Have you ever had one of those moments where you feel like you’re speaking a different language? No, I’m clearly speaking English… I think. Except, everyone’s eyes are wide and they’re shaking their heads. Oh no.
When I first wrote Jesus Bread, I was still in the MFA program at SNHU. I fell in love with this story. It was one of the easiest tales I’d ever written; the words flew from my hands, the scene already burned in my mind, the characters fully fleshed out as awkward perversions from my own damn childhood.
But when I submitted the first draft for round-table feedback, the comments were less than kind:
“Is it an allegory?”
“I can’t tell if I’m supposed to laugh or not.”
“It’s not for me.”
“Honestly, it just makes me uncomfortable.”
Grammar errors I understand. Pacing changes I can make. I always need to show more and tell less, sure, but it’s hard to revise “I just don’t understand.”
Doubting my writing, and—having just submitted a thesis novel about a pandemic during a literal pandemic—my entire creative process, I brought my story back to the drafting board… completely. Like, I erased everything except the first line and attempted to rewrite Jesus Bread as an accessible, understandable, palatable short story.
I got about three pages in when I realized I was writing the exact same story as before, almost word for word.
Short Story Writing was my last class at SNHU on purpose. Short stories have always been my first love, and I wanted to end my MFA with something comfortable and familiar. Instead, I was struggling, three weeks before graduation, to write a simple short story after completing a 100k horror novel. What the Hell was wrong with me???
Giving into the wisdom of “just get the grade and be done,” I made a few simple changes to Jesus Bread, removed some of its more evocative, “uncomfortable” descriptions, and handed it in.
I wasn’t prepared for my professor’s praise. He said this was a “publishable piece” and gave it full marks. In that moment, his comments reminded me of an earlier professor’s wisdom about round-table feedback:
Even more important than being open to criticism is knowing which criticism to take and which to simply throw out.
So I threw it out. All of it. My story was weird and uncomfortable on purpose.
After graduation, I revised Jesus Bread with the suggestions from my professor—not my peers—and submitted it to a little over a dozen magazines. Surely the literary world would agree with my professor: this wasn’t a weird piece, it was a publishable piece.
Well, no one wanted to publish it. I received rejection after rejection over the next year with only one magazine telling me they enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t the “right fit” for their magazine at this time (i.e. your story is too weird for us).
Defeated, I considered moving on to other projects. In fact, I started revising that damn pandemic novel, but in a moment of indignant anger fueled by my fatigued, chronically ill, what-the-fuck-do-I-have-lose attitude, I took Jesus Bread back to the drafting board for a third time.
What was wrong with this piece? Why wasn’t the publishing world seeing what I saw, what my professor saw? Sure, it’s weird. Yes, it’s a little uncomfortable. And okay, you’re supposed to laugh, if what you’re reading is funny (and I think it is). Were my peers right instead? It was just too weird? Too uncomfortable? Too awkward-fart-at-a-funeral to be truly funny?
No. They were wrong, but so was my professor. Jesus Bread wasn’t publishable, but it also wasn’t too weird.
It wasn’t weird enough.
In my third revision, I wrote everything that came into my brain. I infused a snarky, inner-monologue into the main character, leaned into the allusive, uncomfortable language, and let my off-kilter, humourous cadence echo throughout the pages, just like that awkward fart at a funeral. Now Jesus Bread was even weirder, louder, and messier, the kind of story that leaves you feeling just a little embarrassed for laughing.
But most of all, it was publishable.
I’ll let you read it below and decide for yourself if you like it, if you think it’s an allegory (mayyybee), if it makes you uncomfortable, if you hate it, or if it makes you laugh (but if you do, please don’t stifle it; laugh with your mouth wide open and get a good snort in there for me).
I’m beyond grateful for the affirmation Intrinsick offered me and my awkward coming-of-age story by publishing Jesus Bread, and I’m so glad I didn’t give up on it. The world needs more art that’s colored outside the lines.