Posts Tagged ‘Marjorie Hudson’
I credit Marjorie Hudson, my writing teacher and friend, for jump-starting my writing life several years ago. She is a kind, wise and generous teacher and I have often blogged about lessons learned from her about the writing life.
She published a book about her search for Virginia Dare in 2002, and this year Searching for Virginia Dare is out in a new edition from Press 53, with some new travels and research. Her ongoing obsession has taken her to Rome, London, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
One reviewer said the book was a guide to how to write a book. Another said she had invented a new genre, one that “parted the authorial curtain” to reveal the writer’s process. In a review I wrote about Searching for Virginia Dare, I said, “This book lives in multiple genres including mystery, history, memoir, and adventure…This is a book to be read aloud to a friend on a dark winter’s night.” I love this book.
Marjorie recently decided to take another look at her book to see if there were lessons there for her and others about writing. I’m so happy to welcome her guest post here on ‘The Practice of Creativity’.
Here Be Dragons: Going off the Map to Find the Story
By Marjorie Hudson, author of Searching for Virginia Dare
Fourteen years ago I went searching for Virginia Dare.
What I found was a new confidence and freedom in my choices as a writer. I learned how to go off the map edges to the wild uncharted places beyond.
Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the New World, part of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island.
Her fate is an obscure footnote in American colonial and women’s history, yet the story is so fascinating, it should be more well known. Truthfully? For me, it’s become a kind of obsession.
In 1587 England sent a colony to the New World, 116 men, women, and children. Virginia was born on August 18 amid tangled scuppernong vines and live oaks on Roanoke Island. She was baptized August 24.
That’s about all the documentation there is of Virginia Dare’s life on earth. The entire colony disappeared, leaving a message carved in a tree, and nobody has ever quite figured out what happened to them.
Now, the problem for a writer about history is that you have to have documentation. You have to have expert commentary. You have to have facts.
What I had, instead, was a tapestry of extraordinary people and events that take a role in the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island. There was John White, the governor of the colony, an English painter who turned the New World into a kind of life-drawing class, documenting the Native women, children, and villages there, and drawing exquisitely accurate maps of the coastline.
There was Elinor Dare, White’s daughter, five months pregnant when she shipped out of Portsmouth, three months’ trans-Atlantic travel ahead of her before she set foot in the American wilderness.
There was Manteo, England’s first Lord in the New World, and her first Native American ally.
If you put a compass point in a map of this story and drew a circle around it, the circle would also contain the Queen Elizabeth, the English Renaissance, the Spanish Armada, pirates and hurricanes and many more fascinating Native American people. On the corner of the map would be the mark of old: Here be dragons.
The story is rife with mystery: Why did the colonists leave Roanoke Island? Where did they go? Did they survive at all? There were also more subtle mysteries: Why did the Queen pick an artist to be the governor of the colony? Why did John White return to England, abandoning his granddaughter and his daughter, just days after the child was born?
English documents revealed extraordinary images – deer grazing in abandoned huts, scuppernong vines overflowing the land into the sea, abundant pearls and strange fishes, a word carved in a tree: Croatoan.
They also revealed terrible moments: a colonist found with 16 arrows in his gut; a ship’s captain with a pike through his head; a lost anchor, a great storm, and a ship blown southward, past all hope of finding the surviving colonists.
Later discoveries included stones marked with messages from Elinor to her father, left in a trail from the Chowan River in northeastern Carolina to the Chattahoochee River in Georgia—a hoax? — and sightings of blonde children living among the Indians on the Chowan River. But did anyone really know what happened?
There were dangers in this story for any writer who dared venture there. There were so many strands to this story, so many questions. I was determined to find a way to make sense of all the pieces and put them, like Humpty Dumpty, together again.
I fell back on the structures I learned in journalism school: read the background; consult the experts. I traveled around North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, talking to everyone from university archeologists to Lumbee Indian artists to guys in bars. Nobody had answers. Everyone had stories. I got lost a lot on back roads. I got lost in imagination. I got lost in memories about my own lost times.
