Write City published my story today and I’m beyond thrilled because although it took me two tries, it was accepted. This is an excerpt from the first email I received:
“We appreciate you letting us take a look at this story for possible publication in The Write City Magazine. Usually we’ve got a straight up YES or a straight-up NO, but in the case of your story, it’s mixed. We’d be open to seeing a revised version that addresses some of the editors’ concerns as follows:
One editor was not clear about the reference to “moon-shaped face” and would like you to be more specific about the child’s disability
Another wanted a few more, deeper descriptions
Perhaps the differences between the husbands could either be introduced earlier on, delved into more, or downplayed altogether, because the introduction of the husband’s different reactions felt a bit tacked on to the ending
Something about the ending needs changed. It didn’t hit us with the punch that the rest of the story did. Perhaps you could develop it a bit more, reach some additional conclusions as to why this encounter was important compared to others the protagonist experienced and why it lingered so vividly.
Like I said, if you want to consider our feedback, and resubmit, we’d love to take another look…”
I love a challenge so I revised, edited it another five times and showed it to my oldest daughter, Alia, who also stands in as my editor. This is the first time I will be paid for something I wrote. I am so grateful! If you’d like to read the story, you can find the link under “Publications” in this website.
There’s an important lesson here. I refuse to give up as I learn to do new things. I imagine it’s like learning how to juggle. Hard!
I think I am going to get my book published. This hasn’t been something I believed up until now. But I’m inching closer.
Last week, there was a writer’s pitch fest on Twitter. The objective of the event is for writers to ‘pitch’ their story in 280 characters or less. Don’t forget the hashtags. That’s very important in the posting. The next thing that writers hope will happen or expect to have happened is an agent tweets a heart. That means they liked your pitch and want you to send a query letter or a proposal or both. The first two times I participated in PitMad, it was not fun.
It’s a lot of pressure on a person to work hard at writing one sentence about their whole book, and then hoping, waiting for an agent to like it. It didn’t happen for me the first two times, which greatly upset me.
So I wasn’t going to do it last week but at the last minute, I hauled out an old pitch and posted it. An hour or so later, I pitched another one.
I got an instant heart from an agent. Not some jerk who didn’t follow the rules of PitMad. Lots of times you get a heart from random people. Don’t they realize they’re messing with your head when they do this?
But I got a heart. And wrote that proposal I’ve been putting off doing for two years.
I am making progress! I’ve gotten a few more short stories published and an agent requested my full manuscript! I believe in my book because it shines a light on the challenges parents of children with disabilities face. The next step in my process is seeking a literary agent to represent my book & which involves marketing. What I’ve learned so far is I must market myself, and gain a following before I can even land an agent to represent my book. I’m on Twitter at Catshields1. I’ve got the author’s website up now. I am learning how to do Instagram posts.
I’m studying what else I need to do. All ideas are welcome!
I’m proud of myself. Today I took a giant leap and entered the Pitch Wars contest, a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions on how to make the manuscript shine for an agent showcase.
So I believe I have a chance. I worked on my query. Many thanks to the Facebook group, Binders Seeking Literary Agents as well as my daughter, Alia the Librarian, who researched queries and synopsis examples. If I am chosen as a mentee, she is one of the people I will thank.
#writing #memoir #publishing
UPDATE: I didn’t make it as a Pitch Wars Mentee. I learned over 4000 people applied for a spot, and I had a 1.7% chance of becoming a mentee. Back to revisions! More later!
I recently submitted a short story I wrote. I’m rather new at this, so I sent it out to twenty-four magazines, believing my little story would be published in a widely circulated magazine. For two or three months, I waited hoping for that magical moment when I read “Congratulations,” but the only thing I received was twenty-four rejection letters. In my mind the story about a young woman and her challenging mother was a universal one, one that other readers would relate to and connect with. Disappointed, I wanted to prove to myself I could write, so I revised the story, changed it to fit magazines that called for stories about toxic relationships, and reimagined it with music as a theme. I rewrote different parts of it, made it longer and changed the title. I resubmitted to every free submission on Submittable and since I had already submitted to well-known magazines, I began to submit to the lesser-known ones. I sent my story anywhere I hadn’t sent it before. My list of submissions grew from twenty-four to sixty. I searched the internet for every open submission. Yesterday, after five months of rejections, I received an acceptance letter. This sounds like wonderful news, but I didn’t react as I expected I would.
Yes, I should have been ecstatic, knowing some random editors liked my story so much, they wanted to publish it but I felt deflated, like a balloon that’s lost all of its air. The effort I’d put into writing this story was a monumental task. I worked so hard for this moment, the moment when I opened my email and instead of reading the dreaded opening line of “Thank you for submitting…,” I read, “Congratulations.” If this was what I was waiting for why was I disappointed?
