I type, my legs stretched out before me, computer on my lap, afternoon sun beside me on the couch. I am revising a piece I wrote in our Monday group, an hour left before the contest deadline, midnight in the UK. I read my work out loud, like I teach my students. I find tiny things to change. I am deep in the writing when I hear a hummingbird, look up to see her in the living room, the female guardian of the feeder outside the open louvers. In the corner of my eye I think there is another flash, but surely not, not two of them inside at one time. My familiar female hovers near me, then visits the red glass star hanging in the window. When she flies out I hear her friend, still in the room with me, not my imagination. She peers out the kitchen window to the courtyard, then rests on one of the open louvers before leaving me alone, the flutter of hummingbird wings reverberating in the room.
My short story “Between My Ribs” is a finalist for the 2018 American Fiction Short Story Award from New Rivers Press. The 19 stories selected for their anthology are now with the final judge who will choose the first, second and third place winners in the next few weeks. I’ve been eager to tell you, my readers, wanting to share this sweet news, knowing you’ll feel glad for me and wish me well in this. But I’ve been shy about it, too. As I write, I feel big gratitude and quiet glee. But I’m not sure I can do justice to all the feelings this evokes in me. I feel thrilled and grateful and lucky. Of course. And I’m delighted my first publication will be with this university press who I’ve been so fond of for years now. But I feel afraid and sad and uncomfortable, too, and I can’t really point to why. I know I’ve been grappling with my discomfort over wanting to win. I feel honored to be chosen for the anthology, but I would very much like to win the contest, too. I worry about being greedy, so I wrestle with it. “Of course you want to win,” I say. “That’s only natural.” But it sits awkward in me, this wanting it to be more. But maybe I am only afraid of being disappointed if my story isn’t chosen for first place. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
But there is a deep desire in me to win. I want that recognition. I’ve held myself back in so many ways for most of my life, I think. I want to just step forward here. I want to lead this collection. So I’ll ask for your good wishes in this now while the judge is still reading our stories, still weighing his responses to each of them, still sorting through them for himself. I whisper my own prayers into the palms of my cupped hands. I can hear the house finch in the courtyard, and the mountains are clear this morning for the first time in months, keeping vigil with me. I kiss the center of my palms, fold them around each other, bring them to my heart. I sit very still, holding my hope. And then I open my hands, slow movements, the bird released to take to the sky. I grin, lightened, filled with the honor of this gift, at peace in this moment with whatever is meant to unfold next.
And thank you, too, for holding this in your own hearts with me. Just the thought of it makes me want to cry.
[Editor’s note: I don’t know much about Facebook, so this is clunky. But below is both their announcement of the finalists and my own section of that post when you scroll through all the photos. Here I am in my goofy head covering—I got the news when I was staying at the hostel and had to get a photo to them right away, so I took this with my iPad in my favorite chair outside. You can also access the post in their Facebook page here.]
I am sitting at the Amtrak station when I know I am only one of Sable’s sleek black whisker’s width away from fully committing myself to November’s national novel-writing month. My stomach clenches at the thought. It terrifies me. 50,000 words in 30 days means 1,666.66666 words per day and 6.66666667 pages (of 250 words per page). My quick work on the calculator hooks me in even more. No Satanic inklings here, only the magic of these sequences of sixes, of forward progress–and how, hmm? If I write 7 pages per day, I’ll have written 210 pages by the end of the month. And maybe I’ll throw my hat in the ring for that young adult novel contest, after all. Last week I entered a different book contest, and, counting this young adult contest, I plan now to enter three more this week. I keep the pen moving across the page and remember to pull in air. I can still feel the tightness in my belly, more thrill than fear now, though the balance is close. I feel it in my bones, in the sun on my back, in my pleasure in the conversation I am overhearing part in English and part in Spanish, the fluid back and forth, the “I love you” when they part, father and daughter, I think. I feel in my fear and my thrill I may be truly ready to have my work win one or more of these book contests. If I submit the different pieces I have in mind I could win three of the four contests. I want to laugh out loud, but I keep writing. I am ready to burst out into the literary world with these winnings and the published books. I am ready to take the world by storm or in a swirling rush of wings, the sudden whoosh of the slow, deep strokes of a raven overhead, the feathery brush of angels, my breath easy now in my chest, heart light with hope, mouth full of magic.
Here is the little Associated Press newsclip that got picked up in newspapers and posted on their websites. I also have a couple of pieces started about how it has all felt, but they still need to sit for a while. I have not yet fully digested the experience. But I didn’t want to wait any longer to tell you, my dear readers. I will say when I see the 857 entries it makes me gulp. And when I read about the community college professor who won the contest, I get a little thrill. It’s me, I think. It’s me.
