The editors for a new, local, literary magazine were appearing at the Newburyport library. With three small children at home, I couldn’t make it, but two of my friends did. They returned with mixed reviews. One was excited for the opportunity to send work to a magazine dedicated to writers and writing with a New England connection. The other was dubious: a new literary journal started by people who weren’t writers? How good could this possibly be?
But my more enthusiastic friend added, “They’re especially looking for nonfiction.”
At home, in the bottom drawer of a dresser, I had a descriptive essay about a collapsed shed that had stood on my family’s farm. My dad and I had spent a few hours one day before we moved off the farm, trying to determine if there was anything of value left in it. I’d written the essay several years before as part of an in-service workshop on how to teach writing. What the hell, I thought. It’s just sitting here.
So my piece appeared in a small, but lovely magazine. The editors were gracious and excited to publish my work (it was so long ago, one of them called me on the telephone to accept the piece). I thought: great news, but that’s that.
But a few weeks later, I received a call from a woman who wanted to hire me for a small writing job based on my essay. I was also invited to read with other local writers from that issue. I had never had the opportunity to either write for money or read aloud to an audience. All this from one small magazine and an essay that had sat in my drawer for six years.
In the classifieds of Poets and Writers, was an ad for a magazine called the Cider Press Review. Never heard of it, I thought, but I had a batch of poems looking for a home. I sent them off and CPR took one about the day the horse in my neighborhood was put down. Great news, I thought (again), but that’s that. Except that CPR was one of the first magazines I’d published in that built an email contact list (also again: I’m old(er)) and this is where I learned they were sponsoring their first book prize. I spread my poems out on my bed and counted pages. Enough for a book. So I mailed them off.
The next time I tried something like this, it was because 1) I’d seen an ad in Writer’s Chronicle for a short story award (Papers across the bed once again; the cat aggravated by the invasion) and, 2) I wasn’t writing anything new so why not send the old stuff out?
Cider Press published One of the Cimalores, my first collection of poetry. AWP awarded Bewildered its Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction.
And all because, once upon a time, a little essay of mine appeared in a magazine called The Larcom Review and and I learned: you just can’t predict which step will be the first one. The only thing you can ever know for sure is that you have to keep moving forward.