SUCCESS STORY: Grub Street, Endurance and Getting Published

My erotic crime thriller, Rage Begets Murder, will be published today, seven years after it was begun. I am seventy-one, the Grandpa Moses of publishing debut fiction. Without Grub Street Writers it would never have happened.

Like all writing, there is a back story. The novel is set in the mid-1950’s and is in part the story of a man who was one of the mid-wives of rock’n’roll. He brought a musical boiler maker, a shot of rock’a’billy and a tumbler of black gospel trained music, Carl Perkins and Little Richard Pennimen, from radio to TV. The show was successful, but Bob Horn who inspired my character, Eddie Greene, was deeply flawed by claimed addictions for teen-age girls and booze. I was in high school when the story broke and his career ended.

The rest of the back story was thirty-five years as a trial and appellate lawyer. Stories swirl and cling in many fields, and the courtroom is one.

It was clear to me that I needed a set of skills to move from stories pulsing inside my head to the printed page. Enter Grub Street. I was still practicing law and my wife knew there was this growing itch to write fiction. She saw a piece in our local paper about an ambitious year young writing program, and the rest is history: workshops, master fiction and master short fiction, Muse and the Marketplace, private edits, and finally publication.

Before getting into specifics I need to state what seems overwhelmingly important: different strategies work for different people. What clicked for me may not for others, and vice versa.

Ok, here goes. From my first instructor, I was encouraged to submit to literary magazines. I never had a piece accepted. But from the get-go I had encouragement. A story I work-shopped in that first class received the comment from Zoetrope that the narrator had a strong and distinct voice. Clearly, I had been short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize. My calculation of the logarithm for writing is that it takes 30-40 submissions to get one complement. I’ve read that Mark Twain wrote that after a complement he was good for two months. Sounds right.

First, I submitted to literary magazines. That kept up throughout this process. Then agents and then big publishers. My office is a city dump of rejection envelopes. Occasionally, there were specific comments. In workshops I’ve attended at Grub authors appear to cling to insults from famous agents, especially those without solid grounds. Mine was a very famous and powerful one from New York who stated unequivocally that no Catholic girl in the 1950’s would have the sexual liaison described in Rage Begets Murder. Since I knew to the contrary, I chalked it up to her experience, or her need to have the world so portrayed.

I was beginning to have Grub master classes and private edits that were invaluable. In a section of Rage, later edited out, an elderly woman, having just had a mystic, non-real, delivery in the ocean falls asleep on the beach and awakens there the next morning. Jenna Blum was irate; I could not have an old woman sleep overnight on a beach, irrelevant that it was the Cape in summer. It was an epiphany. For Jenna this was not a creature of words and grammar, but a freestanding real person. Having escaped with my life, I had taken with me a real treasure. Eat your heart out Indiana Jones!

Next was Stuart Horwitz, who divided the book into three sections. The most important was the central present story that made up 80% of the book. That could stay. Anything in the first section, early history, was to be carefully culled and only that which was necessary was to be preserved as flashbacks. Finally, the ending, set in the future, was to be deleted as it was awful.  And I rewrote.

Then along came Tara Masih, who brought a jeweler’s eye to everything. No, a wife would never forgive that. Delete. Too many different voices. Make the narrator first person and everyone else third. I imagined Tara having an internal monologue along these lines: How did Marshall get through college and law school without mastering grammar? It was not a defense that I had co-authored several law articles, including one in The Journal of Psychiatry and Law and had been on the editorial board of The Massachusetts Law Review for ten years. This merely confirmed that lawyers were not educated. Certainly not as writers

And so it went. My then title, Varsity Dance, sounded like chick lit. And finally and foremost, given the insanity of the market, my only chance of being published was to submit to small presses. I rewrote again, The pinball lights lit up, and today my book issues. Tara wrote to remind me that the folks who stick to it get published.

Well, that’s my story. Bless Jenna, Stuart, Tara and Grub Street Writers.

marshallMarshall Stein is a retired lawyer. Early in his career he was an Assistant United States Attorney in Boston, and later served as the Chief Staff Attorney for the First Circuit Court of Appeals [New England]. In 28 years in private practice he has tried both civil and criminal cases and argued appeals in state and federal courts on every level.  He has been published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Law and in the Massachusetts Law Review, and given talks before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the First Circuit Judicial Conference and the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Marshall lives in a suburb of Boston with his wife.

About the Author

GrubWrites is a space for the writing and reading community to share ideas and seek advice, a place where writers at the very beginning of their careers publish alongside established authors. Book lovers, we bring you reviews, recommendations, and conversations with exciting new authors to keep you up to speed on all things lit. Writers, this is your one stop shop for expert craft talk, opinions on how we learn and teach writing, and essential advice about the publishing industry.

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