The story of Virginia and her mother in the wilderness began to haunt me. Perhaps this girl and her mother may have felt, just a little bit, like me when I was growing up, adventuring alone in the world. My explorations took me hitchhiking across the US, squatting in derelict houses, and finally settling in rural North Carolina.
Well, it was preposterous to draw parallels, I knew. But I also knew that stories tell you their forms. I decided to trust the messiness, let all the disparate map-lines to the heart of the story be known and valued, including the dragons.
I decided to reveal my patterns of thought and feeling in response to the story, my struggle to understand, my mind’s turn toward imagination, and forays into deep memories of the young girl I once was, terrified and alone in the world, and the repeated pattern of mystery and loss that is my life. The story of Virginia Dare became a map of a writer’s mind in process.
I let the material find its own shape, like water running downhill, eroding to the bone-honest story underneath, the story that only I could tell.
One reviewer said Searching for Virginia Dare was like “a road trip with your best friend.” The story and the mystery both have been great company for me. I carry them with me, like secret treasure, wherever I go, along with a new compass in my bag of writer tools: let the story find its own map.
Marjorie Hudson writes about newcomers encountering the South and about contemporary people encountering history. She is author of the story collection Accidental Birds of the Carolinas, a PEN/Hemingway Honorable Mention, and her honors include an NC Arts Council Fellowship and two Pushcart Special Mentions for fiction. She is founder and director of the Kitchen Table Writers Workshops.
Marjorie Hudson: www.marjoriehudson.com
Buy the book: http://www.press53.com/BioMarjorieHudson.html
John White Drawings: http://www.virtualjamestown.org/images/white_debry_html/jamestown.html
John White map showing dragon: http://www.virtualjamestown.org/images/white_debry_html/debry123.html
Photo Credit: Brent Clark
Limiting beliefs are often so hidden from our everyday awareness they feel more like inner immutable truths.
We all have a list of things we “know” we can’t do. It’s good to periodically examine a limiting belief and see if we can’t prove ourselves wrong and have fun while doing it.
For a long time, I believed that I couldn’t write short fiction, especially flash fiction. Flash fiction is a complete story that runs about 500 to 2,000 words. In a short number of words, flash fiction has to serve up all the traditional elements of fiction: interesting characters, a sensible plot, an engaging conflict, a setting and a resolution.
That’s a tall order. E-readers and shrinking attention spans have created a renaissance and hunger for high-quality short fiction.
I had good reason to believe that I couldn’t do it. I had never done it before.
As an academic writer, I’ve spent most of my time producing research and long scholarly books. As a creative writer, I’ve spent more than a decade of my time reading and analyzing novels, learning the craft of novel writing and working on a sprawling 800-page novel. The few times that I tried to write short fiction, I instead cranked out a novella (about 50,000 words).
Case closed, right?
After getting feedback from an editor at a small press that he liked my longer pieces, but wanted to see if I had short fiction, I was forced to confront my limiting belief. If I wanted to develop a relationship with this editor (always a good thing), it meant I’d actually have to create some short fiction. Also strategically, a publisher is more likely to take a chance on a new novelist if the writer has a lot of short fiction published, or a collection of short stories.
After a few moments of white-knuckled panic and some reflection, I realized that I had selectively chosen bits of evidence to support my belief and excluded others. In college, I was a dual major in political studies and creative writing. In my writing classes, I wrote tons of short fiction. I had totally discounted all that early writing. Our psyches are pretty clever, huh?
Scratching a bit deeper, I also knew that a fear of writing badly, in this genre, and hence rejection also had propped up my belief. Fear of the unknown keeps most people from attempting new things. It is very hard to “fail” in public. Matthew Fox, Episcopal priest and author of “Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet” says when we stop trying new things for fear of looking bad, we can suffer from a type of rigid “adultism.”
Although my writing teacher Marjorie Hudson (author of “Accidental Birds of the Carolinas”) encourages her students to think of claiming over 100 rejections as a path to mastery in the writing life, the thought of piling up more rejection letters didn’t make me feel wildly creative and rush to the computer.
However, once that memory from college surfaced and challenged my long-held belief, I took the next step.
