Hugh Pendexter on making his first fiction sale

[Source: My Maiden effort, Ed. Gelet Burgess, Published by Doubleday, Page and Company, 1921]

My very first effort was written at the age of fourteen. Never having been out of New England, I made it a Western story.

I endeavored to imitate Bret Harte, but with the avowed purpose of making it snappier. Every other verb carried a gunshot wound or thrust a bowie knife. I sent it to The Banner Weekly, published by Beadle and Adams to accommodate the overflow of their dime-novel material. My friends pronounced it a humdinger, and I was positive of its acceptance.

And darned if they didn’t write me for postage so they could send it back.

Some soul, even in a dime-novel office, must have visioned the expectancy of a youth receiving an envelope too small to contain a bulky script, but just the right size for holding a check. Some soul in that Deadwood Dick factory might have written his name above all the rest by digging down into his jeans and supplying the return postage, thereby saving me from the double jolt. But he didn’t.

I’ve often wished I had saved that very first yarn. I know it was good, for all the kids so voted.

My first sale to any publication was to the old Portland, Maine, Transcript. I received three dollars and a half, and carried the check for display purposes until I had difficulty in cashing it. Later, I sent stories to Mr. Arthur G. Staples, then in charge of the Lewiston, Maine, Journal’s Magazine Section. He bought several, and was the first to write me about my work and encourage me to try for bigger markets.

My first sale to a magazine was a short rural story, “In the Shadow of Daniel Webster.” Mr. Trumbull White, then editor of The Red Book, sent me into the empyrean by offering twenty-five dollars. I shall always remember how that epochal letter raised me above all celestial heights and permitted me to confab with the gods. If my feet occasionally hit old earth I cleaned them on a cloud without abandoning my aloofness.

Ultimately, a closer perusal of the acceptance sobered me off and I descended to my waiting family. The editor did not unqualifiedly declare he would take the story. “We might be able to use it,” were his words. I soared no more, nor slept of nights until the deal was cemented by the arrival of the check.

A few weeks later I sold another to Mr. White, at the same price. This time my exaltation lifted me only a few miles above the Chamber of Commerce building and I was back on earth after an absence of three days.

The third success with the same editor gave me the ennui of an old-timer explaining ancient truths to a fledgling. I remember that I opened the third pay envelope without swooning. Then I submitted two “Tiberius Smith” stories, which were rejected as being too extravagant.

Now I became a gnome and delved deeply in excavating a fitting tomb for my disappointment. I swore off writing for magazines. For two years I had bombarded them with- out much encouragement, and yet had kept my heart high.

But once having broken in with three sales the double rejecting relegated me and my hopes to the shelves of yesterday.

From the early winter of 1904 to late Fall I allowed my mind to remain fallow. I was content with my newspaper work and a steady sale of squibs and occasional signed stories to the New York Sunday magazine supplements. Then an agent wrote me, having just seen my three published yarns, and I sent him the two rejected ones. He promptly sold them to Everybody’s and Munsey’s. The tide was high again, and writing for the Sunday papers seemed coarse and sordid.

One truth that Mr. White taught me I always pass on to beginners. He refused a rural story because the hero made a great sacrifice unknown to any of the characters. Mr. White pointed out the necessity of someone character at least knowing the generous act— that it was not enough for the reader to know, unless one wished to make the reader mad. For some time I knew more than Mr. White, then re-wrote the ending along his suggestions, and made a sale.


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