Friday, February 24, 2012

The Rejected Story

Open House, Open Heart
by Kate Willoughby

Isn’t it funny how things work out sometimes? It all started when my husband and I decided to sell the house and find something smaller—less yard to take care of, less house to keep clean, etc. My daughter, Emily, came at my request to go through her old stuff and decide what she wanted to keep. I was thumbing through some sheet music when I heard Emily heave a sigh.

“What’s up, Em?” I asked.

She smiled and held up an old playbill from a production of Hamlet. “This little pamphlet embodies all the unspoken yearning of a young teenage girl.”

“Aren’t all teenagers young?” I asked.

Emily laughed. “You know what I mean.”

“What were you longing for? A life on the stage?” I felt a twinge of motherly guilt. Had Emily harbored a secret yearning to perform that I had failed to nurture and encourage? I had always thought she was happy being a caterer, especially now that she was starting her own business.

“Me?” she asked grinning. “Heck no. I couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag. No, it was a boy I wanted. John Davis. My English Lit teacher took the class on a field trip to see Shakespeare. John was sitting in front of me and I didn’t see that play at all. All I saw was him.” She chuckled. “Well, the back of his head, at least.”

“You’re never going to believe this,” I said, “but he’s our real estate agent.”

Emily’s eyes widened. “What?”

“Yes. And he’s single,” I added. “Want me to—”

“No!” she blurted, her cheeks turning red. “Don’t you dare play matchmaker, Mom. Promise me.”

The next day, John and I discussed the particulars of our first open house.

“I like to provide some sort of refreshment for the potential buyers, usually donuts and coffee,” he said. “But to tell you the truth, I’m getting tired of the donuts.”

“You know,” I found myself saying, even though I knew Emily might kill me, “my daughter is a caterer and her mini scones and muffins are out of this world and a step above donuts if I do say so myself. She’s just starting out on her own after five years working for someone else, and if she could display some of her brochures, it would be great advertising for her.”

“I think my mouth is watering already,” John said, grinning.

When I called Emily to arrange it, she accused me of going back on my promise, but I insisted I hadn’t. “I swear it was all business. For all he knows, you’re married with six kids and a parakeet,” I said. “Just think of it as networking.”

The day of the open house, John seemed happy with how everything looked and the table I’d set up in the entry. He placed the flyers outlining the features of the house there, along with a stack of his business cards and a sign-in sheet. Em walked in not five minutes later with a big pink pastry box filled with goodies. She looked wonderful in a tasteful business suit. I could tell she’d taken extra care with her appearance.

He greeted her with a wide smile. “Emily, I don’t know if you remember me, but we took English Lit together. John Davis.” They shook hands. “I realized who you were from the family portrait in the living room.”

“Of course I remember you,” she replied smoothly, as if she hadn’t memorized the back of his head eight years ago.

I forced myself to mumble something about making coffee and left the room. It was torture, I tell you, pure torture not to listen in.

They didn’t even notice me when I brought the first pot of coffee to fill the huge dispenser John had brought. I caught snippets of their conversation and it sounded like they were catching up. By the time I poured the second pot in, he was listening to her talk about her catering business, which I took as a good sign. A good husband knows how to listen. Before I could bring out the third pot, Em scurried into the kitchen.

“Mom! You’ll never guess what happened.” Excitement sparkled in her eyes. “John loves my scones so much that he wants me to provide them for all his open houses from now on.”

“Em, that’s wonderful!”

We did end up getting a couple of offers on the house that day, which made my husband happy. He hoped to make a nice profit, but I had my heart set on a new son-in-law. And you know what? A year later, that’s exactly what I got.


Pat said...

Hi Kate,

I read you rejected story and honestly, I thought it was cute and well written. My thought is 'how many caterering, real estate or matchmaker stories' WW received at that time. You can have a well-written story, but if WW has a preferred story with the same topic, premise or characters, yours will get rejected. Unfortunately, WW recieves so many stories that this happens more often than writers realize.

Kate Willoughby said...

Thanks, Pat. I appreciate that. LOL about the catering, real estate, matchmaker story!

Truth is, none of us never know what goes on behind that editorial door. It very well could be that my story was similar to one they just accepted. I guess since I analyze the stories every week, I'll see, won't I? ;) Even if that doesn't turn out to be the case, it doesn't matter. I'm over it and on to the next story. :)

Anonymous said...

