Start with the fact that, aside from business newsletters and letters to the editor, my formal publishing credits run about one every five or ten years. Now consider the additional fact that I have written and circulated about a dozen novels and dozens of stories, volumes' worth of poetry, and a drawerful of miscellany. I continue telling stories and sculpting language to this day, pushing beyond the last work, ingesting criticism, going from genre to genre as the story takes me.
What I have not done well enough or consistently enough is to push my work out, to agents, to publishers, to journals. There are spurts when I have a work, a list, and a package appropriate to submission guidelines, and I stay at it for months at a time. But then I'll be on the road for a month or two, or pressed by business or family issues such that I'll miss a cycle of mailings. Responses from editors, readers and agents affirm that I represent my craft well. And yet, there's the paucity of publishing credits.
Am I a failure?
Go back to how I came to this pursuit: I know the start of this path to the moment I recognized it. I was an indifferent sophomore at Brooklyn College, knowing only that I did not want what my parents wanted for me, to be a doctor, or a lawyer fit to join my uncle's firm. Having been an honors student all through public school, I was drifting as a sociology major, chosen because it was the least demanding available until I decided what to do. As I descended the stairs of Ingersoll Hall to the Quadrangle on this brilliant April morning, the bell in Laguardia Tower struck me with the force of a blow: my knapsack was full of notebooks, full of sketches, poems and stories. That was what defined me; that was what I loved. And I realized, heading across the greening path to Boylan Hall, the humanities building, that I stood the best chance of success at what I loved.
Within the space of a breath, the practical eldest child also weighed in: no one was obligated to publish my work. It was a chancy way to make a living. That day, I changed my major to English, with minors in Music (another passion) and Journalism (my expected profession). I was, from that day forward, an honors student again, but it was no longer about grades: I was learning how to learn, and how to speak my truest voice.
I never got a job in journalism; Woodward and Bernstein broke the Watergate story not long after my revelation, and journalism became a hot job choice. After months of pavement, to every newspaper, magazine and publishing house in the New York metropolitan area, I landed in an unexpected spot: a friend clerking at a major law firm suggested over lunch that there was a job as a proofreader on night staff. A wise supervisor made sure that I learned every bit of the new technologies being deployed there: faxes, scanners, word processors, telex. After five years, I married; Carole and I researched settings of my first novel together. After seven years, I co-founded a law technology consulting firm at which I am still a partner.
I continued to write, and occasionally publish, through all of this. Fifteen years ago, I helped my cousin, Mindy Kronenberg, start up BookMark: A Quarterly Review of Small Press Literature, and stayed on as associate editor and contributor for about a year and a half. With increased work demands and two kids at home, I had to drop even this connection to the writer's life.
Now, my family lives in a snug house on a nice street in a small-town part of Staten Island, my hometown. My older daughter is a sophomore at School of Visual Arts, having won a prize from Random House for graphic novel. My younger daughter attends an elite high school and aspires to be an aeronautical engineer. My wife helps students at the College of Staten Island to prepare more effective job search materials than I ever knew existed. My business has continued through good times and bad for 25 years. And occasionally, my stories reach people.
I will publish more works; I certainly continue to write, and post to my new website. But even if the stories I have told only reached my daughters, and gave them a window into greater possibilities, I'd take that as success, beyond my dreams.