Baby Steps

As an emerging fiction writer, you have to continuously find new ways to believe in your writing for the simple reason that in the beginning--and it's always the beginning until you're famous--you're the only motherfucker who believes in it. Parents, friends, classmates, wives, pediatricians, as lovely as they are, don't matter, at least not in the publishing world. All the love in the world won't get you published, at least not until it's an editor who's swooning over your language play. So, in order to find the perfect agent + publish your polished novel, you need to make a name for yourself first. So you send query letters to agents + submit stories/chapters to literary journals, all of which entails a shitload of rejection. And with all that rejection, it's easy, so easy, in fact, to listen to that nagging little voice inside your head that says you're just not cut out for this industry that seems to reward technique over beauty, name-recognition over originality. Maybe you're not talented enough (unlikely). Maybe you're not intrepid enough (more likely). Maybe you're not well-connected enough + your skin isn't thick enough (very likely). But to stick it out in this game, inevitably, you learn to be intrepid, you build your own networks + through scar tissue, you become thick-skinned. You have no other choice. Otherwise, you give up. Luck helps, but as it turns out, you can't bribe her. . .

My problem (+ greatest strength) is that I don't give up on the things I love. The few respectable print publications I have so far are as much a product of my talent as my stubbornness. But shit, I'm human + sometimes I need to replenish, not only my faith in myself as an literary fiction writer, but also my hope as a human being.

So, here are a few things that help me keep the faith:

1. Submitted Love + Porn, my collection of short stories, to the AWP Contest in short fiction

2. Submitted Love + Porn to the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

3. Submitted Love + Porn to the Drue Heinz Literature Prize

Winning any of these contests is really fucking hard because each contest receives hundreds upon hundreds of manuscripts, many of which are as polished + pretty as yours. But you have to face these odds with your bare fists + fight for your right to live as a writer. And every contest you don't enter, your failure rate is 100%. So I'll take my 1-2% chance, thank you very much. Besides, even with those slim odds, the potential payoff can be fucking amazing: you win a prestigious literary contest, you win some cash + most importantly, you get your first collection of short stories out there in the world (which later, will probably get picked up by a major publishing house too--it happens all the time). And then, suddenly crowned with your first book, you'll give a few readings. You might give an interview or two for a journal. A book club wants to chat with you. Readers argue about you on Amazon. And suddenly, suddenly, your application for that creative writing faculty position, it goes from the bottom of the pile to somewhere in the middle. All of that with just one book, one contest, one piece of conspiracy that goes your way.

Beyond that, there are other things too that give me hope in the now + these things matter:

1. Like finding this awesome review in Ruelle Électrique of "A Full Cellar" that was published in ZYZZYVA, part of which you can read here (though this is not the complete story, by the way).

2. Finding my writing blog on New Pages without having to beg someone!

3. When times get tough, I remind myself that 8 years ago, I'd never taken a workshop before + now, TC Boyle is my thesis adviser

4. Remembering how only 3 years ago, I didn't have a single short story published in a prominent, nationally-distributed print literary journal. Not one

5. Fanmail. Though sparse, I've officially received 3-4 emails from people who read something of mine + loved it. And that really fucking makes my day. It helps me know that my writing does matter

Granted, there is still so much more to accomplish as (just another talented) fiction writer in this cut-throat market. But you can only take baby steps in this industry. And finally, I've taken a few. Just a few. But that's how you get to where you need to be.