I guess I am a lesson in never giving up. I’m almost 70 (well, I just turned 69 so 70 is a year away – still seems like almost). I started writing seriously when I was about 35. Before that, I did lazy hippie things like a lot of short-term jobs and a lot of just living life.
I went back to college – if you can call registering at CSUN with a semester’s worth of credits from four different community colleges “going back” – at 32. I finally decided to be an English major. I avoided that through all my other college attempts. Why? Because it came easily to me. College is supposed to be hard. I tried several other majors which explains the short stints at the community colleges. English was my last resort and my best skill. I enrolled, I registered for a bunch of literature classes and a creative writing class, and it was as if I had plunged into the correct universe, the one that matched what went on in my brain. I became a diligent, straight-A student. I was introduced to Joan Didion’s work and fell in love – even holding on when a favorite professor asked me why I liked her since he did not. Vonnegut, Faulkner, Woolf, even Chaucer grabbed me, and I was amazed and thrilled that there was so much to be explored.
Then the creative writing class was a revelation. I could write stories myself. One of the very first stories I wrote was selected for the school literary magazine. Evidently, all that reading I had done – not just in college but since I was a kid reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy lying with my legs draped over the back of the couch while family life went on around me – gave me an intuitive feel for storytelling. I could write, and people liked my stories! So, I wrote and wrote. I did my master’s thesis as a short story collection, narrowing down my many stories to just ten. Two more were published in the school literary magazine and encouraged, I sent other stories out into the world and had three published in literary magazines where no one knew me. I was amazed. The stories were liked by people who did NOT sit in class with me semester after semester.
Let me be clear here: this took place in the eighties. Early in the next decade, I got married, bought a house, had a baby, and worked an interesting teaching job. I did not write. I did not write again until late in the nineties. I started writing again and wrote novels. Five of them. Sometimes short stories, but I was loving the way I could create a world and live in it for 400 pages or more. Two of the novels were – are – good ones (IMHO) and I have queried many many agents. I get nice rejections, a couple of “let’s see more” and then “no thanks,” so I stop submitting for a while, then start again. One novel is about a rock musician, and I actually had an agent write me back with an “Ugh. I hate rock music. It’s loud and disgusting and I can’t imagine reading an entire novel about it.” Well, really all you had to say was “no.” I’ve since wondered what that agent thought of the success of A Visit from the Goon Squad. My other novel is a YA dystopian story, and impossibly one agent wrote me in her rejection that dystopian novels were not a thing anymore. I can’t tell you how very many dystopian novels have gone on to great success since she said that.
So how did I get here? Back to writing short stories and submitting them, twenty-some years later. Teaching and reading short stories spurred me to write them. Lots of them. Some better than others. Two stories were published in The Write Launch, a flash fiction piece on (mac)ro(mic), and then “(Just) A Girl in the World” in the 4th Made in L.A. anthology. With the exception of the flash piece, the three stories are about artists and the L.A. art scene. My husband is an artist and has been exhibiting here since long before I knew him. I’ve been to many art galleries and openings, met many artists new and old, read art reviews … I know the types and the language. So, my stories are about artists. The genesis of “(Just) a Girl in the World” – one of my favorite stories – was simply the “No Doubt” song. I heard it on the radio one day driving home from work, and the line, “just a girl in the world” leaped out at me and I knew I had to write a story. I didn’t know what the story would be about at all, other than, well, a girl in the world.
Once I started, I connected my somewhat naïve and somewhat superior female protagonist to her best friend, a fiery, narcissistic, beautiful, and highly successful artist. That is a lot of adjectives. She is a heightened version of a woman I used to know; I wanted to be confident like her, but not as tortured as her. So that was the basis for my story, their relationship. I wrote it over one weekend and then spent several months revising it. I got rid of tangents that did not move anything along and kept tangents that I was happy with.
I loved this story. It was a fine example of my voice as a writer (see also my two The Write Launch stories which also make me happy with how my voice comes across); it had bits of humor which is important to me, and it captured some of the relationship I had with that woman I used to know. I sent it out to literary magazines, and it kept getting turned down. I am used to rejection; I have had so many stories rejected, usually with nice notices that say it is not right for them but they like my work and ask me to submit something else. But I couldn’t figure out why this one was getting rejected (nothing like falling in love with your work). Finally, I paid an editor to read it and advise me. While that was out there happening, I got an email from Made in L.A. telling me they loved the story and wanted it for their annual anthology. Best of all, the editor wrote to tell me specifically what he liked, and it was all the things I liked – voice, humor, the art scene, and L.A. A few days later I got the notes from the editor I had paid, and his notes took out most of those very same things. Money not well spent.
So. I am never giving up. I keep writing stories and revising stories. I keep submitting and getting rejected. I keep hoping to find an agent for one or both of my novels. And I am optimistic and always sure that another acceptance is right around the corner. And if not, it kinda doesn’t matter. I love writing stories and if I am the only one who ever reads them, then I’ve made myself happy.