I am burning this date—December 1, 2014—into the hard-drive of my mind. This way, I can retrieve it anytime I feel undermined by doubt or weary from effort. Why? Because this is the publishing month for my first work of fiction. It never occurred to me that that work would be a short story. Life is full of pleasant surprises!
I had just finished the polish on my novel and was outlining the next when I was detoured by a series of coincidences. It started with one of Tom Monteleone’s Truth Sucks So Deal With It blogs. That’s not what he calls them, but it’s how they read to me. Unvarnished truth. (If you want to read some, check out his website and/or buy a copy of The Mothers And Fathers Italian Association.) Anyway, the truth of this particular blog was telling writers to stop being such wimps and submit their work!
Well, if you’ve been reading, listening, or following me in any way, you probably know that I’m not afraid of rejection. Some might even say that I’ve made a career of it. So while Tom’s blog wasn’t aimed at me, I still got a personal message. (Actually, I’m good at finding those in just about any circumstance. But that’s a topic for a different Mindful Musing.) What I got from Tom was that I should submit a short story. Well, guess what? I had one! Sort of.
You see, a few days earlier, I had gone to an office supply store and bought a nifty pen and turquoise-colored journal. Then—armed with my author-y accoutrements, a comfy teak lounge, and a view of the Pacific—I wrote what felt like a disturbingly suspenseful journal entry. I thought it was cool. I was pleased with my creative writing exercise. I closed the journal and got back to work. It didn’t occur to me to develop it further. After all, I had a novel to write!
Then I read Tom’s blog. In it he challenged writers to “send out every finished piece of work.” Pretty straight forward stuff. I figured that his sage advice did not apply to me since I was already actively submitting the novel I had written and accumulating gracious rejections to prove it! But what about the raw ramblings in my turquoise-colored journal? It was the right length. It was mightily intriguing. Yet still, I resisted.
I’m a big believer in setting goals while remaining flexible. Life is full of little lessons that can, and should, alter the course. On the other hand, I’m also aware that new directions can be pretty seductive, especially when I’m going through a rough spot. Outlining a complex book definitely qualified as a rough spot for me. So, determined not to be seduced, I put the journal away and got back to work.
That’s when the Universe gave me one more kick in the ass: an email reminder from Writer’s Digest that the deadline for their short story competition would be at midnight that night. (The Universe is my euphemism for coincidences that point in a specific direction. I’ve learned the hard way not to ignore those since they can be wickedly unpleasant and physically painful!) So, in fear of a more “forceful” incentive, I typed my ramblings into my computer and began crafting them into what I hoped would be a publishable story. I worked from eight that morning to ten that night. When I read it aloud to my husband, he reacted in all the ways I had hoped: he leaned forward, he held his breath, he laughed, he gasped, and when I read the final sentence, he emitted a long and satisfied, “Whoa.” And that was all the feedback I had time to get.
I registered for the competition, paid my fee, and hit send.
I didn’t think much of my chances of winning, but I didn’t care. I had submitted my first short story. It felt so good that I did it again. I checked with Writer’s Digest and got the okay to submit it to Suspense Magazine. Then I went back to outlining my next novel.
I didn’t mind when I got the Sorry Your Story Didn’t Beat A Thousand Writer’s Digest Applicants email. I just kept writing and followed up with Suspense Magazine. This time, I got a resounding yes. Not only did they want to publish CALL ME DUMPLING, they wanted to put it in the popular Best Of 2014 December Issue!
So today’s that day—December 1, 2014—and I’m burning it into my mind. It will remind for me to go ahead and set that course but to be ready for happy detours. It will also remind me to celebrate every win, no matter how small or “short.”
(Update: Just learned the issue will come out in mid-December. Another valuable lesson in flexibility!)
POST SCRIPT: It’s now August of 2015, and guess what I’m writing? The novel version of CALL ME DUMPLING, which I hope will be the first in the Lily Wong Ninja Series. Sure glad I took that Happy Detour!