As if watching Kolchak on Netflix was “doing nothing”. In the interest of accuracy, let me admit that I was giving Darren McGavin very little attention. I was too busy multi-tasking. As the show played, I was surfing the web on my tablet and playing Bonbon Cakery on my cell phone. Don’t be too quick to judge me in regards to my enjoyment of the phone game. If I ever become a chef again, as unlikely as that seems, I may need those skills.
As I often tell Anne, I am a man of depths. She often laughs.
And a man of depths should be completely capable of writing a last minute blog about writing. While multi-tasking, I’d been web-surfing some different writing sites and, on one of those sites, a new-ish writer was moaning about his lack of success. His first novel had just been rejected for the third time from a mid-level publisher. He said the dismissive email didn’t address his story or him by name; it was as much of a form rejection as the world can offer these days.
Our sensitive scribe described the rejection as an emotional kick in the head. He said something similar, anyway. I’ve avoid using the exact wording, since I don’t want anyone tracking him down and pointing him in the direction of this blog. I don’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings here because I totally get it. I’ve been there. Rejections hurt. Sometimes, if you think you’ve finally climbed the mountain, if you love what you’ve written and you anticipate the world is going to welcome it with open arms, those rejections can sting a lot.
When I say I’ve been there, I mean it. I started submitting stories when I was thirteen. Unless you’re some kind of protégé, thirteen is several hundred days too young to expect quick success and I was no protégé. I collected rejections like other teens collected baseball cards. In those days, each of my stories went out through snail mail and each rejection returned the same way. The process took a while, and the days before a story was returned were good ones. It was similar to when I play Powerball these days: I might be a winner!
A couple of years passed before I actually was a winner and, even then, it was the literary equivalent of collecting a $2 scratcher. I was delighted, but not delusional. In the years that followed, I’d collect hundreds of rejections – filling the corkboard in my bedroom – and it took a couple of years for the sting to go away. When the ache did fade, it had nothing to do with any of my minor victories. It had everything to do with a very nice man.
If Anne hasn’t mentioned it, once upon a time my buddy and I had a fan magazine. The low budget venture was focused on comic books, comic strips, and all things science-fiction, since those were areas of our interest, and I was so young and optimistic, I thought nothing of contacting my favorite writer for an interview. After a brief correspondence, Ray Bradbury agreed to meet with me and my friend.
It was a kindness, done only because….I’m guessing, he remembered being young and optimistic, too. We had a wonderful interview in his very small Los Angeles office, taking almost an hour of his time. After the interview was over, as we were standing to leave, I had one more question to ask: “Have you ever had a story rejected?”
He smiled at us. “Just this week.”
I was stunned. If he’d said, “Believe it or not, there was this one time, twenty-six years ago. Of course, the publisher fired the fool immediately and begged my forgiveness”, I’d have believed him. But a rejection this week? That I couldn’t believe.
On his paperbacks of that era, the New York Times called Bradbury, The World’s Greatest Science-Fiction Writer and I agreed with them. How could anyone ever say no to someone so talented? Seeming to understand my confusion, still smiling, he told me gently, “Everyone gets rejected. You try again.”
Maybe not the exact words, but the words as I remember them. From that point on, rejections hurt me a lot less. After all, they happened to everyone, even to some of the most successful writers in the world. That’s what I wished I’d told the new writer, the one who was shattered today by the return of his novel.