Here’s the reason; it wasn’t an acceptance from the New Yorker, any of the well-known literary journals, or even one of the magazines that paid for stories. No, those opportunities disappeared in the two rounds of rejections. I could practically hear the frosty tone Marnie uses whenever I mention the names of journals I’ve been published in. “Oh I’ve never heard of that one,” she says. The pinched expression on her face always reminds me of my lowly position in the publishing world.
I spent the next two hours untangling my emotions although I didn’t understand the reasons for my angst. I felt distraught that after all that effort, only one magazine liked my story! To make matters worse, I had to withdraw my story from the other fourteen places I submitted and some of those places were well-known. But the rules are the rules. Simultaneous submissions are allowed but the writer must withdraw the piece if it is accepted elsewhere.
I called my best friend, the one who helped me come up with this fantastic little title, the one who urged me to edit and revise this story to make it work, to make my characters more likable, to change the focus of the story so it connected to the reader. As we talked about my reaction to the news I had longed to hear, she helped me see it wasn’t about being published in a magazine. It was about how most of us are never being satisfied with what we get. The universal experience we all should practice is learning how to be grateful. I’m learning.
So whenever I need a break from the angst of submitting and torturing myself with rejections, my husband and I go bike riding. Today we drove down to the Everglades, to the abandoned Aerojet site. (Lots of history about that place if you want to look it up!) I snapped this photo of a graffiti-covered wall with the artist’s message.
Over a month ago, I flew home from a visit with my daughter, with tentative plans to meet her and her family in South Dakota this summer. We’d visit Mount Rushmore! I was imagining what it would be like when everything changed a few days after I got home.
A month has now passed since we started the self-isolation due to the pandemic. Although Chip says he likes staying home, and he likes being alone, I struggle with not seeing my friends, or going to my writing class, or seeing my grandchildren. For the first few weeks of Stay the F home, I experienced fear, anger, and depression. Any suggestions from well-meaning friends to write about our world pandemic crisis caused further annoyance and gave me a sense of helplessness. So I wrote other stuff instead.
I’m grateful that right before everything shut down, I celebrated my daughter’s fortieth birthday. It was also my granddaughter’s birthday. Year after year, ever since my oldest child moved up north, I haven’t missed a birthday celebration. I’m afraid that might change.
When I flew home at the beginning of March, Jessica wanted to see me. I’d been gone for a week, and she insisted I come get her. I brought her home for the weekend. That was before the world changed.
Each day, the cases of coronavirus grew more widespread. Schools closed, then the parks, then small businesses. Toilet paper was one of the first things to fly off the shelves. Chip and I ran to the grocery store and stocked up on everything we could think of, expecting we would shelter in place for a few weeks. We had to make a decision about whether to return Jessica to the group home or keep her with us. This created more issues that could’ve impacted her services. I couldn’t lose all I had worked to achieve.
Questions abounded. What would happen if either Chip or I got sick and had to be hospitalized for coronavirus? When I flew home on the plane, I sat near someone with a bad cough. No one wore a mask at that point, so I didn’t wear one, but what if that man infected me? What if I were infected but didn’t have symptoms? What would we do with Jessica if one of us had to go to the hospital? She WOULD be better off in the group home, but how long would she have to stay there?
Sarah yelled at me. “Mom, take her back, I don’t know what you were thinking.”
I thought of the weekend when Chip had his stroke when I frantically drove him to the hospital because he wouldn’t allow me to call 911. Jessica sat in the back seat, bewildered. Luckily, I called Sarah on the way to the hospital. She met us at the emergency room and retrieved Jessica as I flew through the entrance with Chip moaning in the wheelchair. I debated what to do with Jessica and pictured that scene over and over again. I pictured one of us rushing to the hospital, sick with this deadly virus. What if we infected Jessica? Who would take care of her?
I called the director of the group home. She told me no one would be allowed to come and visit. Jessica would have to stay there for the remainder of the outbreak. I reluctantly agreed. It was almost as hard as moving her there in the first place. How would she survive? How would she manage if she had to stay there for months?
Today marks one month since we’ve seen anyone up close. We’ve video chatted with friends and family. I asked the group home to install WhatsApp on Jessica’s phone and occasionally, she is able to successfully video chat. With the proverbial sigh of relief, I can relax, knowing Jessica is doing just fine. It gives me a sense of peace to know when I die, she will be okay.
