On “Failing Better”

“Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Every writer knows the quote. Every writer knows failure. If you are a writer and you disagree, good for you. I have known failure.

I did an MFA. My final project was a collection of short stories, now called Grow Me Up and Other Oaths. Two years after I graduated from the MFA program, I was awarded a contract to publish Grow Me Up with a small publisher from the South. It made sense. Most of the stories took place in the South and took influence from my experience living in the Deep South from age five until almost eighteen, seminal years during which I read Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty in my English classes. The publisher sent a contract. I signed it. And we were on our way. At the end of the summer of 2012, I decided that I could put aside that project, since it would be published, and begin a new one. This new project was inspired by my visit to my partner’s birthplace: Odessa, Ukraine.

I wrote a post on Facebook much less detailed than this one, received several likes, and felt very validated. The publisher was small, but I felt like I was “making it.” When I asked about a publication date, I was dismayed to hear that it would be a couple of years before the book was published. I mentioned the long wait to Tobias Wolff, and he told me to look for another publisher.

Here’s how I looked in 2014 before the birth of my first child,
before receiving that email about the canceled publication.

In 2014, two years after I signed the contract, a month before the birth of my first daughter, I received an email from the publisher announcing that they were closing and that upcoming publications, including my own, were canceled. Having a baby on the way, I didn’t take the time one should to grieve the death of that project. Meanwhile, I was still working on this monster of a novel that I had begun when I had thought that I was “making it.”

Here’s how I look now. Hair has significantly diminished.

So that’s what I mean when I say failure. Maybe I could rethink, rewrite the narrative to mean something else. I could resent the publisher for closing. I could blame a number of people and other factors for what happened. I continued along my path.

Since I was awarded that contract in 2012, I have become the father of two women. I have been first-hand witness to more than one person’s death. I have learned of horrible things that have happened in the past to those closest to me. These secrets cause me suffering. There has been joy. There has been pain. There has been a pandemic. I have failed and failed and failed. I can think that the failure has become better.

The project I began in 2012, a novel about Odessa, Ukraine, a woman from there, an Odessitka, and an American who learns Russian and travels there, this project is older than my oldest child. Are our works our children? They certainly demand and receive a lot of our attention.

The project, titled Two Big Differences, will be published by MGraphics in Fall 2021. It is slightly older than nine years, almost a quarter of my life.

At this point, I don’t believe in perfection. I also still have trouble believing it’s going to happen this time. I keep waiting for that email…I like to think that, if I’m still failing, at least I’m failing better, that right now what’s happening is the best of my failure, that I’ll keep trying. If you would like to read my novel, please reach out. It should be available this coming season.