Well, it's been a summer of results after long waits. Of course, it's well known that patience is a virtue, and I like to think that's true, but there's no life like the writing life to test the maxim. And test it and test it and test it again. I once had to wait four years between a story being accepted and finally appearing in a journal. The journal was a long-established one with a great reputation, but it had a backlog of accepted works and was undergoing a series of staff and format changes. Things there seemed mighty chaotic. Many months after accepting the story they told me I'd have cut its length by 50% or just withdraw it. 50%? If I hadn't been so happy to have the story accepted by this journal, I would have pulled it immediately. I mean, 50%? I wondered if after a cut of 50% it would even be the same story anymore. But I buckled down, found the necessary solutions, trimmed my story, and sent it back to them. All done, I figured. Any day now I should see it appear, albeit in reduced form. It was then they told me it might take a while longer for the story to appear, given the structural changes they were enacting at the magazine. Was I willing to wait? Sure, I replied, I can wait a bit longer. I just didn't realize that would mean three years. But just as I was about to give up on the esteemed journal, the story indeed was published.
Admittedly, the waits don't always work out. I once had a different story accepted by a small press (no longer in business) that published a series of really intriguing, thematic anthologies. The story was a peculiar, idiosyncratic magic realist piece I'd written in grad school--a story I really loved but had had a hard time placing, so I was more than gratified by the acceptance. The publisher sent me a publishing agreement to sign, which I dutifully filled out and fired back to them. The book, I was told, would take about a year to appear. Well, a year later I'd heard nothing, so I called the press at the phone number listed on the papers they sent me. They picked up right away. What's going on with that anthology, I asked. The woman I spoke with had an immediate answer: "Next year." Okay, another year's wait. I didn't like it, but I could handle it. The following year, again having heard nothing more from the press, I called again. This time I got the head editor on the phone. Straight off, he apologized for the delay. Then he informed me that he'd had trouble lining up the necessary financing to publish the book--apparently other volumes he'd created were in similar straits--but he expected within the year the book would finally appear. "I love putting these anthologies together," he said. "The problem is finding the money to actually print them."
I appreciated his honesty, but I had to wonder why his press continued to advertise for submissions to new anthologies when he couldn't bring out the books he'd already created. Something there was structurally dysfunctional. It was about this time that I explained the situation to a new colleague at work. He asked the name of the press. When I told him, he smiled. "You're going to have to wait even longer," he said. Apparently, a book of poems by a friend of his had won a contest sponsored by this press. After waiting several years for his book to be published, my colleague's friend just gave up and starting submittng the book to other presses, one of which did eventually publish it. I wondered aloud about how the first press--the one I was dealing with--felt about that. "Oh," he said, "they didn't mind. They actually suggested he do that, if he didn't feel like waiting anymore." At this point, I'd given pretty much given up hope of "my" anthology ever appearing in print, but I allowed the press another six months to a year before I contacted them one more time. Again, I got the head editor on the phone. When I reminded him who I was and mentioned the name of the anthology he'd promised to publish, the man just sighed: a huge, hopeless, defeated, guilty rush of air. This time there was no talk of next year. The most hopeful thing he could say was, "I'd still love to publish that book someday." At that point, I officially gave up on the anthology. And no, it was never published.
This summer has been a bit brighter as far as waits go. As I reported in last week's post, my Van Gogh novel, Days on Fire, so many years in the making and shaping, is finally out and available via several means, including Amazon.com, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble.com. And, as a terrific followup to that news, I got a email last week from Jessica Pitchford, the editor at Pembroke, a literary magazine headquartered at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke. Pembroke is a journal I've been trying to break into for years. Almost as soon as I began submitting stories to national magazines, I was submitting to Pembroke. Year after year, I sent them pieces that I was pretty sure would work, and should work; and while I came close, I was always turned down. Well, for this submission I sent Jessica a story called, "On Cherry Street," a historical fiction that is part of my story-collection-in progress, Island Fog, every story of which is set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. "On Cherry Street" is one of my favorite stories in the whole book. Perhaps my absolute favorite. I've read portions of it twice at conferences--most recently at the Great Writing Conference in London in June--and it always generates interest. Where can I find the story? I want to read all of it. I want to know how it ends! Problem is, it's that particularly tough literary sell: a long short story. (It's over thirty pages.) Its length alone limits the number of journals I can send the story to, and then there's the simple fact that it may or may not fit the "tone" of a given journal, even one that takes long stories. Well, just last week, I found out that Jessica had accepted "On Cherry Street" for Pembroke. She liked it so much she was moving other pieces around and changing their sizes in order to make room for it. Wonderful! So I've killed two birds with one stone: I've placed a story that I really love and have dearly wanted, for its own sake, to see in print; and I've finally made it into Pembroke! After how many years now . . .