I got a sweet letter today from an almost-twelve-year-old girl--I'll call her Sally. Sally is a writer. She's working on a couple of stories right now--one of them is 65 notebook pages long, and the other is 18 typed pages. Her mom knows my mom, so my mom (as all relatives of people who work in publishing do) passed along my contact information. (Note to moms: I don't mind when it's a kid. Grown-ups, on the other hand, can be a little grumpy.)
Sally reminds me so much of myself as a kid. I was just telling my husband about the short story I submitted to the New Yorker when I was twelve. I don't remember if I included a cover letter, but every day for at least a few weeks, I checked the mail, expecting my acceptance letter and a huge check.
Though the story has been lost in the sands of time, I remember that it involved a tortured artist who painted mysterious dark paintings and made intricate pottery. When the artist finally walked into the ocean one day (I KNOW! So ridiculous) her husband found shards of pottery on the beach, each glazed with the colors of the sunset. (I hope it doesn't ruin your suspense when I ask if you can BELIEVE the New Yorker didn't want to publish this masterpiece!)
One day, while I was babysitting, my mom called to tell me I had an envelope in the mail with the New Yorker's logo on it. Honestly, I could barely make it through the rest of my babysitting job. I was daydreaming exactly how I'd tell my parents and teachers about my first published story. As soon as I got home, I ran to my room with the envelope. Inside: the first page of my story. A scrap of paper thanking me for my submission. And a post-it: "Enclose a SASE."
I'm not saying that Sally's stories are nearly as ridiculous, pretentious, and overwrought as that story was. I haven't read them yet, but I bet they're great. And I love telling kids about how publishing works and encouraging them to keep reading and writing. Because you know what I took away from my first rejection? They didn't treat me like a kid. They didn't ignore me or talk down to me. (And they sent me a letter even though I didn't know about self-addressed stamped envelopes.)