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Continued from Adolph

Thanks to the unscrupulous financial habits of Adolph, her father’s business partner, the beautiful home in New Rochelle was sacrificed. I wonder what Grandfather Dillon knew of these goings on. Her father set them up in a nice flat overlooking the Hudson river in the upper West Side. By all rights, they still lived a comfortable and upper class life. But gone were the butler, the maid, and the cook. Concrete replaced her forested knolls and grottoes,  cutting her off from the natural world. Granite skyscrapers hugged the marine fog tighter to the earth, painting the entire cityscape in a depressing monochrome for days on end and trapping the stench of diesel, industry, and garbage.

The move coincided with Yry’s journey out of adolescence and into adulthood. Having graduated from New Rochelle High, she now rarely saw her small circle of friends. She was adrift. If she couldn’t live in the natural world, she would write about it. Locked in her room for hours, she meticulously plotted stories and poems. During the summer, she collected her best work, stories that varied from 461 words to over 2,000 words and employed animals as protagonists. She typed and submitted these to the Newspaper Institute of America, Inc., an organization that claimed to launch writing careers for “People Who Want to Write, but can’t get started.”

Early in August an envelope arrived from the editorial department of the Institute. Breathless, she tore it open to find a two-page, typed critique of her efforts. Editor R.M.S. cut her no slack. First he (or was that a she in disguise?) chastised Yry for not following the submission requirement of “one story of not more than eight thousand words.” Then came the assault on her work.

… Each short story regardless of length presents the same problems of construction and requires the same amount of analysis. . . . Frankly none of the stories you submit strike me as real commercial possibilities. . . . They are all too slight to appeal to any magazines I know of that use this sort of story.

R.M.S. goes on to site several specific stories, claiming that they might get by, “if they did not dwell on such sombre matters as bllod and death. (sic)”

Most editors of children’s magazines avoid these subjects as they would the plague. …the real fault is that the stories are just anecdotes. They are too baldly instructive. They lack simple, strong, plots. What you need is some normal problems of young people that require actual solutions through their own actions. These stories you’ve submitted have been done over and over.

After that whipping, I give my mother credit for not laying her pen aside forever. She was indignant at the shallow mentality of “these editors.” She believed she was addressing far more real concerns than these ivory-towered shirts could conceive. The world is a dark and gloomy place, she thought. How are kids ever going to make their way through to adulthood if they are presented with only “pretty” stories about good and evil, where good always wins and everyone knows right up front what is evil and what is not?

A folder containing these stories, with “first serial rights” and word counts marked on the top page, and signed by author, Phyllis Dillon (Nom-de-plume), followed my mother throughout her life. And really, the copy editor was cruel, but correct. The stories about animals and little boys are preachy and dark. The moral comes at you with the force of a pile driver.