Crying in Restaurants

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil
Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

Flickr: loungerie / Via Creative Commons

This is going to be my thing: sharing work that’s been previously rejected.

The following is a true story. The idea for the piece came from a writing exercise while on a writing retreat at Ragdale, an artist community on Chicago’s North Shore. Oh, and the title is courtesy of Dani Shapiro.

I submitted it twice and received two rejections: one with a personal note that they’d just published something similar; one with some suggestions for changes.

Writing is revision, and I’m arm-pit deep in revising my novel. So I’m not suggesting that we all run out and post our crappy stuff that couldn’t hack it elsewhere.

But I loved this piece. I loved that it happened. I loved writing it. I cried writing it. I’m glad it’s out of me, and I don’t want to work on it any more. I want to share it for whatever it’s worth.

The writing of it was the point. Not the publishing of it. Sometimes that’s enough.

 

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

My newly formed writing practice is fueled by a medium iced tea and a shortbread cookie at the local Panera coffee shop. In these two hours carved out of a busy weekend, I aim to add 500 words to the first draft of my novel, and I vow to stay off the Internet. But first, I reinforce my commitment with writing tips and encouragement from my favorite authors.

still writing

I begin with a chapter from Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. In its pages, I see shades of myself in a description of her mother, a frustrated, middle-aged woman, clickety clacking away furiously on a typewriter.

My eyes fill with tears and my stuffy nose blocks the yeasty aroma of the café’s freshly baked bread. These hours with my laptop in the corner booth are my attempt to finally pursue a passion long denied. I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer.

I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer

Maybe the catalyst was an emptying nest, age spots on my hands, or preparing to celebrate my own mother’s 70th birthday. Whatever the cause, a few months ago, I realized I had to give writing everything I had, or regret it for the rest of my life.

Still Writing was a reward for meeting my word count goals. It joins Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and other sources of inspiration on my shelves.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers; living vicariously through Natalie Goldberg, Brenda Ueland, William Zinsser and many others.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers

Long ago, after reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, I filled countless yellow pads with morning pages. There were flashes of stories in those pages I didn’t yet have the skill or courage to tell.

Back then, I marveled at King’s brazen recounting of his rejection slip collection. What nerve to believe he had something to say, and how fortunate for his “dear readers” that he never gave up.

I’m part of the tribe because I write

In a later chapter of Still Writing, Shapiro recalls sending an early manuscript to author Tim O’Brien, one of her literary heroes. His unexpected and encouraging endorsement symbolically welcomed her into the tribe of writers.

A chill passes over me. Maybe it’s the air conditioning on this hot summer afternoon, or maybe it’s that this morning my son handed me a copy of his favorite reading assignment for the semester: O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

I close Dani Shapiro’s book and open my slim silver computer, prepared to add pages to my rough draft knowing I’m part of the tribe because I write. I allow myself one foray into social media to message the author who inspired my writing session today.

I click on Shapiro’s Facebook page not knowing who manages her account or if she’ll see it. I thank her for Still Writing and confess that reading her words and pursuing my passion has unleashed a flash flood of tears in this very public place.

Hours later, my laptop timer and the condensation on my watery iced tea signal it’s time to head home and make dinner. I’m satisfied with 873 words added to my manuscript. Before packing up, I check Facebook and see the message waiting icon. It’s from Dani Shapiro.

I wipe away new tears and take a screen shot of her generous, encouraging comments. As to my crying in the coffee shop, she empathizes and says she once thought of writing a book based on similar experiences. She’d call it Crying in Restaurants.

Dani Shapiro Facebook Message

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Crying in Restaurants

  1. Barbara Armstrong on April 5, 2016 at 7:51 am said:

    This will be copied and added to my files from my WRITER daughter and when she has her novel published, I will show it to her and we will probably be in a restaurant and we will both be crying!!!!!

  2. This is a great piece, Suzanne! I love those seemingly random synchronicities that give you chills. They’re kind of like trail markers, letting you know you’re on the right path. …I’d say you’re not only part of the writing tribe, you’re part of that tribe of encouraging and inspiring writers who welcome others into the fold. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  3. Daisy Wawrzonek on April 6, 2016 at 12:06 pm said:

    What a wonderful story!! Thank you for sharing.

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REJECTED: Too Tired to Inspire

Tired kid
Tired kid

Creative Commons Image – Click on photo for source

For about a week, I’ve been contemplating an inspiring post about things that amaze me. But here’s the thing, I have a full time day job, and I’m committed to finishing this latest draft of my novel sooner rather than later. I’M TIRED PEOPLE.

Especially today. My husband and I dogsat last night for my daughter’s two dogs. We love these rent-a-pet opportunities. Throw a stick, scratch a belly, and then wave goodbye.