I gave myself permission to try a new activity. I enrolled in writing classes devoted to flash fiction, read the New Yorker and subscribed to several literary journals. And, I wrote a lot of bad short fiction. I played and learned. I kept in mind the metaphor about short fiction that I learned from Ruth Moose, recently retired and beloved teacher of creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill, it’s like a well-paced dinner party. I stopped trying to get my characters to sleep over.
Although I’m light-years away from mastering the short form, I’ve gained an appreciation for flash fiction and hope to write more. This month, I saw my piece “Urban Wendy” published in Carolina Woman magazine. It won a prize in their annual spring writing contest.
Changing self-limiting beliefs requires a willingness to puncture the skin of deeply-held beliefs. It requires giving one’s self permission to take the next logical action. And, it also requires a recognition and tolerance for doing something badly or even face rejection.
Crime writer Elmore Leonard’s experience with rejection is instructive: 84 editors rejected his first novel before it was finally published as a paperback original – 84! In 1982, after selling 23 novels, the thriller “Stick” became a bestseller.
This piece originally appeared as a ‘My View’ column for The Chapel Hill News on 7/22/2013
I remember anxiety creeping over me in Marjorie Hudson’s ‘Strategies for the Writing Life’ workshop when she cheerfully asked the group to name and claim our writing ‘accomplishments’ so far. People immediately raised their hands and asked questions like: Do you mean publication credits? How far back can we start our list? Does a personalized rejection letter count? What if I can’t think of anything?
She calmly explained that we could count anything and everything that has happened in our writing lives that we believe strengthened or encouraged us. This could include the time our teacher in the third grade chose to read our essay in front of the class to submitting an op-ed to getting a poem published in a literary journal. Our list could include helpful feedback we received from an editor or agent (even if they passed on the book), or reassuring words from a published writer. Most of us undertook the task with a kind of grim determination. And, I felt that I was bound to have a short and uninteresting list.
After about ten minutes, she asked us to read from our lists. The mood in the room softened as people shared. As it turns out until we were asked to reflect on the shape of our writing lives, most of us had either forgotten or discounted many of the positive things that had shown up. Several people did mention publication as an aspect of their accomplishments, but much of it included specific moments of encouragement expressed by peers, teachers and other published writers. Often words of encouragement allowed us to keep going in the face of high self-doubt and flat out fear. We also celebrated the fact that many of us had completed various types of writing projects and with some additional strategic effort, some might eventually find their way into publication. My list included the over 50 journals I have amassed, over my life, that are stuffed with ideas, dream fragments, stories, and chapters of novels. Hearing the lists of the other writers uplifted and inspired me.
Since that workshop in the spring of 2011, I have often gone back to the list in my notebook as well as the longer ‘accomplishments’ list that I keep on my computer. Some of the writers in that workshop posted their list in their writing space for daily inspiration.
It is easy to forget or minimize the ways in which the writing life is sustained. A list is evidence of one’s deep intentions that we can turn toward during moments of skepticism about our progress.
It is atypical that a writer gets anything published during a normal week and highly unlikely that more than one thing gets published. The first two weeks of April have been exceptionally good to me, so I’ve got new things to add to my list.
I received news that I am the 3rd place prize winner in the Carolina Woman Magazine Writing Contest, for my speculative fiction short story ‘Urban Wendy’. They will publish the piece in an upcoming issue.
For fun, I’ve included a few lines from the beginning of the story:
Marisol pulls another strand of red hair from a perfectly glazed Dunkin Donut, holds it up and looks at the stray bits of delicate pink icing clinging to the hair. Marisol reminds herself that her other team members working this shift don’t have red hair, nor does anyone else working here. Just like the icing clinging to the hair, Marisol knows that Wendy is trying to cling to her.
When Marisol announced she was leaving Wendy’s to work at Dunkin Donuts, two weeks ago, her co-workers warned her.
“Expect a visit from Wendy,” they said. Marisol looked at the goofy-looking freckled girl on the napkins she had passed out so many times to snot-nosed kids, harried mothers and dope addicts.
“She doesn’t like it when we leave without warning,” one of them whispered.
“You gotta to be kidding me. I’ll tell her a thing or two,” Marisol said. She filed their concerns of Wendy the phantom stalker, under ‘another urban legend’ and said good bye to the drab brown uniform, the never ending work of keeping the salad bar clean and organized, and sought her fortune among coffee and donuts.
