This month I have a story reprinted at The Reprint, an on-line journal that helps stories initially in print find new readership. Thanks to Brian Oliu re-mixing an essay of mine last quarter, this puts me in back to back issues of this fine magazine. My story is in good company, alongside xTx, Roxane Gay, Brandi Wells, Kirsty Logan and others. There's also an introduction by Sarah Rose Etter and an interview with Chris Heavener in which he says some lovely things about my writing.
My contribution is called "Elysian" and it appeared originally in Annalemma in 2009. This was an early story for me. I wrote the first draft of it while I was still an undergrad taking a fiction class for fun. I had just finished reading that year's Pushcart Prize volume and realized that sometimes you need two plot lines to make one good story. I gave my character an abandoned hardware store to look after, and an undetermined fertility issue to deal with. That put enough on his plate to make a story happen.
My early drafts were perhaps too concerned with the details. I'd done a LOT of research on old tools and fertility problems and put way too much of it into the story. I didn't want to lose any of the work I'd done. The story was called "Paradise Hardware" and I sent it around for a year or two and got plenty of "nice" rejections, but no nibbles. When Katrina happened, I had to move the story out of Louisiana to avoid doing a total rewrite to accommodate post-storm New Orleans. In changing the setting, I was able to force myself to solve some of the story's problems as well. But it still wasn't quite clicking.
I kept sending it and sending it. The list of places that had rejected it got really, really long, but I wasn't ready to give up on it. Finally, 5 or 6 years after the initial draft, Chris Heavener saw something in it he liked. He sent me some notes and I did another draft of the story (mostly ruthless cutting). He suggested "Elysian" for the title and we were off to the races. I have to thank him one more time for his patience and his vision with this story. It made the piece stronger and the lessons I learned from his edits have made the rest of my writing stronger as well.
Take some time to read the entire issue. You won't be disappointed.
Excerpt from "Elysian":
Dinner at Clarke Brite’s house is spicy crab cakes with minted pineapple salsa, mashed potatoes, pink grapefruit, raw broccoli crowns and sparkling grape juice. Clarke hasn’t tasted real champagne since Lisa checked Taking Charge of Your Fertility (Revised Edition) out of the library and found out alcohol is a male reproductive tract toxin. She says real champagne could make her fallopian tubes a hostile environment. Clarke replies: “Working at a bar probably isn’t helping your fallopian tubes.”
Clarke takes a bite of his crab cake.
Lisa says, “I added chick-peas to the recipe, for folic acid. It’ll increase your sperm count.”
He interrupts, “What’s this brown stuff?”
“I also added some chocolate.”
Clarke pushes his plate away and raises his napkin to his lips.
“Just a little bit,” she says. “It’s the best source of L-arginine. It makes your sperm more mobile. And,” she emphasizes the “and,” like Clarke needs to be sold, “Men with low levels of L-arginine have abnormal sperm. I learned that from a girl at work. She wasn’t getting pregnant either and she started making her husband eat more chocolate. Nine months later, twins.”
This month's article at Flash Fiction Chronicles is about my first time being published. I've re-posted it here:
Everyone remembers their first time. Maybe you’re young and naive, like I was. Maybe you’ve been working up to it so long that you already feel like a pro. But when the moment arrives, it’s always the same: the excitement, the nervous butterflies, the need to share the news immediately with a trusted friend. For this column I thought I’d tell you about my first time–my first time being published, that is.
I don’t know when (if ever) I would have started sending work out on my own, but luckily my first writing teacher was adamant that we all engage with the world outside the workshop. At the end of my first writing class in my junior year of college, I was required to print out a manuscript, compose a cover letter, research a market and (gulp) send the whole bundle off to a real life magazine to be judged by the cold, cruel world.
I spent a lot of time deciding on a market for that first story. I didn’t know my way around the literary landscape at all, so there was no name recognition involved. Eventually, I flipped to the section marked “Special Interest.” Since my story dealt with illness, I was excited to find many magazines dedicated to that topic. I settled on a magazine called Kaleidoscope because it was from Ohio and so was I.
Since the instructor all but promised us we’d each be getting a rejection letter in our little white envelope in four to six months, I didn’t even entertain the possibility that Kaleidoscope would take my piece. But it didn’t matter; I was hooked. I spent long afternoons in the library reading through The Writer’s Market, making copies of my manuscripts and my disastrously generic cover letter. I spent my drinking money on postage.
Slowly but surely, the rejections started rolling in. You know them immediately: addressed in your own handwriting, no return address. I always opened them anyway, looking for any scrawl of pen on paper, evidence that someone took an extra second to reject me.
I could have gone on like this for a long time, forever maybe. But I didn’t have to. The big envelope came two weeks after Christmas. It was from Kaleidoscope and they wanted my story. They were even willing to pay me for it ($75, which went right into more envelopes, copies and postage, after a round of drinks for my my roommates). I’ve celebrated every acceptance since then, but there’s still something magical about that first one. You never forget it.
I also won’t forget how it felt when the journal finally came, and I got to see my words in print for the first time. It was a bit of a wait. Despite having sent the story out in May of 2002, and having it accepted in January of 2003, the issue containing my story didn’t come out until July 2005. It was a long wait, but it was worth it.
Now that I’m someone else’s writing teacher, I have adopted the same requirement. It’s a good skill to learn, I tell my students, and no one will offer teach you once you’ve left. Sometimes I have to talk a reluctant student into it, but I don’t back down. I’ve even had a few students excitedly email me about their acceptances. They feel almost as good as my own.