[Here is the link to an online version in case you are relying on a screen reader: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/07/25/us/ap-us-hemingway-days.html?_r=0]
I make a point of entering my work in writing contests. I’ve been doing it for about four years now. One of my pieces won a small local contest, and most of them have now been finalists here and there. Each time, it heartens me, makes me hopeful. At first I entered almost every contest I came across. Over the years I have narrowed things down some. I tend to not enter the very expensive ones, for instance. And I try to re-enter the ones where people have liked my work in the past. Some contests seem more far fetched than others, but for some reason they appeal to me, so I keep entering them. Fish is one I’d put in that category. I think maybe once a good bit of time ago one of my pieces made it to their longlist, but I don’t remember the details. I don’t remember feeling encouraged by that. (I think it was a very long longlist.) The other day when I was looking over something contest-related, I wondered if I should stop submitting to them. After searching through their lists for my name so many times and not finding it, I was discouraged. And they always had a gazillion entries. I think without admitting it to myself I was wondering if the competition was too stiff, if maybe my work wasn’t good enough. Yesterday when I got their email announcing the winners of their 2014/15 Fish Short Story Prize, I started scrolling through their shortlist with zero expectations of finding my name. (They present the lists in alphabetical order by the writers’ first names.) But I got to the Rs, and there I was–not only listed, but listed twice. Both of the short stories I entered made the shortlist. Out of 1575 submissions, my two pieces were among 103 that were shortlisted. I can’t believe they both made it there. It still makes me grin, remembering what a sweet surprise it was to see my name and the two titles. I just wanted to let you know, my faithful readers. I am feeling encouraged now. And grateful, too. If Fish has shortlisted them, then who knows what might happen next.
I’m sorry now I didn’t post this here the very evening I heard Suzzanne’s message on my voicemail. It was after Laurie and I spent that day writing for over six hours. I’m convinced it’s all connected. Listening to my messages, tired at the end of that intense day of writing, I found out my book manuscript, You and Me, has been selected as one of ten finalists for the Many Voices Project at New Rivers Press. It still feels like a dream. I didn’t post the news right away because Suzzanne thought they would be gathering photos of each finalist, making an announcement on their website. I waited to tell you about it because I wanted to be able to offer up the link to that page, make it all real. Now it makes me sad I didn’t share the news while it was still hot, still streaking through my veins, the joy and the thrill, the incredible validation, the almost overwhelming gratitude. I don’t know exactly how many entries there were. Maybe 300 or so, Suzzanne thought. And it looks now as though they may not get a chance to post us on their website before the winner is selected, which could be at the end of this month. (They are a university press, run by a small staff, so I understand this. It’s likely they are already accomplishing more than is humanly possible.) Still, I love that they let us know right away, let each of us savor being selected while every one of us still has a chance of winning. I think it is a great kindness. I pray to keep my joy about this, to hold fast to my gratitude and to the deep validation in it no matter how things unfold. If my manuscript wins, I will rejoice like nobody’s business, leaping tall buildings in a single bound. And this time I promise I’ll tell you right away.
First I want to say I have no plans to fall behind this year on my blog posts. I did drop the ball, missed my Sunday night deadline to post my sixth post in the sixth week. But I had a good excuse–my computer had trouble, and I literally couldn’t finish it. (Actually, I finished typing it up from my handwritten copy and then erased it when my mouse stopped working. So I typed it again, and then I wasn’t able to open my browser to post it. So. I am posting it shortly, and I have every intention of posting the seventh one this week as planned. ;-)
But what I wanted to share with you is some good news about my writing. I’ve been entering writing contests feverishly (!) since the beginning of last year. I have about five “polished” pieces I enter most often, three short stories and two short nonfiction pieces. So far, all but one of the nonfiction pieces has made it to the final rounds. A few weeks ago, I’d wondered whether or not I was being silly to keep entering contests, that perhaps my writing was not yet honed enough to win. A day or two later, I found out my short story, “Intended” (the one I thought surely may be too weird for most people in the world), had essentially tied for first place with three other finalists. It didn’t win, but one of the editors from the Writing Site, Tima Smith, told me “Intended” is “engaging, surprising and evocative.” She said my writing is “top-notch.” I was so excited and encouraged, happy the universe was whispering (or shouting?!) for me to continue entering my work.
And on Cinco de Mayo, a long, intense day with the full moon at the end of it–prayers for my commitment to writing to flourish, rattles shaking as I stood on a chair to see the rising full moon over the hedge–I checked my email to discover my short story, “Between My Ribs,” had won first place in the annual short story contest of the local Writers Guild. My first win! I hooted and hollered and was in big awe. I have told my friends and family, of course, but I wanted to let all of you know. You’ve been so encouraging of my writing here. I knew you would like to share my sweet news.
I feel honored and grateful and oh so glad. It feels a bit like a dream now, but a good one–coming true.