It's late spring, 2010. Summer's heat is still a few weeks away, yet the uninsulated brick and black roof of my top floor apartment already have the place unpleasantly warm. I am lying on the floor of my living room, staring at the pockmarked ceiling and intensely aware of both the coarseness of the shabby carpet underneath me and the clacking of keys coming from the room at the end of the hall. Both are driving me insane, but I'm rooted to my spot, frustrated. I hate my job. I hate that the recession and the resulting lack of jobs means the job I hate is the only thing we have to pay the bills and not go hungry. I hate being broke while we finish grad school. I hate that we can't afford to live in a building with air conditioning, or at the very least even scrounge up enough to get one of those cheap floor models to stick in the bedroom. Something.
I especially hate the furious clicking that emanates from the back room every time a rejection letter arrives in the mail, the slumped shoulders, the dejected "what am I doing wrong?" Nothing, I say, you just haven't found the right person yet, but it falls on deaf ears as the fingers are already clacking, editing, refining, changing perspectives and narratives and plot in an attempt to find that magic formula that will make an agent finally say "yes." Today had brought two of those rejection letters; he was obsessing over what to change before he'd even gotten out of the elevator. That alone made me want to cry.
But at this moment, what I hate more than anything else, the reason I'm on the floor digging my nails in the cheap carpet and staring at the nubs in the ceiling while the eight-dollar window fan tries to suck some cool night air into the baking room, is the email that's still displayed on the ancient laptop above my head. Weeks before, I had written to a number of small publishers with a simple request: I was looking at making a move to publishing, and had some experience as a reader and editor already, but wanted to expand on those skills. My dream was to dually work with a publication like mental_floss (indeed, what little extra cash we do scrounge is spent on maintaining my subscription and collecting the books they release) and coach writers who had promise but weren't quite to the point of being ready to publish. I had the education, but the problem was showing the publication experience to make an editor even look at me. I was willing to work for free in exchange for the experience to help balance out my resume, and touted that in my pitch: whether it worked or didn't, it wouldn't cost the publishers anything except a recommendation if they liked my work. I just wanted the experience and the chance to help others out of those sweltering back rooms, blindly clacking away without any real idea of why their work didn't make the cut. I wanted to give feedback rather than form letters. I wanted to help them find that right person to see their work.