* * *
A prose piece, ‘The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank’ that I wrote in 2010 found a perfect home at Trivia: Voices of Feminism, an online magazine. This piece was created for the wonderful ‘Vision and Voice’ event at the Joyful Jewel gallery (in Pittsboro, North Carolina), where writers are invited to write about art. Then the writer gets to read the piece and the artist attends, too, and remarks about the inspiration behind the art.
Sharon Blessum’s photograph (below) triggered a memory about a powerful dream regarding my grandmother and other female elders that I wrestled with for many years. In the piece, I tackle the metaphorical ‘poison’, given societal constraints, that many of our female ancestors swallowed, and how I integrate this knowledge into my work as a professor and coach.
We all need encouragement and support for our writing lives. And, the beginning of the year invites us to try out new ideas. Here is a list of strategies that have bolstered my writing life. May they support and inspire you.
1) Plan a Submission Party
In my first writing group, more than fifteen years ago, I learned about the power of holding at least one ‘submission party’ during the year. A submission party meant that we planned a date and we all brought our polished manuscripts, manila envelopes, our bundle of SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes –yes, back in those days you had to send manuscripts via snail mail and with a SASE!), and food and drink to someone’s house. We helped each other write query letters, find new markets to submit work, develop submission charts, and triple check final copies of stories. And, the best part of all, we’d each leave with several stuffed packets ready to mail to magazine and anthology editors and contest judges. These parties uplifted us and took the fear, dread and challenge out of submitting. And, they helped us get a batch of stories into the mail at one time.
At your next writers’ group meeting, suggest hosting a submission party during the first quarter of the year. And, if you’re not in a group (Well, you should be! When focused friendly people come together to support each other, they can produce incredible results!), then ask a writing buddy, if he or she would be interested in executing this idea on a smaller scale.
Reading your work in front of an audience is an invaluable experience for a writer. We can see when people lean toward us, laugh (one hopes at the appropriate places), and get a sense of how our words affect others. Readings help us to become comfortable with our work no matter what the reaction. We meet new friends and learn about the work of other writers. I did three readings last year (two of which I helped to create). In most places there are many opportunities to read your work in public—open mics organized by writing groups, in bookstores and cafes, writing conferences, and informal gatherings with friends. Practice, practice and practice some more.
How many readings did you participate in during 2012? Shoot to double this number in 2013.
3) Volunteer to Support and Serve a Published Writer That You Know
I have been privileged to accompany one of my writing teachers, Marjorie Hudson, to several speaking events and workshops. I learned invaluable things watching a working writer deal with the public aspect of a writing life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.
Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. If you don’t know any published writers, this is a great way to connect with a local writer whose work that you admire.
Be a personal assistant, or driver, for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye.
4) Strive for 99 Rejections
Years ago, Marjorie Hudson, shifted my perspective on submitting one’s work and coping with rejection. She declared that as part of claiming the mantle of a writer, one should strive to gather at least 99 rejections. I sat in the workshop feeling pretty smug thinking that surely with all the years that I have been trying to get published I reached that number, no problem. Later, when I reviewed my submission file, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t even half way close to 99 rejections! This revelation spurred me on submit my work, in a serious and organized way.
I love Chris Offutt’s essay, ‘The Eleventh Draft’, where he discusses how he dealt with the fear of rejection:
“The notion of submitting anything to a magazine filled me with terror. A stranger would read my precious words, judge them deficient, and reject them, which meant I was worthless. A poet friend was so astonished by my inaction that he shamed me into sending stories out. My goal, however, was not publication, which was still too scary a thought. My goal was a hundred rejections a year.
I mailed my stories in multiple submissions and waited eagerly for their return, which they promptly did. Each rejection brought me that much closer to my goal—a cause for celebration, rather than depression. Eventually disaster struck. The Coe Review published my first story in spring 1990. The magazine was in the small industrial town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a circulation that barely surpassed the city limits. The payment was one copy of the magazine, and the editor spelled my name wrong. Nevertheless, I felt valid in every way—I was no longer a hillbilly with a pencil full of dreams. I was a real live writer.”
