I was at the local Starbucks, where everybody knows me. Why not? It's a small town in the Valley of Saint Gabriel. They know me because I don't even have a desk in the house because my brother moved out and took it. We don't even have internet connection, which I find ok because when I go home I prefer not to use the internet. I'd rather relax, eat my mother's delicious Korean food (and as mentioned I'm fed in limbo land), and watch the complex social behavior of my African Aquarium fish.
After I returned from Russia - Germany - Spain - and New York, I began writing my first short story. I promised an aspiring Russian writer that I would do it for him because he promised to translate it. I spent a month doing it, but after the draft was complete, I was still unemployed and had time to kill. Instead of watching tv, or doing whatever the unemployed do (and don't do - which is work), I sat down and wrote out another story. Writing became a way of taking my mind off of my washed up existence in my small world. Boxing does it too - actually, but I discovered that secret later.
When the second story was written- I knew it was good. I know, it sounds arrogant and self-promoting, but I need a little of that to go on. I just read and have read a lot, the characters almost came alive for me, and although it wasn't in a polished state, it was written like a good story I've read.
I thought - ok this is publishable, but you need to jump through the hoops first. So, I tested it with other people and got their opinion. I even workshopped it at a writing group, who gave me candid feedback. I was ready to prime it to send out to editors to accept. I believed, as I heard from so many, expect the rejections - and lots of them.
I hate rejection. It's the worst of all feelings. You put yourself out there for people to say: YOU ARE UNWORTHY. I put on my mental suit of armor, punched out a cover letter, and thought - oh before I send this work out for publication I better get a professional opinion. Everybody in my circle who gave me feedback was biased in one way or another. Either the were a professional and a friend. Or they were not a friend but not a professional either. I needed someone who would be both a professional and not a friend. Only then could I feel like their opinion was honest. Really, I was just trying to protect my ego before it took another beating from the rolling rejections. If this story doesn't have a chance of flying - like my fat duck doesn't, don't send it out.
I submitted it to a professional writing group and never heard back. I made up an imaginary deadline to send it out regardless though because I'm a type-A-neurotic personality, and it was approaching. And that meant, I'd think of myself as a loser if I missed my fictional deadline.
Then one day, while in the Starbucks where I wrote my stories, I get a letter from a man who only has two initials. In short, he said my story was good and crappy. He showed me how well read he was, which flagged to both of us that we both knew what level we write and have read on. He mildly praised it. At this point, I was thinking, fine I know what I need to fix before sending it out for publication submission. He said the ending was terrible. And then he said the group wanted to buy it. (After the fact, I imagine him to be like Peter Parker's editor - except he wears a bow tie but still smokes a cigar.)
My jaw dropped! What?! Hey - I didn't even solicit. Actually the title of the email was called "Encouragement?" I just wanted to know if they could encourage me to submit it to a reputable journal, which they threw back in my face and said, "Or you can go with a reputable journal." They were trying to say they were one.
This is how it feels to be struck by lightning. This is how it feels like to get your break - except I wasn't looking for a break. This is how it feels like for a Hollywood waiter (which I've seen plenty of) trying to be picked up as an actor. Trust me - I never seen it happens or really think it does, actually.
I took out my iPhone and called one of my first readers and said, "You're not going to believe this - but - someone wants to buy the piece."
He said, "Wow -"
I said, "I always thought this game was going to be a lot harder." And in actuality, for my academic pieces, soon to be released in print, it was much harder.
The day before the news, I was having one of those crap days. I got an email from a professor that was written professionally and politely but had a subtext of a message that made me feel worthless and stupid. I think law professors are born with a gene that turns on the condescending switch. I try not to let those things get to me, but sometimes, they do. Both because of the difference in positional power and because I live in the liminal world in my mind, which is some place between Heaven and Hell.
Because I was knocked off my mental game, I had to talk to two friends who had much more experience than me. They're like coaches who help you get back up. And it made me be more grateful that I had those kind of people in my corner - for those times when I do get knocked out.
So, getting the good news, and bad news, I felt like I was having one of those teenage moments of hormonal reflexive spikes of joy and depression. Is this how manic depressives feel? I'm back in my home city, I thought. I'm back living my teenage years on another dimension, and the fleeting instances of adolescent de ja vu suck.
Anyways, time to focus again, something I'm not doing well of. Time to line my ducks in a row. I called a trustworthy friend and asked him to be my agent. I know he's reading this. He said he wasn't sure he could be my "literary agent." It sounded weird hearing those words. And I began thinking, come on, it's only for a short story. (But I think, he felt like it'd be for future works as well.)
I assured him, who else could I trust?