You might recall that from time to time over the past year or so, I’ve mentioned that I was having trouble cracking the chapbook nut. Last winter, I put together a manuscript that I really liked, and I kept entering it in various contests, and it kept getting turned down.
One evening in January of this year, I got a phone call. I expected it would be yet another robocall from my kids’ school about an emergency closing due to excessive cold. So I was only half-listening when Gordon Grigsby from Evening Street Press started leaving a message. Wait … what? This is not how rejections usually arrive. I’ve received plenty of rejections in plenty of ways — but never a rejection phone call. So …?
I leaped up, picked up the phone … and accidentally hung up on Gordon. Fortunately, he called right back — with news that my chapbook, Secret Rivers, was the 2013 winner of the Evening Street Press Helen Kay Chapbook Prize.
The funny thing is, I had just reached a point where I was starting to reevaluate my approach with Secret Rivers. Instead of entering it in contests, should I just focus on trying to find a good publisher for it, even without a prize? I believe I vented about this both here and on Facebook — and I know that a couple of blogger friends said they felt like this would be my year, and a few Facebook friends offered encouragement, one of them saying she had her fingers crossed. And that’s when I got that call.
I waited a while to announce it here because I knew Evening Street Press had plans to announce it as well, and I didn’t want to step on those plans or catch any other entrants by surprise. But now they’ve announced it on their Facebook page and in an ad in the current issue of Poets & Writers, so I’m in the clear.
Seven of the poems will be in the upcoming spring issue of Evening Street Press Review, and the chapbook will be published sometime over the summer (I’ll keep you posted on that). I’m now lining up back-cover blurbs, considering whether I want to thank anyone (how do you choose?), trying to think of a good image for the cover, and steeling myself to have an author photo taken (my best photos are are all cellphone selfies). It’s all really exciting work, and I can’t believe this is happening.
Evening Street Press is such a great fit for Secret Rivers, for a number of reasons. First, it is known not only for its high-quality work and the great care with which it showcases it, but also for its focus on equal rights and social justice, and on spotlighting current barriers to those. When I started writing Secret Rivers, I didn’t intend for it to be a political piece, but the issue of fracking found its way in and then would not be denied.
Another thing I find really satisfying is the “home” connection. I live in Chicago, but I went to high school in a suburb of Columbus, and my dad still lives there. In back-and-forth during the submission process, it came out that Gordon and his wife (and managing editor) Barbara Bergmann live just up the road from my dad. I’ve probably driven right past their house.
Also, Secret Rivers is set in a lightly fictionalized version of Belmont County, Ohio, where fracking is now a huge issue of concern or opportunity — depending on whom you ask. Don’t get me wrong: Evening Street Press is limitless in its geographic scope. In fact, its 2012 Helen Kay prize went to Lynn Veach Sadler’s Mola … Person, which incorporates the anthropology and history of the San Blas islands off Colombia and Panama. Still, I find it so pleasing that my Ohio chapbook ended up coming home to Ohio to be published.
To Evening Street Press, and to anyone who has shared words of encouragement as Secret Rivers struggled to find its home: Thank you! And for anyone else who is trying to place a chapbook and is hanging in there despite rejections: I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and may this be your year, too.