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My First Story

 – by Adam Stump

When I chose to start writing fiction professionally (if that’s what you could call what I do–professional), I didn’t do so because I thought that I’d make money (I’ve made about $12), and I didn’t do it because I thought I was a good writer (I have yet to win my Pulitzer). I did it because I had stories to tell. If anything, I’m a storyteller, not a writer. I only write when the storytelling muse abducts me (usually at 2AM), and I feel like I have a story worth sharing. These stories usually percolate in my subconscious for months or even years before I write them down. When I finally do write them down, they come out mostly complete and usually pretty good.

As such, after my decision to write a story to be published (by someone else), I chose a story that had been rolling around without any clear definition in my brain for quite some time. I used a lot of elements from my childhood in upstate New York as well as a story I had heard while I lived in Pittsburgh. I remember furiously clacking away on my keyboard as the story poured onto the screen of my laptop.

The recipe for that story was: One part nostalgia, one part adventure, and one part terror. I produced a story that I thought was one of the best that I had ever read. It truly was one of the best I had ever read, because it was exactly what I wanted to read.

That first story taught me a lot about writing. I was so proud of it that I sent it to several friends because I thought that they would enjoy it. They, in turn, tore the story to shreds (in my mind, anyway). As I picked up the proverbial pieces of my story (and morale) from the floor, I was in shock. I didn’t know how anyone else wouldn’t find the story to be the best that they had ever read.

Then, I re-read my story and saw that the critiques (that’s really what they were, not attacks) that my friends made were accurate, valid, and necessary. I performed my first ever critical revision on my first ever story. I shaved a couple thousand words of nostalgic description, I increased some characters, rewrote a few scenes, deleted some scenes, and (most shocking of all), I changed the name of the story.

The story was originally titled “The Storm Drain.” Can you imagine reading a story with a title like that? I can’t. My best friend and inspiration for writing, N.D. Coley, told me to change the title. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to punch a hole through the wall. But he was 100% right. I changed the name of the story to “Keep Off the Grass.” It’s a line in the story, and he told me that the story had named itself. In retrospect, I agree.

After learning that I’m not the best writer in the world and that I need critical feedback and revision and even title changes, I produced a decent version of the story and began shopping around for a publication to publish this electronic packet of blood, sweat, and tears. I got rejection after rejection after rejection. I knew that I could self-publish, but I thought that this story was good enough to be accepted by someone else for publication–others would view the story as something worth sharing with their readers.

Every rejection letter that came back was virtually the same: “This story is just an homage to Stephen King’s Stand By Me,” a book I’ve never read and a movie that I’ve never seen. I didn’t even know the premise of the book/movie. I’ve since googled it and can see that the comparisons are valid. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that “Keep Off the Grass” is a good story. I’d also say that, for all the valid criticism, there are only so many plots out there when it comes to general fiction. I happened to stumble upon a plot that Stephen King stumbled upon, as well. The plot doesn’t belong to him or to me, but to the consciousness–the ethos–of storytelling.

Fast forward a few years and countless rejection letters to today. I opened up my email and the first thing that I saw was an acceptance letter from an editor who wants to share my story in his magazine. He didn’t say anything about Stephen King or Stand By Me. He said that it was a good story and he wanted to feature it in the upcoming issue of his magazine.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would follow from reading that email. I literally wanted to scream and shout. I wanted to pound on pots and pans and run outside screaming that I had been published. I felt even more elated than I did when I actually received my first acceptance letter way back when. Why? Because this is my first story, and it’s part of my story. It’s still nostalgic for me, even if it’s been heavily edited and gone through a couple critical revisions since the first time I sat down to my laptop to capture it in writing.

