Yesterday, I had stories accepted at two different magazines: The Journal and Secret Journal Magazine, which is a new start-up that I’ve heard through the grapevine is going to feature a number of really great writers. Last week, another story was accepted by another great magazine--Tusculum Review— and the combination of these successes made me dizzy-headed. I couldn’t much concentrate on work yesterday. Every few moments, I’d re-read the emails that the editors of these publications had sent. Or I’d re-read the stories themselves, basking in—what?—accomplishment?
Then life intervened.
The boys’ afternoon soccer practice didn’t go well. Sebastian, my 10-year-old, was particularly frustrated—he’s been playing goalkeeper lately and was upset at himself for the goals he had allowed. He was almost in tears. So I took him out for ice cream so I could talk with him.
Which was nice. It was one of those moments when, as a father, you think to yourself, I’m doing everything right.
Then I saw that the local theatre was hosting a one-night-only production of a play about the Civil War starting at 8 pm. At school, he’s been studying the Civil War. A couple of weeks ago, my wife took him to traveling museum exhibit that he thoroughly enjoyed, plus we went several times to an exhibition of Civil War drawings at Roanoke’s Taubman Museum of Art.
So we rushed home. Sebastian took a quick bath. We drove to the theatre, but for the first time in my life I couldn’t find a parking space in downtown Blacksburg. We kept driving in circles as the rain starting coming down.
That's when I felt like a total failure.
I'm just glad we didn't buy tickets ahead of time.
Failure actually has been much on my mind lately. Cue the snark, but both the stories yesterday had to do with a certain kind of failure. I’m particularly proud of “Preludes,” the story which will be appearing in The Journal. I’d been working on it for a number of years. Over the summer, I revised it again and it finally seemed to hum. Last week, Nick White (The Journal’s Associate Fiction Editor) emailed a request that I try to shave 500 words from the story (which n was then about 4,600 words). He suggested one aspect in particular that might be cut. So I tinkered with it again last weekend and was surprised to see how much more effectively the story worked with some cuts.
It always amazes me, really, how important proper editorial suggestions can be.
Last spring, I worked with an agent on a debut novel. She suggested a couple of general changes and, after agonizing for maybe a week about how in the freak I was going to execute them, everything just started to hum. I devoted three months to the revisions, working well into the early morning hours each day. New scenes were constructed. I line-edited the novel to deflate some of the razzle-dazzle and make things more “real.” I delved deeper into characters’ thoughts to emphasize what they wanted. The novel breathed more internally, the individual sections riffing more off each other and cohering into something more logical and less random than it had been before.
When I was through, the changes amazed and excited my agent. She was going to start a round of submissions immediately, and I was particularly hopeful since she said that a couple of editors who had seen an earlier draft had specifically asked to see the revised version.
And then she just disappeared.
I tried contacting her but she didn’t return my emails. I was bewildered. It was like some existential thing. The emails I sent to her were like prayers to god. I sent them expecting some kind of response and was left with abject silence. I ran around Job-like, wondering what I may have done to deserve this kind of treatment.
And, yeah, I worked on a new novel too.
In September, I found out through a colleague that she abandoned most if not all of her agenting projects because of a sudden life change. Even now, details are sketchy. One invests a tremendous amount of emotional energy into a novel. I was heartbroken. Right now, I’m still trying to pick up the pieces.