Finding a publisher is not for the faint of heart. For Rita Plush, her first novel took more than a decade before Penumbra Publishing picked it up.
Plush, of Queens, New York, wrote Lily Steps Out in 2000. After making beds and fixing breakfast for 30 years, Lily Gold yearns for more. Her retired husband and young bachelor son laugh at her when she decides to get a job. Lily becomes an antique saleswoman and her odd boss Walter tries to stifle her creative talents too. When she wants to open her own antique store, her husband hides the money. And Lily fights back.
Similar to Lily Gold, Plush never let a publisher's rejection keep her down. The veteran writer had been fighting since the 90s, publishing short stories in literary journals, which were also difficult feats. Her first short story was turned down 93 times.
While waiting for Lily Steps Out to find a home, Plush traveled an hour and a half to Manhattan to sharpen her craft under the guidance of Charles Salzberg, co-founder of the New York Writers Workshop.
She finally found a publisher who loved Lily Gold in an unexpected place. She had written the name of Penumbra on a piece of paper sitting in the bottom of her coat pocket. “One day I put my hand in my pocket and there it was,” Plush said. “All the rejections and waiting.”
It took 12 years of rejections and then two months for Penumbra to say yes. “I really felt the book was funny and timely,” Plush said. More women want to continue working today after their husbands retire, she said.
The Wall Street Journal covered this trend in an April 2012 article: "The days when a husband automatically retires at 65 with a corporate pension and his wife dutifully follows him to a golf course in Florida are officially over."
Penumbra is also publishing Plush’s short story collection, Alterations, which releases in the spring. Each of her protagonists become disillusioned with their idols. A young girl discovers that a rich woman, whose pretty clothes she admired, is having an affair. In another piece, a teenage girl with little means admires her privileged friend’s family until the father makes a pass at her.
Now Plush is sending query letters to agents for her second novel, Feminine Products. The 80,000-word plot follows the complex, successful 43-year-old Rusty Scanlon, who gets pregnant by her boyfriend and he wants a paternity test. Guilty demons won’t let him believe it’s true. Rusty has her own demons, one of which is her narcissistic mother. Meanwhile, Rusty’s father is driving in an old Datsun trying to track down the six-year-old girl he left. He runs into an old con artist friend who claims he can help him.
Rejection may come for Plush, but this time will be different. “The idea that Lily Steps Out has been published is a tremendous accomplishment,” she said. “The fact that it was published put me on a big up that I could do it, and could do it again.
“If you’re a serious writer, you have to write. You can’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration comes from you by digging into yourself and writing. I read a funny quote: There is no hell for writers, they suffer enough on earth.”
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