The Practice of Creativity

My First Fiction Publication: A Story of Persistence and Asking for and Receiving Support

Posted on: August 12, 2012

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:

Dear Michele,

 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

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25 Responses to "My First Fiction Publication: A Story of Persistence and Asking for and Receiving Support"

Great post for the new and established writer! Congrats.

Hi Anne,
Thanks for stopping by to visit and your comment.

What a great story! Congrats on taking the risk (emailing the editor and asking if you could resubmit) and making it work in your favor. 🙂

Hey Kelly,
Thanks so much. This process has been such an odyssey. I now feel like I am on the other side and it’s a good feeling.

Michele, I am so honored to have played a small part in this well-deserved publication. It’s a fine story — chilling and thought-provoking. Your persistence and in your story are a gift to me and will be a gift to my future students who hear this as an example of what it takes!

Congratulations! 🙂

Congratulations! Quite an odyssey – and happy ending!

Hey Karen,
Yes, it felt like an odyssey, but it’s so nice now to be on the other side of being published.

Good for you for believing in yourself and your story to make it happen. 🙂

Hi Lynn,
Thanks for stopping by. Yes, belief in one’s efforts is critical!

Lynn – – I’m in the anthology too, so I read all the stories, and yours was one of my favorites. Great mood and southern flavor. Congrats, and keep at it! David Ballard

Oops — I meant Michele (looked up at the previous post and then got the name wrong).

Dear David,
Oh, how nice it was to get your note. Thanks for your kind words. So glad that you enjoyed the story. I can’t wait to dive into the collection and read everyone’s contribution.

Hurray Michele
This is such wonderful news. You inspire us all!

Hey Cathy,
No, thank you! You gave me such helpful feedback at a crucial point while I was trying to get the story out the door.

Michele, I am so very excited for you. I imagine you must be on the top of the world.

M. Todd Henderson
Author, “Shifting Sands: His Hell. Her Prison.”
mthtodd@earthlink.net

Michele, I haven’t read your blog before, but your write up (on She Writes) had so much hope and heart in it that I wanted to take a look. congratulations! I know how daunting and discouraging it can be trying to get published. enjoy every second of the success!

Hi Helen,
Thanks so much for this sweet note. The glow hasn’t faded yet!

Hi Michele, I am so happy and, dare I say, proud of you. This is big news. Congratulation. I can only imagine that that smile has yet to leave your face.

You were certainly brave to call the publisher and ask for another consideration. I currently have a submission in for a fiction piece in a weekly magazine. Should I need to, I’ll take your lead and call with confidence.

Your Lessons probably apply to all of us, but they undoubtedly apply to me. But, I guess, mostly, they give me confidence that I’m not at the mercy of editors who review my work. They’re not gods ruling from above. They can be approached and reasoned with.

I just ordered your book on Amazon. I can’t wait to read it.

All the best,

M. Todd Henderson
Author, “Shifting Sands: His Hell. Her Prison.”

Hey Todd,
Oh, thanks so much. I’m still smiling!

And, thanks for ordering the book! You’re definitely not at the mercy of editors. We have to remind ourselves that there are many publishing outlets and publishers wouldn’t exist without writers! I hope your correspondence with the editor goes well.

Michele, please excuse me for the delay in getting back to you about “Family Line.” I enjoyed the story on many levels.

Your use of second-person is flawless and makes me empathize with Nate throughout the book. The symbolism of the “gold Nate belt” is an additional tie between me and Nate which continued throughout the story.

I was captivated by the story literally in the first sentence which immediately set up a mysterious aura. At the Amtrak station before boarding the line “your mother’s tears and your father’s solemn hug” set me to wonder just what exactly Nate had in store in this solo trip to visit cousins in North Carolina. Towards the end of the story this line comes full circle when Nate realizes the significance of his parents goodbyes.

Michele, thank you for sharing your work. I enjoyed it and look forward to seeing more.

Hi Todd,
Oh, thanks for a wonderful comment on this story! I’m so glad that it touched you. It was my first attempt at anything like flash fiction and also suspense. Look forward to seeing you in Ruth’s class–I won’t be there the first week because of travel,but will see you after that.

This is a great story about the long quirky road to publication. I really admire your persistence – it’s a lesson that took me a long time to learn. And the story concept you outlined in 2) sounds terrific — Congratulations!

Hey Alisa,
Thanks so much for stopping by and offering your encouragement. It has been a long and quirky road to publication. I’m lucky to have been supported through much of this process.

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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