Thor and Ruger

Last night, her slightly neurotic boxer and fluffy mixed-breed slept over. Thor, the boxer, decided that 2:30 a.m. was a good time to slink over to my side of the bed and lick my hand. I was up Netflix-ing for the next four hours.

But writing this book is something I want to do, so instead of catching up on sleep, I brainstormed the rest of my outline.

All of this whining brings me to the topic of my post today. Sometimes writing things and flinging them out to the universe isn’t always gratifying. Sometimes we’re rejected by the very people who once accepted us and validated our writerly existence.

But I’m trusting all the legends out there,  all the novelists who tell us persistence is the key. So I’m persisting. And yawning. Which is why today, you’re getting a previously unpublished essay instead of my amazingly useful post on wonderous things that amaze me.

This essay was my second submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was rejected. The essay made my sisters cry which is one of my litmus tests. It did not make me cry. Maybe it will make you cry. Maybe not.

Maybe you’ll instantly know why my first submission to the Soup people was accepted and why this one was rejected. Maybe not. Probably not.

I don’t have the energy or desire to resubmit or rewrite this particular piece. I got it out of me and—to paraphrase a lovely novelist I interviewed this week—made it an artifact. This time that was enough.

It’s a true story. Names changed, etc.. I hope it speaks to you.

Remember to just keep “making stuff.” (Yes, that’s from Big Magic by our friend Liz, and yes, I resisted reading it because everyone’s reading it, and yes, now I have bent over every other page because it speaks to me…damn you, Liz!)

Here’s my rejected piece:

Lessons Learned

Had I known that sunny September day would set a course for the next 17 years of my life, I might have thought twice about attending the Parent Volunteer meeting. My brown-eyed girl was starting Kindergarten and I was determined to get involved. I left her two-year-old brother with a neighbor and dressed in my best mom uniform, khaki capris and sandals.

The gymnasium was set with folding chairs and long tables littered with sign-up sheets. There were paper cups filled with lemonade and rows of sparkly sugar cookies and grownups having conversations! I’d escaped the confines of stay-at-home-mom, venturing into the land of Moms Who Help. It was a vast land with its own politics and customs. Our comfortable community in a desirable school district had the unusual problem of fielding too many volunteers. Assignments filled quickly.

Our leader for the afternoon ended her welcome speech by reminding us that there were always areas in need of more help such as the Read-A-Book program. We had a diverse student body many of whose parents did not speak English in the home and did not have access to reading materials. Those volunteers selected would choose books and read aloud weekly to children in need of special attention.

It seemed like the perfect fit. We’d read to our kids from an early age and my daughter would see me helping her classmates. I put my name at the top of the list and selected a few other events as well. I would help stock the Book Fair and come in once a month for Art Parent, whatever that was. I also filled out a lottery form for Room Parent, the most competitive category. Those lucky folks that planned all the classroom parties were chosen in an annual drawing clouded with rumors of fixed entries and other shenanigans.

Throughout the next 17 years, I read to many of my children’s classmates and served as room parent more often than not. I chaperoned field trips to museums and zoos, spotted climbers on the knotted rope in P.E. classes, filled water balloons for orchestra camps, fed referees at wrestling tournaments, grilled bratwurst at football games and demonstrated sculpture to third graders using Hershey Kisses and toothpicks.

The assignment that resonated the most was the reading. It seemed such a simple thing. Each reading day, I’d choose a book from a cabinet in the volunteer room. I’d pull the pocket folder belonging to my student and record the book title. After reading, I returned the folder noting any comments the child made about the book or any requests they had for the following week.

We sat wherever we could find a spot. We’d plop down on big bean bag pillows in a carpeted hallway, a corner of the library, or a special sunny nook with no lockers off the office corridor. Most of the children spoke English but didn’t read much at home either because their parents didn’t have the time or didn’t speak English.

Each year, every session started out tentatively as I got to know my students. They’d ask whose mom I was and slowly, over weeks, they’d relax, revealing their personalities. Some demanded the same book each week. Some wanted me to scour the library to find a special title. Then there was Jake.

Jake was in my daughter’s fourth grade glass and according to other classroom parents, was likely to end up in juvenile detention before making it to high school. He was always in trouble. He swore. He was high energy. He received poor grades. He was troubled by most every definition and was assigned to read with me as his parents didn’t speak English at home.

The first day I called his name, he slapped a book off a classmate’s desk on his way out to join me in the hallway.

“Hi Jake,” I said.

“I hate reading.” He said.

“Good, you don’t have to read. You can just listen if you want.” I slid down the wall to the carpet wondering how I got so lucky to have him on my list.

“Maybe.” But he also sat down, three feet away from me as if he might bolt at any minute.

“I heard you like Goosebumps?”

“Whatever.” But he wasn’t punching anyone or trying to run away.

