by Judy Merrill Larsen
I received my first rejection letter circa 1971 from Tiger Beat magazine. I'd entered some contest to write "My Dream Wedding to _____" I picked Bobby Sherman. (I still know all the words to his big hit "Seattle" and will sing it if asked. Seriously. Just ask.) I don't recall being particularly upset about not winning which perhaps suggests I was just preparing for the 321 (or so. Not that I'm counting or anything.) rejection letters I would get when first querying agents. I recall being more disappointed about not winning one of his puppies in another contest they had.
But, I digress.
As I was saying, that first rejection did not deter me in any way. I filled notebooks with diary entries, wrote stories, plays, and poetry. Lots and lots and lots of poetry. Really bad teenage girl angst-filled poetry. My top topics were boys and war. And, no, you can NOT see them. Ever. I will say, though, in their defense, that very few of them rhymed. I am proud of that.
I got more serious about writing in college where I was an English major and took lots of creative writing classes along with all the lit courses. I learned how stories were told and fell in love with words.
Flash forward. I got married, had two babies, got divorced. I suddenly found myself not only surprised to be an ex-wife but needing to tuck away the writing dreams and focus on providing for my sons as a high school English teacher.
Little did I know that my education as a writer was on the right path. Long and winding, but right.
My days filled with my sons, growing up before my eyes, and the words of the masters, and exposing my students to those words. Discovering with them how stories get told, how characters get into our hearts and stay with us (Atticus Finch, anyone? Elizabeth Bennett? Tom Joad?).
And then, in the spring of 1999, a friend and I were drinking wine and talking late into the evening, and I said into the dark, warm air that someday I was going to write a novel. She looked me hard in the eyes and said, "So go do it."
I wrote the first draft that summer and began collecting rejections. Lots of rejections. (I still say I didn't know how to write a query letter.) But I truly believe that things happen when they are supposed to. And in the summer of 2004 (yes, 5 years later), an agent said yes. The right agent. The perfect agent. And then a couple months later we sold ALL THE NUMBERS to Random House.
It was released in July 2006. And since then, the road continues to twist and turn. There have been more rejections . . . and more yesses. The book has traveled the world and become a best seller in Taiwan. And even though I still get all stressed when a manuscript is on submission, and rejections still sting, I can look back at the road I've traveled and know that things happen how and when they are supposed to. And I still look forward to seeing what's around the next curve.
What do you hope is ahead for you? Leave a comment (with your contact scoop) by midnight CST on Dec. 22 and I'll randomly select one winner to receive a signed copy of my novel.
I live in St. Louis, MO with my husband, am the mom/stepmom to five kids (ages 17-25), and taught high school English for 15 years. I'm over on Facebook and Twitter .