The other night my friend Chuck Caruso and I hung out drinking pints and talking shop. Since he’s a fellow fiction writer, we talked writing, agents, making it, not making it, publishing, story, everything fiction! Like me, he started out writing short stories. I don’t know about him, but I needed to dip my toes into the fiction waters by writing in the short form. Come to find out, I’m waaaay, I mean, waaaaay better at writing novels, but my years learning basics such as point of view and showing-not-telling readied me for the challenges of writing 300-plus pages.
Most of us spend years writing with nothing to show for it. We toil without outside corroboration that we have the ittiest-bittiest speck of talent or imagination. We write because we love it, and hopefully at some point we get our short stories published in small-press anthologies and e-zines for no money. But, hey, we’re heading in the right direction!
Then comes the day the fates and muses align and we get invited — invited! — to participate in an anthology edited by a bonafide literary celebrity. And we’re getting paid! And the book is going to have marketing money and distribution behind it! We’re there. We’ve made it!
Well, maybe, maybe not. One of Chuck’s short stories appears in Kwik Krimes, edited by Otto Penzler, who is Mr. Crime Fiction. He’s a god in our world. And there’s Chuck’s story rubbing elbows with stories by Ken Bruen, David Corbett, and Tasha Alexander. As Chuck said, “Maybe this will land me an agent.”
That’s what I thought, too, when I experienced my first for-real publication — like I’d just been discovered. I had just lost my agent to the vagaries of stay-at-home mommydom, but I figured, No biggie, when my story appears in Elizabeth George’s anthology, I’ll be set.
Yes, by Elizabeth George, I mean the New York Times bestseller. She’s a god in our world too. And she invited five of us newbies to write stories for her. Five newbies bound up with the likes of Laura Lippman and Carolyn Hart. I ask you <swoon>.
No doubt about it, the exhilaration of receiving an invitation from our literary heroes is better than…well…just about anything. Even sex. EVEN chocolate.
Your first for-real publication is like your first kiss. It’s filled with all the potential and joy that’s sitting out there in your ideal world. And if your ideal world doesn’t come to pass? It doesn’t matter. Everyone remembers his or her first kiss. We writers remember our first for-real publications the same way.