Writing gurus advise us not to despair when the rejection slips pile up, they urge us to keep going back to the well and digging deeper until a real gem pops out, for after all, “a good story must be told”. After a while, this sounds like another feel•good•ism to sooth the battered writer toiling away into insanity and an early death. It is tempting to say, “Stuff the gurus,” stash the pen, switch off the computer and take up golf. But something happened to me recently to reinforce this sage message that perhaps a good story will be told, even after 30 years.
Thirty years ago, when I was a young and callow fellow and lived in a country renowned for its beautiful beaches, hospitable people, empty coffers, and peace (yes, we had peace back then, before all the separatist struggles began), I wrote a story in anger to expose youth prostitution going on in the country, fuelled by western money. Wealthy middle•aged male tourists from the developed west were swooping down on our sunny third•world island and procuring young boys for their pleasure and taking them back home, while providing their families with money and material goods like tee shirts, bell bottoms and boom boxes to feed starved material appetites and sooth fears. I also happened to travel to Western Europe at the time and meet some of these kids who were now on the “other side,” ostensibly the side of milk and honey. Instead, they were living half•lives in dead•end jobs, some without legal immigration status and some still in bondage to their pedophile puppet•masters. So I wrote my story in anger and sent it to the national radio station to be read on “This Week’s Short Story” a very popular program, on which I’d successfully had some of my earlier stories read. This story was, as anticipated, rejected on the premise that it was “not good for tourism.”
I left the old country soon thereafter, had many adventures abroad, and lost the story in the intervening years. Three years ago, when I moved to Cobourg, Ontario, Canada, I found the original in a box of old souvenirs, a faded foolscap paper with my former cursive handwriting to remind and shame me for deteriorating to a fowl scratch after I bought a computer. I polished my lost•and•found story and included it in a novel (which also remains unpublished to this date, but I hope, will appear in print shortly) and it was cut out by the editor as “the piece did not fit.”
Every time I showed my orphan story to the literati, they liked it, but no one wanted to publish it. Then recently, I was invited to submit a non•fiction piece to a travel anthology. I submitted an account of a soft adventure trip I once took to the Arctic Circle in Finland in the month of February. In the same submission, I asked the editor, somewhat surreptitiously, whether she would consider this “other piece,” which was, ah… not quite travelogue material, but anti•tourist, in fact. To my surprise the editor not only accepted my 30 year•old story but changed its title to read “Number One” in the local vernacular. The story is to be published shortly.
So the writing gurus must be right, after all. A good story will be told, by hook or by crook. I offer this story•within•a•story as hope to my fellow scribes who toil in the dark waiting to be discovered. I also hope that the rest of my stories and novels don’t take thirty years apiece to come out; although that would leave me in royalties for the next five hundred years, I may never live long enough to enjoy a single penny. And that will be another story worth telling, perhaps!