My First Official Rejection – They Wanted Less Imagination

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

Insecure Writers Support Group

This is my second go-around with this blog hop business (not counting the story time hop) and I think I am catching on. The question for August is:

What was your very first piece of writing as an aspiring writer? Where is it now? Collecting dust or has it been published?

I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall my exact first piece of writing, but I do remember the first piece I submitted for submission. It was sometime during my incarceration in public school during the first grade.

I had penned and illustrated a wonderfully entertaining (so I was told) story titled The Adventures of Helen and Troy. The inspiration for the character names came from overhearing my father, who devoured all things history, talking about Helen of Troy, of ancient Greece fame.

I was not particularly captivated with the history, per se, but the idea of a beautiful woman and a wooden horse bringing down an empire set fire to my imagination. Thus was born the story of Helen and her flying wooden horse, Troy. And I had not even heard of Anne McCaffrey yet!

The delightful (so I was told) illustration featured Helen and Troy recapping an afternoon of crushing the world, while munching on sticky buns and sipping egg creams from tulip-shaped glasses. I was very particular about the shape of those glasses, because the local ice cream parlor served egg creams in them, but we did not have the financial resources to enjoy those kinds of treats.

My story, suitably printed in block letters on fat ruled paper, along with the illustration done in my beloved colored pencils, were submitted to Highlights Magazine. If you are not familiar with Highlights, it featured stories and activities for children and was famous for its Goofus and Gallant, a bad boy/good boy cartoon (guess which is which). It also invited submissions for the “Your Own Pages” feature, for drawings, poems, and stories by readers.

In the era of snail mail, it was several weeks before I heard anything. But finally, an envelope arrived, with the cute little Highlights logo in the corner. Since this is not America’s Got Talent, I will cut right to the chase. After thanking me for my submission, the neatly typed note informed me that the content of my submission was not “quite right” for Highlights Magazine [sound familiar?]. They were, I was further informed, looking for stories and illustrations that featured more “realistic” subjects.

Realistic? Right. Because we don’t want children putting any of their imagination into the stuff they submit for “Your Own Pages.” Irony, anybody?

I was, of course, crushed. But my father scoffed and opined that Highlights editors obviously knew nothing about history or they would have immediately recognized the connection between my story and Greek mythology. And my mother pointed out that Gallant was really just an Eddy Haskell, so magazine editors’ judgment was suspect in many ways. And not that I hold a grudge, or anything, but I never bought that insipid magazine for my daughter. And she still has an amazing imagination!

Now that I have retrieved this idea from the dark recesses of my mind, I think it might be a really great idea for a children’s book. Children with imagination, that is.



Many thanks to the awesome co-hosts for this edition of the IWSG blog hop: Tamara Narayan, Tonja Drecker, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Lauren @ Pensuasion, Stephen Tremp, and Julie Flanders!

I raise my glass of Pinot Noir to them, and thank the universe that someone has the technological skills to pull this off.

This entry was posted in I Am Not Making This Up, I'm Just Making This Up, IWSG, Write What You Know. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to My First Official Rejection – They Wanted Less Imagination

  1. Lee,
    Great post. I love your title Helen and Troy. I also like how determined you were to published. Great memories.
    This is my first time in the blog hop and I’m so new I don’t seem to be on the list, but if you’re interested in my story you can find it on my Lovin’ Danger blog:,

    • Lee says:

      Thanks Jo-Ann. It was fun to recall my inauspicious start. And welcome to the Hop – I’ll hop over on your link.

  2. Juneta says:

    Sounds like a wonderful story idea. I was never found of highlights and even as a kid did not think their stories all that good either.
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

    • Lee says:

      Hi Juneta. I think that publication’s intention is to mold compliant, good little citizens who never question authority. I and my ilk are clearly not their intended audience! πŸ™‚

  3. Victoria Marie Lees says:

    I think it’s a great story idea as well. Oh, and by the way, I have never broken through Highlights’ sentries either. Not for lack of trying, though. This is my first time at your blog. It is an interesting site! I’m am trying to join your blog and connect with you online. All the best, Lee.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Victoria. Thankfully, I think there are now outlets for creative children. Thanks for your visit and comments.

  4. jenlanebooks says:

    Incarceration in public school? Ba ha ha! Love it.

    I remember Highlights magazine!

    But you’re not bitter or anything. πŸ˜€

    • Lee says:

      No, absolutely not bitter! In hindsight, it’s hilarious. My father and I shared an “it’s not realistic enough” inside joke forever!

  5. Hah! Too much imagination for bland old Highlights. Well, that’s actually a good sign, isn’t it? If you were a wee tyke today, you’d probably turn your story into a self-published graphic novel and make a splash on Tumblr.

    • Lee says:

      I agree – it was a good sign. At least I was not detoured from writing for the dark side. And Tumblr and YouTube would, indeed, be the way to go now!

  6. Rebecca Douglass says:

    Great story! I never liked Highlights either. Pretty heavy-handed with the morals and all. So being rejected by them was, as you imply, more of a compliment than anything. Thanks for sharing with the IWSG πŸ™‚
    My IWSG Post

  7. I love the sound of Helen and Troy, those guys at Highlights mag weren’t forward (or backward!) thinking at all! Bet they’d have turned down Percy Jackson too.

    • Lee says:

      True enough – Percy and his pals are definitely not living in the “realistic” world. Plus, they are probably not suitable Gallant models. Nevertheless, Helen and Troy live on in my heart.

  8. I think the folks at Highlights missed a golden opportunity πŸ™‚ I love that your first piece of writing was illustrated with colored pencils.

    • Lee says:

      Thanks Ellen. The pencils were a cherished gift from my grandmother and I colored them down to the nubs. I can’t imagine any child being thrilled with a set of colored pencils now.

  9. It’s funny how much we pick apart those early rejections…we don’t realize that often the editor is rushed and may not even have meant to go way deep in what she was saying when she wrote the letter! In some cases, we even pick apart a form rejection, not realizing it’s the same thing they send to everyone!


    • Lee says:

      Hi Stephanie – I am sure that it was a form rejection letter, but it was still spot on. I was not writing for the intended audience. I’m so glad that my dad encouraged me to keep writing what I wanted to write, and to look for that audience, instead.

  10. It sounds like a really creative story to me! Glad you didn’t let it crush you forever and you’re still writing.
    I don’t think I made it by last month, but I want to welcome you to the IWSG!

    • Lee says:

      Thanks for the welcome. It must be a daunting task to manage a hop of this size. My father was wonderfully supportive of my creative endeavors, so I just kept on writing my world crushing little stories.

  11. Face4Audio says:

    Sounds like what my husband refers to as a “therapy moment,” one of those things you’ll be re-living and dissecting for years to come. Either it made you what you are, or your recollection and interpretation of it reflects what you already WERE at the time. Hmmm…

    But of course, well-behaved women seldom make history.

    • Lee says:

      “Therapy moment.” LOL! I’ve had more than a few of those over the years. Actually, I remember this moment quite fondly, as my father and I had a running joke about it for the rest of his much-too-short life.