How I Got Published

This month, I’m fulfilling a lifelong dream – twice! But not at all the way I had planned.

In the fall of 1995, Jenn Crowell was a senior in high school at Dallastown Area High School and applying to the creative writing program at Goucher College. As her writing sample, she enclosed the manuscript of her novel. The head of the creative writing program, Madison Smartt Bell, liked it enough to send it to his agent. She liked it enough to send it to a publisher. They published Necessary Madness.

By the time Jenn got to freshman orientation, she had already sold the cable TV rights. Her story was told in the Baltimore Sun, the Portland Press Herald and across the country.

How do I know? Because family and family friends clipped the story out of their newspapers and mailed them to me (this was 1997 – people did that!) from across the country. And I saw myself in Jenn Crowell. Dallastown was our football arch-rival (though, to be honest, it was no contest; we were terrible). I took a boy from Dallastown to prom, and he spent half the night throwing up in the bathroom, poor guy, under the influence of my best friend and her boyfriend’s teasing.

I also applied to Goucher College. Jenn Crowell was living my dream.

* * *

To complete the BA in creative writing, you had to take coursework and a senior seminar in at least two of three disciplines: fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. I’ve never felt like I understood poetry, let alone writing it, especially on demand. And creative nonfiction sounded like a bore; I prefer, as my father says, “to make shit up.” So I took every fiction course on offer at Goucher College, but got my degree in English literature instead. Despite my best efforts, Madison Smartt Bell never sent my work on to his agent.

* * *

Along the way, I gave up. For a five year stretch, I wrote nothing but academic papers.

During the Egyptian revolution, I got three articles published on an Australian independent news Website, New Matilda, but that was journalism under extraordinary circumstances. I didn’t count it.

Then I found the All Souls Writers Group. They met literally downstairs from my day job, and as Unitarian Universalists, they were basically required to accept me. But instead, they nurtured, nudged, encouraged and emboldened me. I started looking at markets again. I pestered other writer friends I respect for advice, strategies towards publication.

The All Souls Writers are mostly poets and memoirists. I still don’t think I understand poetry, but I learned a lot from them about memoir and the personal essay. And the All Souls Writers repeated month after month how much the country needed the voice of an American writer so deeply enamored and knowledgeable of the Muslim world that my Egyptian boyfriend once said, “You’re as Arab as I am.”

In 2015, I made a New Years resolution to get published. When I failed, I made it my 2016 resolution.

* * *

So here I am. Published at last.

A poem this week, “What To Do In A Terror Alert,” in Forage Poetry. Later this month, a piece of short narrative nonfiction, “That Other Hijab Story,” in the 2016 edition of From Sac.

Both are pieces that would not be what they are without the critique and support of the All Souls Writers.

Still no fiction. Perhaps in next year’s resolution, I should be more specific.

P.S. Jenn Crowell’s Necessary Madness is recently available as an e-book, and will be (re)published in paperback this month! Small world.

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