I had a very pleasant experience last week. I serve as the Fiction Editor at a literary journal, which means that every so often, the Managing Editor sends me a packet of stories that have made it through the first readers and now get my consideration. I choose a few each time that I think deserve to be in a future issue.
One story from last week’s packet caught me immediately and wouldn’t let me go. The world of the story was so richly rendered, the characters so complicated and interesting, the premise so fresh, the ending so resonant. I had to have this story, and to our great fortune it was still available.
When I looked at the author’s name, it seemed familiar to me. Where had I heard it before? A quick Google search confirmed what I thought was the case. Twelve years ago, when I was the Editor-in-Chief of another journal, I’d published a story by this same writer. I believe it may have been the first or second story that he’d ever placed. I remember that he was a student in a good MFA program at the time. His career was just beginning.
What a thrill it was to see this new story from him, and to fall in love with it without even knowing it was his. How happy I was to see that he was still writing, still creating gorgeous, moving fiction. My research tells me that he’s still waiting to publish that first book, and I know I’m rooting for him to have that golden call one day soon, the call that tells him an editor has fallen in love with his manuscript and wants to bring it out into the world.
I entered my own MFA program in 1982, and it was 1987 when I placed my first story in a literary journal. It was 1996 when my first book came out, fourteen years past the date when I decided to get serious about writing. You can see, then, why I like these examples of folks who keep working at their craft. So much of our work is a matter of perseverance as we dedicate ourselves to what we love.
We are, after all, a small family of writers, books published or not, stories or essays or poems published or not. We reach out to a reader, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to make a connection. This story of the writer I found twelve years ago and found again last week reminds me of one of the reasons I started writing. I wanted to touch someone, wanted to move at least one person with words. I’m reading an MFA thesis right now (it’s that season here at Ohio State), and I’m having that exact experience, the feeling that I’m alone with a writer and he’s telling me things, the most private things, and I’ve stopped reading to find fault. I’m reading because it’s necessary. If I stop, I’ll be less somehow. I keep reading because this one person has so much to shape and show me. I am utterly and willingly seduced.