The Red Pen

imageMarina sat staring at her work angrily. The editor had marked all over her perfect story, harsh red lines crossing through some of her best prose and incomprehensible runes littered the margins.

“Good start – needs to be cleaned up,” he had scrawled in sloppy handwriting across the bottom. She scowled. The man obviously didn’t have a clue.  She dialed her mother for sympathy.

“Mom, the magazine editor told me to clean my story up and resubmit it,” she said. “I think he’s stupid. What do you think?” Marina let her mother’s soothing words of encouragement flow over her. To her mother, her work was all genius and on the level with Tolkien and Rowling. It wasn’t her mother she had to impress though. If she wanted to see her name in print she was going to have to impress that heartless editor. She looked again at the paper while her mother droned on about how wonderful her story was.

Anger ebbed, Marina had to admit she could have done a little more work before she submitted her work. She had forgotten to spellcheck before she printed. She flushed with embarrassment at some of the errors.

Missed words, forgotten punctuation, extra punctuation… as she looked again she realized what a mess she had sent in. Marina suppossed she had been too caught up in her own enthusiasm to notice mundane mistakes. She looked again at his note.  The editor had said she had a good start, and that was worth something. She finished the conversation with her mom and reprinted her story.

Marina went to work. Reading the story over the second time she could see what he meant by good start. She hadn’t explained some things that were clear to her but over explained others. Besides the typos, she found areas that didn’t make sense in the context. People dropped things to the ground in one paragraph but used the same item in the next. Midway through the story a key character just vanished and she had forgotten about them.

All through the afternoon Marina worked on cleaning up her story. It was a boring and tedious job, but she was determined to show that editor her story was good. When she had changed all she could, Marina saved her work and emailed her mom. She was exhausted.

Later that evening her mother called her. She was talking so excitedly Marina could barely understand her at first. It was about her story, and her mother loved the new version. She had never heard her mom so excited about her writing.

“I didn’t really understand what was going on before,” her mom gushed. “Marina, this tale is wonderful!”

“But you said it was wonderful before, Mom,” Marina mentioned. “What makes it better now?”

“Now I can actually understand it. Before it was just wonderful because I love you.” Marina wondered how much of her work could have been wonderful with a clean up. The rejection letters in her desk indicated plenty. She realized that all her mother’s praise, while making her feel better, had done her writing no good. She reprinted her corrected story and mailed it back to the magazine.

Three weeks later she received a letter from the magazine. Her story was included with an offer to purchase it for $25. Marina was estatic. She was fulfilling a dream. She would finally be a published author. At the end of her story she saw the editor’s sloppy scrawl in red ink, and her stomach did a flip.

“Congratulations on being published,” he’d written. “Successful authors know when to respect the red pen – use the critiques to be better.” Marina smiled and held the sheaf of papers to her chest in a hug. She was really going to be published. Slowly, savoring the moment, she went back into her house to call her mom with the good news… and clean up more of her “good starts.”

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is a third generation Uchinanchu and an award-winning American poet, author, and publisher with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. Publisher of Space & Time magazine (est. 1966), a Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020.
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