DEALING WITH CRITICS, ONE AT A TIME

The initial publication of my poem “Mother’s Hands” in Ideals Magazine brought on a chain reaction of events, the first of which was an interview and feature article covering the poem and my children’s writing, along with mention of the seventh-grade teacher who had encouraged me to become a writer. The day after the article appeared in a local newspaper, I was contacted by a retired teacher who gave me the then current address of the seventh-grade teacher, in hopes that I would send her some of my published stories. (I did.) The same day, a radio DJ read “Mother’s Hands” over the air; and a few days later, I was invited to take part in the Reading Roundup Program at an elementary school.

The Reading Roundup boasted of local TV celebrities and the County Sheriff, all of whom would be reading stories selected by the Roundup Committee. Also milling around, with pen, pad, and camera in hand, was a reporter named Joe, from a newspaper more local than the last. It was understandably clear that Joe was more interested in the celebrities than he was in me but, eventually, he sat down beside me and asked who I was and what I would be reading. To the last question, I replied, “Three of my own stories.”

Joe’s faint but obvious snicker didn’t set well with my husband Fred, who was sitting on the other side of me and who quietly handed the young man a popular children’s magazine, opened to my 700-word story. As Joe read and turned the first page of the story, he looked up at Fred and said, “This is all in rhyme! And it makes sense! That’s hard to do!”

Leaning back in his chair, Fred merely grinned and said, “Yeah.”

Two days later, Joe’s byline appeared on a feature article with my photo and no mention of TV celebrities or sheriff.

Invitations continued to pour in, the next being from a mother whose son attended the elementary school. She regretted that she hadn’t heard my presentation, but she belonged to a small writers’ group in the area and asked if I’d bring some of my children’s stories to share with its members. When I did, a barrage of questions followed. How had I gone about getting my work published? How much did it pay? And, finally, would I come back again, to share more of my work? I would; and I did. However, by the time the next meeting rolled around, the lady who had invited me to join the group had received a rejection slip for an article she’d submitted to Redbook. Nothing I offered from my experiences with editors/publishers could convince her that it takes time, determination, and a great deal of research to get published, and that rejection slips are simply a part of the writing game. After a long discussion and a few suggestions, she sneered in my direction, “Well, rhyme is easier to write!” What she failed to realize is that, even if the writing itself appears simple, or seems to come easy to the poet/writer, it isn’t easy to get it published, especially by conventional methods (versus self-publishing).

Between meetings with that writers’ group, I received two handwritten letters from members of a local poetry club, both inviting me to attend their club’s next meeting. This time, having learned what I considered a valuable lesson, I left my own work at home and just went to listen to theirs. However, a follow-up invitation assured me that members would like to see and hear some of my work. So, the next time I took along the Ideals Magazine and read “Mother’s Hands.” I felt it went over well until, after the meeting, the same elderly gentleman who had sent one of the first invitations walked up to me, pointed at my poem, and said, “If that was just on a plain piece of paper, they wouldn’t want it,” implying that the artwork appearing with my poem had surely ‘sold’ the poem. Since I never submit artwork with a manuscript, and always submit my work on plain paper, I stood speechless as he went on to explain that he had submitted a handwritten poem, on a plain piece of paper, to a small magazine. When it was returned with a rejection slip, he had pressed on, personally delivering the poem to a local card shop. Again: rejection. I tried without success to explain that there are set guidelines for submitting work to a publisher and/or for even having an editor read your work. At that time (and maybe yet today) writers could submit neatly done, hand-printed manuscripts, but never handwritten. Still, no matter how perfectly a manuscript is submitted, there is no guarantee that an editor will accept it.

Months after I had joined the poetry club, the Church of Latter Day Saints bought second rights, and subsequently all rights, to a story entitled “A Lamb Named Brandon.” The story appeared in their children’s magazine and then in their magazine for all ages, the latter being printed in fifteen languages, for worldwide distribution. With fourteen magazines in tow (all except the unavailable Chinese version), I attended a poetry club meeting, happy to show the story where even my name was written in each corresponding language. But, once again, the same gentleman could hardly wait to look me in the eye and flat-out say, “The only reason they published that is because the Mormon Church is big on names.” And so it went with his critical remarks, to the point that at one meeting, when a club member read an original poem, the old gentleman pointed at me and said, “Give it to her, and it’ll probably get published.” Sadly, he remained bitter toward my being published until the day he died.

Some critics unwittingly reveal a great deal more than they realize about themselves and their own writing goals and missteps. Nevertheless, they keep me on my toes and bolster my resolve to keep writing and submitting my work to reputable publishers. At the same time, however, the more irritating and hurtful remarks end up on my list of questions and “digs” regarding being published—always by those who haven’t been, or by those who just don’t understand what it takes. So it is with pleasure and a smile that I share my condensed list (minus names) of criticisms and remarks, some of which occur time after time:

  • There’s the person who seriously asks, “Are you still writing?” Non-writers don’t seem to understand that a true writer never stops writing. We write wherever we are, about whatever we feel. In fact, as that person is asking if I’m still writing, I’m already conjuring up a way to get that question into an article or an essay (which I’ve just done).
  • There are strangers who see me writing in a public place; ask if I’m a teacher but find that I’m a writer; and immediately ask, with a smirk, if I’ve ever been published. At my “Oh, yes, many times” answer, the smirk usually disappears as the mouth drops open. While some are genuinely interested, then, to know where I’ve been published, others merely say, “Oh,” and walk away.
  • There are readers who imply that they could probably write the same thing, if they just had the time.
  • There was the beloved, elderly aunt who, when she saw “Mother’s Hands” in what had always been her favorite magazine (Ideals) asked, “Did you write that yourself, or did you copy it out of a magazine?” (Talk about bursting a bubble or sending it off into no-man’s-land with one deliberate breath!)
  • There was the family member who sent me a poem he had written, saying that I could use it if I wanted to—hoping to get it published, of course!
  • There was the lady to whom I gave a copy of my Mother’s Hands chapbook, along with a photocopy of “The Miracle Heart” (from another Ideals Magazine). She thanked me for both but, then, looking at the photocopied poem, asked, “Oh, you didn’t just see it somewhere and copy it?” (It has my byline on it, thank you very much!)
  • There was the woman who bought copies of my Mother’s Hands and Sisters chapbooks for two of her friends and, as I was signing them, asked, “Now, the ‘Acknowledgments’ in the front of these books, are those poems by other people?” (I don’t think so!)
  • And finally, there was the writer who claimed to be a friend; who often asked for help with her poetry; and who wanted to see everything I was writing and everything I was getting published. She was determined to do everything I was doing, from writing children’s stories, to essays, to poems (although, she did admit that writing music was beyond her reach). No matter what I’d just had published, she’d read it and say, “I can do that!”  But she didn’t.

*

For a glimpse into my books, Snaps, Scraps & Snippets of the Past and Present, and Light for the Burning Soul, please visit my website as http://loisjfunk.com. I’d love to hear from you!

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