Happy 2015 everyone-I hope your year is off to a grand beginning!
After a long winter’s nap Rejection Chronicles is back and we are kicking off the new year with Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.
I met Heidi during an artists residency last January (the amazing Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts!) and had heard the story of her journey to publication. When I first started thinking about RC she came to mind and I sent an interview request her way. I have been holding on to the interview because I knew introducing you to Heidi (and her terrific book!) would be a great way to begin a new year!
Heidi Durrow is a New York Times best selling author and winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for her debut novel, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. A graduate of Stanford, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and Yale Law School, Heidi is also founder of Mixed Remixed Festival-the nation’s premiere cultural arts festival celebrating stories of the Mixed experience, multiracial and multicultural families and individuals through films, books and performance. Heidi has also been the recipient of a Fellowship in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Writers, a Jentel Foundation Residency, and won
top honors in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition and the Chapter One Fiction
Contest. This barely scratches the surface of her list of accomplishments! So, without further ado let’s jump into the interview…
What is your favorite drink to unwind with?
My daily ritual: a glass of white wine with radishes
What books are you reading now and why?
I just read Jess Row’s excellent book Your Face in Mine about a white guy who has “racial reassignment surgery” to make him black. I’m fascinated with stories that are trying to expand the definitions of what it means to be white or black or whatever.
And I’m also reading hhhhh by Lawrent Binet –it’s about a writer obsessed with a historical figure he wants to write about. It is a fitting story for me given what I’m trying to do right now: write about a historical figure I’ve been obsessed with for years!
If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing?
I guess I’d be a lawyer since that’s my training. But if I couldn’t be a writer and I could choose anything else: I’d want to be a game show host or maybe a personal trainer.
What is something about yourself that people don’t know about you?
I have a special carrying case for my individually wrapped bendy straws so that I am never without a bendy straw when I need one.
Who/what is a major influence on your work that people might not realize?
The poet William Stafford is a big influence. When I’m feeling stuck, I reach for his poetry and essays. He has a way of saying things simply but incredibly powerfully.
What’s your biggest pet peeve about art criticism?
I don’t know if you’d include this as art critcism but the star-system for reader reviews. It drives me crazy. If there is no written comment along with it–what the heck does it really mean?
What has been your most memorable rejection?
My most memorable rejection came from an editor who wrote “this is one of the most gorgeously written novels I’ve read in a long time, but I’m afraid it’s too specific. Our readers want something more universal.” She thought that no one could relate to a story about a half-black and half-Danish girl. I used to quote her rejection letter in my grant proposals. The irony was I won a lot of grants when I shared that story.
Has rejection changed how you thought about your work or changed your direction in any way?
I learned how to think about rejection differently. It still feels like a rejection of me when my work isn’t accepted, but I’ve learned to look for information in the no’s so that I can learn from it. So yes, I have definitely revised my work in light of getting rejections when I thought there was something actionable in the rejection and the comment rung true.
Can rejection be a positive thing?
The good thing about all the rejections I got is that I got to spend more time with my manuscript. I got to revise it. I got to make it better. And I also got a chance to grow up more as a writer and as a person. That made the book that was ultimately published much better as well. Had I not received all those rejections, my book wouldn’t be what it is today.
What advice would you offer to other artist’s, or folks in general, about rejection?
I remember my first agent telling me: You just need one gatekeeper to greenlight your book. You just have to find that gatekeeper.
I guess I would add to that: Don’t stop looking!
I was lucky I finally after some 4 dozen* publishing house rejections found mine!
(OK people, do you see that? 4 DOZEN rejections! It takes a certain amount of tenacity to stay true to what you do after that many rejections and thank goodness she did-look what came of her strong belief in her work!!)
This is totally optional but who would you like to hear talk about their experiences with rejection?
A huge thank you to Heidi for sharing her encouraging words and unflagging spirit with the RC. What a great way to kick off the new year!
Do you have a great rejection experience you’d like to share? Know someone who you would like to hear talk about their experiences? Drop me a note and I will see what I can do! My goal for the year is to get 100 rejections which means I have a lot of asking to do. Frankly, this is one goal I would like to not accomplish but I think it will be fun to see what happens along the way!