Return to Rio


            Success at an early age kills.  Well, at least sometimes it does.  When you write.

           I received my first check from a short-lived children’s magazine that only took work from kids.  Got a dollar fifty for the worst ever poem about dolphins.  My sister got a check for what she wrote too, but selfishly, I don’t remember her success–only mine.

            Sounds promising, right?  A 6 year old getting money for a poem, even a poorly written one?  (Rhyming wasn’t ever my style, and I should have known then I was no Dr. Seuss.)

            The problem came in the intervening…oh, say 20 something years.

            Not because I stopped writing–I never stopped writing.  When my father kicked me out of my house and burned my John Wayne movie-book, I kept writing.  (And I’m pretty sure I would have sold THAT book–I mean, I ignored chemistry for six months to finish it quickly.)

            And not only did I write, I submitted.  My mom, God love her, gave me a subscription to Writer’s Digest and the annual Writer’s Market every year.  I knew all the terms–SASE, agent only, advance (the biggie!)–by the time I turned twelve.

            At thirteen, I submitted a hilarious story called “The Shake-up” to Playboy.  The way I saw it, the manuscript lashed out at the racist south I grew up in. St. Peter retired and the new gatekeeper was African-American, charged with letting those in who might once have been some of the world’s worst.  Why shouldn’t I have submitted it to the best, fastest-paying market around?  Besides, my father had a subscription, and maybe he’d recognize himself when the new gatekeeper refused to let him into Heaven…

            Needless to say, the story was rejected with one of those “We regret to inform you” letters.  Form rejections are cruel, but at least they also keep editors from telling you what they really think if they hate your story.  And brilliant as that story was to a thirteen year old, and as well-intentioned as it was, I’m sure in retrospect that it would have been condescending, stupid–it undoubtedly sucked. 

            But the rejection still hurt.

            Over the years, I collected hundreds of rejections–so many rejections that when my second check came, I threw it in the trash.  I was at work, and because I was currently living inNuevo Laredo,Mexico, I received my rejections at work.  My supervisor handed me the envelope.  I glanced at it, said something he’d never heard me say before, and hurled it in the trash.

            Before realizing it wasn’t a self-addressed envelope, but one with a company logo.  An acceptance!  I almost knocked him over getting it back.

            And so it went.  For awhile, I got good at “slanting” shorter work.  Had a poem published in McCall’s.  A short story in Cat Fancy.  Stories and poetry in several other national magazines.

            Then, since I prefer longer avenues, I started working on longer fiction–romance, mostly.  (Although I started a funny, mainstream called Papers that I wish I’d finished before I leftNuevo Laredo and got over a lot of things like forbidden crushes.)

           Avon sent me one of those wonderful rejections–a personal one that said they’d seriously considered it for their line of mid-list glitz.  The editor, Robert Mcsomeone (that has to be the only rejection I ever lost!) praised my work.  Gave me advice and wished me luck.

            The non-writers around me didn’t understand.  “Another rejection?  Too bad!”

            More rejections.  And recently, I worked with editors for a year and a half, being encouraged to revise and submit again, feeling I was there–and then receiving, finally, a rejection.  That one almost was the knife in the heart.

            Most of you who write know about those.  Some of you may have avoided that experience altogether.  You are the golden few, and your success encourages those of us who still have knives sticking through us to struggle on.

            Nietzsche was right when he said any rejection that doesn’t kill is acceptance–or something like that. 

            But he didn’t know about indie publishing.  I published Love’s Lasting Song  print-on-demand, on my sister’s advice.  She’s a technical editor with a company that works for NASA.  SHE loved it–no rejection there.  In hindsight, there are issues with that brilliant work, too, but it’s still a book that saved my life.  It deserved publication.  Don’t all our books?

            The problem, of course, with indie publishing is that not all our books are brilliant.  Not all deserve publication.  We need rejection, sometimes, to get better.

            My current work, La Llorona (The Wailing Woman), is an anthology that wouldn’t fit in anywhere else.  I’m working on a collection of essays on education that will also be indie-pubbed.  I’ll treat it as if I were waiting to hear from a mainstream publisher that might offer me a six figure advance–my writing matters to me.  So it doesn’t end until all the words are right.  And I won’t face rejection.

            But my mainstream?  My hill country romances?  My children’s books?

            They’ll probably go out in search of a traditional home.  They’ll be worthy of publication.  But like every writer’s work, they’ll be candidates for rejection.

            Because you can forget established publishers–unless a reader picks up your work and reads it, the rejection just goes on hurting.

(For more on my work, please visit )

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