backstory, part 3

Fast forward three years to 2003. With an MFA in hand, a teaching position in the English department at Miami Dade College, a position as Contributing Editor for StoryQuarterly, and a completed collection of short stories, I began querying agents. Mind you, I had no fucking clue what I was doing, didn’t even know how to write a proper query letter. But I had good connections and well-respected mentors who got agents to read my book. I got a few nibbles and then had a meeting with an agent who had read my collection and wanted to sign me. A week later, she quit the business. A few months after that, while on my way back to Miami after attending my abuela’s 90th birthday celebration in Puerto Rico, the plane I was on crashed.

Fast forward to 2008, past the four years I spent crippled by the anxiety and depression of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I suffered as a result of that crash, past the memory loss, confusion, and excruciating pain I endured as a result of the seven discs in my back that were injured in the crash. I’d managed to pull myself out of my hole enough that I was ready to write again, ready to reemerge as an emerging writer. I began writing a novel (I couldn’t bring myself to look at my short story collection because it represented the promising future as a writer that I had lost to the plane crash), and I attended a lecture given by a former editor at one of the big publishing houses who was now working as a consultant to writers.

The whole lecture was about the importance of a platform, the need to have a strong platform in order to get published. Writing be damned, it’s all about the platform. I had never heard this term used in this context before so in our one-on-one meeting, I asked her for clarification. “It doesn’t matter how great a writer you are, if you are unknown, nobody is going to risk publishing you without certain credentials they can use to market you.  You already have an MFA, so you can cross that off your list. Now, apply to Bread Loaf. Apply to Hedgebrook. Win a contest, any contest. Once you have achieved these things, then you will have a strong platform and you will get published.”

So I kept writing my novel and I applied to the 2009 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. I got in and went and that gave me the courage and motivation to continue working on my novel. It also gave me the courage to apply to Hedgebrook for the summer of 2010, a fully funded residency, acceptance to which was even more competitive than Bread Loaf. I was notified of my acceptance to Hedgebrook in December, 2009. I finished my novel in March of 2010. I did not query any agents. I did not take a piece of it and turn it into a short story and submit it for publication. I sat, paralyzed by the fear of rejection, until July, when I went to Hedgebrook.

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