I Was A Prepubescent Hack

[ Note: From 2008 to 2013, I kept a writing blog, which I then took down. Now that I am starting a new blog in 2018, I will be adding some older posts backdated to their original publication. Many of these were obviously written by a young, naive, perhaps foolish person, with prose ranging from overblown to just plain shitty, but they illustrate my journey as a writer and a person, so I think it is worth the embarrassment. ]

One of the earliest stories I remember writing was about a team of scientists who discover an enormous underground bunker of some sort and drop down into it to look around. For some reason, there is a goblin creature in there, and it kills them off one by one in horrible gruesome attacks. The last scientist escapes (without killing the creature) and shoots himself in the head a few days later. I think that was fifth grade. Maybe fourth.

The first short story I ever submitted for publication was to Boy’s Life. It was called Johnny and The Clown and was equally ripped off from Stephen King’s It (the movie: I hadn’t read the book yet), Poltergeist, and probably some X-Files and Twilight Zone episodes. A little boy gets a clown doll for his birthday. It comes alive and dances on top of him in his bed and smiles with rotten teeth and tells him it will eat him during the next thunder-storm.

A putrid breath wheezed out of the clown as he said in a rough voice, ‘I’m gonna eat ya Johnny!  I’m gonna wait until there’s a storm and it’s nice and dark, then I’m gonna eat ya slowly from your feet up, so you can watch yourself get chewed up and swallowed by yours truly!’

When I finished that story, I showed it to my mother and she loved it. She told me to show it to my Uncle Carl, so I ran down the street with the three-page story (printed in red because we were out of black ink) and showed it to him. He read it at once, with us both standing in his living room, me watching as he turned the pages, and he told me it was very good. I looked at it and thought, “My god, it IS good.” So I submitted it to Boy’s Life, which to my knowledge has never published a story about evil carnivorous dolls. I still have the cover letter.

My father has been active in our Boy Scout troop since I was a young child. So ever since I can remember, I’ve been reading the captivating stories in your magazine.  It was these short, yet entertaining stories that first inspired me to write. I decided that if I could have that much fun in these other people’s worlds, why couldn’t I have fun creating my own? [This paragraph is a lie. While I read the stories in Boy’s Life, it had no direct role in my beginning to write.]

So I have been writing ever since.  I have written many different types of stories, and this one happens to be a horror.  Not a violent or graphic horror either, mind you, but one any child could enjoy.  I loved being scared by R.L. Stine as a child, so now I’d like to return the favor.  Taking a clown doll and a small boy, I spun up a story I think you’ll find entertaining, to the point, and easy to understand.  Thank you very much for taking the time to read my story and enter my world.  Just look out for the clowns…

 I still have the form rejection. When I got it, I was so disheartened I decided to become a hack. I looked in the latest issue of the magazine, and there was an article about some island culture in which boys rode in long canoes and speared sharks as a rite of passage. I looked up those people online and researched how the hunt worked and wrote a short story specifically for Boy’s Life. It featured a sensitive young boy who was afraid to spear a shark but had to in order to be considered a man. It, too, was rejected, and I deleted it in shame. So far as I can remember, that was the only short story of mine that I’ve ever intentionally deleted.

I don’t know what the point of this post is. I wish it could be a recollection of my struggling days from the vantage point of an established author, a laugh and a shrug over the silliness of youth. But the truth is I’m still not published. I have an extensive rejection collection and I still love what I write. Of course, when it’s about a year old, then I can see how terrible it is, and even in an immediate second draft I can be quite ruthless when editing my own work, but I take an immense pleasure in my writing that is perhaps not justified. Still, maybe that love is necessary to continue writing, to work and improve in the vacuum of unpublished struggle, to move past the goblins and clowns and express the reality of people as I see them. It has been many, many years since I stood in that room and watched my uncle reading, and since then I have grown in more ways than one. But as an eager, unpublished author, am I really any different?

