Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In Praise of Small Triumphs (and Small Presses)

Like anyone who has suffered a passing acquaintance with rejection,  I enjoy stories of victory over long odds, tales of perseverance and pig-headedness that prove the value of a previously unknown or unloved work.

An early novel by one of my favorite contemporary authors, James Lee Burke, was rejected 111 times over nine years of submissions. When finally published by Louisiana State University Press, The Lost Get-Back Boogie was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It also endured multiple rejections, including its famous mistreatment at Alfred A. Knopf, which prompted one of the great revenge letters of all time. Maclean's novella was eventually released by the University of Chicago Press and also received a Pulitzer nomination.

I don't mean to compare myself with these writers, except in our shared familiarity with rejection. In 1999, when my family was living in Tokyo, I finished a draft of a novel set in the Florida Keys, where I'd survived the Reagan years by working as a dockmaster, fishing guide, and tropical fish collector. (See my story about going back to the Keys in Fly Fisherman's Seasonable Angler anthology.)

Over the next decade, the manuscript was rejected by many, many agents and publishing houses, although there were a few tantalizingly close calls. During that time I revised the manuscript from beginning to end and found homes for some of my short stories in both literary magazines and outdoor publications, such as Gray's Sporting Journal.

By 2011, I'd given up on the Keys project and started a new novel, set in Shanghai. And then, on a whim, I submitted it to the 2012 New Rivers Press Electronic Book Series Competition. Yesterday, editor Ryan Christiansen e-mailed that it had won.

When in Mongolia . . .

The January 11 New York Times Travel Section mentions Mongolia (and our partner, Nomadic Journeys) in The 46 Places to Go in 2013. Writer Justin Bergman observes that "the untouched countryside remains the main reason to go" and notes "there are new attractions in the capital, too: Last year, the Government Palace was opened to visitors for the first time, giving tourists a glimpse of young Mongolian democracy in action."

For a haunting look at what happened before the 1990 Democratic Revolution, I recommend a visit to Ulaanbaatar's  Memorial Museum of Victims of Political Persecution. It's an unassuming, two-story wooden structure with a collection of posters, photographs, and bullet-riddled skulls that will remind you to be grateful for the present work-in-progress, no matter what your country of origin.