A few weeks ago, I wrote a story. I had several members of the family read it and all of them enjoyed it so much that I had my first burning desire to submit it for publication. Now that I look back, it seems strange that I have never submitted a single piece before. No…that’s not right. I remember many years ago my mother submitted a poem that was published in a compilation of poetry. So this would technically be the second piece submitted, the first submitted of my own volition. Besides, the poem that my mother submitted when I was 16 was awful, and when she has guests over and takes me through the horror of finding the tome it’s in and passing it about the room I become awash with embarrassment and want to vanish. So, for the sake of this story, this was my first writing submission for publication.
The requirements for submission were simple. I printed it up, double spaced, placed a short cover letter inside explaining that I lived in Malta, and that any correspondence should be sent to my U.S. post office box instead of the return address. At the time, Linda and I were formulating a way to return to the States, a story for another day, but one that has the same level of anxiety building up to our flight as the escape from Alcatraz and would have the Anglin brothers nod their approval. I stuffed everything into an envelope plastered with numerous Maltese stamps and walked it down to the nearest Malta Post drop box. I remember having some butterflies as I watched it slip into the darkness. Was this going to be my first published work? Would the world look back, long after fame and fortune had elevated me to unseen heights, to this first story as the keystone to my writing career?
Oh, the things I imagined. It’s amusing when you think about what you think about. As I strolled down Triq Guze Howard, back to our flat at the Howard-Milner Residence, my mind became filled with the wonders of a new, sweeping epic of a life, borne on the winds of this small, traveling envelope. Linda would never work again. We would build our dream home with the money earned from my novels. I would continue to write into my twilight years from my new study, surrounded by books, old and new, and the smells of decaying leather and paper. Travel & leisure, and more time to enjoy our remaining days would be ours.
Soon the letter was forgotten. My wife and I got caught up in the stresses of moving back home. Resignations needed to be submitted at work, items that weren’t going to make the trip with us sold or given away. Packing and shipping consumed us, and of course, goodbyes to all of our wonderful friends here in Malta. Yet every once in a while as the weeks wore on, I would remember the submission, and wonder what became of it. Thinking about it always gave me a pang of excitement. The small letter had evolved into something more than a container of a story. It contained limitless possibility.
We visited friends in North Carolina and Florida before we ended up back in our home state of California. My daughter was getting ready to attend her first year of college, my son desperately wanted to return to the same elementary school that he had left behind. And there are so many friends to see! First, we needed to find a home to rent. Our home was still going to be leased for another 3 years. We didn’t realize we would be returning from Malta so soon. And although we had taken a peek at the rental market from Malta, it didn’t sink in how things had changed in 2 years until we actively began our search. If it wasn’t for the generosity of friends and family, this experience would have been so much worse. What began in late July as casual house hunting became a desperate situation by late August. Because of the recession, construction on new homes had ceased. Banks had taken so many homes from people that what remained became rentals. Inventory quickly shrank to almost nothing, and landlords had an opportunity to raise prices to astonishing heights. Unfortunately, we were being priced right out of our home town. Add to this the need to find work!
Then it came! The response to my submission. This could change everything. It was as if the envelope would contain thousands of dollars. The gushing review of my masterpiece was inside, and the springboard to my career as a novelist/screenwriter/playwright/poet was in my grasp! The world had begun to spin anew.
I opened the envelope and began reading the letter inside.
It was a rejection. I kindly letter, stating that hundreds of submissions come through every day. That this was no reflection on the quality of my writing, just that it wasn’t a good fit for the magazine.
At first I was disappointed, but it only took a few moments to, strangely, feel elation. I held in my hand a response from strangers that had read my work. The important thing about this letter was that it was proof that I had taken a leap to submit it. I had put myself into the most vulnerable place a creative writer can. I had exposed my underbelly to be gored by the beast, and although my courage had left me bloodied, I was not shamed. It was at that moment that the letter became one of my most prized possessions.
I have always told my children that they need to feel failure to feel the triumph of success. That they will fall down numerous times on their way to their goal. That picking ourselves up after each misstep builds character and teaches us something. In my hands were my own words to them, but it was their beautiful faces, and my dear wife Linda’s, that were speaking them back to me now. This letter might be the first of many more rejections. I envisioned a box full of them in my near future, and that box was to be my greatest treasure. More submissions are forthcoming.
Now I write for you, and for myself. I can’t care who loves it or hates it. I just write. Because, as someone told me recently, that’s what writers do.