Last week I received my first rejection from an agent for my fantasy novel, Serpent on a Cross. And I’m okay with that.
I think I was half expecting it, even though I had high hopes this particular agent would want the book – is that a contradiction? He was quite gracious in his refusal – which arrived via email – so I’ll keep him on my list of possible agents for future novels.
Why am I so calm about being rejected? Well, first of all, I’ve been warned that rejections are almost a sacred part of the writing world – it’s not uncommon to receive multiple rejections before finding an agent who believes enough in a first time writer’s novel to take a chance on them. Second, I’m not (quite) a starving artist, basing all my hopes for the future on one professional’s response to my novel, and I spent a few years while in my 20s auditioning in college and community theatres where I was rejected for parts more often than I was cast. I contented myself with behind-the-scenes work such as costuming and props, and learned as much about acting, directing and producing for theatre as I could. I also learned to accept rejection for what it was: I was good, but not brilliant; there was someone better suited to the role. Rarely was it personal.
Teachers and others told me they respected my acceptance – yes, they could have, and maybe were, lying to make me feel better, in which case, they succeeded – and my talents were used in other ways: stage managing, and makeup. In college, I had the opportunity to create makeup to mask one actor’s shoulder blade tattoo of a Celtic cross. He had to wear a tank top on-stage in a period piece and the tattoo was rather out of place. It was fun to practice various techniques of applying cover-up, foundation, powder and set solution until I got it just right. Not sure how my guinea pig felt, but I silently pumped the air in triumph when I sat in the audience during one performance and couldn’t tell he had either a tattoo or makeup on that shoulder.
When I did finally land a major role, in a comedy at the community theatre, it was perfect for me. I played opposite the guy who’d recently (in real life) dumped me. I was his on-stage wife, mother of his three children (they were referred to, but not part of the cast) and he was cheating on me (interesting how theatre sometimes imitates real life, isn’t it). I got to throw a doozy of a temper tantrum on stage. I’m a natural – had years of tantrum practice growing up. In the last scene, my “husband” had to apologize to me – during his “father’s” funeral, thereby disrupting a solemn occasion – and we had to – noisily – kiss and make up.
He was a consummate actor, even for an amateur, so I could never tell how much (or if at all) playing my husband bothered him. He pulled it all off without a hitch, and even saved me one night when I dropped several lines during our opening scene. At the very end of the play, I had to sing “Sweet By and By” a cappella. Fortunately, I have a decent singing voice. Nothing spectacular, but I can hold my own.
You might have heard of the play, or the movie based on it. The play is called “Dearly, Departed.” The movie (starring Whoopie Goldberg, LL Cool J, and Jada Pinkett Smith) is called “Kingdom Come.” Jada and I played the same role. But they must have written out the temper tantrum scene for her. I was disappointed when Jada didn’t throw that tantrum. Her performance was a little too cool for me. A shame, because that was one of the best scenes in the play. I got A LOT of laughs during that scene.
So. Rejected again. And it’s just as important to me to succeed in getting my writing published now, as it was back then to land a role on stage. Wondering what I should do with the history-making “First Rejection.” Well, I’ve sent the agent a thank you note via snail mail – a thank you for taking the time to read my manuscript and letting me down gently. Then, that “rejection letter?” I think I’m gonna frame it.