I got my copies of the Caribbean Writer in the mail today. I opened the package while in line at the Antigua Public Utilities Authority – and if you have any idea of what an excruciating experience that slow moving line is you’ll understand what a wild and paradoxical juxtaposition of emotion it was to unwrap this particular present at that time. Happy, happy on the one hand; while on the other, I could literally count the seconds of my life ticking away by the pulsing in my aching feet.
Maybe opening and tiefing a read from the Caribbean Writer was my way of distracting myself. If so, it worked.
Now, I wasn’t going to read the Caribbean Writer just now. I was looking forward to it sure but I already have, what, six books in various stages of progress and more books queued up on my shelf that I genuinely want to get to – only there are only so many seconds in the day and stories to be written, and a life to be lived, and bills to be paid. Still, I ripped the plastic and held the striking and shiny edition (e look pretty eeee!?!) in my hand.
I flipped to the first poem. I have a habit when I’m reading collections like these to read the poem or story, in order, first to last, and, with each one, flip to the back to see who wrote it and learn more about them. It takes on a rhythm of its own; story/poem, flip, flip back, story/poem, flip, flip back. At the end, I’ll likely go back and read my favourites, especially if it’s a collection I’ll be blogging about; but that’s the dance.
In this flipping, I happened to look at the back cover and I was stopped for a moment just staring at it; because (ego-tripping alert! ego-tripping alert!) my name was there, my name, when usually I’m listed among the “and others”. It was a trip. I’ll tell you why.
When I first discovered the Caribbean Writer many years ago, before I’d been published in anything beyond Antigua really, it became one of my earliest experiences with the humbling and sometimes soul crushing process of submission and rejection, submission and rejection, repeat, repeat, repeat, ’til you either give up or break through. It tasted bitter – as I say in Ah Write! a poem later published in the Caribbean Writer – “like cattle tongue”
and, unlike fine wine, the taste doesn’t improve with age.
But the thing I knew about rejection was it might be able to floor me, but it wouldn’t stop me from getting up. I knew this too: I wasn’t about to take the easy way out, sidling away from submitting simply because it might get rejected and rejection hurts.
Maybe a part of me craved the external validation, and maybe I shouldn’t need that. But I wanted my words to reach out beyond my small circle, independent of me and somehow still connect with others. With any manuscript, at the Caribbean Writer or elsewhere, the editor who picks up that poem, story, or full length book, and either keeps reading or relegates it to the recycle bin is, best case scenario, assessing that work purely on its merit and feels no specific compulsion to like it because they maybe like you and don’t want to hurt your feelings (often quite the opposite is true ). If the work makes it through, against the odds, and the odds are tough, it feels like a validation of sorts, of the writing, of your claim even of being a writer. Plus I got a sense of how the industry, whether fairly or unfairly, perceives stuff that’s been selected for publication by an established press which believes in it enough to invest in it compared to stuff that’s been self-published. There is, also, the fact that publication in a refereed widely read, highly selective, and well respected journal, which the Caribbean Writer is, means something in literary circles.
So after that first Caribbean Writer rejection maybe I felt compelled to prove something to them or myself, maybe I just wanted to make some headway in this literary world, because year after year, I kept submitting…and getting rejected. So you have to understand what an emotional rollercoaster that is to understand how it felt to get accepted the first time in Volume 18 in 2004 when they published the poem ‘Ah Write!’ and the short story ‘Rhythms’; and again in Volume 24 in 2010 when they published the poem ‘Tongue Twista’ and the short story ‘Country Club Kids’, with a few other rejections in between, mind, though they also reviewed my book Dancing Nude in the Moonlight in Volume 19 in 2005 and mentioned me (or according to this report Joanne C. Williams) as a winner of the David Hough Literary Prize in Volume 25 in 2011. So, to now see my name on the book jacket, that was a trip. For all I know they closed their eyes and pointed to select the names for the jacket, I don’t know, but it gave me a little happy in the line at the APUA to see it there.
Because it took many years to get there, because each year you submit your work blind and it’s accepted or rejected on its own merit, not on name recognition or pull string. Even if the submissions weren’t reviewed blind, I’ve never had the power of pull string and whatever name recognition I have is tenuous at best (I have no illusions about where I stand in the industry). The only thing I own is a seed of talent and a commitment to working hard and persevering no matter the odds.
I love reading the Caribbean Writer, that’s another reason I wanted to be there; because it’s genuinely good-good-good reading – no surprise given the editorial board’s rigorous selection process. Also it’s fresh, it’s new voices mixed in with the old, and new writing all around, it’s where Caribbean writing at its best is now. For those who wonder or lament that the best of Caribbean literature is in the past, a perusal of the Caribbean Writer should serve to reassure that there’s lots of good writing still coming out of the region. So being in that company is humbling, a sweeter kind of humbling than rejection
…and I would encourage any writer to submit in a heartbeat because, if accepted, you’ll be in good company (and all the other reasons I gave earlier).
But if rejected, well, use that as motivation to try again.
It’s important to note that notwithstanding all that I’ve said, your rejected poem or story may be just fine as is and another journal may see that something in it that this or that editor missed. Because if there is an uncontrollable variable in publishing, in life, really, it’s timing; it might just not be the right eyes looking at the right piece at the right time. I’ve had pieces rejected here and accepted with little or no tweaking there.
Of course, oftentimes a rejection is a cue that you need to go back to the beginning – I always kind of do that anyway, look at the work again to see what doesn’t work. You have to be open to that too; after submission, rejection, comes revision (at least reviewing…but, yeah, sometimes redrafting). After that, it’s time to dust yourself off and try again.
Do that, and you too might find yourself in line at APUA staring, dumbfounded (not at a bill that does seem like somebody closed their eyes and pointed to come up with the units used and amount due but…), at your name on the jacket of a journal you highly respect with a little bubble of I’m getting there, I’m getting there about to burst in side of you as you prepare to read cover to cover.
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.