I opened the book and began to read. Occasionally, I’d sneak a peek at him. He had the spiky bangs in fashion with a lot of the boys. He had giant brown eyes and an 18-inch tail of hair down the middle of his back, the rest of his hair cut short to match his spiky bangs. The tail definitely stood out and I learned other students often teased him about it. The radical hairstyle contributed to his aura as the bad boy of the grade school set.

Our first meeting was deemed a success by his teacher. I could see a change as I called him each following week. He no longer acted out on his way to greet me. Instead, he practically ran and sat so close I could feel his warm skin and smell the baby shampoo his mom used on her special boy. He was always cheerful and seemed well-cared for. I didn’t understand the source of his behavior problems. I was just there to read.

One late spring day, we were finishing our last book of the year. I’d bought each of my students a book as a parting gift and I handed him a new Goosebumps paperback. He didn’t say much just twirled the long tail of hair. I took a risk and asked him about it.

“That must have taken a long time to grow, huh?”

“Yeah, my mom won’t let me cut it.” He didn’t let go of it and rubbed his other hand over the book cover.

“Really? How come?” I didn’t want to be nosey but I was intrigued.

“I was really sick as a baby and my mom told God if he let me live, she’d never cut my hair.”

I swallowed past the lump in my throat and finished reading. When I got to “The End” I closed the book and listened as the muffled sounds of a busy science lesson drifted through the closed classroom door. Other than that, our little alcove in the hallway was silent.

Then I heard Jake clear his throat, “Thanks for reading to me. Maybe I’ll get you next year.”

As my tears threatened to overflow, I risked possible rejection and hugged him. He hugged me right back.

My volunteer efforts on behalf of my two children and several school buildings have had splashier successes. In truth, I’m not even sure that my reading with Jake made any impact on his life other than those few hours we spent together in quiet enjoyment of a good book. What I am sure of is the valuable lessons Jake taught me.

Everyone you meet has a story and usually, you’ll never know what that story is. Secondly, any effort expended on behalf of another human being has the capacity to improve a life. In this case, that life was mine.

11 Thoughts on “REJECTED: Too Tired to Inspire

  1. Well, I liked it Suzanne! A valuable lesson to be reminded of. Who knows what the peeps at Chicken Soup were looking for, anyway? Doesn’t mean they didn’t like it, just that they liked something else better!

    A lovely story, though. <3 🙂 <3

  2. ksamudio on February 29, 2016 at 4:01 pm said:

    Yes, I love it; yes, I did get teary (even before the vow his Mom made to God – it hit me when he sat so close you could feel his warm skin/baby shampoo/Mom’s special boy); yes, I feel confident that you did have an impact on Jake – I’m betting he has never forgotten you, Suzanne the kind reading Mom!

  3. As we ride the life river we pass over stones we may never see again, unaware that our motion has changed their position forever.

  4. That’s a sweet story, Suzanne. I was still thinking about it the next day and the day after that. I think that’s the mark of a good story–one that stays with you! I bet you could find another outlet for it.

    I can also relate to your tiredness and your faith in the power of persistence… in spite of the tiredness and occasional disappointments. It’s all part of the process.

    P.S. I look forward to reading about things that amaze you some other time. 🙂

    • Thank you, Jennifer! I know we all have this limited time and energy quotient to spend on our activities, thoughts, pursuits. How we allocate it can affect what we finish, submit, etc. Pondering the “amazement” thoughts some more. Many thanks for chiming in, especially on the persistence and the process!

  5. Hi Suzanne! I’ve been getting many rejections lately as well! I have to remind myself how many times I have been lucky to get acceptances, which means someone else got the rejections! So I rejoice for those who are getting the “yes” this time around!

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Soup to Nuts – How I Got My Story Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor copies arrive

A lovely writer friend said she’d love to hear step-by-step how I got my story “An Ordinary Life” published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom. I promised to do a blog post on it so here’s what happened.

Which cameChicken Soup for the Soul my name first, the chicken or the soup?

Some people write a piece then look for a place to submit others check out open calls for submissions and then write to a specific theme. I’ve done both. In this case, I really can’t remember which came first.

I think I saw the open call for their latest book and an idea popped into my head. A recent conversation with my mom had brought up an old memory and I wrote about it.

Shitty First Drafts

The first draft poured out in about 15 minutes at Panera. I read it to a good friend but she knows my mom. I wanted another opinion from someone outside my circle. I wanted to know what message an impartial reader was getting about my mom.

I had made a few connections at a writer’s retreat. I posted a request for readers on our retreat alumni Facebook page and got two responses. Kathy is a wonderful soul and she replied with general criticism and positive support which I appreciated. Ana had previously published a story in another Chicken Soup volume and has also written professionally for a long time, and gave me some great tips.

Ana went on to red-line and edit a couple of drafts for me.