The purpose of this post, though, isn’t just to give you some history of my writing, but to encourage you the reader. Have you written a story? Has it been rejected, but you still think it’s a good story? Keep at it. If you truly believe it’s a good story, keep sending it out. Don’t give up! I thought this story would be my first published story. It’s not. It’s a few years old now. If I wrote it today, it would probably be a different story. However, it is what it is. And it’s a success story. It certainly didn’t start that way. If you’re discouraged with your writing, don’t be. If it’s really good stuff, others will recognize it. As authors, we might have little control over the body of the story–maybe it’s the muse or maybe it’s the editorial team dictating the story–but we still control how the story begins and, ultimately, how the story ends!

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47 thoughts on “My First Story

  1. This was a gratifying, fun read, Adam! Thanks for sharing your hard-earned writerly [sic] wisdom and publishing experience with us.

    Some takeaways for me:

    1.) Write in the white-hot heat of inspiration; revise in the critical cold sweat of perspiration.

    2.) For the writer of serious intentions: Ego must suffer that control of craft may grow.

    3.) Nothing is ever wasted: False starts and/or imperfect drafts may be revised into publishable content.

    4.) Acceptance always equals euphoria: “AH-HA, CRUEL WORLD: right there on the screen–PROOF THAT I DO NOT SUCK!”

    For myself, I must confess: I never get it right the first time. God knows I try. But after a lifetime of scritch-scribbling at the midnight hour I have learned the rueful truth of that Michael Lee quote: “The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.”

    PS. Shout-out here to Atthys Gage, the best beta-reader and critic a writer could have.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. mimispeike says:

    “There are only so many plots out there.”

    This may be true, but there are a thousand ways to tell any story. Voice comes to mind. We all tell a story in our own particular way. Focus would make a huge difference, characterization also. Write characters and let them lead the way and you may end up with something very different from what you’d planned.

    I’m curious. How do you think the story had changed by the time it was accepted?

    Liked by 7 people

    • @Mimi: Ironically enough (given the fact that many editors rejected Adam’s story with the comment that ir reminded them of the film Stand By Me), it is Stephen King himself who often reminds writers and their critics: “It is not the tale, but he who tells it.” Meaning: plot is essentially irrelevant; it is all about theme, pacing, narrative detail and voice.

      Liked by 8 people

      • Yes! I totally agree! One thing that I always try to focus on is what I call “the hook.” That little twist at the end–not a trick, but a true device–that snares the reader and leaves them thinking, “What just happened?” Plot is, surprisingly, not nearly as important as other aspects, like character development, atmosphere, etc.

        Liked by 5 people

    • It’s interesting that you should mention that. To be honest, there were few plot elements shared between my story and King’s. There were few character similarities (except for one kid being overweight). The story isn’t told in the same voice. In fact, the only plot aspect that I had in my brain was the fact that the boys found a dead body (they didn’t go searching for it like in King’s story).

      If I were writing the story now, I probably wouldn’t have so much verbage. I might make it more punchy and visceral and less wordy. But I think that it captures a moment in time for me as a writer where my writing was more storytelling and word association that plot development. I wanted (and to a certain extent still do) people to FEEL the story more than read it.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Yes, Adam! I totally (to sound Valley Boy for a second: fer-sure; fer-sure) get that. Heh! H. P. Lovecraft has observed (Notes On Writing Weird Fiction):

        Atmosphere, not action, is the great desideratum of weird fiction. Indeed, all that a wonder story can ever be is a vivid picture of a certain type of human mood. The moment it tries to be anything else it becomes cheap, puerile, and unconvincing. Prime emphasis should be given to subtle suggestion—imperceptible hints and touches of selective associative detail which express shadings of moods and build up a vague illusion of the strange reality of the unreal. Avoid bald catalogues of incredible happenings which can have no substance or meaning apart from a sustaining cloud of colour and symbolism.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Perry Palin says:

    I don’t remember which was my first story or whether it was ever published. I do remember some of my favorites and I can recite long passages from memory of a couple of stories that were published fifteen or so years ago. And like Adam I was pretty pleased to say the least when they appeared in magazines and I received some local acclaim and even a little money for them.

