I’ve been seriously writing fiction for 10 years now, and I rarely have an experience like this one.
Since I started sending out my work at the end of 2010, I’ve mostly received rejections. I’ve gotten so very used to rejection.
In the past five years I’ve written fifteen short stories, and about half of those have since been accepted to literary magazines or paperback anthologies.
But even the stories that were accepted took a long, long time. Sometimes years. This past spring I had a story of mine, “I’ll See You in the Morning,” finally accepted to a literary magazine after four years on submission and probably twenty drafts total!
And then also this year I had my short story “Character Driven,” which I wrote at the end of 2016, finally accepted for publication, which was made me so happy. I love that story.
That second piece was on submission for about two years before it was accepted. Two years doesn’t even seem like a long time to me anymore. Two years seems almost average.
So it was a total shock to me this past summer when I wrote the first draft of a new short story called “Walter,” revised it a few times, sent it out to five places… and was accepted to one of those dream magazines in mere weeks. From first draft to acceptance was ten weeks, a goddamn miracle!
The story was inspired by a real-life event that happened to me in Portland, Oregon, in March 2019. Sometimes it’s better to come up with a story from scratch rather than piece together a work of fiction based on something that actually happened to you, the writer. But in this case, everything worked out.
And the nice surprises kept on coming!
When I received the initial e-mail that said “Walter” had been accepted to Bosque, I was overjoyed. Ecstatic. I was floating on air for days.
When you get rejected as much as I do, an acceptance of any kind is a truly momentous occasion. In early August I was informed that my story would be published in November, and I figured I wouldn’t have any e-mail interaction with this person until November, maybe late October.
An initial surprise: Mere days after receiving my acceptance letter, I received a follow-up letter from Bosque’s editor informing me I had been chosen as the literary journal’s pick for Fiction Discovery of the Year!
I had to read that e-mail twice, believe me. I didn’t believe it at first. What a lovely surprise this was!
A second surprise? The editor reached out a week later about copyedits. I figured whatever changes she wanted would take me an hour, maybe two. If I was lucky, maybe just thirty minutes.
You know what the editor wanted changed? One word. She questioned one word in the entire story. I agreed with her that the word was unnecessary, so I cut it from the manuscript, and then sent the story back.
That was it. I was done. After spending an entire year with a literary agent who made me revise my book ten arduous times, to be asked to change a single word of my manuscript was definitely a lovely surprise, one I did not expect.
A third surprise? Yes, there was a third one! In mid-September I received another e-mail from the editor telling me I would be paid for my story because of being designated as the Fiction Discovery of the Year. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was a lovely gesture, and I was thrilled to receive a check in the mail a few weeks later, wow!
Were there any more surprises? Yep, the best one of all was this very week!
It’s one of the great surprises you can have as a writer — when the literary journal actually shows up in your mailbox.
It’s happened to me five or six times before in the last few years. And every single time it arrives not expected but as a total surprise because you always forget it’s coming.
I hadn’t thought of Bosque and “Walter” for a month or so. It wasn’t on my radar. I just returned home for a trip and checked my mail to find a package from Bosque, and I gasped! Here it was, hooray!
And oh my God, what a beauty this journal is. I say that every time I see my work in print (well, almost always), but after a decade of writing fiction and getting some of my work published, this is by far the most gorgeous literary journal yet. Here are some pictures below…
This was such a fantastic way to end my first decade of writing fiction. Such a perfect motivation to keep me going strong for many more decades to come.
Although I think of myself as a novel writer, not a short story writer, the success I had with “Walter” inspired me to return to the short form.
Starting in 2017 I promised myself to write at least one new short story a year, and I’ve stuck to that. I wrote a story in 2017 called “39 Pies” that has gone through twelve drafts and has been rejected at least forty times. In 2018 I wrote a long magical realism story called “Gretel” that has been getting extremely kind rejection notices, which is promising. That one’s gone through about ten drafts and I’m confident it will find a home one of these days.
Since ‘Walter’ was accepted so quickly, I decided to write a second short story in 2019, and so recently I completed my last new work of fiction of the decade, a story called “F” that’s written in the second person. I just started sending it out, and so far, only rejections. But hey, who knows what might come of this one in the new year?
Because of the success of “Walter” I have decided to aim for two new short stories a year. And to take risks every single time. I write middle grade and young adult novels, so it’s been fun to write adult fiction in my short stories. To write the kind of story I would probably never attempt at novel length.
To keep growing as an artist by thinking outside the box and coming up with something no one would ever expect of me.
So if you’re interested in writing short stories, now is a better time than ever to take a risk in more ways than one! Let my journey serve as an example of what can happen when you persevere, when you try and try no matter how much you fail, no matter how many rejections roll in year after year.
If you stick with something long enough, and if you give it your all every time, it’s absolutely true: you will get better, and you’ll eventually start to hear that lovely word yes even if you’re used to that ugly word no.
Let’s all see where our imaginations can take us in the months to come. Here’s to risk-taking and memorable short story writing in 2020 and beyond!