Monday, June 5, 2017

My First Time: Renee Rutledge

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 Renee Rutledge, author The Hour of Daydreams, published earlier this year by Forest Avenue Press. The Hour of Daydreams has been dubbed “essential reading” by Literary Mama, “one of 24 books to get excited for in 2017” by The Oregonian and “a lyrical, intriguing debut” by Oakland Magazine. Renee’s work has also been published in ColorLines, Mutha Magazine, Ford City Anthology, Literary Hub, Red Earth Review, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and others. Renee is currently working on short stories inspired by family history and conducting research for her second novel. Learn more about her work at

My First Post Office Run

The first time an agent requested the full manuscript of my novel, I arrived at the post office filled with hope and self-importance, imagining every song I’d heard on the drive over about living out your dreams was about me. After one year of writing, I had a full draft in hand, delusionally thinking I was done.

Prior to my trip to the post office, I had watched 200 pages take a minute each for my OfficeJet printer to crank out. Afterward, I’d checked the order carefully for missing pages, spent too much time at OfficeMax to get just-the-right-size box and stickers for the mailing labels, then secured each sticker with clear packing tape. I then taped around the edges of the box as well as once around, horizontally and vertically. I finished by writing the exclusive words “Requested Manuscript” on the outside in black Sharpie, satisfied this would get it past the slush pile.

The clerk at the post office was also Filipino. I thought he would ask me what I was sending and make friendly banter with me so I could talk about the book. Instead, I got on his nerves for my confusion about priority versus first class, and he got on mine for his exasperation to explain it more than once. I left the post office vaguely worried he would sabotage my box, then checked the tracking website daily to monitor my manuscript’s safe passage to New York.

It made it but would be rejected soon afterward for being “not quite ready.” I’d spend the next year getting more requests for the full manuscript, followed by just as many rejections, then realizing what I already knew: The book needed revision. I went back to work, making long-awaited cuts, embarrassed at the state of the manuscript I’d had the gall to submit. I wrote a second draft, then a third. I changed the title to The Hour of Daydreams. It continued to attract bites. When agents requested an exclusive read, it held up the book for nearly six months at a time. Some agents never followed up at all.

Years passed. I changed jobs several times, moved, raised a young child, had a new baby, and became less idealistic about the pages I was sending. I still packaged my manuscript with care, holding on to my optimism while trying to remain realistic. I grew hardier as a writer, speculating on the whys and the hows and believing enough in the integrity of my work to keep going.

Then I re-read my book and knew exactly where it drifted. More importantly, I knew what to do about it. I continued along the pathways where the most solid sections of the novel were leading me, those that kept the story alive and interesting but that I’d somehow dropped along the way. When I finished my fourth draft, I was certain it was the final version, no matter how many times I’d have to mail it.

By now, Submittable was in popular use and electronic submissions were the norm. Even though I had a much faster printer that could multitask as a scanner and photocopier, I was glad I could easily submit the novel online, forgoing the packaging ritual, long lines, and postage cost. Among that first, tiny batch of queries was an attachment to an up-and-coming indie press, Forest Avenue, where my book would find a home.

After I’d signed, scanned, and emailed a contract to Forest Avenue Press, the next time I’d go to the post office would be with early galleys for reviewers. After that, ARCs with a cover design. Each time, I continued to possess lingering nerves about the reception the book would have but I tried to let them go, knowing I could control my writing, but not people’s reaction to it. Today, more than a year after the first galleys were off, I’ve got a new post office run on my to-do list: Send complimentary copies of the final book to Cristina Garcia, Erin Entrada Kelly, Vanessa Hua, and other authors I’m grateful for, whose blurbs are featured on it.

I’ve been sending The Hour of Daydreams around the country for eight years now, in various iterations. As the publication date drew near, the book was closer to being free, as was I. I’d grown older tending to it. A lot of things have changed since that first mailing, including the book title, the characters’ journeys, my journey.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the post office clerk. He’s still there, every time. Still indifferent to me, as he should be.

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