We’ve all written them—the turkey of a story or novel that ain’t gonna get published nowhere. Whatever the reasons, it’s just not the kind of thing that any self-respecting editor or publisher will buy. Maybe it deals with an unpleasant subject, represents an experiment that folks tell you went horribly wrong, or is the equivalent of performing “Springtime for Hitler” at a Zionist convention. Whatever the case, it’s a creative turkey, a misconceived, misbegotten miscarriage you foolishly pulled from the realm of ideas where it richly deserved to stay, and committed to paper or your computer screen. Now it’s become every writer’s worst nightmare, the TRUNK STORY FROM HELL that should be sealed in your trunk forever and sunk to the deepest level of the Mariana Trench.
Well, maybe. And then again, maybe not.
The thing is, ultimately, you, not your critics, have to decide if your story has any merit. Then, too, you have to decide if it’s worth continuing to pursue the matter and trying to publish the damned thing. When does stubbornness become stupidity, especially when it becomes clear that if you do finally manage to sell that piece of unwanted and despised dreck, you won’t even get paid enough to buy a cheap martini? Isn’t it far wiser to focus your creative endeavors on something that’s worthy, on something that’s not only good but which will sell to a decent, professional market?
Still, you have to decide. Money and critical and popular recognition are important, but most of us have a story or two in our trunk that against all reason, we feel a perverted love for, an insane suspicion that despite what everyone says, it actually contains some merit, perhaps even more merit than popular, commercial stories because it dares to be different and take chances, because it doesn’t run with the pack. Hell, maybe that story or novel not only marches to the tune of a different drummer, but it sings a song that no one else can hear, yet which is beautiful in its own way.
During my writing career, I have ultimately sold stories that not only no one seemed to want, but which they treated like leprosy. One story I wrote a few years ago, “The Dark at the Bottom of the Stairs,” sprang (if that’s the word) from a personal visit to have my prostate and bladder tested. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, folks, but I adapted the experience so it became a story. One of my friends who critiqued the tale, said it “failed on every level.” Ouch.
Yet last week I finally sold it. Not for big bucks, mind you, but to a trade paperback collection focusing on unpleasant experiences. It’s called . . . now get this . . . WRETCHED MOMENTS. Snort if you want, but haven’t we all had such moments? I bet if you think a while, you can remember some wretched moments you’ve had and perhaps stories you’ve written which were inspired by them.
Ultimately, the question is: how much do you believe in that story? If you’ve considered all the negative criticism and still believe your story’s good, do you have the strength and determination to continue shopping it around, even if it doesn’t find a prestigious or profitable home?
The purpose of this blog, as astute readers may have guessed, is to urge you not to quit. Persist, Persist, Persist. Persevere. Persevere. Persevere. Even if you face seemingly insurmountable odds, the long fight is worth it if you succeed in bringing a good but extremely unconventional story to readers’ attention.
Who knows, they may even thank you for it.
(Previously published, Storytellers Unplugged, Sept. 13, 2010).