In 1995, my first short story was published when I was in graduate school at Suffolk University in Boston, MA, by its student publication: Venture. Was called: “Beauty Secrets from the Kitchen.” The story was about four, 20-something female friends sharing an apartment in a grungy house, in Lower Allston, a run down neighborhood of the city favored by artists and musicians. Today is still populated by students and early 20’s denizens despite a lot of recent gentrification inroads. Took the train out there often on the way to and from different job interviews to sit in cafes, wander, write and walk around soaking in the local color.
This story was a flashback and the narrator, one of the four roommates, was the writer of the group but all the “girls” were somewhat based on a combination of people I knew, observed, and had elements of myself included. Ultimately one of the friends is murdered — in a wrong place wrong time, act of kindness situation — which was actually based on a true story. Tragically in 1989 one of the members of our campus humor magazine and newspaper, was murdered on the way home from his job the summer after my freshman year, when I attended university (undergraduate) in New York. Did not know him personally although he was a friend of people I knew and eventually befriended from the newspaper and publications I’d met my freshman year. And dedicated this story in memory of him.
The editor of Venture that year was Jim, a poet and columnist from the Suffolk Journal, the campus newspaper where I volunteered between working and going to classes at night. Those offices were an anchor for me, because felt very adrift, much like the characters I was writing about. And Jim gave my story a chance, while in general, was a kind and encouraging colleague, and one of the best people I’ve ever met that I could have an honest conversation with and agree to disagree with about my writing.
One of the characters in “Beauty Secrets” was obsessed with making homemade beauty products for the roommates in the kitchen. Some of this was based on a couple of my older high school friends, who occasionally would rinse their hair with beer or mayonnaise. In those pre-internet days it was difficult to obtain guidelines and sample issues from many small literary magazines. Submitted “Beauty Secrets,” to a few places I thought via the attempted research, would accept reprints, without any luck.
Ended up writing a series of stories about this same narrator, one was a prequel of how the she found these friends and they moved in together, the others were sequels, describing how each girl melted down at the loss of their roommate and friend, and their belabored struggles to move on after her death. Submitting this mini-collection was also difficult. Wrote to a local editor who did these mini-short story books, paid my $5 for a sample which he sent me — they were some what different in the offbeat sense of the word, but not out of my league. He rejected me which was not wholly unexpected, but he wrote a nasty comment on my returned cover letter — he said that my writing reminded him of the sports pages. Sent back my sample/mini books and wrote: “I have no idea what you mean — I never read them.” Of course he kept my money, and there was a grain of salt cliche lesson learned there, but on a completely different note —
These days I’m actually making some beauty products from the kitchen for little gifts. The shea butter melt as shown in the photo above is pretty popular. Only small batches and the secret is patience, tenacity, and love — plus a lot of trial and error much like writing.
As for Venture, this year the magazine is celebrating 50 years! More info. via the link.