Rejection. It's one of those words/feelings most of us fear. I used to. I used to fear rejection so much that if I a caught of whiff of distance from a jr. high or high school boyfriend, I didn't ask him if something was wrong; I broke up with him. I couldn't stomach the idea of someone breaking up with me first. (It's no wonder that before I met Sean, the longest I'd had a boyfriend was 3 months.)
The only way to get over a fear like that is to go through it, over and over again, until it's happened so often you know you'll survive the disappointment to hope another day. Writing taught me this. Back in the summer of 1999, I began writing a novel as a way to get my mind off a miscarriage. Within a couple of weeks of doing so, I attended a writer's conference in OKC in an effort to learn more about the publishing process. The first night of the conference, Sean and I were at pub and a literary agent from New York who was on a panel discussion I'd attended walked in by himself. We invited him to join us, and spent a great evening drinking beer, watching tornado reports (there were a few swirling around the area that night), and getting to know each other. The next morning, I bumped into the agent at breakfast and we ate together. We met each other for lunch, too. By the time he left town that afternoon, I felt like I had made an old friend. He gave me his card and told me to send him my novel the minute I was done. I put that business card in a photo sleeve in my wallet, right behind the ones of Truman and Sean. I carried it with me like a talisman, and I looked at it often to remind me to perservere in my writing. We heard from the agent a couple of times and sent each other Christmas cards. It felt like kismet.
I finally finished my novel that following winter, and sent it to him via FedEx. I was positive he would drop everything else he was working on, flop down in a chair to read my manuscript straight through, and call me back by the weekend. Um, no. Weeks and weeks passed. Sometime in April, I swallowed my pride and emailed him. Later that week, I got a skinny envelope in the mail, saying how much he wanted to love it, that he had stopped and started reading it several times in the hope that it would hit him differently the next time, but that "unfortunately, it didn't ring those necessary bells."
To say I was crushed is an understatement. I'm fairly certain I spent a month or so in a minor depression. I put my manuscript away, and figured I'd work on it some time in the future. For the next year or so, I continued my daily life of working as an assistant professor at Rogers State University, mothering Truman, and wife-ing Sean. I also had another miscarriage. Then, in January of 2002 I received notice that my father had died and left me a small inheritance. The majority of it, I put toward Truman's college fund. There was a small life insurance check, though, and I decided to pull out my manuscript and apply for the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference. If I was accepted, I'd use the insurance money to spend 10 days that summer in Middlebury, Vermont where I would workshop a portion of my novel, meet other fledgling authors as well as established literary lights, and make industry contacts.
I was accepted and Bread Loaf was amazing. I met so many interesting and talented people who loved books and words as much as I did. I made several friends that I'm still in occasional touch with and with whom I keep up on Facebook. I came home on a cloud and was consumed with a passion for writing and got hard at work revising my novel. Here's a photo of me doing so that my husband took of me that fall:
In addition to revising my novel, I applied for a low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Warren Wilson College in Ashville, NC. With my novel revised, I sent it out to three more agents. Eventually, I received the dreaded skinny envelopes from Warren Wilson and all of the other agents. Rejection still wasn't pleasant, but having survived it once before, I knew I could and would get over my disappointment. I received some words of wisdom that helped so much from one of my good Bread Loaf friends, Will Clarke: "They're not your tribe. It's nothing personal - they just don't get you. And if they don't get you, you don't want 'em representing you. Why would you want to be a part of a tribe that's not your own? You're awesome, and you know it. Do good work, find your tribe, and don't take the rest of the stuff personally. Think of every 'no, thanks' as one step closer to finding your tribe."
Soon, I began working on editing an anthology of Oklahoma women's essays with some of my RSU colleagues.
All of the time and energy I spent shlepping my novel made me the one with the most publishing know-how, so it became my job to send out the queries, etc., to try to get representation. This time, instead of handpicking a few select agents, I sent out about 300 agent query letters. We received way more no's than yeses, of course, but we secured an agent. I didn't take the no's remotely personally - each got us one step closer to finding the person who was excited about representing us.
Voices From the Heartland was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 2007.
As it turned out, we secured the publishing ourselves; after 6-8 months of no bites via the agent, we let her go. Though I would have preferred being published by a big New York company, academic presses are more prestigious in academia (they have to go through peer review, etc.), and -- more significantly -- the market for the book was so niched that it was a long shot we'd ever get anyone outside of the state who would want to publish it. After 3+ years of working on this sucker, we were ready to put it to bed. It came out to rave reviews, was printed in hardback and had a second print run in softback, and was nominated for the 2008 Oklahoma Book Award in Nonfiction. It was also named an Oklahoma Centennial Project (a status granted to certain projects celebrating Oklahoma during its centennial year of 2007).
Whatever happened to my novel? A chapter of it was included in an anthology - Don't Abuse the Muse - edited by my abovementioned friend, Will. Then, I put it away. And I tried one more time at that whole baby-thing. This time, it worked. When the time came to move Carter to a big boy bedroom upstairs, I cleaned out the guest bedroom closet, including several drafts of my manuscript...
I think I was hanging on to all of those drafts for the library that would eventually house my archives... ;) I recycled most of that paper, keeping my last hard-copy draft and a now-obsolete floppy disk. I may not have gotten my novel published, but I did get that second baby I wanted so badly. If having my novel published or being Carter's mom was an either-or situation, I'm certain I got the best end of that particular deal.
So why am I telling you all this, and what does it have to do with papercrafting?
Well, at the last minute a couple of weeks ago, I submitted a Christmas tag for a PaperCrafts Magazine submission call.
And guess what? It was rejected/didn't get accepted/however you want to phrase it. Did that get me down? Not in the least. Does it mean my tag is crummy or that I'm a bad stamper or that I'll never submit anything for publication again? No way. I think it's awesome: graphic, masculine, and festive, with lots of yummy heat embossing (my fave). Some dude in my life is going to be super lucky to get this on one of his gifts next Christmas; maybe it'll even go to that cutie pictured above. The fact that PaperCrafts didn't want it for this particular issue isn't personal; "it just didn't ring those necessary bells."
You know what? I can live with that. :)
Other: Paper: True Black & Pure Poppy (Papertrey Ink); Ink: Versamark; Accessories: Sparkling Pine embossing powder (Powder Keg), Detail White Opaque embossing powder (Stampendous), ticket corner punch (Fiskars), Crop-a-Dile, Marvy Uchida embossing heat tool