I am intimately acquainted with rejection. As I sometimes like to report, I received 114 rejections on various picture book manuscripts before I was given a contract for Sarah Gives Thanks. In the months since Sarah was published, I’ve gotten about a 100 more. Getting an agent earlier this year has also allowed me to get rejections from publishers that do not normally look at unrepresented manuscripts.
Long story short, I understand rejection quite well, thank you.
So, last year, when I learned that Cairn Press was seeking submissions for an anthology on rejection, I thought, “I need to get an essay in that book. I need to.”
And I did!
Blood on the Floor is a collection of fiction, poetry, and essays about writers trying (and often failing) to grab the brass ring. Sometimes funny, occasionally poignant, and always inspirational, Blood on the Floor is the perfect holiday gift for the scribe in your life. Get a copy now! Pair it with booze.
Mrs. Snelback, however, was the one who kept me on the writing path for life.
Mrs. Snelback was my sixth grade teacher. She didn’t seem to like children all that much. The children didn’t seem to like her all that much, either. They did, however, fear and respect her.
I liked Mrs. Snelback. I understood her personality type; my Great Uncle Bill was very much like her, grumpy on the outside but a great person underneath. Uncle Bill got happy just like everyone else, but it was a subtle, non-demonstrative kind of happiness. Blink and you’d miss any outward signs of it. I made a point not to blink much around Uncle Bill. He fascinated me.
Snelback fascinated me, too. She was my hero because she, like me, hated the clique of obnoxious popular girls who abused people for sport. And, unlike every other teacher at Lincoln Elementary, Snelback refused to ignore these girls’ inner ugliness. She punished them with relish and reveled in their subsequent waves of whining.
“Oh, that isn’t fair?” Snelback would ask after the whiniest among them ran out of steam. “Well, life isn’t fair, honey.”
And because Snelback always enjoyed giving the knife just one more twist, she’d close with a mock frowny-faced, “Oh you poor thing!”
Snelback didn’t believe in sending people to the principal. Any misbehaving that took place in her room would be handled in her room, thank you very much.
One of Snelback’s favorite punishments was “The Infamous 100 Words.” If, for example, Tommy T. called out in class without raising his hand, Snelback would bellow, “THOMAS! 100 words on raising hands!”
And, that night, Tommy T. would have to write a 100-word essay on why it was important to raise your hand before speaking.
The Infamous 100 Words was like KP. Everyone had to deal with it sooner or later. I was no exception.
“MICHAEL!” Snelback bellowed. “100 words on talking in class!”
So be it.
When one of my classmates penned an Infamous 100 Words on talking in class, he would write that talking in class was rude to the children and the teacher.
He would then write that talking inhibited the learning process.
He would then write that he was sorry.
He would then write that when a kid talks in class…um…the Communists win.
On and on it went until a 70-word essay became an 80-word essay, and that 80-word became a 90-word, and that 90-word became a 95-word, and that 95-word became…still a 95-word, and…and…and…OH, COME ON! I JUST NEED FIVE MORE FREAKING WORDS! THINK! THINK!
As far as I was concerned, that was a stupid way to write The Infamous 100 Words. I had a different technique. I told a story:
Little Billy Bumpus leaned over to tell his neighbor the latest booger joke. Unfortunately the teacher heard. She stared hard at Billy, and, without a word, reached for the tiny key that hung around her neck. The class gasped. Some of the girls put their heads on their desks. They knew what was about to happen and didn’t want to see it.
The teacher unlocked the bottom drawer of her desk. Out popped the toe monster. It oozed from his home onto the floor and slithered down the aisle to Billy’s chair. Billy, resigned to his fate, gripped the sides of his desk as the toe monster wrenched off his shoe, yanked off his sock, and bit off Billy’s big toe down to the second knuckle.
“You have nine more chances to behave in this class, Mr. Billy Bumpus!” the teacher said. “Because once your toes are gone, so are YOU!”
There! 100 Words on talking in class. More like 150 words, but who’s counting?
My stories attracted Mrs. Snelback’s attention.
When Mom and Dad came to the next parent teacher conference, the first words out of Mrs. Snelback’s mouth was this: “Do you know what your son’s strongest subject is?”
“Reading,” Mom said. “He is always reading.” This was true.
“WRONG!” Snelback bellowed. “It is WRITING! Your son should be a writer. Your son WILL be a writer!”
The inference was that if I didn’t become a writer, it would be my mom’s fault.
I had wanted to be a writer since I was seven. I was now 12 and the desire to write was still strong. When Mom told me what Mrs. Snelback said, I wanted to be a writer more than anything in the world.
I wanted to prove Mrs. Snelback right. And she was right. Thanks to her, I’ll be a writer until the day I die.
So! Was there a teacher in your life who was particularly influential?