Thursday, February 28, 2013


A writer friend of mine, Zach Ellis, is in the middle of experiencing his first acceptance of a piece of his writing. Not only does he get the thrill that brings, but today he gets to read his piece in a big event at the Centre for Contemporary Arts.

In Glasgow.


He lives here in Portland. When he entered the writing contest, he joked that if he were chosen, maybe he'd make the trip out - and when he was chosen, his friends and his writing community got together to send him there. He's been all over Glasgow, soaking in the culture and scenery, going to museums, and is just four hours away from the big event when he'll read his piece - which you can read an excerpt from here.

[Update: you can listen to the podcast of Zach Ellis' reading, and the rest of the LGBT In Our Own Words event here.]

Following his adventures has gotten me thinking about first publications and how many different ways those experiences can be special. Mine was just four years ago, a short story in the book Portland Noir - and the experience was huge. Alright, I didn't get to go overseas, but I got to sign copies at a packed reading at Powell's City of Books. Got to dress up noir-style in a vintage dress [and crazy lovely vintage hairstyle whipped up by Stephen] and read at a super cool lit event at the Blue Monk. Got to watch the book sit on the Powell's bestseller list for weeks and weeks and weeks. It was the perfect experience for a first publication.

Granted, there was that other time back in 1997. My first picture book, Wright Vs. Wrong. But I didn't used to count that one because the book was put together by what I thought back then must be the smallest publisher ever - and my experience that time around was mostly me wandering through bookstores all across the country and never seeing a copy.

And there was the time back in 1992 or thereabouts when I sold an idea to Gibson Greeting Cards. When I got the acceptance letter I tried to count that as my first publication, but a greeting card is kind of a stretch when you're trying to call yourself a writer, especially when it contains only like ten words. And you never see a copy and seriously have a hunch that they never printed it and the president of Gibson might have accepted your idea just to be nice since he knows your husband.

And there was the time back in, oh, 1984ish when my poem was accepted for publication in the very prestigious American Poetry Anthology - accepted only on the condition that I shell out forty bucks for a copy.

Which I did. 

No, I don't count that one either. I do count the picture book, now, though. Getting other, bigger publications has somehow given me a better chance to appreciate that, small as it was, yes, Wright Vs. Wrong counted - and was a sweet, lovely experience for me. Also knowing more about small presses and micro-presses, knowing about things like chapbooks and online journals and reading events and all the myriad ways a writer can have his or her work recognized and enjoyed - I appreciate those early experiences all the more.

That's my story about my first publication[s]. What's yours? Pop over to the comments section and give it to me.


  1. Well done, Gigi-all those acknowledgements and acceptances have great meaning. Loved how you came round to bringing into the fold your earlier publications and how the value of the experience and effort has gained new meaning for you.

    My first book experience was illustrating the, The Three Little Pigs for a Korean publisher. When they contacted me, I was so thrilled but had so much on my plate (which was an oddity) that I actually had to turn them down. I couldn't believe I was saying, 'no'. They persisted and extended the dates and I started the book, not knowing what I was doing. My editor was wonderful and encouraging and we exchanged long emails over the course of six months. I was campaignig for Obama and she was very interested in the election and our country and as her English was very good, our communication covered books, politics, culture and family histories.

    Before the book was published, my editor retired and her replacement didn't speak English and communication deteriorated and the Korean economy went into the plug hole. I was finally paid but I really didn't think the book would ever make it to print.

    Almost a year later, I arrived home to find a huge box on my porch. There was no letter, but it was filled with fifteen copies of, The Three Little Pigs. It had been reformatted to an oversize book (twice the size of my origianl drawings), one of my full page illustrations had been redrawn and it was not in English as originally planned. It had been intended for Korean children learning English, but it arrived printed in the beautiful characters of Korean.

    I didn't really want to share the book, even though I was extremely happy to have gone through the process and actually be holding a book in my hands. My disappointments have turned to ones of gratitude. Someone had taken a chance on me who had never illustrated a book before and it became my first real step...

  2. Lisa, what an incredible, entertaining, lovely story! And crazy! Thanks for sharing it!

  3. First publication... hm... In 1985 I had a (very bad) weekly humor column in a local paper. I've been publishing relatively steadily since, writing hundreds of articles for college and city papers, then magazines. In 1992 I published a computer how-to book (the first of 40) with a major publisher. The most fun part of that was cashing royalty checks (for negligible amounts) that had the Paramount Pictures logo on them. I think the first creative piece I published in a book was for a 2002 HarperCollins humor anthology, "101 Damnations." Having met the editor by accident, I wormed my way into the book alongside Andy Borowitz, Sandra Tsing Loh, Merrill Markoe, Andrei Codrescu, Roy Blount Jr., Calvin Trillin, Will Durst, and 93 other funny writers. The first piece I was genuinely proud of publishing was an essay in The Village Voice in 2004. I bought 10 copies at Rich's Cigar Store on Alder when it came out.

  4. What a varied list! Fantastic. Thanks for sharing!