It was both a long and short road to getting published. I’ve carried the story with me for half a century and once I gave birth to it – in the form of the written word – it seemed destined for the larger world.
When I retired in March 2019 I was given a gift certificate to Lighthouse Writers in Denver for one of their writing workshops. In my mind being retired signified an open road paved with time – time to write my stories, a long awaited dream. No interruptions, just time.
That first year I mostly traveled. Feeling free as a bird I took a lot of trips to see friends, my daughter, to NYC. I started writing but saved the gift certificate. Finally, in January 2020, I enrolled in a Lighthouse memoir writing workshop. The in-person 6-week course ended right before COVID struck.
I took the first chapter (“Secrets & Lies”) of my memoir to workshop in class. The story was set in Texas when I was 18 and I intended to use that opening chapter as a portal into my life, picking up where my childhood began in Chapter 2. I received mostly positive feedback from the workshop instructor and writers including a lot of editing suggestions, advice, and questions about “what happened next?”.
After working on it for several months, I decided to re-write the story as a stand-alone essay. My daughter had recently had success having several of her stories published in online literary journals and magazines. She encouraged me to submit my story, sending me an extensive list of literary and academic publications. I picked a few and submitted my lengthy story (~4000 words) in August 2021.
In September I heard back from the managing editor (Martha) of the literary magazine, “Under the Sun”. Martha liked my story and said she would publish it but UtS only publishes annually, their next issue slated for May 2022, and she felt that my story needed to be published sooner than that. She felt my story was politically important and needed to be read by a wider audience than her journal could provide.
Martha asked if I would mind if she shopped my story to larger publications: The New Yorker Magazine, The Atlantic, Texas Monthly. I laughed (out loud) and said sure! She would copy me on her cover letter/emails to these publications.
We heard back from Texas Monthly and they wanted to publish my story in their online News & Politics section. They would need to edit it down considerably, giving it a 2000 words max. Texas Monthly was the perfect place for my story. Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s misogynistic, anti-abortion law putting a $10K bounty on anyone who helped a woman obtain an abortion had recently been passed. My story, set in Texas in 1969, was pre-Roe v Wade and reflected a world where women had no voice or control in decisions over her own body or reproductive rights, and few choices.
The 3-week editing process was a whirlwind and an emotional roller coaster. I literally did not sleep and my fingernails were chewed off up to my elbows. The monkeys in my mind at night kept me up with all manner of possible outcomes. The editor I worked with at TM was young (late 20s) and I worried that he would not be able to relate to my story. I felt he must’ve seen me as a dinosaur writing from the Ice Age. It was kind of funny. At one point he suggested I say something about “sex education” in my high school at the time. I almost fell off my chair laughing – generation chasm! We’d never heard of “sex education” in the 1960s! In the end, both TM editors who worked on my story made me a better writer. I learned a lot and was humbled by the process.
My partner and I were leaving on a 12-day road trip on Wednesday and I had told my editor I needed to have it published by Tuesday, latest. After several promises it would be published one day, then the next, then the next, they finally published on Tuesday morning, the day before we left town. I was up at 6am waiting for it to go up on texasmonthly.com.
By 7am my story was published! It came in at 2400 words (.50/word). The byline, “Carol Park, Author” was printed in black and white for the world to see. At 70, I was living proof that it’s never too late to do or become what you’ve always wanted to do and become. And sometimes the Universe opens up and comes together at the right time, right place with the right story and right people. Thank you, Martha, for believing in me and my story! Thank you to Kelsey and a few initial friends/readers who encouraged me to keep writing. And finally, thank you to Barbara and Trey for giving me the gift certificate that started the writing ball rolling.
Click the link below to read my story: