’ Choice Award. Last year’s nominees were all so great, I couldn’t choose between them.”

“I loved Enough Said by that east coast writer. No wonder it won all the awards. It was brilliant.”

“I finished my novel last week and sent it to Good Stuff Publishers. I hope they accept it. They’re the most artistic house out there.”

“They are. I would love to publish with them. Maybe if my first book gets a good review in Tasteful Titles next month. I’m psyched about the review coming out with them. They’re the voice of the industry.”

“Oh, they are. And the book industry is so exciting right now, with thousands of wonderful books on the shelves, and lots of room for more.”


But as the months and years wore on, the form rejections piled up. The list of agents and editors who didn’t want the writers’ work grew. What work they did publish received middling reviews before quietly disappearing. Meanwhile, other writers earned glowing reviews, signed lucrative contracts, sold film rights, received honours and were invited to speaking engagements and fancy dinners.

The group of writers tired of trying. Eventually, their conversation ran like this:

“Did you read the Best Stories of the Year anthology? What a piece of crap.”

“No kidding. And have you read Discriminating Ear lately? My 10-year-old could write the poems in there.”

“I don’t know what to read anymore. The Smart Readers’ Choice Award only has two decent titles on its shortlist, along with eight stinkers.”

“I know. Did you read Eat My Words, the award winner by that east coast writer? Oh my god. It dragged on forever. I mean, she just can’t write.”

“Seriously. I don’t know where to send my work anymore. Good Stuff Publishers is the only house left that accepts unagented submissions, but all they publish are clunky novels that follow the latest fad.”

“But those crappy books get good reviews in Tasteful Titles so people buy them, even though all the reviewers are college students who’ve never read anything written before the year 2000 so they think a story is original when it’s already been told a thousand times.”

Stay hungry. Stay sweet.

“You’re not kidding. It shouldn’t be like this. There are more books published today than ever before, but so many of them are garbage.”

“People seem to like garbage now. The whole industry has gone down the toilet. It’s depressing.”

“Yeah. And this coffee sucks.”

“I noticed that, too. The coffee’s not as good here as it used to be.”

“We should find a new hangout.”


And the moral is: Keep stretching, writers, and don’t turn sour.  Everybody knows those grapes are delicious.

And that’s my Friday Fable.

5 Comments on “Friday Fable: Sour Writers

  1. My human is an author and tells me agrees with you 95% after we discussed your blog. His only sour grapes are reserved for those folks that are published because of name recognition ONLY. Like the Long Island Lolita’s tell-all, Joe Celebrities cook book (he never touched a stove), or Lindsey Lohan’s guide to clean living. Give me a break!

    • I think we all see some sour grapes hanging around now and then, especially when we’re tired out. (And on occasion, maybe, the grapes really are sour.) I did not have to reach too far to write the sour grape dialogue, alas – but I’d like to hope that I catch it in my head when it arises and see it for what it is. Almost all the real-life dialogue I have with other writers is of the supportive and complimentary sort.

  2. Ooh, convicting. I confess, I’ve had my foxy moments. …and normally that would be a good thing, since foxes are supreme, but, yeah, not in this case. Haven’t given up on those grapes, though! And I know the long wait will make them taste all the sweeter. (:

    • Yes, those grapes are just ripening and they will be delicious. (And foxes are so clever, you just know the little dude cooled off and came back with a ladder the next day and ate those grapes all up.)

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