The common suggestion is for writers to have at least five pieces submitted at any given time.
Are you close to 99 rejections? Every time you receive one, think of it as a step forward in your writing apprenticeship. (BTW, holding a submissions party, regularly, can help you send out more material faster.)
5) Create Some Writing Affirmations
An affirmation is a short, simple, positive declarative phrase that as Eric Maisel says, in Coaching The Artist Within, “you say to yourself because you want to think a certain way…or because you want to aim yourself in a positive direction.” Writers can benefit from using affirmations as our inner critics, judges, and evaluators are often uninvited guests during our writing sessions.
A decade ago, I made a tape recording of me saying writing affirmations. I was living in California, on a post-doctoral fellowship, not a member of any writing group, and accumulating rejections at rate that made me gnash my teeth daily. At that point in my life the inner critic often got the best of me. I needed something to remind me of my basic goodness, as a human being, and encourage me as a writer.
Listening back to them now, it’s clear that I don’t have that same inner wobbly feeling about claiming writing as a love, devotion, craft and profession. Nor do I have the same fears. But those early affirmations (i.e. I am a writer!), spoken with conviction definitely built a bridge from there to here.
Writing, speaking and even recording affirmations creates a powerful state of mind. Here are some to get you started.
6) Commitment Publicly to a Writing Goal and Ask for Accountability
As a coach, I know that to make long lasting positive changes, we need structure and accountability. Over the past year, I’ve seen many writers use their virtual networks (as well as face to face ones) to get support in meeting an important writing goal. Editor, author advocate and She Writes publisher, Brooke Warner publicly announced her intention of finishing a book by a certain date. She also asked for support to help keep her accountable while writing and this request yielded wonders!
What’s one writing goal you’d consider announcing publicly and asking for accountability?
7) Buy a New Subscription to a Writing Magazine and/or Literary Journal
Where do you learn about the field of publishing? How do you find out about new writers? We do this in many ways, through blogs, friends, librarians and visits to bookstores. However, writing magazines and literary journals can also play a key role in our professional development. You’ve probably been thinking about treating yourself to new subscription to a writing magazine or literary journal for some time. Do it! When I finish this post, I’m off to subscribe to Poets and Writers.
I’m new to the ‘blog hop’ world and excited to join in. This particular blog hop is making its way around the blogosphere. It’s called ‘My Next Big Thing’. I was tagged by North Carolina mystery writer Karen Pullen to answer 10 questions. Then I get to tag some other writers. Here we go!
1. What is the working title of your book?
I’m co-producing a literary zine with Beth Turner. It is tentatively called, ‘Chatmosphere’: The Arts and Cultural Buzz of Chatham County
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’ve lived in Chatham County, North Carolina for almost a decade and have been inspired by its unique character. Chatham County is full of farmers, artists, and green industrialists. At first, I wanted to do an edited volume that chronicled the history and stories of the county. I thought doing a zine, however, would prove much more accessible and fun, and would constitute a good first step to an eventual edited volume.
One day I was talking about this idea with my friend Beth Turner. We got really excited about doing this project together. We’re like the county in that we are a combination of “old” and “new” in terms of years living here. We’ve been involved in politics, the creative arts and community building. Beth is a regional non-profit organizer who was one of the co-founders of Girls Rock NC (www.girlsrocknc.org) and is also a commissioner on Pittsboro’s Town Board. (We both live in Pittsboro) Beth has also designed lots of zines through her experience with Girls Rock, a summer camp that empowers girls through music, feminist activism and history.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
A zine is an independent publication (pronounced zeen!) that can contain just about anything from manifestos to collages. A zine can also include recipes, poetry, art work, drawings, or comics. A zine is a hands-on production and can be as informal or as fancy as one wants.
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Since this question doesn’t quite apply to my project, let me say a bit more about our process. Last year, we sent invitations to people to submit their work for consideration. I tried not to get too intimidated when I reached out to well-known writers and thought leaders. Everyone has been so nice and supportive of this project!
Here’s a snippet from our invitation:
We are inviting submissions up to 1500 words* that play with the following questions/themes:
How would you define the ‘chatmosphere’?
