I sent my first short story out for submission way back in the early 90's to a very small print publication called Realms. Much to my surprise, they accepted the story. I still have the check they wrote me for $7. Fresh off this victory, I kept going with my writing, which went slowly because I was also getting close to finishing up work on my engineering degree.
But, in 1994, I had another story ready to send out. It was called Witchstone. In hindsight, it was pretty bad. Nevertheless, I thought it was gold, and, still glowing from my initial acceptance, I went for the bigs, sending the story to a number of notable print publications (back then, the Internet was not what it is today; online 'zines were just getting started). Of course it got rejected across the board.
Amidst the carnage, though, came this gem (click image for larger version):
It's a form rejection letter from Marion Zimmer Bradley, who ran the print publication, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, and whom you might know from having written a classic fantasy tale or two.
Though the letter is of a form nature, Ms. Bradley took the time to write in a few personal notes.
The first one reads, "Just a little slow-starting. It would already have sold if there were more markets. Keep trying."
The other handwritten note is:
Which reads, "Lots of occult clichés. If Fate were still buying fiction, I'd say try them. Weird might like it."
The comments are encouraging and supportive. Not meant to crush my spirit at all like some others who heard from her in similar fashion. Maybe I caught her on a good day, or maybe she really did see something in my writing. I'll never know. But, of all the rejection letters I have received, this is the only one I've kept. I'm not one of those "wear your rejection slips like a badge of honor" type of people. I'm not ashamed of them at all, but they take up space and, when you get down to it, what is the point of hanging onto them other than as a record of who you've submitted what stories to (something I would now do in a spreadsheet if I still submitted to small press markets)?
So why did I keep this one? Simply because of who wrote it. Plus it's a nice reminder of the early days when I was still in my twenties and ready to make my mark on the world, whether in the software industry or the world of literature.
Maybe the rejection did deter me from writing a bit, because I didn't really get back into writing until recently. But the same year I received this letter, I also graduated from college and started my career as a software engineer. I remember writing some during that initial period, but I was tired of studying (working) all day, coming home, and having to continue studying (writing) all through the night. I was ready for a life and some serious downtime. So writing got pushed to the backseat and only because of the digital self-publishing phenomenon of a few years ago has it truly resurfaced. It would seem that, for me, writing for the sheer joy of it isn't enough. I need readers, too.
As I approach the release of my next book, I feel like I owe Ms. Bradley some gratitude for keeping my writing spirit alive even if I did ignore it for a long time after that. So, here's to Marion Zimmer Bradley. I feel like I should go read something by her now.