    I won’t write a story specifically for a magazine (a non-fiction article is another matter) but it is important to find the right magazine for that good story. I papered a room with rejection letters after scatter-shooting my stories to magazines. Then I cut that out. Now I write the story and send it just to the magazine that will take it, or should take it, or better take it because it’s a good story for me and it’s a good story for them too.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Congratulations on having “Keep Off the Grass” accepted for publication!! It’s been my experience that persistence (and reluctant revision grudgingly undertaken) really do pay off in publication. By the way, I would read a story titled “The Storm Drain.”

    Liked by 6 people

    • I’m beginning to think titles are important. I submitted a story for the sci-fi anthology, Nabu Carnevale, last week, titled, “Seduction by Trial.” Accepted the next day.
      Maybe, publishers tend to scan submitted titles, looking for something interesting to read next? And if not disappointed, tend to like the story?

      Liked by 6 people

        • @GD & LIZ: You’re both right: good titles help sell good work. In Dean Koontz’s Writing Popular Fiction, he recounts his own experiences crafting attention-getting short story titles and then hearing from editors who acknowledged reading and buying these stories based (initially) upon the strength of the title; that is to say, based upon the story title’s ability to intrigue and entice.

          PS. Amusing side-note: editor Terry Carr once joked, “If the Holy Bible was printed as an Ace Double it would be cut down to two 20,000-word halves: the Old Testament would be retitled Master of Chaos and the New Testament The Thing With Three Souls.

          Liked by 5 people

          • Well, I’ve come to believe when it comes to titles, my first writing professor steered us wrong when he told us (albeit tongue-in-cheek) not to bother with titles because it would give some for the editor to do.

            As a both a PK and a writer, I appreciate the your sharing Terry Carr’s joke about the Bible!

            Liked by 3 people

        • Mellow, the story “Seduction by Trial” will appear in the Nabu Carnevale anthology series this spring. The themes are celebration and love. Nabu is the Babylonian god of writing.
          &, the title is not a gimmick. 🙂 It is what was.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. victoracquista says:

    Adam, thanks for sharing part of your story. I am a little troubled by your statement, “The purpose of this post, though, isn’t just to give you some history of my writing, but to encourage you the reader.” Just so you know, many of the readers here are accomplished authors. I’m not saying I took offense, but I would have enjoyed your post more without that bit of “encouragement”.

    Here’s some additional grist for the mill:

    I don’t author posts on the Writers Co-op very frequently but I do generally respond to what other members post. I appreciate the effort that goes into posting something and how posts provoke dialogue and fellowship among the members of this writing co-op in an exchange of ideas and experiences. I find a sense of camaraderie and fellowship accompanying the posting and comments that follow. I don’t think I am unique in this regard. In your previous post of several weeks ago and thus far with this current post, responses from you to members’ comments have been absent. Perhaps this is an oversight. I encourage you to engage in dialogue around your posts and those members of this community who respond to those posts. Likewise, your insights, comments, and commentary around what other members post are encouraged and welcomed.

    Liked by 5 people

    • @Adam: We appreciate you posting thoughtful blog articles here; many of our members demonstrate their level of interest and engagement with that material by posting their own comments in response. I think many of us are curious: In the long, storied history of the Co-Op, we have never had a blog-poster who ignored all responses to their articles. Is your material re-blogged from another site? Intended for a different audience? Or perhaps, as a matter of principle–due to crushing time constraints, indifference and/or some other reason unfathomable to us at present–you simply don’t respond to comments made to any of your posted articles. (Please note: We are–by-and-large–an empathetic, supportive bunch, seeking to calibrate our feedback to your desired level of interaction.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Carl! The lack of interaction was, in no way, intentional on my part. My ability to comment back and forth on these posts is largely limited by my access to my actual computer. It’s easy to type, copy, and paste from my phone, but even reading comments and especially replying to them are extremely difficult and time consuming from my phone (which is where I do most of my posting). To comment from my phone relies on me going into my email, and once a person responds to a comment (or multiple people respond to a comment), it becomes impossible for me to respond coherently from my phone email. I hope to have regular time to sit down at my computer (during waking hours) to interact with the other fine folks at Writers’ Co-Op. I have greatly enjoyed reading all the posts, but have been, largely, unable to interact with the respondants.