What keeps you committed and passionate about living in Chatham County?
What brought you to Chatham County and why have you decided to stay?
We invite you to reflect and riff on:
What is ‘rural cool’ and how does it apply to Chatham County? Think about the areas that involve YOU, including but not limited to farming and the local food movement, creating community across difference; emerging green industries and technologies, the creative economy, the role of the arts in Chatham County (i.e. music, acting, writing, singing, etc), natural resources, the history and value of our rivers: the Deep, the Rocky, the Haw and, the Cape Fear, cultural heritage traditions, healing traditions, activism and the political cultures of our county.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your manuscript?
The ‘Chatmosphere’ is a space and attitude that blends together arts, the environment and passion unlike another other place in North Carolina.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
We are self-publishing this zine.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
We received our submissions in a timely manner. We are now in the process working with authors on their revisions and planning the design of the zine. It’s been a bit slower process than we imagined, because of all the things we have learned along the way. Our target goal is to have the zine out by the end of the year!
8. What other books would you compare this story to within the genre?
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
We want to showcase the talent in our community and break out of the literary and cultural shadows of Durham, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.
10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
We have some incredible writers who have submitted poetry and prose including Belle Boggs, Marjorie Hudson, Ruth Moose, Karen Pullen and Nancy Peacock. Contributors in the zine are writing on everything from the local food movement, the dissolution of a local African American church to the vision behind some of the most successful nonprofits in the county.
Now I’m passing the baton to some truly exceptional writers . . .
A fifteen year old girl who would rather watch baseball than do her nails finds her life turns upside down when her father has a heart attack and needs surgery, and in the process she finds her friendship with her best friend Joey becomes more, her relationship with her family changes and she learns she needs more than a boy as a friend to be happy.
Posting NOV 25
AND Nancy Hinchliff, whose next big thing is a memoir. A story about family and significant relationships and events that have a indelible mark on one young girl’s entire life.
Posting NOV 26
AND Olga Godim, doing a guest post-on my blog about her soon to be published novel (yay!) ‘Lost & Found in Russia’: One mother travels around the globe in search of her daughter, while another must delve deep into her heart to find understanding and acceptance.
Posting NOV 27
AND Kiersi Burkhart, http://prolificnovelista.com/, on her next BIG thing
Posting NOV 29
AND Edith O Nuallain, http://inaroomofmyown.wordpress.com/ on ‘The Artist’s Daughter’ (or an update about how the novel she is writing for the National Novel Writing Month contest is going)
Posting NOV 30
Follow the bunny!
Posted August 12, 2012on:
I don’t think I’ll stop smiling for a few days. I just received news that the anthology You Don’t Say: Stories in the Second Person by Ink Monkey Press is out and my story ‘Family Line’ is in it! The editor accepted the story a few months ago, but since I wasn’t sure when the anthology would appear, I kept my fabulous news mostly to myself. This is my first fiction publication and it ranks up there with other incredible life moments. To publish literally means ‘to make public’. To the aspiring writer, however, being published connotes acceptance and brings a sweet spot of satisfaction that someone else finds your work compelling.
Family Line’s history from beginning to end has been a testimony to the power of persistence, and the importance of asking for and receiving support. Here are a few things that happened along the way:
1) Last October, I noticed an announcement from our local library for writers of all ages to contribute to their first ever ‘Scary Shorts’ contest. Entries were 500 words or less. I knew nothing about writing ‘flash fiction’. I told other writers about the contest, but didn’t finish my story by the deadline. At the Scary Shorts event, I was happy watching my fellow writers read, but bummed that I didn’t finish my story on time while encouraging others to do so.
2) I saw a speculative fiction contest in March 2012 (by a contest that shall remain unnamed), and used that deadline as an opportunity to spiff up my story. The premise is that a fifteen year-old boy from the Bronx is off on a trip to visit his cousins in North Carolina who he considers backwards. They tell him about a book of spells that they claim an ancestor used to free the family from slavery. Of course, the boy is dubious and havoc ensues from there.
My original draft was 500 words and was told in the second person. I’d become obsessed with writing in the second person after reading Kevin Canty’s short stories.
