DEATHSCRIBE: A Story of Failure


So whether you know me personally, follow me on the interwebs, pass me on the street, or just randomly hear a disembodied voice on digital recordings that sounds sort of familiar, you are aware by now that my script "Monstruos" was selected to be part of the 10th Annual Deathscribe Radio Play Festival.

That's not what this post is about.

This post is about failure.

So, something like five-ish years ago Ele Matelan joined the Our Fair City team as Cassandra Wilkins. Ele was a member of WildClaw Theatre, a horror theatre company in Chicago, and wasted no time in spreading spurious rumors of some radio play festival that they held every year. Now, it was a while before I clued in on this, because...I'm me and as with everyone I meet, it took me about a year before I actually talked to her, but I was quickly in on this whole "Deathscribe" thing. After all, I had been writing radio plays for years now. It was sort of "my thing."


And so, I entered my first Deathscribe. One of my scripts was an idea I had been waiting to use for one of HartLife's Halloween episodes. The other was something I came up with about a week before the deadline to submit, a funny little riff on Poe called "The Crypt of Arabella Dodd." I sent those off into the ether and waited to hear their fate.

Neither got in.

I was...a little upset. Not too bad, though. Within days, I was already planning for next year's competition. In fact, I had two really great stories in mind. Also, Deathscribe had made me realize that there was an entire world of radio plays and audio dramas out there beyond Our Fair City. Arabella Dodd soon found herself a place in The Whiskey Radio Hour and I started working on that second future Deathscribe idea for a scriptwriting competition that David Rheinstrom told me about from a program called Midnight Audio Theatre. Eventually, that would become "Last Transmission."

Months passed. The call for the next Deathscribe came in and I was ready. I had spent the entire year planning this script. I carefully wrote and revised it over the course of months. This was my baby. It was the best radio script I had ever written, maybe even the best thing I had written period. Everything I had done: all of Our Fair City, working on this stupid book draft that no agent wanted, all of it culminated in this script. It was my A game. The very best I could do.

And it was rejected.

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This time I was UPSET. I had given it my all: everything I had, all of it. There was nothing else. If THIS couldn't get in...what was the point? It would never happen. Nothing I could possibly write would ever be good enough. Friends tried to talk me down, but...I wasn't sure if I would EVER write for Deathscribe again. It was hopeless. Every year there would be more and more submissions. If my very, VERY best couldn't get in now...nothing would.

Time passed. I went to see Deathscribe, to support my friends involved with the performance, but I couldn't ACTUALLY enjoy it. After that, I went on about my business doing Our Fair City, submitting to Midnight Audio Theatre, not with my Deathscribe piece (too many characters) but another that I had originally written for Valenhigh before that production imploded or didn't or whatever happened with that. Finally May and June came around and the cry went up for Deathscribe.

I still wasn't sure I wanted to submit. The hopelessness had lessened, but it was still there. However, sometimes being a don't get to choose. Neil Gaiman (not to compare myself to Neil Gaiman), but he once described being offered the chance to submit to anthologies where a person says "Hey, we'd like you to write a piece about Shakespeare and cats." To which he responds, "No, absolutely not. What would that even look like?" And then two days later he calls back to say he'll have the story for them in a month. That's what this was. I had told myself I PROBABLY wouldn't do Deathscribe. But my brain started working on stories I MIGHT submit anyway. Eventually, I decided to do it. At the very least, I reasoned, I would have something to submit to Midnight Audio Theatre again this year. One was a piece about two plague doctors, because...plague doctors. The other was...very unlike what I normally write. People I sent it to remarked on how unlike me it was. They weren't sure if they liked it (whereas they loved the other piece.)

Again...I was rejected. This time it didn't hurt as much. I was expecting it. Deathscribe, much like my query letters to agents, was a thing to submit, but not something I expected anything to come of. In the e-mail, it was clear that the piece my readers didn't like, the unJim one, had made it further in the consideration than the other. The problem is, that script was horrific. It was dark and brutal. I wrote it specifically for Deathscribe and didn't (and don't) think it could live outside this one competition. So into the special desktop folder it went. The other I sent off to Midnight Audio Theatre again to become "The Plague Song.".

Which brings us to this year. THE YEAR. There is nothing special about it. I wrote my scripts out of habit...because Deathscribe is the thing I write for, don't get into, and then re-purpose. The only difference between what I've written above and now is the utter crap show the world has become. Both my pieces served to vent my anger and frustration and hopelessness in ways I don't normally indulge in. But beyond that, I did my typical routine: write the pieces, ask a few select readers for notes, send them in, get rejected, be upset for a little bit, and then move on.. 

Only this time there wasn't rejection. This time...a piece got in.

But that's not what this story is about.

This story is about failure.

This story is about failing at the one thing you do best, the thing that defines you, the thing that gives you your sense of self and sense of worth. This is about being rejected when you've put everything you have onto the page, your very best, your A-game and still coming up short. This is about thinking you suck, that nothing you do will ever be good enough, that you just CAN'T EVER. This is about complaining and whining and brooding and venting until that wound from putting yourself out there, from exposing yourself, heals or at the very least, scars over.

And then its about sitting down and doing it all over again.

Because that's what it takes. That's how you succeed. You send out fifty letters to agents and when fifty nos roll in, you send out fifty more. You submit to a contest and when that doesn't pan out, you submit to another. And another. And you keep trying. You keep writing. And maybe it works out. You play the numbers. 

And as I write this I don't want you (or me) to think that I'm completely well-adjusted now, that I've had some kind of epiphany, that I on this high horse of writerly knowledge know what I'm talking about. Someday soon, I will face disappointment. Maybe next Deathscribe (though I hope now that I've gotten in once...I can at least chill out a bit), but more likely some other goal I set. Something that I think I deserve or am a shoe in for or just REALLY want. And I will be rejected. And I will moan and complain and vent to friends. I will feel hopeless, like I suck and nothing I do is a worth a damn. And I will feel that way for a little bit and then, when the pain has dulled, I hope I will do that same thing again. And probably again.

Because that's how you succeed. That is how you write.