Literary Messaging

Me writing fiction circa 1980

When I first started writing as an adult, around 1978, publishing short fiction was very difficult.[1] Hotshot quarterlies like The Georgia Review received a thousand manuscripts a month, and of those three thousand submissions, they’d publish maybe two an issue.  Stephen Corey, one of its editors in those days, told me if the story didn’t grab a reader’s attention in the first paragraph, it was tossed in the “thanks-for-submitting-your-manuscript-but-it-doesn’t-meet-our-needs” pile.

Fortunately, my home state of South Carolina has an Arts Commission that provides writers chances for publication. I was fortunate to be selected to participate in a workshop led by Blanche McCrary Boyd. We met once a week for six weeks or so, and I learned a helluva lot about technique, but on the less positive side of the ledger, I discovered that my writing was no great shakes. Jo Humphreys, Lee Robinson, Starkey Flythe Jr., and William Baldwin were among the participants. It was humbling –disillusioning in the positive sense that – poof – an illusion had disappeared.

It was through the Arts Commission that I published my first story “Airwaves,” which was later anthologized by the Hub City Press. Encouraged, I started sending manuscripts out to literary journals I’d cull from the Fiction Writer’s Market published by Reader’s Digest Books, a pre-internet storehouse of possibilities. 

One journal that caught my eye was a quarterly out of Richmond, Virginia, the New Southern Literary Messenger. They, according to the entry, received 140-150 submissions per month and published five. The pay was meager, $10, 6 copies, and a free subscription. So, I sent them a story entitled “Almost Blue,” my latest.

It took them so long to get back to me that I had forgotten I had submitted it. In fact, I’d gotten full-time teaching job in the meantime and had more or less given up writing. 

I’ll never forget reaching in my mailbox in Rantowles, pulling out the acceptance letter, and doing a little jig of joy. They wanted me to provide a photograph and write a first-person bio. Of course, I was ll too happy to comply. 

I crowed, I boasted, informed my parents and in-laws and my new bosses at Porter-Gaud. After all, Edgar Allen Poe had once been an editor of the [Old] Southern Literary Messenger!

I should have been more careful reading the entry in the Writer’s Market, for example, that the journal was 5×8 with card stock cover.

Here’s a Xerox reproduction of the last page. To say I was disappointed at the layout would be an understatement.

My poor parents, my poor in-laws, my poor wife. The Georgia Review this was not.

So now that I’m finally publishing my first novel, I have some trepidation about the quality of the product, but so far so good. I received the preliminary proofs this week, and the editors had gone through the manuscript with [awkward attempt at avoiding a cliché alert] a cootie comb, and with David Boatwright doing the cover, I’m confident that the book itself will be high quality.

The quality of the writing, however, I’m still not so sure about.

A Cootie Comb

[1] It’s still very difficult, but a bit less so with so many on-line journals out there nowadays. 

One thought on “Literary Messaging

  1. Real proud of you, buddy. Your work is worth mentioning in any scenario. The very reason you worry about quality is the reason you have nothing to worry about. In other words, you already sweated the small stuff 🙂

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