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Wikipedia Commons Mother_and_Child_-_Mary_CassattIt’s never the full-blown joy I expect when a short story is accepted for publication.

Even when the acceptance letter exceeds my wildest hope, like this last one:

“I’m stunned into dumbstruck awe by your piece, which I finished mere minutes ago. That’s how much time it took me to accept this, in the fervent hope that it has not been taken by another journal.”

“Stunned!” “Dumbstruck!” “Awe!”

I should be feasting on those words for weeks. I should be doing cartwheels down the hall. I should be. But I’m not.

I’m so used to opening my emails and finding a “thanks, no thanks” response to my submissions that acceptance and praise come with a jolt. Disbelief, even: Is this a joke?

Then a flood of conflicting emotions descend. Gratitude comes first, with relief tripping at her heels.

“Finally!” I think, gazing sternly at this wayward child of mine: “Took your sweet time getting that proposal, didn’t you girl? I thought you might be a spinster forever. I was ready to banish you to the dark corner of a bottom drawer. Boy, did you luck out!”

Eventually a giddy glee and an I-told-you-so sense of vindication take hold as I rush to tell my husband. Genuine happiness beams when I call my daughter, text my son. Bashful pride sneaks in when I post the event on Facebook or Twitter.

But I do all this in a hurry, because I know it won’t last. If I don’t grab it on the fly, I’ll lose it altogether. For the elation is rapidly deteriorating into an edgy uneasiness. A prick of panic. And gut-wrenching remorse when I realize: She’s gone! Out of my control. What have I done?

This is how the submission process works for me:

Rejection, rejection, rejection (repeat, ad nauseam)
Then whammy! Acceptance! Giddy glee! (Yay me!)
Followed by panic. Deflation. Despair.

So what’s wrong with me? Where’s the joy?

Well, I’ve given it some thought and think I’ve figured it out. It’s such a cliché, I almost hate to tell you, but here it is: She’s my baby. She’s leaving the nest.

Ready or not, she’s out there. Like it or not, I’m responsible for her.

The problem is: She’s never been well-behaved. I tried, but I couldn’t tame her completely. She was a “darling” that wouldn’t be killed. Now she’s on the loose. And O My God! What will people think when they get a good gander at her!

Did I push her out the door too soon? Should I have given her another rewrite? Or, did I sell her too cheap? Did she deserve more than what she got?

Should I have waited for a more prestigious, more adoring, more (fill in the blank) suitor?

How will she fare in his hands? Will he show her off? Twirl her around? Tell her she’s pretty?

Will anyone other than he actually read her? Or will he hide her away in some dusty warehouse, or send her to some virtual outpost where she’ll fade away in utter obscurity and ignominy?

Would she have been better off left in the drawer?

It’s about this time that I pull up her up on my computer screen and give her another read.

Yikes! This is awful! She’s a complete mess! What can I do? Withdraw her? Demand a divorce? Use a pseudonym?

Can I spruce her up in a hurry? Fresh lipstick, maybe? A new dress? At least straighten her hem, for God’s sake! She’s not ready for this. And neither am I, it appears.

The really sad thing is: She’s just a short story!

What will I do when my pride and joy, my novel, goes? Is this why I labor so long? Revise so endlessly? To keep her at home where she’s safe and warm and well-loved? Why strive to make her perfect only to lose her in the end?

It’s not like I can’t take rejection. I’ve become numb to rejection: “Oh, you again. What else is new?”

I read through a standard reject and taste a mild bitterness, a dash of sadness, sometimes a whiff of distain—what’s wrong with these idiots!

If there’s a bit of encouragement in the rejection letter, the taste is bittersweet.

If the encouragement is profuse or specific, I’m delighted. I call my daughter: “They really liked my story! The one they rejected. Isn’t that wonderful?”

So why am I not overblown with joy by high praise and acceptance?

Isn’t this what it’s all about? Publication? Praise? Recognition by my peers? The juried consensus that this story deserves to be read? Otherwise, why write?

But all I feel after the initial sugar high wears off is: Loss. Remorse. Resignation.

Félix_Emile-Jean_Vallotton_-_Woman_Writing_in_an_Interior_-_Google_Art_ProjectSo back to work I go.

Butt in seat, open a new vein, let the words flow out.

I immerse myself in the writing. Let it wash over me. Carry me away.

And that’s when I find it. What I’ve been seeking all along.

Full-blown joy!

It’s right where I left it: In the writing.

 

 

 

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