This contest had a flash fiction category with a 500 word limit. Perfect! I took the story to my prompt writing group (with only a few days to spare to deadline) got feedback on it, but was still having trouble bringing all the elements together. Majorie Hudson, the teacher, stayed with me after class and offered insightful suggestions. She became the first ‘godmother’ for this story. I left, revised and submitted my story to the contest. Woo-hoo! I had a great feeling about the outcome.
3) My feeling evaporated when I received the following email from the contest administrator a few days later:
I am sorry to tell you that we inadvertently lost your entry, so that it was not included in the judging. This has never happened before (and we have taken steps to ensure that it does not happen again); part of the problem was that a different M. Berger also entered the contest, and we conflated your entries. Your story is very strong and well-written; it would certainly have been sent on to the final judge, which make this doubly unfortunate.
We will process a refund for you; again, I apologize for the error, and hope you will enter again next year.
What???? Crushed describes the state that I stayed in for a week after this notice. All that work, I thought, for nothing! I put the story aside worked on other things.
Thank goodness I’ve become obsessive in reviewing calls for stories for anthologies, contests, literary journals, etc. A few weeks after the contest debacle, I saw an anthology call for short second person stories. Perfect! Woo hoo! I sent my story off again with high hopes.
4) I received a note from Mandi Lynch, the editor that said, she and her staff liked the story very much, but felt that the story was too short and they weren’t including it in the anthology.
5) I sat there breathing very hard looking, at this email, for a long time. I believed in this story. I believed in its original premise, crisp dialogue and good characterization. So, I mustered up some courage and thought, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before—ask the editor for a second chance.
I wrote her a short and direct email:
Thanks for your email and interest in my story. Would you be willing to take another look at it, if I worked it up to about 1500 words or so? And, if so, when would you want to see it? I’m taking a bit of a gamble here, but thought I should ask. Thanks for your time!
6) I was able to email this editor because I’ve been taking good care of all those inner critics and writing gremlins. I could have lapsed into a fatal version of ‘This rejection proves that you know nothing about writing. No one is going to want this story. Give up, etc.”
Mandi, the editor, responded quickly and said yes she was willing to take a second look at it. She was in a time crunch, so I had a little over a week to get her something.
7) Then I panicked! I had to take a good story from 500 words and expand it into 1500 words and ideally something she would consider publishing. In a fever I began work on it and realized that because of the deadline I was going to have to do something else that I hadn’t done before…ask for help from different places. I asked my monthly writing group to look at a draft of the story. I felt uncomfortable asking for help on a story out of our regular cycle. But, I did it. I also posted my story on my online writing community with SARK (Write it Now with SARK), also a big risk given that I didn’t have a shared face to face writing history with them.
8) Support flooded in from all corners! Writers from the monthly group gave amazing feedback. They even appreciated being asked! Several folks from the WINS group also gave thoughtful feedback and encouragement. People were rooting for me to revise and submit this story.
Finally, I took the story to my evening writing class with Melissa Delbridge. I read it to the class, got feedback, but still struggled with the ending. After class, Melissa suggested we look at the story together. I protested as I didn’t want to take up more of her time. She said not to worry and then we sat there and she read my story out loud—line by line—and together we examined the areas that weren’t working. Can I tell you what it means when a writing teacher takes the time (after teaching a two hour class no less!) to sit with you and give you her undivided attention? All I could do was say thank you profusely and sail away into the night. Melissa was the second ‘godmother’ to ‘Family Line’.
9) I revised my heart out and made Mandi’s deadline. The next day I received an email from her. She loved the revision and I was in the anthology!
10) Lessons: Never give up on an idea that you believe in. Remember editors are people, too. They can be open to looking at revised work. Be willing to revise until the work sings. Ask for support, even when it make you uncomfortable. Ask for support from people that you haven’t asked from before. Receive all support graciously. Believe you are worthy of it. Celebrate your success with your creative tribe. Repeat!
Thanks to my creative tribe: Tim, Melissa, Marjorie, The First Thursday Writers’ Group, “The “Girls Monthly Writing Group, DJ, Cathy and Michele and others on WINS
You Don’t Say: Stories in the Second Person is available from Amazon