Monday, February 18, 2013

My First Time: Rita Leganski

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Rita Leganski, author of The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, the story of a boy “who didn't make a peep when he was born.”  Booklist praised Leganski's debut novel by saying, “This mystical fairy tale set in a 1950s-era Louisiana rife with religion, superstition, and tradition draws you in from the wondrous first page.  Silence has never been so boundlessly eloquent.”  Leganski holds an MA in writing and publishing and a BA in literary studies and creative writing from DePaul University.  She teaches a writing workshop at DePaul’s School for New Learning and was a recipient of the Arthur Weinberg Memorial Prize for a work of historical fiction.
My First Story Submission

The process has changed since I sent a manuscript off for the very first time.  It was on a weekday in 2001, between one and two in the afternoon.  I can pin the time down because I mailed it on my lunch hour.  And by “mailed,” I mean at the post office—the Jurassic Park of manuscript submission.  Although winter filled the air, the sun shone brightly.  So much for omens.

I had dressed up for the occasion and felt totally put together in my stylish black wool coat and high-heeled boots.  Sometimes you just can’t beat a good cliché for saying something, so let me tell you I was Walking On Air.  I skipped up the post office steps and whooshed through the glass double doors, dead certain I was on my way to fame and fortune—no doubt about it.

There’s another cliché that allowed me to skip and whoosh and be dead certain: Ignorance Is Bliss.

I have no idea what inspired me to start writing.  Repressed ambition?  Maybe.  An escape wish?  It’s possible.  Insanity?  Delirium?  All of the above?  I had recently divorced and was busy reinventing myself; the writing notion may have been part of the process.  Whatever the reason, the urge came over me like some kind of attack; I woke up in the night convinced I should write a novel (nothing like aiming high).  The very next day I came up with what I thought was a damn fine title and proceeded to base the main character on me and the other characters on people I knew.  All I changed were the names.  Had anyone ever been so clever?

Obsession set in.  That story was with me when I ate, slept, ran, drove, worked, showered, cleaned, and did the laundry.  It owned half of every breath I took.  I wrote at warp factor nine.  My fingers flew over the keyboard; my mind raced.  I thought every single word was an all-capital-letters GEM; le mot juste as the French would say.

Wrong.  The end result was really, really bad.  The action and dialogue were predictable and the characters underdeveloped.  I didn’t bother with plot, but threw in plenty of dream scenes and saccharine.  The thing burped rainbows.

Needless to say, that manuscript was rejected by everyone I sent it to.

Today it lives in the uppermost reaches of the closet in the spare room, sealed in a box, where it will remain.  So why do I keep it?  Because I don’t want to let go of all that innocence and belief and delight.  I want a mile marker of my rite of passage, a souvenir of my new beginning.

Photo by Neil Gorman

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