Friday, August 26, 2005

My First Time

Several weeks back, some writer friends of mine started this go-round of talking about their first time. No, not sexual intercourse, but their first fiction sale. It made me think of my own first time, but I put it off in the interest of writing about bums, bidets and buddies.

But something else has recently happened that I started me thinking about the first story that I sold, so I thought I’d just get on with telling my own “first time” tale. (And at a later date, explain the thing that has happened that has prompted this post, which I might tell once the actual story finishes)

The first story that I sold wasn’t a horror or science fiction story at all. It was a young adult humour story. It was called “The Progressive Sidetrack” -- it tells the tale of a young student council president who spends an entire day trying to ask out this pretty girl, but this series of events prevents him from achieving his goal. I’d written it when I was taking a Grade 13 writing course (which I had to do by correspondence via a teacher in Toronto since our small Northern Ontario high school didn’t offer it) and the teacher who’d read it said that although she’d never seen the movie, my story reminded her of what she’d understood “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was like.

The story got me a good mark - but I kept re-writing it, and submitted it a few years later to a digest sized magazine in Ohio called CHAPTER ONE that specialized in stories from beginning writers. It was my first submission of that story and the magazine bought it. Payment was to be $5.00 and a contributor copy. It came out in September 1992. I received my contributor copy, delighted about it, running around, dancing, giving myself high fives (not noticing the fact that I never did get the $5.00 cheque - but really, who cares, my fiction was in print). After a few hours of self-congratulation and dancing to the staticky sound of my eight track of Kool & The Gang’sCelebration” I stopped and looked around.

I was by myself. Alone. Excited about something that I realized that few people I spent “in person” time with could appreciate. This was several years before the internet, the world wide web, even a few years before the Government of Canada was talking about this “information super highway”, so being a writer was certainly a more solitary pursuit. (Sure, I could have used my 200 baud Vic-modem and logged onto a Sudbury area bulletin board and tried to find a kindred spirit. But it tied up the phone lines and so I often only dailed in on once everyone else in the house was asleep)

One of the most asked questions I’d had when I told people about selling a story (besides “How much money did you make?”) was “Where can I find it?” And then, when I wanted to keep talking about it, tell them about the story, about the comments the editor (and my creative writing teacher) had made about them, the conversation shifted. My half of a second in the spotlight had faded.

You sometimes hear people talk about their first time as disappointing. It wasn’t disappointing to me -- it was exhilarating. I'd been writing for many years and had started submitting stories I think in 1988 -- and this was my first actual sale. After endeavouring on creating fictitious characters and moving through the course of a tale, an editor out there bought it. Thanks Belinda J. Puchajda, wherever you are. I'll never forget that moment!

But it was also eye opening. It made me realize that I would mostly be just as alone in the excitement of being published as I was when I was crafting the story. (Later, that became a bit of an exception as I have since befriended many other writers who understand this curse, and Francine, of course, understands my affliction as well)

But that first sale began a career in which I would sell stories to magazines (mostly in the U.S.) that had small circulations, couldn’t be found on magazine racks anywhere near where I lived, and would not be available after a month, maybe 6 months to a year at the most. (That, more than anything, is what prompted me to bring back my previously published short stories and poems into the collection One Hand Screaming)

Which leads to “my first time” in having a book out.

Last October I released One Hand Screaming, and the fanfare was much different. Sure, I was dancing around the room, holding the pre-publication “proof” copy in my hand, giving myself high-fives, well after giving up on looking for my eight track of Kool & The Gang, and instead singing the song “Celebration” slightly off key. But this time, other people actually noticed.

(And no, not merely because I spent much of my time thrusting the book in the face of anyone who came within ten feet of me or doing everything I could do to inject my book into ANY conversation. --> “Hey, Mark, too bad about the NHL strike, isn’t it?” - “Sure is. But it’s a good thing my book is easily available to buy online to give people something to do.” OR “Mark, do you think you could get me that report by Friday?” - “No problem. Speaking of deadlines reminds me of the frustrated author in my story "Distractions" which appears in my book. You should read it.”)

I guess there’s something about it actually being a product that, while not on many store shelves, is available quite easily online at many different online retailers. Unlike the specialty magazines many of my stories had appeared in, this was a bit more visible, and people seemed to look at it a bit differently. I mean, the entire thing was my stuff, not just a single story.

I have to admit, though, that while having a book out is exciting, (every once in a while, when I think that nobody is looking, I do my little happy dance) I don’t think it will be half exciting as seeing my first novel published. That’ll be better, right? I mean, should I go out and look for Kool & The Gang on CD in anticipation for that?


Pete Mitchell said...

I'm really, really, REALLY going to hate admitting this. Up until now, only my sister has known.

My little happy dance song is the theme from "Flashdance."

What a fee-ee-eeling!

I am rhythm now.

I am music now.

I'll never be able to look you in the eye again.

Mark Leslie said...

Okay, to be fair, I'll reveal a recent happy dance (and then we're even in embarassment)

The other night after we'd had some excellent BBQ'd chicken, Fran caught me walking around in our bedroom flapping my arms and bopping to the "I feel like chicken tonight, like chicken tonight" television commercial theme from a few years back.

Pete Mitchell said...

I used to dance with our dog and sing that in our family's silly "dog voice".

I'm still the bigger weirdo.


Kimberly said...

well I will agree that Peter is the bigger weirdo....

I haven't had anything in print yet...and although I did win an award and a silver medal for my writing in highschool...some rememberance day thing...I was too shocked to do a happy dance in the middle of the hall....

So I guess my question is, if I ever do get published in this lifetime...what song would be a good choice for a happy dance?


Mark Leslie said...

Kimberly - you will get published in this lifetime (you know, I'm still reading for North of Infinity III - would love to get a submission from you)

And as for a happy dance for you, hmm, I can see you doing the macarana -- or maybe even the chicken dance

Pete Mitchell said...


I think the Chicken Dance should become the official "Happy Dance" for all of us.

And maybe Kim should submit the "Walter's Brain" story that she's been posting on her blog.

It's excellent.

Kimberly said...

thanks guys...and since I haven't heard from HammeredOut (I have submitted Walter's Brain for their consideration for their short story issue that's due out in October) I may have to do that.

And I'm trying to stay away from the birds thing...when they make their move, I want to be able to point out that not only did I feed many of their brethren on the University campus on lunch hours...but that I also didn't sink to mocking them when I published my first piece....

I'm thinking something a little more subtle...

Thanks for the support guys!


snoproblem said...

I prefer a one-man conga line, myself, with the appropiate phrase sung (badly) at the right rhythm.

Michael Kelly said...

Hey Mark,

Every one always remebers their first. Ahem, their first sale, of course. It's still a thrill. But when you get that first acceptance, that first "Oh my God someone is actually going to pay me for a piece of fiction," note, it's hard to top.