When I was 25, I didn’t wear my heart on my sleeve, my sleeve was made of my heart. If I had to pinpoint the worst years of my life, it would be my early to mid-twenties. If I wasn’t writing, I’d have no idea what to do with (to quote Troy from community, “MY EMOTIONS! MY EMOTIONS.”)
So I wrote this book. I’d imagined was going to be the book that was going to complete my childhood dream of being published before 25. I’d just sold a couple short stories to some excellent semi pro-markets and I thought this was the next logical step.
And Boston had been magical. I’d listened to Neil Gaiman read, I had him and Sir Terry Pratchett sign a copy of Good Omens, one of my wife’s favourite books even though it took probably most of a day in line to get them both to sign it. The panels had been great — The Tor panel on what to expect as a first time author as in published author was probably the most I’d learned in a panel. When Anna and I decided to skip the last day to go to Salem, because Salem was only a train ride away, we both jumped at the chance to get away.
Salem was amazing. As cheezy and commercial as anything you could imagine, and extremely modern considering in the seventies, they’d knocked down the old jail that had kept the actual “witches” (read, good Christians who wouldn’t give up their faith or the lands though it cost them their lives) to build a power company building. The graveyard was epic. There was this old oak tree that had probably greeted the first townies as they arrived. It had this one jutting out branch that ran parallel to the earth almost as long as the tree was tall, and so strong and thick that Anna could run on it. The gravestones were written in a time before S and F were two different letters.
So of course we got our cards read, and the sum of mine said “Not yet.” Man, I was upset walking out of that room, but I have to say, I hated the submission process. I’d sent out a couple of queries prior to the convention, and had gotten form letters. My god, they stung. All I needed to hear was one “no” and that story was never opened again.
But I was extremely lucky. I’d submitted a book to Loose Id that I’d written as a birthday present to a friend and sent it in before going to Boston on a lark. After that, my books from MLR, Amber Quill and Less than Three were all invitations. As long as I didn’t have to worry about rejection, I was writing my heart out, pumping out four books a year.
Then it took three years to get my heart back. In that cavernous silence in which I didn’t write anything for the first time since age 11, I decided in a fit of wisdom to go back and get my MFA. I hadn’t written in three years, but really, it was the perfect time.
And then the words came back and I’m twenty years older than that broken kid on a flight back to Calgary. My heart’s back in my chest where it belongs. Rejection just means the inconvenience of having to find the next person who will be able to see what I put into Kakotopia.
There’s three ways to get published in this world. Be great, be lucky, or be incredibly stubborn and learn how to grow between being good and being great. I was never a great writer. I had some skills, but the weaknesses dragged the story down more than the strengths made them float.
I think there comes a point where rejections are just rejections and I move on. I’m not great. I’m not lucky. I’m skilled and stubborn and happy with my choices. When I started out, each one sure felt like the death of my dream. What a difference time makes.