Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Tuesday afternoon, while sitting in the cab of my supervisor's truck somewhere in the middle of Dalhart, Texas, my BlackBerry buzzed my hip. Looking down, I saw that I just received the e-mail notice I had been waiting for, and my world turned lighter as I read the words, We're Live! My flash fiction "Beyond The Pale" is now officially published, and you can find a link for it over on the sidebar of my blog.

This now gives me the opportunity to write about a couple of issues.

Back in the summer of 2000, due to symptoms of pregnancy induced hypertension, a condition that can lead to serious consequences for both a mother and her baby, the doctors admitted my wife to the hospital and delivered our first born. At only thirty-three weeks in the womb, and weighing three pounds eight ounces at birth, our son spent the first two weeks of his life in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). One day, my wife and I visited our son during feeding time and struggled with getting him to burp. Naturally, since it was our first, and a premature baby at that, we became alarmed at the slightest little thing. When we asked for a suggestion, however, one of the nurses simply replied, "Persevere."

More than eight years have passed since then, and that one line still resonates with me. As with most new things in life, the principle is the same for writing. When you're stuck in the middle of that story, trying to find your way to the end, persevere. When you're looking for the right lines in the dialogue, persevere. When you're trying to get published...

I took that principle to heart with this latest piece, "Beyond The Pale." I originally submitted it as a short story to a writing contest. It didn't make the cut. I then submitted it for publication to an e-zine. They turned it down. Then, I took a lesson I learned from Heather Sellers, author of Page after Page and Chapter after Chapter. She believes that rejections are opportunities to see your story in a new way. So, I sat down, tweaked my flash fiction a little more and sent it out again. I don't know about three times being the charm, but in this case I didn't give up on the story, and the third try found the right fit between the editor, the story and me.

And what a right fit it has been between the editor and me. In my experience with editors, I can say, with an eye of objectivity I believe, that Jake Freivald is the best editors I have worked with, and not because he chose to publish my piece. When it came time to work on some edits, he presented his position, laying out the reasons why something needed to be changed. In each case, his objective was not to make the story different, but to improve it while holding on to its spirit.

This brings me to another issue: editing. I remember working with some people on the Writer's Digest Forum, who appeared to have a wall up to anything. No matter how persuasive a person's comment had been, the author continually argued against any change. I can understand an author knowing his/her story, and holding fast on a certain issue, but I failed to see the merit in arguing every case. The attitude led me to ask why the story had been submitted in the first place. Was it only to receive pats on the back? To say, look at this, see how great I am, come learn from me? One of the lessons I took away from the WD Forum was to always be open to suggestions. Nobody has it right all the time. Another lesson I learned is that this business of writing is...well, to use a cliché, when it comes to writing and editing: it's nothing personal, it's just business. In my case, I saw Jake Freivald's points as an opportunity to learn something new--about the craft of writing and the business of publication.

To Jake Freivald, I hold up my glass. Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for seeing my story for what it was.

And now that the disco ball has stopped spinning, and the last bottle of champagne has been uncorked, it's time to get back to another story that continues to whine at me like a spoiled child. Sometimes, stories are just like that. They beg, they plead, the whimper and moan, as if they're entitled to my time, to getting their way. Often, they are right.


  1. Congrats on your pub - I've printed it off for lunchtime consumption! And yes, perseverence is key. And your editor is key. There neesd to be trust from the author that the editor knows what s/he's doing. I'm in the thick of that now... Peace, Linda

  2. Congratulations, Stephen. I am SO proud for you.

  3. Thank you for the comments, ladies.

    Linda: I just got back around to moderating my blog. I'm sorry it took so long to post your comment.

    I hope you both enjoy the story.

  4. Stephen, as always, you're right on the money. Perseverence and being open to what others can teach us are, in my opinion, the most important qualities a writer can have.

    Congrats on a fine story and on being published in FFO. And here's to many more successes to come.

  5. Stephen, that's a lot nicer than you had to be. The story was good as it came in -- I was just an extra set of eyes to help polish it.

    It's interesting to me that many of the easiest authors to work with on the editing side are those who have the strongest credentials. I think they know that as long as the editor isn't trying to make the story his own, the author has nothing to fear from outside opinions.

  6. Omigod - you are so correct. An editor with a good eye & heart to see what you're going for is a match made in heaven. I wrote to tell you that your piece of flash fiction has been the first one that caught & held me. I loved it!
    You bring to mind carl hiasson's style of building energy. I only looked up the magazine to show my fiance what flash fiction was. That was how I came up with the mag.
    Of course I am a writer too. I love it when someone can push me to re-create and improve what I've already done.
    Kudos on your latest.

  7. Jake: Thank you for the kind words. Your comments about the easiest writers resonates with me. It's something we all need to keep in mind as we continue to submit stories.

    Joy: Thank you for the kind words, as well. That my style reminds you of Carl Hiaasen is a huge honor. One of the best books I read last year was Hiaasen's Lucky You, which kept me in stitches the whole way through.

  8. Greta: As always, you've been a true friend and a great asset as a first reader. Thank you for all the support.

  9. aww thanks, that's just a throw off fun piece - for the serious stuff listen to the player - and hear me read Tupelo Honey about a nurse I know who fell in love with a crack baby. I no longer do social work btw. Well yes I do in my daily life. I'm so pleased you got back to me. I love your writings. I loved your flash fiction that I read, 'beyond the pale.'
    Hey very kind of you to check me out. I very much appreciate it! Also have a short flash fiction about how I met the guy I'm with.
    Thanks for stopping by. Hey why don't we join each other's blogs. I like yours too.