Sunday, November 8, 2015

I Confess

A number of years ago I was trying to get published without much success. I wrote personal essays and short stories. I wrote proposals for nonfiction articles. I got a lot of form rejections and some more personalized rejections (“ I enjoyed reading this, but it’s not for us”) but no one wanted to publish my stuff.

One day I was leafing through a copy of Writer’s Digest and saw a book on how to write confession stories. The book was more than I could afford so I decided to study the market. I lived in Center City Philadelphia near a number of large newsstands but no one seemed to carry these magazines anymore. I called my mom who said she’d check out the local drug store and, sure enough, I got a package with copies of True Confessions and Modern Romance.

One of my aunts read confession magazines as a teen and I remembered thinking they were steamy. They were illustrated with photographs and one story featured a photograph of a man walking a blanket-clutching woman into the woods. But I was 10. What did I know about steam?

The magazines my mother sent me featured young women with a variety of personal problems: unwanted attention from a man at work, not enough attention from a man at work and single moms trying to find romance.

I thought I had an idea of what the editors were looking for so I wrote a story with a disabled protagonist (disability and romance might get someone’s attention). and sent it to Modern Romance. Six weeks later it came sailing back in my self-addressed stamped envelope with a from letter “Thank you for sending us you story, however…”

I had just gotten a new job and didn’t really have much time to think about writing and so consigned the story to the desk drawer that held all my other unpublished stories. I continued to write other things but couldn’t get them published.

Several years later I was going through this desk drawer again and came upon my confession. I read through it. It certainly wasn’t “The Dead,” but for what it was it was OK. I retyped it and sent it off to True Confessions.

A mere 18 months later I got a response from True Confessions. They would publish the story and I would get a check the last week of the month in which the story appeared. Had I been trying to make my living as a writer I would have been homeless and starving. It was another few months before my story appeared, but I had a day job so I was ecstatic.

My mother sent the story to relatives and friends. The magazine was still illustrated with photographs. My mother got a few puzzled responses. “Is that Stephanie in the picture. I don’t remember her being so blonde. Is she coloring her hair now?” and “The girl in the picture looks to be in her twenties. Isn’t Stephanie a bit older than that now?”

I wrote a second story based loosely on how I met my husband. Work was still demanding but I developed something called “benign positional vertigo” and my doctor put me off work. “I don’t want you falling off city buses and it might be a good idea if you weren’t living alone just now.”

Bob moved me (and my computer) to his place. In a few weeks I had the story ready to go. Bob read the story and told me that my protagonist had to do more than read books all day and her favorite dessert couldn’t be creme brulee, which was, at the time, hard to find anywhere.

True Confessions responded quickly.

“They Fed-exed their response,” I said to Bob. “I think this is the kind of thing that happens right before you win The Pulitzer Prize.”

My twenty page story was considered a book length feature and they wanted it in the next edition of the magazine. It appeared. I got paid and life was good.

I had an essay published in a medical journal (long story) and wrote a feature that I hoped would set me up to write articles for what Sylvia Plath called “the slicks.” Alas, I had to settle for what was in essence a kill fee.

So I have become a writer of occasional pieces. If there’s an occasion when I want to write something then I do. I have a novel I tinker with now and again. But I have to be honest. If I have a bad day at work, I want to relax and be entertained. At those times, I am happy to read the words of others.

© 2015 Stephanie Patterson

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this. I think we can all come up with amusing tales re our writing careers - they are all different - and we both succeed and fail - but what fun when we hit the jackpot!!! Thelma Straw