When I was in graduate school and studying fiction, I had to turn in a story to the class, but I didn’t want to turn in something I had already written prior to the semester starting, so I wrote a new piece. I called it “Claims College.” It was different from any short story I had ever written in that, instead of being all serious, it had a dash of my humor. (Graduate school is supposed to push you out of your comfort zone, right?) It was about a married guy, Nathaniel, who decides that when he goes to an insurance work conference, he wants to have sex. And not with his wife.
I hadn’t intended it to be funny at all, but then these characters (Octavio, Maggie, Tammy and Bridget) appeared and took on a life of their own. I like it when that happens. I let them tell their own story, and I wondered along with them: Would Nathaniel have the guts to make a conquest? What woman would he hit on, if any? And did he really want to have an affair, or did he want something else?
I didn’t know, at least not until I finished writing it.
Eventually I sent “Claims College” off to several literary magazines and waited. Most of the time (99% of the time, in fact) rejections come as form letters, but one—which came from a reach magazine for me—gave me a no along with feedback: “We really enjoyed this piece,” they wrote. “The interesting setting of this insurance conference, the memorable Octavio, and overall, the prose were impressively crafted.” But, they said, the story needed another rise in tension.
I went back to my story, I read it again, and I realized they were spot-on. I revised it again and again, adding more tension exactly where they had said it was missing. What a gift that feedback was, so rare but so helpful. I also changed the title to “Trying to Grow.”
A few months later, Platypus Press asked me to contribute a short story to their Shorts (digital-only fiction) series. I sent them three stories, including “Trying to Grow.” I was sure Platypus Press would pick one of the other two, but they chose Nathaniel’s story. And now it feels like we—Nathaniel and I and all the other characters—have found the perfect home.
You can find out more about “Trying to Grow” here.
In other exciting publication news—a new book and a poem:
I am so thrilled to announce that on November 27, I have a new book coming out called 52 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself When I Was 17, which you can read about here. My next blog will be about the origin story of 52 Things, and how this book almost wasn’t, until I got fear out of my way.
And last but not least, I have a new poem up, “Immigrant,” which you can read here. Thank you, Antioch University MFA’s Lunch Ticket staff for selecting my poem to be featured in a Spotlight.