Screwed By The Postman

[ Note: From 2008 to 2013, I kept a writing blog, which I then took down. Now that I am starting a new blog in 2018, I will be adding some older posts backdated to their original publication. Many of these were obviously written by a young, naive, perhaps foolish person, with prose ranging from overblown to just plain shitty, but they illustrate my journey as a writer and a person, so I think it is worth the embarrassment. ]

Well, I spent a large portion of my day proofreading, checking, and rechecking my short story The Inhibitor to mail it out. I went into Walmart and bought the appropriate labels to put through my printer for the appropriate sized envelope in order to look appropriately professional. I triple checked the editor’s name, made sure I spelled it correctly, printed on fresh paper with a fresh ink cartridge, and made sure I signed the cover letter as well as typing my name. I made sure the manuscript was paper clipped, not stapled, with the Self-addressed soon to be stamped return envelope folded perfectly in half and attached firmly in back. I slid this all carefully into the outer envelope, making sure I didn’t fold or wrinkle any corners, and cradled it like a human infant as I carried it to my vehicle. My lab coat surrounded it in the passenger seat to keep it from falling out, and I didn’t open my window all the way to be sure it didn’t fly around.

All of this I did because Editors read thousands upon thousands of words every day, and if you’re smart you do everything in your power to make it easy on them, to look professional, and to not piss them off.

I got to the Post Office and saw a sizable line to the front desk, so opted instead for the inviting automaton that stood with bright screen and outreached scale open for all to use. It did not respond to verbal commands no matter how sternly I reprimanded it, so I used the droid’s primitive touch screen. Checking the scale surface for any substance that might mar the pristine whiteness of my 9×12 envelope, I weighed my package and saw that it would cost 1.28 for postage. Yeehaw! If my story gets published, I stand to make somewhere around five dollars, so with shipping both ways I could net at least $2.44. That’ll buy me five egg rolls and enough self confidence to ask a girl out. Or at least five egg rolls. More than that, I’d be published. My life would take on meaning, and I would rise above the ranks of mere mortals.

It was all perfect. Except the kindly robot gave me not stamps but a scanny-label thingy, which I was pretty sure wouldn’t please an Editor to see on a self addressed envelope, or would even work correctly. So I stuck it on the external one and joined the ranks of the waiting zombies to talk to the magic postmen. 

I was behind a middle aged man with a limited vocabulary who was accusing the postman of having his chickens. I was concerned for a moment, thinking it was some kind of livestock dispute that would end in a wrasslin’ match, but then the postman procured a box with holes in it that seemed to be chirping. With a tobacco-rotted smile, the man tore into the box and began doing what I can only assume was a thorough physical exam to each and every one of the dozens of chirping chicks. After a few minutes of this, the postman became irritated and told the man he would have to take them somewhere else so that other customers could get through. The man quickly acquiesced, jogging to a table in the back of the room with all the joy and fervor of a boy with a Christmas present.

It was my time to shine. I had taken the manuscript out with all the care of handling plutonium and separated the self-addressed envelope from the paper clip, in an attempt to make things easier. When I approached the counter, however, the postman grabbed the empty envelope and stuck it on his scale without allowing comment. I told him I needed postage for everything in my hands, including the manuscript and envelope, in order to put on the internal self-addressed envelope. He looked at me like I was an idiot. I pointed out that I had already paid for the postage of the package in general, and just needed the same amount in stamps for the return. He took all the papers, put it on his scale, pressed some buttons, then said, “I’ll just give you the same amount in stamps.” Good idea. He got the stamps, offered to affix them for me, and I allowed it. I took my papers and began to put them together so I could step outside, seal it, and drop it in the mailer. The postman, in an honest attempt at being helpful, said, “Here, i can just put it in and mail it for you.” 

Here’s where my social idiocy kicked in. I reflexively avoid conflict in the smallest of forms. I can’t help it. I could have easily said, “No thanks,” and walked out the door, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I handed him the papers. He stuffed the manuscript in, then shoved the folded envelope in in front of it, unattached. 

Editors like it attached. In the back. I opened my mouth to speak, but no sound came out, and the postman happily sealed it, with it sealing my doom.

Perhaps it won’t matter. Perhaps it will. Perhaps I’m obsessing a bit too much. Any way you view it, somewhere an editor will be annoyed, and thus I was screwed by the postman.