My ninety-seven-year-old mother’s nursing home stopped allowing visitors and families. I saw my mom right before I flew up to Philadelphia, but she wasn’t exactly coherent. A week later, I received a call she had pneumonia. It looked bad. I told my brother he couldn’t fly down if we had a funeral. He was astounded by my suggestion, but I told him, it wouldn’t be safe. Then my mom recovered. If anyone can beat the odds, it’s her. We often laugh about how tough Mom is, how her maiden name, Brick, represents just how hard she is. She’ll probably outlive the pandemic.
But each one of these things has weighed heavily. I needed a distraction. I started drinking wine. Every night. Cooked. Ate cookies. Drank more wine. Every night. Ate more cookies. Every night. I turned my attention to writing. Not writing about coronavirus or the editor who dumped me. No, I focused my attention on my memoir. I contacted new editors. I studied my manuscript, found plot holes, wrote more revisions, joined more writing groups on Facebook, took a free class in revising my novel in a month. Thank you, Martha Alderson!
Today I finished the second round of revisions on my thirtieth chapter. Three chapters left. I already have a few beta readers lined up.
Over the years, I’ve had to deal with enough challenges to fill a lifetime, but I am not going to be a victim, I won’t allow fear or doubt to stop me. This coronavirus has given me a chance to listen to my inner muse. I will do PitMad and research agents. I’ve already started to explore what’s next. Some good has come from this experience.
A few months ago, Jessica said she wanted a job. Rene, her support coordinator, began the process for her. He contacted Vocational Rehab, and after a bunch of mishaps, we got the paperwork completed and started the process. Today, after numerous trips to Voc Rehab, I picked up Jessica at her group home and took her to a scheduled interview at Goodwill Industries. This was supposed to be the 1st of many visits before she could be placed in any sort of job. I decided I would help her since she wanted it. Husband didn’t think it would go very far. I said, “I’m alright with that. After all, I’m retired. I can take the time off to do it & if this is something she wants, I’ll help her. “ We went to the 2-hour interview. When we got there, the job placement specialist, V.S., appeared annoyed when Jessica wandered around and became distracted. She insisted if Jessica WERE placed in a job, she’d have to conform. V.S. had the nerve to tell me Jessica would be better suited to Goodwill’s “Work Activities Center,” a different department, separate from Goodwill and one which required a separate application process altogether. Really? I’m patient but not this patient. She’s a job coach? She pissed me off. I told her about the plan to have Jessica placed in “Phase 2” (which Rene said would be our ultimate goal) The plan- to work with a job coach at the WOW center. Lady dismissed this possibility and argued with me, so I didn’t pursue it. During the 2 hours “interview,” V.S. explained all applicants are required to submit to a drug test. “Goodwill applicants must submit to a drug test within 24 hours of receiving this order.” I asked,” What if I do it another time?” “ Answer? “You will start the process all over again.’ Seriously? We went straight to the lab instead of the WOW center. At the drug testing lab, we waited for 30 minutes to be seen. Jessica did not produce enough urine in the cup (probably because she didn’t know how to pee into the container and was unable to fill it with urine.) and I wasn’t allowed to assist her. We tried a second time. This time she drank tons of water, I gave her a soda,& we waited another 45 minutes before the technician allowed us to try again. Again, she was unable to fill the container. At this point, I was told to “come back and try tomorrow, ” I was so distraught, frustrated, and upset, I started to cry. On the way out, I turned on a clueless Jessica, I swear I could’ve screamed bloody murder, I couldn’t believe how thwarted I felt. The whole process appeared to be a waste of time Jessica’s reply? “Forget it. I don’t need no job.” It ended there in the parking lot, but I thought it shouldn’t be this hard to help a disabled person. I understand Jessica has enormous limitations but this was a terrible experience. The hardest part? It emphasized and stood as a reminder of everything Jessica cannot do or will never do, including peeing in a cup! The support coordinator asked me to tell him what happened – so I emailed him a rehash of the entire thing. At least I got someone’s attention. He called as soon as he read it.
So I had this problem, right? A bewildering experience, in my opinion, and now it’s over, rather barely over, I can talk about it. Or at least provide some details. It has to do with my female anatomy, which I won’t go into detail about. Suffice it to say, I had my bladder sewn back into place and a complete hysterectomy. Two weeks ago today. The diagnosis reminded me of the shock of Jessica’s diagnosis. Unexpected. Unplanned. And unwilling to accept the reality.
Luckily, it wasn’t cancer. Or at least the doctor hasn’t told me they found cancer and it’s already been two weeks since the surgery. Rationally, there’d be no reason for the extreme emotional reaction. BUT I wrote a great story and it is going to be published !! June issue of https://arielchart.blogspot.com
UPDATE: The story was nominated for the 2019 Pushcart Prize!