        Liked by 4 people

  6. mimispeike says:

    I’ve been kicking this around. here’s what I think: It’s only been two days. Let’s give him two more. I’m on here everyday, I’m laid off, and I’m always fiddling with my novel. Maybe Adam is really busy, or something.

    Though Carl, working his ass off at multiple jobs, leading a chaotic life by the sound of it, still finds time to create his (wonderfully) interminable posts. Three cheers for Carl!

    Liked by 7 people

    • Good catch, Mimi. Adam has been a bit busy. He and his family were forced out of their rented home by a severe mold problem and had to move in with a member of their church while the problem was addressed. Adam is pastor of a United Methodist Church. The landlord failed to remedy the problem in a reasonable time, so Adam and his wife had to find and move them and their kids into another home. All the while tending to (I know of two) church funerals, & other duties. They are getting settled these days. But, time is still short. Probably why he said, “I only write when the storytelling muse abducts me (usually at 2AM), and I feel like I have a story worth sharing.”

      Liked by 5 people

        • Hi Victor! We are getting settled in our new home. I’m actually just now getting to sit down at my laptop to answer many, many comments on posts, not just here, but on other sites where I contribute. While away from my laptop, I can post blogs, but it’s incredibly difficult to comment back, and so it’s been a trying period for me to engage/interact with others. Here’s hoping that changes and I get at least one solid day to respond to comments and make comments of my own on others’ posts!

          Liked by 5 people

          • victoracquista says:

            Great to hear from you! I now recognize some of the challenges you are contending with and chastise myself for wondering and posting why we hadn’t heard from you. In spite of the many things on your plate, you still took the time to post something to share with our little co-op. Me bad and kudos to you. In the words of Robert Heinlein’s wonderful character, Valentine Michael Smith, “I am but an egg.”

            Liked by 4 people

            • I grok that! 😉

              To be honest, my own website/blog suffered horribly last year. Getting into a routine of regular checking/input/response has been difficult when, for the better part of a year, “survival” was the goal. Now, I have to shift gears from survive to thrive. It’s proving to be… a challenge. In any event, no offense taken on my part. When I was less stable, I found myself relying almost 100% on what I could do on my phone: facebook, some limited email, texting/messaging. Other stuff was a challenge, at best. Trying to get a bit more stationary has been hard, but I’m getting there!

              Liked by 4 people

          • Thanks for checking in, Adam! Glad to hear you and your family are settling into your new home. We all would surely understand at this point if you were to post: “Checking out for a while; back online as soon as pressing circumstances permit.” What an ordeal!

            Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for the response, GD! Yes, life has been busy. We were homeless for 18 weeks and 3 days (but who’s counting?!?), and basically lost everything in that timeframe. I learned a lot about homeless people who aren’t living under a bridge during that period. I’m thankful that I had time to write and also get Sci-Fi Lampoon off the round in that time. It was probably the only thing that kept me sane! I appreciate all the support that I received, and especially the support of the writing community (which is basically a virtual community for me) which, in some ways, propped me up significantly more than many flesh and blood people who surrounded me at the time.

        Liked by 5 people

    • Hi Mimi! I’m certainly not on here every day. I’m not even on WordPress every week (sometimes, I’m months away). I have a family of six and I’m a pastor of a church of 225 people. I do indoor environmental quality assessments and mold inspections. I also am a gunsmith and a watch repairman. I’m on several local boards and agencies for emergency response, disaster relief, dismantling racism, poverty alleviation, addiction/recovery/abuse counseling, and I’m on the board of directors for my local library. There are other piddly things that I do, as well. 🙂

      Liked by 5 people

      • @Adam: Good grief; now that is irony in action: The pastor who does mold inspections loses him home to . . . black mold! (If there is any silver lining here, it must be that you recognized the dangers to your family’s health and got them out of harm’s way far more rapidly than most people would.)

        Liked by 2 people

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