When you’re sitting hunched at your desk, your tailbone aching, your self-loathing at an all-time high—and your screen white with the exception of phrases like “Darius Hunter stared at the candle flame, listening to the wind rustling the high grass of fdglakfdjgir”—certain thoughts spring to mind. Thoughts that make you keep going.
Thoughts like, “One day, someone will appreciate my work, and they’ll publish me, and everyone will love me and I’ll never be lonely again.”
I’m writing to give my fellow writers hope. Those delusional thoughts to get you to the next paragraph are only mostly bullshit.
Last fall, I wrote a story called “The Monster.” I worked hard on it—as hard as I work on any of my stories that I care about enough to see through to the end. My advisor, Susie Merrell, suggested I submit it to TSR: The Southampton Review.
I don’t know about you, but when someone says something kind about my work, I think they must be lying. I dream up some reason why this person might be invested in stroking my fragile ego. Susie must have wanted to build my confidence so I would not end up as a semi-permanent thesis candidate throwing out draft after draft.
The story was published in TSR. The story was also reprinted in an illustrated literary magazine called Carrier Pigeon. It feels nice to see your words in print.
A few months ago, TSR caught the attention of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, an online magazine with a monthly readership of 60,000. They reprint recent work that is recommended by authors and editors as well as old gems by established writers. They asked TSR to recommend a few stories from their archives. Out of those stories, Electric Literature chose mine.
“Fantastic!” I thought. It was an honor to have a story published on a site I loved, and maybe I would never be lonely again and maybe people would at last appreciate….no, it couldn’t be….maybe Susie, who is an editor at TSR, pulled some strings (she wouldn’t do this); maybe the other choices were carelessly picked, maybe, I don’t know, luck? The editors were on drugs?
The week of its publication, I was nervous. People on the internet are mean. What if they tweeted hate? Worse, what if they tweeted nothing at all?
“The Monster” received an excellent response. Hundreds of Facebook shares, tweets…tumbles? People were talking about it, people were enjoying it, my words reached people…who were probably all just my mom in disguise, right?
An agent contacted me, wanting to see my collection.
An editor at Penguin contacted me, wanting to speak to my (non-existent) agent.
Another agent, who had requested to see the entirety of my collection based on the strength of “The Monster” and a couple of other stories, was suddenly a bit more interested.
It wasn’t just industry people who found the story compelling. A high school teacher in Pennsylvania, who taught “The Monster” to his class, wrote to say that his students loved it. A professor at Texas State University is creating an exercise based on the story for his blog and interviewed me about the writing process (http://readtowritestories.com/ —a very cool blog by the way).
All of this is glamorous. But more importantly, the success of “The Monster” shows me that I’m not crazy, that I’m not delusional. I have things to say and I say them in a way that moves other people, and that is one of the only things I have ever wanted.
At the end of October, I will be reading “The Monster” at Fiction Addiction’s reading series (fictionaddiction.org), which will be hosted by Electric Literature. I’ll probably vomit beforehand, the other readers are much better than I am and the only reason that I was also chosen to read was because my story kind of fits with Halloween, and everyone in the audience will be my mom in disguise.
These are the things I think about while I stare at a white screen.