City Lights: Writing isn't always glamorous

I still remember the first time I saw my name in print. It was the spring of my freshman year in high school, and I submitted an essay on the Major League Baseball strike to a Los Angeles Times column, "My Turn," that featured work by local teenagers. As I carefully stashed multiple copies in my drawer, I tried to wrap my 15-year-old head around the notion that people were dropping quarters into newspaper dispensers and coming away with my photograph and byline.

That first publication probably gives a high to anyone, whether they're 15 or 55. But the intoxication may wear off as soon as a few realities set in: that most authors are not rich or well-known outside a select audience; that even successful authors go through the process of having work rejected and hammering out multiple drafts; and that after you've seen your name in print a few times, it means little unless you truly believe in the work attached to it.

Those are realities that B.J. Taylor and Jeri Chrysong know well. The Huntington Beach residents have honed their craft for years and accumulated their share of rejections and abandoned drafts. For that matter, neither of them is a household name, although the book series that published each of their latest pieces, "Chicken Soup for the Soul," certainly is.

Taylor and Chrysong, who are veterans of dozens of "Chicken Soup" titles between them, penned two of the 101 pieces in the series' latest volume, "Shaping the New You," which is scheduled for release Dec. 28. Taylor's essay, "Empowered," tells of her successful struggle to eat healthier and win her steak-loving husband's support for her lifestyle change; Chrysong contributed "A Commitment to Myself," about the eating regimen that helped her shed 170 pounds.

For those unfamiliar with the "Chicken Soup" series, it's the brainchild of motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, who published the first installment in 1993 and, according to their website, have sold more than 112 million books. The series' intent is to provide encouragement for those needing a boost.

The "Chicken Soup" website gives prospective authors the caveat that it receives an average of 100 stories a day. Indeed, both Taylor and Chrysong endured multiple rejections before they got into a volume for the first time. Taylor, who works part-time as a corporate administrator, said before her first acceptance, she had to learn how to "work the formula" — that is, keep the piece tight and focused, include vivid dialogue and tie it together with a message at the end.

With more than a dozen "Chicken Soup" pieces published, Taylor still gets rejections from the series. In the three writers' groups she belongs to, she said, peers often submit essays to "Chicken Soup," and there's always a moment of celebration when one makes the cut.

"I don't always make it," Taylor said. "But I keep trying."

Chrysong, a legal secretary, said acceptances have come more rapidly since her first. The "Chicken Soup" editors and contributors, she said, function like a family at times, and they're willing to give special consideration to those who have made it to print before.

Still, Chrysong said that she feels more like a hardworking craftswoman than a celebrity — especially since she still goes through the process of waiting to hear back from editors, having her pieces moved to different books, and so on.

"People are not going to chase you down the street for something you've written," she said.

In short, even successful authors don't always lead a glamorous life. And maybe that explains why, amid all the other titles in the collection, there's one called "Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul."

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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