May 14, 2010

To Make a Long Story Longer

The best thing happened to me yesterday! I opened my mailbox and there was a nice hefty manila folder inside. I always love getting literary magazines in the mail, and I get a lot of them. The first thing I do is search the list of names on the back cover or in the table of contents to see who I know who’s in it. More often than not, there’s someone, and I get to brag about them on the blog or on Facebook and email them or post on their Facebook page: You rock!

Yesterday, it was me in that list of names! My story “The Body Animal” came out in Talking River Double Issue #27/28. I am so thrilled. (You can only read it in hard copy, though, so order today!) The reason I’m mentioning it, other than shameless self-promotion, is because this story has had a long history, and I thought I’d tell you about it.

I wrote the story in 2003 shortly after grad school. I remember starting it on the computer and getting stalled, so then I went to the library with a notebook and I wrote through to the end, the last three-quarters of it, in one sitting. I revised it, and then I was in a writers group at the time and they read it. The comments I got back were: “Wow, this is really dark” and “The girl in this story has some sort of mental disorder.” I have to admit, in a long history of dark stories, it’s probably my darkest.

Then I began sending the story out in 2004. The first place I sent it was the New Yorker. Now, don’t be shocked, and I’m going to resist being embarrassed as I say it. It all goes back to my haystack theory of publishing ~ I didn’t expect it to be published there, but it’s part of the process of letting people get used to your work. Also, Deborah Treisman said in an interview that she doesn’t get nearly as many submissions from women as men. I say: You’ve got to have hubris to be a writer. You won’t believe it though ~ I got the “despite its evident merit” email on the story! (In recent years, the line “despite its evident merit” has been revised to “in spite of its evident merit.”) This note has sustained me through dark times, let me tell you.

Between 2004 and 2008, I sent the story to 22 places. Of the 22, eight were form rejections, five asked me to submit something else in the future, two included nice notes, one was an acceptance, I withdrew five, and one I withdrew but then they sent me a note asking me to submit in the future.

These were the nice notes I received. Sean Meriwether of the now-defunct but wonderful Outsider Ink very graciously told me, “Closer than the last. I look forward to the next.” The Missouri Review, who’s sent me so many wonderfully encouraging notes, said, “Although we could not accept your work at this time we did enjoy the concept you explored with the body/self conflict. We especially liked the line: ‘As if the self and the body were the same thing.’"

Then one day in 2008, like many other days, I opened the mailbox and there was one of my little SASEs. A rejection. I opened it and, no!, it was an acceptance, a form letter that said, “Talking River is pleased to accept ‘The Body Animal’ for publication in a future issue of our journal.” Woo hoo!

So a year went by and I hadn’t heard anything. So I emailed Talking River. Nothing. There’s no phone number on their website, so after talking with a few people at Lewis and Clark State College I tracked down the number for the editor and we talked. He was very nice. Apparently, there had been an editor previously and things had gotten way behind schedule. The current editor thought that my story would be out in the fall of 2009, if I still wanted it to be published in Talking River. Needless to say, I did. Bird in the hand, and it's a great mag!

Still nothing. I called back in late 2009. The editor said that he was very sorry. They were trying to catch up. It would come out in the spring of 2010 in a double issue. So I’ve been waiting by the mailbox for it, and here it is!

A funny side note. I was telling my friend Chavawn, who’s also a fiction writer here in Laramie, the story, and she said, “That exact thing happened to me too!” A story was accepted at Talking River and then took a while. We were hoping our stories would be in the same issue.

So, finally, I’m so glad that Talking River is back on track, and I’m so grateful that they didn’t just pull the plug on me and on this wonderful journal. Kudos!

What I’m Reading Today: More Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life. So good.

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