Made It Moment: Rita Plush
Rita Plush describes something below that I think almost any emerging writer can relate to wanting to do. Only Rita Plush did it. Worked up her nerve and…really did it. With surprising effects–ones I would never have anticipated, especially in the particular scenario you’re just about to read. And it became Rita’s path to making it. What do you think? Would you have the nerve? And in the end–what do we really have to lose, when the gain just might be a Moment?
Back in the summer of 2004, after reading that Joyce Carol Oates was giving an author talk at a local library, I decided to print out the first chapter of my novel, Lily Steps Out (Penumbra Publishing 2012), enclose it in a SASE and bring it to the reading.
She’ll say NO? She’ll say NO. Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.
Off the library I went and sat through her talk, clutching my offering with sweaty hands and a pounding heart, and all the while instructing myself, DO IT! DO IT!.
Full disclosure, I was starting to chicken-out. Her presentation over, I queued up to buy her book and ask her, beg if necessary, to read my chapter. My turn came. She autographed my book. I mustered all my courage.
“Ms. Oates,” I said, “I’m a writer too and I’ve written a novel. It would mean so much to me if you would read the first chapter.”
“Oh, I can’t,” she said. “People ask me all the time. I just don’t have the time.”
“Ms. Oates,” I said. “You’re like a movie star to me.” (This is true.) “I’ve read almost all of your novels and your collections of short stories more than once.”
I could sense the impatience of the crowd behind me waiting their turn. Move it lady, someone muttered behind me, but lady didn’t move. Lady stood there citing short stories Oates had written years and years before, until finally, I heard, “Send it to me at Princeton.” Words from heaven. I flew home, called the college, got her address and ran to the post office.
About a month or so later I received this typewritten postcard:
Sept. 17. 2004
ONTARIO REVIEW PRESS
9 Honey Brook Drive
Princeton, New Jersey 08540
Dear Rita Plush,
Your story is very engagingly written. The voice is shrewd, sharp, funny, and yet tender. Perhaps the theme of the “Middle-aged housewife who becomes impatient with her life” is somewhat familiar, so it’s difficult to make such material distinction. Still this is promising, and might well make a readable and marketable novel. Good luck!
Joyce Carol Oates
I couldn’t believe it! But there it was, from her brilliant fingertips —Joyce Carol Oates, the esteemed, prolific—she has her own Book of the Month Club, and why shouldn’t she? the woman writes a book a month—the most fabulous of the fabulous, whose books I loved, whose short stories I swooned over—Joyce Carol Oates liked my chapter. She thought it PROMISING! If something could be worn out by looking at it, that postcard would be dust today.
When I knew my book was to be published, I scanned the post card onto a letter asking Ms. Oates if I could use the quote on the cover. A few weeks later I received the reply, “Of course you can. Good luck!”
And there it reads on the cover of Lily Steps Out:
“…engagingly written. The voice is shrewd, sharp, funny, and yet tender.”
My Made It Moment… brought to me by Joyce Carol Oates.
Rita Plush is an author, teacher and lecturer on the decorative arts. She is the facilitator of the Self-published Authors’ Roundtable that meets every month at the Manhasset Library in Manhasset, LI. Rita presented her talk, “Writing & Publishing in the Modern Age, or So You’ve Written a Book; Now What?” at the Limmud Conference of Jewish Learning in February, 2014. During her thirty-five years as an interior designer, Rita was the coordinator of the Interior Design/Decorating Certificate Program at Queensborough Community College and taught several courses in the program.
What a wonderful story. Now, all I need to figure out is who to send my own first chapter to.
Comment by Joe Perrone Jr — April 14, 2014 @ 10:33 pm
Holy moly, wow! Goes to show what standing up for yourself can do.
My sad story is that I was able to go out to lunch with an executive at my all-time 20-year-plus dream publisher, but because someone had given me, in essence, a “move it, lady!” I chose to be washy washy and not take the chance. A writer doesn’t profit from chances NOT taken. Good for you for taking the risk that paid off.
Comment by Savvy — April 15, 2014 @ 9:08 am
Comment by Judy — April 15, 2014 @ 9:50 am
I love JCO’s work too, but it honestly wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask her to read something of mine. You took a leap that most of us wouldn’t. Good for you!! And what a fantastic first cover blurb
Comment by Windy Lynn Harris — April 15, 2014 @ 10:22 am
That’s a GREAT story. I’m a huge fan of Joyce Carol Oates, but there’s no way I would have had the guts to do something like that. Nicely told.
Comment by E.A. Aymar — April 15, 2014 @ 1:14 pm
Congratulations for taking such a bold step!it really goes to show “you” if you don’t ask, you will never know.
Comment by Leslie — April 15, 2014 @ 3:59 pm
That’s wonderful. The gift of perseverance…
Comment by Lil Gluckstern — April 15, 2014 @ 5:03 pm
Oh my goodness, how wonderful. Congratulations. He who dares, wins. Lots of future luck too. Thanks Jenny and thanks Rita for sharing this.
Comment by Jane Risdon — April 15, 2014 @ 6:21 pm
Wheeeew! You are one brave lady. Kudos to you for hanging around to astound Ms. Oates. Your heart pounding moment reaped a big reward. You have a winning attitude, Rita. Good luck, indeed1
Comment by Susan Sundwall — April 15, 2014 @ 6:34 pm
Thank you all for your comments.
Comment by Rita Plush — April 16, 2014 @ 8:21 am
It’s a bad idea!
We should never put other people in awkward situations as we ourselves don’t like to be in them. It worked for Ms. Plush because she’s a woman and the author didn’t feel too “threatened.” Approach like this can only work with friends, not strangers, regardless of how well we know the author’s work.
My current work in progress is a Holocaust story, inspired by true events. Last year I’ve emailed Ms. Sally Koslow to see if she would edit one chapter, about 3400 words. I met Sally on Twitter and wanted her to evaluate my writing because I believe there’s an immense advantage when the editor is also a published author of the same genre. In my case it’s the adult literature/fiction.
She agreed and had very positive comments not only in regards to the extract but also to my writing style. I was thrilled. It was money well spent.
I think everyone who’s serious about getting published should have their work evaluated. But only in most professional way.
Comment by Joseph Baran — April 16, 2014 @ 11:31 am
It just goes to show the power of yes. Good for you! It’s amazing what you can get if you ask nicely.
Comment by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs — April 19, 2014 @ 4:46 pm