A Tale of Two Grandpas

Lulu Oberkotter  
The odds of success as a writer aren’t inspiring. But is that inspiration—that nigh-impossible dream of fame and fortune—the one that drives your love of the craft?

Let me start by telling you a tale of two grandpas. My siblings and I called our paternal grandfather ‘Grandpa Long Island’… you know, because he was from Long Island. Our maternal grandfather, who raised pygmy goats, was ‘Grandpa Goats.’ Yes, it’s silly. That’s just how we roll in my family, and I fully expect to one day be known as 'Grandma Bagpipes' or something.

Grandpa Goats spent his seventy-six years writing stories, painting Vermont landscapes in vibrant hues, and playing music with his hippie friends. He passed almost fifteen years ago now, but I still can’t step into my grandma’s house without stumbling upon some trove of pastel drawings he did, a poem he wrote in a language he made up, or perhaps a mysterious instrument of his own invention. With a quick YouTube search, I can listen to the songs he recorded, belted out in his strong tenor vocals. He died flat broke, but he was a happy man… with a mountain of creative work left behind that his next of kin had to meticulously sort through over the course of years.

Then there was Grandpa Long Island. He smoked a pipe, collected Steiff dolls, and had a great fondness for German Shepherds. That’s all I can really remember about him. He didn’t talk much about himself, never even told anyone he was dying of cancer. It just happened one day. And it wasn’t until about twenty years later that one of my aunts came across a manila folder hidden away in his personal effects. Inside were five or six hand-drawn comic strips Grandpa had written back in the '70s entitled The Good Shepherds, which followed a family of—you guessed it—German Shepherds. The anthropomorphized characters shared names with his real-life family; the dad in the comics even smoked a pipe, just like him, and dispensed fatherly wisdom to his young pups. Damn, it was cute. The drawings were a bit amateur, and the little stories about the Shepherd family’s foibles weren’t always perfectly executed. But it was a noble start—a seed of something wonderful.

Then, at the bottom of the pile of sketches, a letter was unearthed: Thank you for your submission. The editors here at [Newspaper Company] are extremely selective about the comics we choose to publish, and unfortunately…

Well, all you writers probably know what the rest of the letter entailed. The saddest part to me was not the rejection itself. Heck, some of us collect them like baseball cards. No, what I find tragic is that the pile of papers in the manila folder ended there. No more submissions. No more rejections. No more Good Shepherds.

I’ve never felt more connected to Grandpa Long Island than when I read that decades-old rejection letter. I haven’t managed to get any of my work published either, be it my poems, short stories, or full-length novels. But where we differ is that I couldn’t stop after one rejection. Yes, I’m still just a hobbyist writer who can’t make it past the querying stage. But so what?

Some might take exception to my use of the word hobbyist, considering it “less than” being a professional author. Hobbyists certainly get paid less than professionals, but there’s nothing less than about a fulfilling creative outlet that brings one joy. The fruitful life of Grandpa Goats proves that; the riches he earned were made of something far more valuable than money. In the end, most of us will have to be content with remaining hobbyists, doing what we love for the pleasure alone and adding more rejection letters to our collection all the while. If you had a crystal ball and knew that to be your fate, my friends, would you quit? Would the coming years of joy and fulfillment mean nothing? Would you regret the time you'd already spent? Would your manila folder be forever hidden away?

Personally, if I die unpublished despite all my hard work, I will not regret the time spent. However, I will regret my time if I don’t spend it doing what gives me joy and fulfillment. Sure, I’d love to earn a buck or two for all the work I’ve done, or at least a little recognition, but much like Grandpa Goats, my drive to create is not contingent on it. I do it for the joy alone.

So, fair warning to my future grandchildren: Be prepared for the mountain of creative work Grandma Bagpipes is going to leave behind for you to meticulously sort through. I don’t know how much there will be by then, but I promise you this: It will be far too much to be contained to a single, forgotten manila folder.



Thanks for sharing this blog piece. Sounds like my grandparents. :slightly_smiling_face:

Jun-03 at 01:04


I love this story. I had the opportunity to take a course at my alma mater this year (imagine, an old goat like me with a class full of university students), and we had an “open mic” time on our last day. I shared a line from an old song:

“Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song.”

I encouraged them to continue creating and left them with this thought: “If you find even one person who likes your work; even one person who ‘gets you’, treasure that.”

My two sons will find a documents folder filled with works-in-progress, short stories that I “might expand someday”, along with my self-published books. I sometimes wonder what they’ll do with that folder. Will they take the time to read through them, or will they simply delete it all? It’s not the type of reading they prefer. It doesn’t matter. I enjoy my hobby and have a small group of readers who like my stories. That’s enough for me.

Jun-03 at 09:43


Lovely post Luluo.

I’m still at the rejection stage too, and thickening my skin up for more. The money for publication will probably never scratch the surface of the hours invested, it’s more that I’d like that sense of achievement.

Jun-03 at 10:52


What a lovely piece. Moving without being too zappy, and with a truth about what it is to pursue this crazy thing called writing. And to never give up. Rejection can leave a very intense bad sensation and the best is to brush it off. But the damage may linger longer than we realize.
Long time ago, I wrote two novels. One felt like something Don DeLillo would have written and the other one more like William Styron. I was proud that without an agent I managed to get one to be read by Simon & Schuster and the other at the Atlantic, publishers I respect. Then two and a half years later, I got letters of rejections from both of them.
While devastated, I continued to press forward, but then 9/11 happened and we began to operate detention and torture centers abroad and in Guantanamo where they did many of the things I described in one of my novels. I stopped sending the novel out. Then got a job that allowed me to make a decent living. I began to write a novel, gave up and wrote a story, then completely gave up. What was the point.
Move forward 15 years. Trump went down an elevator and what he said pissed me off so much that I wrote a story. That story got rejected many times, but I was not going to give up. I used my middle name as my pen name, that way nobody would know I am Latino. Suddenly stories began to be published left and right, about four a year. Now I have another novel. This one made up of short stories. It has been rejected by all the agents I sent it and that is okay. I am not going to self publish it, but find smaller presses and see what happens. The best part is that the opening chapter will be coming out in River Styx sometime before the end of the year.
Never give up. Keep pursuing your dream or hobby, if anything, it will keep your mind sharp when you’re in your nineties, still plotting devious outcomes to some of your characters.
Thank you again, for the wonderful piece Grandma bagpipes.

Jun-03 at 13:22


Oh, I totally get that. I’ll still strive for publication and profit and all that. It’s definitely part of the plan. But if that plan fails, I won’t have any regrets.

Jun-03 at 14:07


Wonderful post, and so, so true. I write because I love it, plain and simple. You can’t expect much money from this craft. Sure, it’s nice if it comes, but if you measure success in fiscal terms or by how much recognition you get… well, that probably won’t end well. It’s more mindset than skill.

(When my sister and I were little, we would call one of our grandmas “Grandma Apple” and the other “Grandma Cake”… guess which one spoiled us!)

Jun-03 at 23:11



Jun-04 at 02:07


I really enjoyed this, thank you. I think it’s got great potential to work as a fiction piece too.

Jun-08 at 15:08
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