Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Delayed Reaction

On the afternoon of Sunday, May 4, 1974 the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers squared off for game six of the Stanley Cup Final. For the Bruins, a win was needed to send the series back to Boston for one more, winner-take-all game. A Flyers victory would give them the Cup right there. Eight-year-old me sat on the edge of my couch, urging my beloved Bruins on. This was the Big Bad Bruins, the team of legends that included Esposito and Bucyk, Hodge and Cashman. And, most of all, Bobby Orr, my sports hero.

Late in the first period, Philadelphia’s Rick MacLeish got his stick in the way of a shot and redirected it past Boston goalie, Gilles Gilbert. It would be the only goal in an entertaining, fast-paced game. The game ended in a 1-0 victory for the Flyers, and Flyers’ captain Bobby Clarke lifted the Stanley Cup at center ice.

Is it too late to get this play reviewed?
Looks like goalie interference to me!

Eight-year-old me had been known to flip over a board game or two in response to losing (True Confession time: adult me has also flipped over a board game or two, as my friends who played Strat-O-Matic hockey and baseball can attest), but there were no tears. Disappointment, yes, but tears? No. Instead, I went out into a fine May afternoon and played hockey at the top of the driveway, where I fired tennis balls at the side of the shed, body-checked the house, and waged pitched ‘puck battles’ with the coiled up garden hose. I also suspect I altered history and scored a couple of goals for the Bruins, turning a 1-0 loss into a 2-1, sudden death overtime victory, followed by a game 7 win, but I can’t say for sure. My memory is not quite that clear.

On the outside, not much had changed. I didn’t swear off hockey like my father did on a regular basis (I think swearing off hockey was something common to New York Rangers fans back in the 70s and 80s). Yet, as I look back on it now, something definitely changed, because for the next three years, hockey was an insignificant blip, mere background noise in my life. I was aware of the biggest news of the day–the Bruins and Rangers pulling off an unthinkable, monster trade; Bobby Orr going to Chicago; the Islanders shocking the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs and setting the stage for the last great dynasty of the NHL–but it meant little. I still played hockey, quite passionately; but I stopped consuming the professional game for about three years. It’s almost as if I suffered some sort of delayed action, sports-related post-traumatic stress disorder.*

I bring all this up because I’ve sent my RiP off to Carrie (True Confession time #2: I haven’t. Yet. But by the time you read this, it will be in her inbox). Last year, this project actually gathered interest from an editor. It had me on pins and needles for two months or so while it worked it’s way through the publishing house acquisitions project before it got rejected. Despite the rejection, I felt good about it. Really good. Someone had liked my manuscript enough to champion it in their publishing house! When Carrie and I conferred afterwards, she emphasized this fact and I assured her that I was disappointed, yes, but positive. I’d tinker with the manuscript and we’d try to get it back to this editor, hope that they would bite the second time around.

It didn’t quite work out that way. What I submitted to Carrie last fall was, honestly, kind of rushed. We discussed it again around Christmas, and I received more notes from her and vowed to get to work on it immediately in 2017–and didn’t. My excuse? Well, there was the lure of the shiny, but it was more than that. When I finished my first rough draft on the WiP and turned my attention back to the RiP, I dillied. And dallied. And dragged my feet. It’s only now that I look back that I see the parallels between this fifty-something year-old writer and that eight-year-old hockey fan. Instead of sports-related PTSD, I think I have rejection-related PTSD. Both intellectually and in my heart there’s no doubt this rejection was a positive thing, but deep down in my gut there’s a defensive reaction to it, an involuntary hardening of the mental muscle to protect against another blow.

There is good news here, however. By 1977 I was back to watching hockey and passionately rooting for my Bruins, and I haven’t stopped despite years of frustration: too many men on the ice, Steve Penney, Patrick Roy, Joel Ward, seventeen seconds. The Bruins have broken my sports heart many, many times over the last forty years, yet I still sit down to watch them. Last year’s rejection at the editorial stage was my first. It hurt, more than I was willing to acknowledge at the time. But just as I kept playing hockey then, I kept writing. And just as I got past that 1-0 loss, I’m past the first rejection now. I may never get a rejection again. I may never even get a sniff from an editor again. But I’m going to be in the game.

*NOTE: Though I’m using a PTSD analogy here, let’s be clear: a Stanley Cup loss or an editorial rejection is nowhere near equivalent to what so many people face as a result of traumatic experiences.

6 Responses

  1. That first rejection can hit hard – I had one from an agent way back after phone conversations & it has taken a while to get over it – to get to the point of confidence again. I'm not there yet – getting closer though 🙂

  2. -Stacy: Thanks! That's exactly how it will go!
    -Jemi: It's funny, 'cause it really didn't feel like it at first for me. It's definitely tough when you feel like you're clearing all the hoops, though. Hope you get past it soon!

  3. I haven't had such a large-scale rejection but I could see how it could set you back, even if you tell yourself it is something positive. Enjoy being in the game!

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