Two Rejections, a Reading, and a Photo (Sort of) with Peter Coyote

Getting one’s writing published can be an exercise in both perseverance and masochism. Most of us have experienced both seemingly endless strings of rejections and mercifully short ones. This is a story of the latter.

Two rejections indirectly led to my essay “Home is Where the Wart Is” being included in New California Writing 2013, the anthology from Heyday Books which this year includes luminaries Joan Didion, Cheryl Strayed, Susan Straight, Poe Ballantine, Robert Hass, Julie Otsuka, and Lysley Tenorio, among others. How’s that for name-dropping? Aside from seeing my name listed in the table of contents with these and other writers, the really fun part was participating in the San Francisco book launch earlier this month.

The event was held in the beautiful quarters of the California Historical Society. It was my great pleasure to read with eleven other contributors to the anthology. In addition to my wonderful family members, Pat and Al Gordillo, who drove in from Fremont in the East Bay area, rooting me on were the accomplished Elaine Elinson, Marcie Gallo and Marianne Villanueva. The emcee for the evening was Peter Coyote who wrote the foreword to the book. Coyote is someone I’ve admired both for his acting and for his social activism, and I wasted no time in approaching him to autograph my copy of the anthology.

Here’s how I arrived at that lovely evening at the California Historical Society in San Francisco.

I submitted my essay to an online multi-cultural journal which I thought might be a good fit for the piece. I received an enthusiastic acceptance from an editor and was told I would soon receive a more formal letter, a contract, and additional details. I responded with equal enthusiasm at the prospect of appearing in this journal. When the contract did not materialize after over a month, I contacted the journal and politely inquired if they would be sending it soon. In response, I received a letter from a different editor entirely and without any reference whatsoever to the acceptance I had received earlier nor even a salutation, she thanked me for my submission and followed up with the standard language of rejection: “While we found much to like in this piece…”

There ensued an email exchange with me expressing confusion, the editor offering a graceless explanation, me commenting on the gracelessness of the explanation, the editor telling me I’m entitled to my feelings.

A month later I sent the essay out to another journal, the beautiful Kartika Review. Within a few weeks I received an acceptance from the nonfiction editor, Jennifer Derilo. My essay appeared in the winter 2012 issue and I participated in a reading in San Diego with other contributors. It was a great crowd, with my family members from National City, Chula Vista and beyond constituting a good portion of the audience.

One of the outcomes of this reading was being invited by Selma High School teacher Jared Barbick, husband of one of the event’s other readers, attorney and writer Talia Kolluri, to participate in a blogging project with his students who would be assigned to read and discuss my essay. The blogging project is underway and I am thoroughly enjoying interacting with these students who are posting thoughtful responses to questions and prompts from Jared about my essay.

How my essay found its way into New California Writing 2013 involved yet another rejection. I entered my short story collection in the James D. Houston competition at Heyday Books. While my manuscript didn’t win, I did receive a lovely note from acquisitions editor Gayle Wattawa praising my stories. Soon after, I received another email from her asking permission to include my Kartika Review essay in New California Writing 2013. And that’s how I ended up sharing a delightful evening at the California Historical Society with these very cool writers: Jodi Angel, Elizabeth C. Creely, Stephen D. Gutierrez, Michael Jaime-Becerra, Sylvia Linsteadt, Juan Velasco Moreno, Kennan Norris, Linda Norton, Zara Raab, and Greg Sarris.

My one regret of the evening: I never got a picture of me with Peter Coyote. So here’s a belated, not to mention bogus, photographic rendering of me next to Mr. Coyote.