It's adorable, well-written, falls under the category of, "Gee, what were they thinking?" I loved that lines about six kids and a parakeet and memorizing his head.

Shaffer said...

Kate, I hit the send button too fast and didn't fill in the name line -- it's Tamara -- and while I'm at it, make it "the lines."

Kate Willoughby said...

Thanks, Tamara. I liked those lines, too. I had dog there at first, but thought parakeet was funnier.

And who knows? Maybe because people are having such a hard time selling their houses right now, they didn't want to go there. Really, no hard feelings. Rejections are part of the business.

Shaffer said...

Parakeet was clever.

Speaking of matchmaker stories, you critiqued one of mine -- "The Matchmaker". I originally wrote that with the protagonist's son as the matchmaker -- wanting his mom to hook up with the house painter. Pat Gaddis sent it back with a note, "This is cute and well-written but does not fit our romantic format." I could only guess why (I think she might have told me with just a couple more strokes of her pen), so I simply guessed that they might not want stories in the voices of kids. I rewrote it with Aunt Grace as matchmaker, and it made it through. This might be of help to authors creating these stories.

Kate Willoughby said...

Interesting, Tamara. I think that IS helpful to know.

Carol Ayer said...

Hi Kate,

I enjoyed it. I wonder if Johnene was looking for a bit more interaction between Emily & John-- something more to support how they ended up getting married. It's so hard with only 800 words.

Best, Carol A.

Betsi said...

Kate, I'm sure this had nothing to do with your rejection -- the stories are very different -- but I had a story with the same title published last year! It was one of the few times she didn't change it.


Kate Willoughby said...

LOL. Maybe my subconscious remembered that. How embarrassing!

Kate Willoughby said...

Carol, that is a very good point. A very good point. I had never thought about the ratio of main character to matchmaker being a factor. I'm going to look at my file of stories and see if that holds true. If so, thank you! Wonderful insight.

Kate Willoughby said...

All right. I've found 8 matchmaker stories so far and all but one focused the majority of the time on the couple, not the matchmaker, so Carol, you're awesome. I can't thank you enough for pointing this out to me. In hindsight, it seems obvious. LOL

Linnette R Mullin said...

Kate, I had a story I was very certain was finally going to be a winner, but it came back rejected by the editor (not the assistant). The comment was made to me that she had probably met her quota for the time being and sent it back to me. That's probably what happened here. I LOVE this story! Great job!

Kate Willoughby said...

Thanks, Linnette. Like I said, you can't win 'em all, but I appreciate all the support. :)

Linnette R Mullin said...

I've been trying for nearly three years. I've received some feedback now and then, but every time I think I've nailed it it returns rejected. I feel your pain! :)

Kate Willoughby said...

And I feel yours! Keep trying. Every single word you write, you are honing your skill. Pretend this is like learning how to play a musical instrument. It takes time and practice before you can sound halfway decent, right? Same thing with writing.

Carol Ayer said...

I'm sorry it didn't work out, in any case. It's a cute story.

Carol A.

majbooks said...

Hi Kate,
I liked your story very much. I think though that the rejection was what Carol noted: not enough of the main character, too much of the matchmaker. It's the mom who has all the good lines, who we see getting ready for the open house, etc. But it should really be the daughter's story. It's so difficult in an 800 word story to try to tell it in a different way. Sometimes, they just want what they want.

Mary Jo said...

Darling story, Kate. It isn't the story, it's the venue, and WW's margins are very narrow. As others have pointed out, this is the Mom's story, and for the WW Romance, it has to be the daughter's.
All writers take heart. After being rejected all year long, once or twice a month, my first accepted Woman's World story is supposed to appear in the #12 issue of WW. We will see what you think of that one, Kate. You have taught me a lot about appealing to the Woman's World editors. I thank you. My second story is supposed to be in issue #13.

Kate Willoughby said...

majbooks, yes, I agree. I'll really be trying to make sure that doesn't happen again. In fact, I have a matchmaker story I'm holding back because it's not timely yet, but that probably needs revision now.

And hurray for Mary Jo!

See, you guys? DON'T GIVE UP.