by Stephen Parrish

he day my first-ever rejection arrived, for the first-ever novel I wrote, it rained.

I didn’t know much about agents—I still thought only established writers had them—so I sent my manuscript directly to a publisher. Just one, because I thought it only fair. It’s how I apply for jobs, too.

I don’t want to say which publisher. Call it Rinky Dink Press. I gave them the best I had, and I presented it the best way I knew how.

At the time I was an Army contractor with an office off-base. I had to drive about fifteen minutes each day to check my personal mail. One day, a few weeks after submitting my manuscript (the best I had) to Rinky Dink Press (the best way I knew how) I found a form rejection slip in my mailbox:

Dear Author: After giving your manuscript careful consideration…

I wasn’t surprised. I figured I’d be rejected a few times. Still, that first one hurt. I drove back to my office, and as I parked in my parking space a thunderstorm suddenly struck. The rain came down hard, pounding the roof of my car. I didn’t have an umbrella with me so I decided to wait until the storm subsided.

There’s no better opportunity to reflect on things than when you’re trapped in your car in a thunderstorm and your first rejection slip is on the passenger seat next to you.

My Mom introduced me to books. She started me on Dr. Seuss and the rest, then progressively notched up the sophistication as I grew older. I wish I could remember all the books she bought for me, and recommended to me (she belonged to both Literary Guild and Book-of-the-Month Club). Some of my favorites are still on my shelf. Some authors are famous, like Robert Louis Stevenson, some less so, like Meindert DeJong. I can’t recall disliking a single title I read as I was growing up. Maybe that says something about me, maybe it says something about my Mom.

I remember the moment I wanted to become a writer, specifically a novelist. I was twelve or thirteen and reading Exodus, by Leon Uris, that my Mom had lent to me. I told her, wouldn’t it be great to be able to write such books? She answered that doing so was merely a choice one made. The answer jolted me, because until then I’d always thought writing was something only writers did. I went for a walk to my favorite place—a bridge over Covel Creek in north-central Illinois, and made a choice. I’ve never looked back.

The storm finally eased up. I snatched the rejection slip from the passenger seat and dashed across the parking lot to the office door. When I reached my desk I found a message from my Dad. My secretary was hovering nearby. “Call him right now,” she said. I did. He told me my Mom had just died.

She won’t read my books, or even hear of them. Oh, I’ll leave a copy of the first one on her grave. It will get rained on, and the pages will stick together, and the cover will fade under a Kentucky sun. But she won’t get to enjoy the product of all her book purchases, her subtle prodding, her inspiration.

On the other hand, she was there for my first rejection, speaking to me in a rain shower. And that’s when my determination truly began.

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