Our guest today is Detective Sergeant Bruce Coffin, who retired a while back from the Portland police department and has now embarked on the task of writing crime instead of fighting crime.
Bruce Coffin: The other day someone asked what it felt like to have one of my stories published. I told them it felt great. Of course. What else would I have said? My answer was short and direct, although as I think back on that moment, not entirely truthful. The truth is beyond words.
My writer friends have been a constant source of encouragement. Saying things like, “don’t worry it will happen,” and, “your writing is good, it’s just a matter of time.” But as the years passed I began to wonder. Do I really have what it takes to break through the barrier? The unpublished writer’s corner? I wondered…
In spite of the ever present specter of doubt, I worked hard on rewriting and re-editing my first novel, crafting new short stories and rewriting and re-editing those, again and again. I had trusted friends and relatives read my work and offer their opinions and advice. I continued to enter contests and submit my work to publishers and agents. And I continued to add to my collection of rejection e-mails.
If you’ve never received one, I can tell you first hand that notices of rejection from the publishing world are funny things. They look suspiciously like dear John letters. Designed to soften the blow, they say things like, “We thoroughly enjoyed your story,” or “your work shows real promise.” Well written and pleasant, but rejections just the same. As painful and heartbreaking as if they’d come from an ex-girlfriend to someone actually named John.
You can drive yourself crazy. I reacted differently each time I received a rejection. Sometimes I’d feel depressed. Other times I’d be angry. Pissed that they’d failed to recognized the brilliance in my writing. I thought, what possible story could someone have penned that was better than the one I’d submitted? Jeesh. But then I’d take a step back. Eventually, reading the work of the writers they did publish. Wow, I’d think. That story really was better than mine. I’d love to write a story that good. Then I’d look at the rejection e-mail again. It wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe they really did like my story.
So, I climbed back into the saddle of my trusted stead (my IPad), vowing to continue my quest. To push on toward that holy grail of publication. Being able to hold my head up high as I walked among the published writers, knowing I belonged. That I was one of them. From that day forward whenever someone I’d just met asked what I did, and I answered that I was a writer, I could mean it. When they asked the enviable follow-up question, where can I find your work? No longer would I have to mumble, oh, I’m not published yet, before slithering away to some dark corner in search of alcohol or a high ledge. I’d be able to actually tell them! Maybe they’ll want a signed copy of my work? Sure, I’ll say. Happy to do it. Who should I make this out to?
The truth is, when I awoke on that memorable Tuesday morning and checked my email, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The word congratulations hung there on the screen. Surely this must be spam that made its way into my inbox. Who else begins an email with congratulations? Certainly not a publisher. Obviously, In my pre-coffee state I was hallucinating. The SPAM must have been right next to another rejection email and I’d jumbled the words together in my mind. I was sure that when I looked back the email would tell me that I’d won a free four day trip to the Caribbean, or maybe a surprise gift, all of which would only cost me three easy payments of $79.99.
I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Congratulations. It really was from a publisher. I jumped out of bed and did a short awkward version of the Snoopy dance. Thankfully, there were no witnesses. I went and found my wife in the next room. Wanting to appear nonchalant, I tried to calm myself. When I told her the news, she let out a squeal of delight. I think I may have let out a squeal myself. I was over the moon. Giddy with excitement. Insert any other tired cliché for thrilled that you can think of, here.
Time has passed. I’ve read that email at least a hundred times. Shared the news with others and tried to get a handle on the idea of finally getting published. What does it mean? What it means is working harder. Writing more and honing my craft. In the past week I’ve penned a new short story and returned to the task of re-editing my first novel. Neither of which feels like a burden any longer. Now that I’m a published writer.
Now, if you’ll pardon me, this newly published writer has a lawn to mow.