I’VE been jealous of Hal Shymkus for more than a quarter-century.
He’s been published.
Oh sure, The Republic puts this column in the paper three times a week, and I also write the editorials that appear elsewhere on this page. It’s what I do for a paycheck, but it’s nothing like what Hal did for the past 25 years or so of his life.
He sent short stories and novels off to real-life magazine and book publishers, and they paid him money to publish what he wrote.
I just got rejection letters. Sometimes I didn’t even get those. Some publishers never even bothered putting the rejection letter in my self-addressed, stamped envelope.
There was a difference between us, several probably, but the one that stood out was that Hal kept plugging away, ignoring the rejections he got, instead moving on to other publishers.
I basically became discouraged and quit submitting my work.
I hadn’t seen Hal for something like 20 years. He and his wife, Mary Beth, moved to New Mexico in the 1990s after his retirement from what was then called Cummins Engine Co. and hers from the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.
I heard from them off and on over the years, but this past week I received word that Hal had died Dec. 13 in Espanola, N.M. He was 86 years old. His son David, who still lives in Columbus, sent me a copy of the obituary that appeared in a New Mexico newspaper. It also included a recent photo of Hal.
It was easy to recognize the familiar features, especially the hint of a wry smile, but I was obviously looking at a man much older than I last remembered.
That man had been an executive at the-then Cummins Engine Co. Things were a lot more buttoned down at the corporate headquarters of the Fortune 500 company in those days. Hal was part of a small army of executives, easily identified for their white shirts, black ties and suits. Casual Fridays hadn’t arrived in time for Hal.
He was in marketing, and his duties included a great deal of writing, but I think his real writing was done on an old Royal typewriter (the manual variety) in his home.
I recall one conversation in which he asked me about the writing market, and I related my own attempts at becoming the next Ernest Hemingway.
Apparently he had received a number of those dreaded rejection letters in his own attempts at becoming published, and I have to confess I wasn’t very encouraged.
I told him about the rejections I had received while in college. The ultimate one came from the West Virginia Quarterly. I have no idea why I sent anything to the West Virginia Quarterly, but it had to be the end of the road if they didn’t like it. I basically quit after that.
I suggested he might reach that point himself and should steel himself to walk away from his dreams.
He basically stuck to his game plan. Write about things you like, things you have experienced, things you know something about.
For Hal, that was fishing.
He found a market for fishing stories and, beginning in 1986, started receiving acceptance letters ... letters with checks enclosed. From 1986 to 1991, the year of his retirement from Cummins, his short stories were published 49 times.
By 1991, he was prepared to branch out. Instead of short stories, he shopped books. Two of them were published. One of them, “Nightcrawlers, Bait and Beer To Go,” was a collection of stories, anecdotes and experiences related to fishing.
I don’t know that Hal made a bundle of money from his writing, but he stuck with it, was obviously good, knew what he was writing about and enjoyed what he did.
That’s a pretty good recipe for writing and enjoying life, as well.