Most writers remember their first publication: the magical acceptance letter (usually after a raft of rejections,) reading the galleys, seeing the finished thing alive in the world. We thought it would be fun to launch an occasional series featuring authors talking about their breakthroughs. Sometimes the story behind the story is the best part.
Please join us in welcoming Vanessa Hua to Write Despite.
Vanessa is a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing. An award-winning writer and journalist, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlantic, ZYZZVA, Crab Orchard Review, New York Times, New Yorker, Salon, and elsewhere. A former staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, she has reported from China, South Korea, and Panama. She blogs at threeunderone.blogspot.com and can be found at www.vanessahua.com
Late in 2005, I won the Cream City Review fiction contest – my first short story in print. When I received the e-mail, I stood up in the newsroom and shouted with joy and excitement, struck by the heady, dangerous feeling of affirmation. I’d been judged worthy! By then, I’d also reported from China, launched an award-winning campaign finance investigation, and had married. When I won the contest, it felt all parts of my life were coming together – professionally, personally, and creatively.
I’d been writing fiction since I was a child, won writing contests in high school, and had studied creative writing at Stanford University. After graduation, I focused on my journalism career. In my spare time, I wrote scenes, sketches, starts of stories that went nowhere. When I re-read pieces I’d written in college, I felt conflicted: proud that the stories had merit, yet it felt like a stranger had penned them. I didn’t remember how to write a story.
Eventually, I signed up for a fiction workshop where I produced the story that won the Cream City Review contest. I’d learned about the journal after reading the publishing bio of another student in the class whose work I admired. That success helped keep me going as I started writing more fiction, submitting to journals, taking workshops, joining writer’s groups, and going to writing conferences. Of course, if you spend too much time chasing validation, you might succumb to the despair of rejection – and I’ve been rejected many times since then. And you have to spend more hours writing than talking about writing.
In 2007, I decided I wanted to learn how to write a novel, and I headed to UC Riverside, where I earned my MFA. Five years later, I had the pleasure of being asked to judge the Cream City Review fiction contest. I hope that the prize helped encourage the winner in her career, too.
In deciding where to submit, I continue sending to places that publish writing I admire. I also seek out paying journals, those with interesting business models, such as DailyLit, and strongly promote the work of their authors, such as At Length. I also enter contests, such as The Atlantic’s student fiction prize, which I won in 2008. Your chances might be slim, but if you don’t enter, you have no chance at all.
To buy Vanessa’s stories, go to