At the moment, I’m looking back.
I realized not too long ago, when I was updating my web site, that 2013 would mark an anniversary that I hadn’t really given much thought to. I published my first short story in 1993. I realized that I’ve been writing for 20 years. Strike that. I published my first short story 20 years ago. I’ve been writing since junior high school.
The thought of spending the last 20 years as a published author stopped me in my tracks. No surprise, I hadn’t done the math. Time slipped away as I spent my days writing one thing, and then another. I looked up from my keyboard, and damn, a lot of time sure had passed.
I’m still not sure I’ve settled my mind with the idea of it, the reality of the commitment I made a long time ago, and to the completed/uncompleted projects that have come and gone since. All I ever wanted to do was write. I was less concerned with a career, and more concerned with a life. I’m not sure that’s it something to celebrate, this anniversary, the last 20 years, but I feel like I need to acknowledge it. It seems like a milestone that I would never hit at certain points in my life...
Back to that first story. “Loretta’s Garden” published in Hardboiled, issue #16, edited by Gary Lovisi. One check for $5.00, 642 words, less than a penny a word, but most importantly, a yes. A big fat yes.
Doesn’t seem like much. But to me, now and then, it was everything. Validation, a way forward, a little confidence. Those first yeses are really, really important. Solid-footing at the base of the mountain. Because behind me, the trail was littered with rejection slips. A lot of rejection slips. Over a hundred. If I would have quit at 20 or 99, I doubt that you’d be reading this right now.
Times were different in the early 1990s. There was no Internet, no way of finding markets for short stories or novels other than the LMP (Literary Marketplace), Writer’s Markets, or for smaller presses, little newsletters like Scavenger’s or The Gila Queen’s Guide to Markets that you had to subscribe to. I had a written a lot of short stories by then. The thinking was, learning to write short stories was a good way to learn how to tell stories, how to write. And it wasn’t as intimidating as writing a novel. That would come in time. Start small, work your way up, acquire some credits, and it would be a help in attracting agents and publishers. A good solid strategy for the times.
So, I read a lot of short stories, and I wrote a lot. And I started sending my stories out to the top of the markets, and worked my way down with each rejection. I was shooting for Ellery Queen (which I would finally break several years later), and the like. I was very methodical in my approach. When a story came back, I marked it off the list, found a new market, and sent it back out the next day in search of a new home. I didn’t give the wound time to fester. I had a plan, and worked the plan. My goal was to get published and get paid for it. That’s what writers did. Things are different now, 20 years later. A lot different. But that subject is for another day.
I learned how to deal with rejection and persistence and professionalism and marketing and how to deal with editors, and most importantly, I learned how to finish something I had started, in those early days. The good old days. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t crushed, that I didn’t want to quit, or get angry when I saw other writers succeed when I wasn’t, and have to fight off the Jealousy Beast. I was crushed, but I learned early on that not everybody is going to like your writing, that rejection’s not personal. Publishing is a business. Trust me, there were some dark, dark days, long trudges to the mailbox that was full of manila envelopes written in my own handwriting—that held one more rejection slip. It was hard. And I’m glad it was.
The thing is, you have to start somewhere. And then you have to keep going… I’m really proud of my Hardboiled short story, and the five dollars that came with it. Thank you again, Gary Lovisi (no, we’ve never met) for that first yes. It’s a really important brick in the foundation that I suddenly find myself standing on 20 years later…