Thirteen years ago, I had just finished up my MFA at Arizona State University. It was a summer evening in the low desert, the kind where the heat rising off the asphalt can breed a kind of angst. I was driving with Bob Johnson (not yet my husband and not yet R. Dean Johnson, the author of Delicate Men and Californium) and Jenn Spiegel (not yet Jennifer Bell, the author of The Freak Chronicles and Love Slave). We were talking about what it felt like to finish up graduate school. Specifically, we were whining about the fact that we hadn’t really published anything yet. We’d started sending our work out, had in fact been submitting our stories for several months, but we had been getting nothing but rejections in the mail—that’s how they came back then, in envelopes with your own handwriting on the front, suspiciously thin. You didn’t even have to hold the envelope up to the light, the sheer lack of weight gave the bad news away: No contract.
I had spent a week’s worth of Euro Café tips on The Writers Market. I had dutifully researched journals. I had even purchased some of them at Changing Hands Bookstore. I had sent out a pile of submissions. Back then, I would have to spread out all the pieces and load the big envelopes assembly-style. (It took up every surface in our apartment. It was a kind of clutter only rivaled when I now decide to have a “clothes folding party” in front of the TV, sifting through three weeks of laundered clothing.) I had earned two graduate degrees in creative writing, spent five years studying craft—oh, dear, God, that was long enough I could have been a lawyer or an engineer or some other lucrative, respectable thing, but here I was a writer, and no one would publish me. No one would ever publish me! Suddenly, as I whined all this to Bob and Jennifer, I felt my throat close up and my chest get heavy. I literally saw red spots. For a second, I thought I was dying. I think we had to pull over and a man in a gas station had to ask me to breathe into a paper bag. A rejection-induced panic attack.
Fortunately, Indiana Review contacted me two days later asking to publish my first story, “Seeing Red.” That small success (and a whole lot of yoga) helped me work through the anxiety and keep trudging into this beautiful writing life.
I’m so pleased that Indiana Review is featuring that first, published story on their website as part of a special feature remembering their favorite stories over the last twenty years, and I’m proud that “Seeing Red” will be part of my first book-length fiction when Landfall: A Ring of Stories is released by Ohio State University Press in May. Thanks again, Indiana Review!
(Here’s the link to the story: