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.