Bite of the Rattlesnake

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Bite of the Rattlesnake

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May,2014
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Discover how to avoid or at least manage the bite of the rattlesnake in your writing career …

The venom of rejection could maim – if not kill – your love of writing, or of ever being creative in any way again.  To help other unsuspecting authors from suffering a similar fate, I write about how to avoid leaping from the frying pan into the fire.  If prevention is unavoidable then preparation is the next best thing, I’m sure you’ll agree.

We may not all be as fortunate as Jill Bernhardi, who writes affectionately about “Getting stoned once a week”, and we may choose not to escape into the bottle, purely in the name of creativity.  So be forewarned of the pitfalls, and the shapes and guises of wriggling snakes lurking in unsuspecting writing circles, groups and classes.  Be armed with a harder shell than I went with into my first such memorable experience.

I wouldn’t kid you kind folks, or myself, by saying I am anything but a committed aspiring author.  Bless the Americans, they have a new word in their dictionary.  I have proudly qualified as a pre-published writer since the age of twelve!  Your proof of eligibility to this esteemed recognition – yes, you’ve guessed it – a rejection slip!  But thanks to the Editor of Writers Forum he’s made this paragraph redundant by accepting my first ever article “Green Light to Success”. Don’t you hate it when that happens? (Only in my dreams!)

To say I have enough of these “challenging but good for the immunity system” rejection slips to keep me warm through the coldest winter by burning them in a nice real fire, would be as inadequate as Neil Armstrong expressing how very alone and out of his depth he felt on the moon.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud…” Wordsworth really did understand me.  So I wandered down in all my haste to a local school for a one-off day intensive course about publishing.  I was all ready to worship by the esteemed “published” writer’s feet and drink hungrily from the proffered cup of wisdom.

I hoped the elusive success of being published at this side of the century would rub off on me.   In my quest for the nectar of success, in a world where the Holy Grail seems to have been permanently misplaced, I was willing to buy the lottery ticket.

With the help of Saturday traffic, with my sense of direction leaving me under stress, I was taken the opposite direction from the school. My husband, who is even worse in his directions, sat silently by my side.  But my need for knowledge spurring me on somehow paid off.

The haunted corridors reminded me of ghosts of poets of the past.  It was inspirational!  I was  ready to be imaginative and discovered.

When I opened the door half-an-hour later, I fervently hoped I’d got the wrong room.  A pitiful four people sat quietly at pitifully small children’s desks.  Especially the overly large lady sitting on her own looked like the incredible hulk with duct tape holding him down.  Not a smile or sparkling eye among them.  I got the top to toe inspection and as there were no men – young or old, I wasn’t appreciated.

My heart sinking, I wondered; should I go home and do some ironing or weeding?  Or worse still, attack that underwear drawer into color-coordinated harmony!  My slender body shuddered under my royal blue wrap.

My curiosity to meet a “real” author, even one with a most sour expression, eliminated the multiple choice problem.  For better or worse…

As I smiled, (that has worked in the past, even with unmeltable icebergs) I willed some warmth and life to permeate into the three wax hopefuls cramped at their desks, with the obligatory two-desk-personal-space between each of them.

Even the standing teacher offered no pretense of welcome.  My intuition told me five was definitely a crowd.

Damn, the hated ironing board and even the underwear drawer seemed irresistibly enticing.

Pen poised, I listened to the teacher talk and within ten minutes I knew I’d made a mistake.  She was a frustrated children’s writer who tried too hard to convince me that success was a state of mind, and that she really did respect all the different authors mentioned. “Even though their work, most of the time, left much to be improved upon.”  (For the remotest chance of libel, if she remembers the royal blue wrap, words have been changed, but you get my drift!)

It was obvious that this woman felt just a tiny bit cheated she was not one of those lucky best-selling authors. Although she didn’t stoop so low as to say this, I had a feeling she would disregard J.K. Rowling as a fluke that had stumbled upon a gimmick goldmine.  Yeah, right!

