Right around the year 2000, I decided I was going to stop daydreaming about being a writer and actually do something about it. A discussion about the community of online gaming people I'd become a part of and the absolute necessity of the encouragement I received from them is for another time--suffice it to say, no one will ever convince me that online friendships are anything less than as real as it gets.
I had a 5 year old, a 2 year old, a husband with a job that required a ton of traveling, and a relocation from Illinois to South Carolina to contend with. I was pretty much solo parenting in a place where I knew absolutely no one. Looking back, I'd say I did a fair job of mucking through learning the ropes and growing, albeit gradually, as a writer. (Not to mention the whole "learning how to be a mother" business. Lord.) I was getting better. The publications that were accepting my stories were working more and more toward the pro level I yearn for. The sale to Cricket Magazine IS a pro sale.
And then I lost it. I still can't put my finger on exactly why--another relocation, another adjustment to a new place with no support system, but probably, mostly, a bout with depression that sneaked up and took me down without me really noticing that it had done so. At any rate, I simply lost the desire to keep trying. I sold "Frost King's Bride" to Cricket in 2004, but I'd pretty much stopped writing by the time it was published in 2005. Working through the requested edits for The World Between Earth and Sky was torture--I just wanted it off my hands, and I didn't care who published it or, quite honestly, if it was published at all. I couldn't remember why I'd ever wanted to write, and I couldn't remember a single good thing about the writing I had done.
So, as I was researching markets for "But He Had Wings," I noticed that my teeth sort of itched when I added The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to my list of possibilities. The name of Gordon Van Gelder immediately popped into my mind, and my teeth itched even more. I couldn't quite remember exactly why, although I vaguely remember at some point deciding that submitting anything there was likely a monumental waste of my time. (F&SF is, for those not into the whole spec fic short story scene, at the top of spec fic short story publishers heap.) In search of a specific cause for the itchy teeth syndrome, I dug through my back files. I couldn't really find anything horrible, aside from a nice collection of Mr. Van Gelder's very polite "alas, it doesn't quite do it for me" rejection notes. Judging by the contents of F&SF, I do think that perhaps most of my stories will never "quite do it" for that market--not a complaint against the magazine or Mr. Van Gelder, just that sometimes, well, a writer and a reader (or a market) don't quite fit.
I also re-discovered some other interesting tidbits I'd forgotten:
The Leading Edge apparently does/did critiques as a matter of course for rejected stories, or at least I was fortunate enough to get them when they rejected "Disappearing" in 2002. Since the magazine is published by a rotating group of student editors at BYU and the critiques came on a form which three of them had filled out, I'm guessing it is/was part of their usual process. The three I got ranged from "It was good in some places, but I didn't get it" to "OMG, this is the best story EVER!" Another sign that sometimes it's not about your ability or the technical soundness of a story, but about whether or not the story makes that little magical connection with a particular reader. (Which is not to say I believe that story--or any of mine--are perfect. None of them ever are.) They did, however, later accept and publish "The Second" (in 2003). (A story that still whispers at me to come and revisit it, sometimes. I have a file of notes on how it could become a novel, if it really wanted to. Maybe.)
"Disappearing" also got a request to revise and resubmit from Strange Horizons in 2001. They ended up rejecting it anyhow, but the revision suggestions they gave me made it a stronger story. The same editor (Chris Heinemann, who is no longer with them, it looks like) also offered personalized feedback on another story they rejected. I am not the only person who's received the human touch treatment from these people, even if I had forgotten how awesome they are until my walk through my back files. Hats off to the folks at Strange Horizons.
I entered "Disappearing" in the Writers of the Future contest in 2002. I have no recollection whatsoever of having done this.
My publication in Cricket Magazine in 2005 made me eligible for an associate membership at SFWA and a full membership at SCBWI. Neither of which I have followed up on. I got a story published in a pro market--at CRICKET, for God's sake--and I have done NOTHING to build on that.
Where the hell has my head been for the last few years?!
Actually, to be fair to myself, I didn't just stop. I have a middle grade novel that I landed an agent for, but that she eventually sent back to me because she couldn't place it. I have a handful of half-developed children's nonfiction book ideas, and notes and a first chapter for a second middle grade novel that I never finished (but that Joey sometimes still asks me about, God love him). But I couldn't quite get them to GO--I was stretching for something above what I'd been doing, and I couldn't quite make that leap.
Then. I can blame it on a depressive episode or I can call it burn out or I can just shrug and say "I dunno." But whatever happened, it happened. All I can do is remember what I've learned and appreciate the people who've believed in me along the way and keep learning and trying.
Sounds like a plan to me.