I am very happy that my story "Bears" has been published in New World Writing.
In my last post, I wrote about how difficult I was finding writing and submitting work during the pandemic. I felt like I was confessing a huge weakness. Writers need to have thick skins in order to make it, and I was failing.
But the act of admitting my difficulties made me feel lighter somehow. More hopeful. I felt like it was OK if didn't submit work and OK if I did. Then I told myself that I could try doing five submissions. That was an old goal I used to have: five submissions a month. At my height of submitting I often exceeded it, but that was my baseline.
I sat down at my computer a week ago and submitted to six journals. I made my goal plus a bonus.
My first rejection came a few days later. I felt sad, but not depressed. And then the next notice I saw was that New World Writing had accepted and published my story. Talk about immediate gratification!
I am not sure how much I will submit for the rest of the year, but January is a win.
This story, "Bears," is the first new story published out of a whole collection about what happens after fairy tales end. Most of them are quite a bit longer and will be harder to publish, but this is a nice start.
The dry river is running again. The Salinas used to run more often, but as we pump more groundwater, as the climate warms, a moderate rain simply soaks into the thirsty soil. Even several moderate rains. Only sustained downpours bring the water to the surface. Last year we had very little rain. I am not sure the river flowed at all.
It rained over and over this December, more than seven inches when we typically average two and a half for the month. Even that is not enough to break the drought, but it is enough to make the Salinas flow in its shallow, sandy channel.
On New Year’s Day I went to the river park to watch the water flow where windblown sand usually awaits. Traditionally, I go to the coast on or around New Years. I like to stand on the shore and look at the ocean, feeling I’m at the end of one thing and the beginning of another as the year opens. I see a distant horizon full of possibilities.
This year, though, I went to see the dry river run.
In past years I have made a New Years post detailing my writing career for the year, listing the pieces I’ve had published. A year ago, I wrote quite a different post, about the pandemic, and how for a while I couldn’t write at all. How, swimming in the sea of grief and heartbreak that was 2020, I couldn’t bear to get rejections. Eventually, though, I went back to the writing itself, finishing a draft of a new story collection by the end of the year. I had high hopes of revising and submitting that book and querying agents again for my novel. But when I made a few submissions, getting the rejections put me in a funk for days. Pre-pandemic, I was pretty good at shrugging off rejections, making over 100 submissions a year. The pandemic changed me.
In 2021, I wrote very little aside from blog posts, short pieces that don't involve probable rejection. I have always considered writing a major purpose in my life. I have set aside time for it, gotten an MFA, etc. But last year, I didn't enjoy it. I dreaded it, especially revision and submission. In 2021, I asked myself: What if I spent that time doing activities I enjoyed—reading books, playing my ukulele, going to the beach, etc.? Maybe enjoying life should be my priority. The pandemic probably fueled my emphasis on enjoyment, since for so long I hadn’t been able to do so many of the activities I relished. I wanted to have fun, and writing had stopped being fun.
Still, I can’t stop thinking like a writer. I spin stories or construct characters in my head. And I think in metaphors.
So I went to look at the water running where during this last, drought-stricken year nothing flowed. Perhaps it’s a metaphor, I think. Perhaps this year the river will run again and the desire to write will rise and the words will flow. Writing will be fun again, sparkling in the light, reflecting the world around in surprising and beautiful ways.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
© Ann Hillesland 2015-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ann Hillesland with specific direction to the original content.