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, p.e. garcia shares their answers. 

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What was the title and genre of your first-ever published piece?

My first published piece was a short story called “There I Was.” It was meant to be a parody of Dave Eggers’ work, but instead, it was just a very, very bad short story.

Who published it? Are they still around?

It was some magazine that I hadn’t heard of before and that I haven’t heard of since: ESC! The issue my story appeared in was the last issue they ever made, and, honestly, they probably should have stopped about one issue sooner.

Give us some context: how old were you? How long had you been writing and submitting?

I was maybe 20 or 21? I had just started writing “seriously,” and I was in an undergrad fiction workshop with David Jauss. “There I Was” was actually the first short story I had ever written, and I had written it for that class.

Something about the atmosphere I was working in made writing feel very competitive. All my friends and I were new to writing, and we were all so desperate to be published that we didn’t really care very much who exactly was publishing us. We had just discovered Duotrope, but we had yet to discover restraint, and that led to us submitting to a bunch of fly-by-night literary magazines.

My friend Justin Carroll and I briefly had a blog documenting our trials and tribulations with learning how to submit/get published. It also probably wasn’t very good, in retrospect.

How many times had the piece been rejected? Anything else we're missing.

I honestly can’t say. It was probably rejected dozens of times, but I was so new to submitting and so un-serious about the process that I didn’t keep track of my work and my rejections in the same way that I do now.

Did getting that acceptance feel as triumphant as you'd always hoped? Walk us through the moment when you found out.

Getting accepted was an incredible feeling at first. I was really excited, and I bragged to all my friends. And then I received my contributor copy in the mail.

My big break was in a poorly designed zine that was clearly made at a local Kinko’s. It even had a cheap plastic comb binding. I never showed a copy of it to anyone.

Are you still proud of that piece? Have you re-read it recently?

God no.

I dug it up in some old emails in order to re-read it in preparation to answer these questions, but I couldn’t make it past the first paragraph, which I think sums up the quality of the entire piece:

There I was, on the basketball court with Teddy, seven years old, and I had shit my pants. It was not my intention to shit my pants, nor had it ever been my intention. Regardless of that fact, there I was. Seven years old with shit in my pants.

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?

There’s a part of me that wishes all of this was a joke, that I had never written such a horrendous scatological story, that it wasn’t published in this cheap zine, that I hadn’t been so thirsty for some kind of recognition—any kind of recognition—that I didn’t care about the quality of my work or the quality of the publisher.

But this is the reality of it, and I would hope that knowing that I was a kid from Arkansas, with not much of a literary community around me, you might understand why I was in such desperate need of validation. More to the point, though, for me, this was an immensely important lesson, and even if somehow I could go back and time to stop this, I don’t think I would dissuade myself from this particular humiliation. Writing and publishing are serious things, and they need to be taken seriously.

I didn’t publish anything for three years after this, but everything (and everywhere) I’ve published since, I’ve been proud of. I still consider myself relatively new to the scene, honestly, but now when my shitty work gets rejected, at least it’s getting rejected by literary magazines that I actually like.

p.e. garcia is an editor-at-large at the Rumpus and a contributor to HTMLGiant. They have a good dog. Find them on Twitter: @avantgarcia