I was too busy planning my escape to feel sorry for her.  But as my husband had the car (it would be a miracle if he found his way back by 3 p.m. – he’s directionally challenged), I had to accept my fate, and settled down armed with my exercise book crammed with my babies, my best short stories and poems, and filled my mind with “live and let live”, and “it takes all sorts to make a world” philosophies.

Then I made my first mistake.  I asked a question.

I could have sworn I heard a rattlesnake.

I’d not read the unwritten rule – one doesn’t ask questions!  But I was taught if you don’t ask, you don’t get.  I suppose that only applies to asking for money from your husband.

I looked at the tight-lipped fellow worshipers, feeling the smouldering hatred penetrate from the overly-voluptuous blonde, even through her sun-glasses (it was raining outside, was she nursing a hangover?), and wished I could rewind time with my imaginary remote control.  Maybe in my next life-time they’d have perfected that hindrance.


I resisted the great urge to regress back to my childhood; to pick up the desk lid and hide behind it.

It was a mini ego trip for the writer, with her four books strewn over the teacher’s desk and I’d dared ask if she’d had any success with contemporary novels.  I cut through the weeds to the heart of the flower of my life-long ambitions.  It had been out of genuine curiosity and not from some spiteful, nose-rubbed-in-the-unmentionables kind.

Me and my big mouth.

In the ensuing silence I began to have serious doubt as to whether I’d not regressed to my childhood and had spoken in my mother tongue. Russian.

Even to this day I remember how well she’d handled not answering the question out-right.  If it was not the whole publishing world ganging up against her understatedly latent genius, it was the permanent expression of having smelt something putrid that may have been at fault.

She ought to write a book called “Successful Avoidance Techniques”.  There was her chance to best-sellerdom!

Then came the lunch break.  It was a nightmare.  But as the other two large ladies walked slowly together, in the teacher’s shadow, I felt as powerful as the invisible man.  I could have kicked either of them in their behinds and they would have probably checked where the nasty draft was coming from.   Or would have wondered if there were any ghosts in the old building. But being a lady, I refrained.

Even my delicious home made sandwich tasted like sawdust, as I nibbled on it.  One of the pupils, the older woman that was on her own, did speak to me, clutching protectively her romance manuscript, she’d whispered about in class, as if it was going to come to life and gallop away from her.

The two women were becoming very friendly – whispering conspiratorially to each other.  I started to take it personally.

Admittedly, I can sometimes be very slow.  I was not wanted and I’d not picked up on their Arctic body language.  Sorry, my fault!  You see, I was born in the coldest parts of Russia and I’d mistaken it for ordinary English good manners not to talk to strangers.  You’re exposed to the stiff upper lip till you’re deemed worthy to be included.

I felt a little wiser and much more tearful as I walked out of the building at the end of the day.  I hadn’t had the chance or the guts to read out any of my writing.  I’d have much rather been tarred and feathered than risk further silent disapproval from them.  All I kept thinking about was why the other women hadn’t dared utter a word or even open their exercise books, imagining uncharitably Transylvanian bats flying free from within them.

The rejection hurt and stabbed and my head was splitting but not from uncontainable inspiration I had dreamed of.  I felt acutely the remoteness of bonding with any of them, walking behind the little group as precariously as an ugly duckling trying not to be trampled under foot of a family of ostensibly refined gorillas.

I was thankful my husband had retraced his steps back to collect his cook-cleaner-concubine etc.  Maybe it was safer to continue in that role than risk despondence and rejection like this again, I thought.  I got in the car with a big smile that was cracking at the corners.

When he asked how it had gone, and I’d given him the polite “yes, it was worth it,” niceties, I then added with a childish, hard-done-by voice, “I just don’t know why they disliked me so much – even before I’d opened my mouth.”

He looked at me as I watched the two women with cold postures waddle away towards the main road.  I was certain they’d found the holy grail of friendship.

With misty eyes I heard, rather than saw, the anger that was completely alien to my amicable hubby, as he asked, “Is that them?”  As I nodded he said with great vehemence, “Let them go and be…. The jealous….” He mumbled the rest of his words as we drove off.

They had no idea of my writing talents, but I didn’t admit this.  It was just nice to have at least one fervent fan all to myself.

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