Caution, this post is meant to be therapeutic for me. Yesterday and today are one of those days lots of us have, where you feel like whatever you do isn’t right. And since I am blogging about writing, I feel like nothing I’ve written is any good and I should just ‘give it up.
Again, I caution those of you who don’t like to read whiny posts, because I am about to launch into some major whining. I’m going to let loose, really let loose. So you might want to stop reading right here. Fair warning. Stop now!
Personally, I hate people who whine. I really do. Yet I have to dump this feeling off on some corner and leave it. This here’s my corner. Seems like a safe place to do it. I have to whine. I have to tell what it’s like when your editor can’t understand why you haven’t figured out how to stop using a passive voice, haven’t remembered what he said about the forbidden crutch words he told me a million times not to use (and I use anyway)… On top of that, last week, my local writing group trashed my writing and I seem to be going in circles as I attempt to make myself understood. Even Chip acts like the things I say don’t make much sense. I feel HOPELESS!
So I titled this post “Give it Up” like the 1980’s song of the same title. Lately, I’ve taken to listening to it when I need jazzing up. I heard it when I went to spin class while the instructor played her mix of music. I was ready to quit pedaling, ready to quit while mumbling, ‘this is stupid to work so hard at exercising,’ when the song came on. It was a hit in 1982, KC and the Sunshine Band made a video (check it out on youtube) – you’ll see the 80’s shoulder pads, the mini skirts, the pouffy hair, KC’s exposed chest, and his mullet and unbuttoned shirt…. but when that song came on, I felt like dancing to the beat and what do you know, I was pedaling away on that bike and kept going! Now I play the song whenever I need to get excited about something. But today my take on Give it Up is the complete opposite of the repeated lyrics “everybody wants you.” Instead, I lament that nobody wants me, nobody wants to read what I have to say and I should give it up because I don’t have what everybody wants!
Except! It’s a little protest from another part of my mind, saying wait a minute here, .. a little tiny voice inside that whispers “That magazine is publishing your story in April so someone thought your writing was okay. ” I guess I shouldn’t give up entirely. At least not yet. Maybe I’ll even read again to the writing group. I can’t believe I fall so far when I get upset about honest criticism. If I’m going to write, I better be able to take it.
This gets me started on another topic. I see myself like the mouse in “If you give a mouse a cookie….” a wonderful children’s book about how one thing leads to another. Maybe the next post will be about how this negative, hopeless feeling, this downward spiral was triggered by my 96-year-old mother! How in the world, given her struggle with dementia or Alzheimer’s – how is she still able to berate me? Another story entirely and it does have its funny elements.
In late October, or early November, after I came back from the Florida Writers Conference, I decided to use Submittable to send out a couple of my chapters as short stories. A couple of the entries were free, a few of them cost under $5. Altogether, I sent out twelve entries. People in my writing class said I probably would have every one of them rejected, so I shouldn’t get all excited. They said it was too early to do this, not ready, the work needed heavy-duty editing and blah-blah-blah.
Well, when I get excited about an idea, I usually jump on it before my enthusiasm deflates. Naively, I went ahead and jumped on the “I’m going to get published” bandwagon, even though I knew nothing about what I was doing! I received nine rejection notices before I realized my fellow writers were probably right. I decided to listen to their words of wisdom and allowed them to caution me. I needed to focus on learning to sharpen my skills. So I quit wasting time and stopped sending submissions that wouldn’t have a chance of being accepted. The next three submissions are “in progress” which means pretty soon I will be hearing from them with a great big “No thank you.” That’s why today was such a shock. I opened my email and saw the words, “Congratulations!” in the first line. Levitate, a magazine in Chicago emailed me to say they want to publish my story.
I don’t want to minimize the fact that they look like a small literary magazine, but they are in fact, very small. The fact is, they will be publishing what was a very rough draft of my first chapter as a non-fiction short story. The story is basically the first chapter of my book when Jessica moves into the group home and the flashback of the day we went to the Mailman Center and heard that archaic phrase “profoundly retarded.” So many emotions went into creating this chapter, and maybe, just maybe these editors saw something in my language that surpassed my tendency to use passive voice!
Then I read another article about the R-word (see below) and I am thrilled this has become such a hot topic. I see why I might actually have a chance with my memoir.
Catherine (Cathy) Shields writes about parenting, disabilities, and self-discovery. She is a retired educator with an M.S. Ed in Exceptional Education. Her experience includes networking and dealing with children and families of persons with disabilities. Cathy and her husband reside in Miami, Florida, where they raised three grown daughters. They kayak, ride bikes, hike in the Everglades, and visit the two grandchildren who live nearby.