Writing is Rewriting

In all, I did five or six complete drafts. I had to cut it down from about 1,600 to 1,200 words. When I first decided to commit to writing, I thought my first drafts should be good enough. If it didn’t come out perfect, I felt I lacked talent or didn’t feel like the “real deal.” I’ve since learned and come to accept that the “magic” comes in the rewriting.

If you’re just starting out, the only way to believe this is to see it work. The best wording, the right order, it all comes in revision.

Tears in the Writer

How did I know the story was working? I couldn’t read it through without crying. I’ve read it a hundred times by now and still, every time I cry. It was told from the heart.

Follow the Guidelines

The great thing about the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise is they have explicit and easy to understand guidelines.

I followed them exactly. They tell you what is and what is not a Chicken Soup story. From making sure to include all five senses, to telling the story in first person, I just went down the list and made sure my story had all of the elements.

I cut and pasted the story to their online form a couple of weeks before the deadline. They even tell you to submit early. Your story could be great but if they’ve already decided on several that share similar attributes, you may lose out.

Keep Writing

I submitted the story in late September for an October deadline. I kept working on essays, blog posts, author interviews, book reviews, etc. I submitted the first draft of my novel to a developmental editor. In other words, I didn’t sit around and wait to hear back.

The Chicken Soup website states that you will only hear back from them if your story has been selected. They don’t do rejections. If you don’t hear back from them 60 days before the on-sale date listed on the website, you probably haven’t been chosen. My on-sale date was March 17 so I noted January 17 on my calendar.

The Good News 

On December 9, or about eight weeks after submitting, I received an email saying “Congratulations, your story has made it to the final round.” The letter indicated that out of thousands of entries, they could only select 101. It cautioned that though most in the final round would make it into the book, a few wouldn’t. The email instructed me to fill out a release, submit a bio, etc. What did “final round” mean and when would I know for sure whether or not I’d be published in a book?

Email #2

On January 2, I received a second email with a PDF of my story asking me to review it and make edits before giving my final approval. It also said “you’ve made it to the final round.” At this point, I was still confused because I’d previously “made it to the final round” so I emailed back and asked the question–am I in or not?

They quickly replied that I had made it! But, they hadn’t yet notified everyone so they asked that I not publicize it until official notice came a few days later.

Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor copies arrive

The Fun Stuff

As a contributor, I found out that I would receive exclusive monthly newsletters with information on upcoming opportunities. They also encourage contributors to keep sending in their stories for other volumes. They celebrate those contributors with multiple stories.

I received several emails from their dedicated PR firm detailing how news releases were handled and providing ideas and encouragement on how to handle book signings, charity fundraisers through book sales, etc.

About two weeks before the on-sale date, I received my 10 free contributors copy and got to autograph my first book! Contributors are paid $200 per story via check about one month following the book’s release.

That payment will end this journey but I’ve already submitted my second story.

Chicken Soup for the Soul on the shelf at Barnes and Noble

I’m in a book, on a shelf, in Barnes and Noble!

 

The Steps to Publication in Chicken Soup for the Soul

Hmmmm, I think I’ve read those steps before…(duh, everywhere!)

I have nothing but praise for the Chicken Soup for the Soul folks. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it is a trusted and respected market for a very specific kind of story. They know what they do best and they treat their writers well.

Did I leave anything out? Ask me a question or share your success story in the comments. I’d love to hear about your experience with Chicken Soup or other publications.

 

 

 

 

5 Thoughts on “Soup to Nuts – How I Got My Story Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul

  1. Hi Suzanne!
    What a great thing to do – write up tips. And more than that the time and energy you were willing to put into the rewrite of your story. Most people think writing is easy. Bang something out and send it off. I admire you for slogging through the process. Your story shines from all the polishing you did to and for it. Thank you for including me in your process. Congratulations on getting published. Wahoo!
    Ana

    • It’s Ana…the Chicken Soup Whisperer 🙂 It isn’t easy but it is rewarding and to quote some more famous writer…it isn’t exactly coal mining either! Thanks for reading and for all the help. It’s the generosity of other writers like you that have inspired me this year.

  2. Pingback: Autographed Books to Benefit Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) | Suzanne M. Brazil

  3. ksamudio on February 29, 2016 at 5:11 pm said:

    Ok, so obviously I am commenting on this older post, but since it was referenced in your latest one I went to it. What wonderful advice & tips for those of us starting our journey (and you have already been unfailingly supportive & generous) – and I love “tears in the writer” BTW. Now I need to read the story 🙂

    • I used the Chicken Soup piece to audition for Listen to Your Mother essay reading contest and could NOT get through it even once without crying, LOL. Thanks for chiming in and feel free to share/pass on any tips with your writing group. So excited for you on your journey and so many people have been so helpful to me, it’s humbling to think anything I share might be of use to someone else.

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