In My Big Little Break, we ask authors to talk about the first piece they ever had published, how it felt to finally break through, and what they’ve learned since then. This week, writer Dave K. answers.
What was the title and genre of your first-ever published piece?
My first published piece was titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Business,” and it's an essay about how much I love professional wrestling. A lot of it focuses on how insecure I was about liking it because of my budding identity as a “smart kid,” and what a relief it was when I discovered that many of my college professors enjoyed lowbrow pursuits, wrestling included. I also talk about the medieval concept of sports as entertainment, mostly because I'd just written my senior seminar paper about that and I wasn't about to let all that research go to waste.
Who published it? Are they still around?
Front Porch Journal published it (and spelled my last name wrong initially), and they're still around. They actually ran an interview with my friend Justin Sanders not too long ago.
Give us some context: how old were you? How long had you been writing and submitting? How many times had the piece been rejected? Anything else we're missing.
I was 23 years old, I think, because I hadn't been out of college all that long, and I was living in my first proper apartment in north Baltimore. I wrote all the time, but submitting to journals was still pretty new to me; one of my professors at Gettysburg told me I should start, so I did, and I got a few rejections for other pieces before landing a home for this essay at FPJ.
Did getting that acceptance feel as triumphant as you'd always hoped? Walk us through the moment when you found out.
They actually called me to tell me they'd accepted it, which was a bit inconvenient because I had terrible phone service in my apartment and had to walk across the street to receive calls. I remember being very flattered that they chose to publish it on their website, and feeling like a real writer in a way that I hadn't expected. It wasn't a huge, earth-shattering revelation that I was to become Earth's foremost man of letters or anything, but it felt like I was heading in a good direction. Writing is my only consistent source of self-esteem, and moments like those reminded me that I was allowed to have some.
Are you still proud of that piece? Have you re-read it recently?
I reread it before answering these questions, and it's a fascinating little window into what a twerp I was in my early twenties, misusing words like “gay” and insisting that Hulk Hogan “punched like a girl” during his heyday in the 1980s. Woof. I mean, it's not terrible for someone that age writing a personal essay, but it definitely suffers from me overestimating my own wit.
Now that you've been doing this for a while, collecting plenty of rejections and acceptances along the way, what advice do you wish you could give your younger self?
Most of what I'd tell younger me is the same stuff I tell current me: don't try to be more clever than the story you're telling, don't be so desperate to find an audience, and get weird whenever possible. Your art will force you to be vulnerable, which sucks but it's necessary if you want your art to endure. Unlearn all the bad rhetorical habits that prevent this.
I would also advise younger me to make peace with going bald a little sooner, becauseRogaine is expensive.
Dave K. writes for Adweek and Barnes & Noble, and his fiction/essays/poetry have appeared in Front Porch Journal, Battered Suitcase, Cobalt, Artichoke Haircut, The Avenue, Welter, TRUCK, and on the LED billboard in the Station North neighborhood of Baltimore, MD. He is also the author of stone a pig and MY NAME IS HATE, both self-published. He is also a very large outer main-belt asteroid.
His upcoming novel, The Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Drogado, follows a homeless, one-armed man haunted by both his own past and the brides of a debauched plutocrat who steal him away to a party that never, never ends.