I won. “I never win anything” is a refrain I’m going to have to stop singing because I won. I won the Long Short Story Contest on Freeditorial’s website. And boy oh boy does winning kick up a bunch of complicated feelings.
Jubilation and a decent bit of astonished delight – the first prize is a hefty sum of $15,000 – is definitely where I start this emotional journey. I woke up this morning and said to the hubby, “We have $15,000 more than we did yesterday. Pretty sure I’ve never been able to say that ever before.” That’s a lot of cash to win. I know I’m repeating myself. It’s still sinking in.
But that damn imposter syndrome creeps in and spits in my solo cup of Celebration Punch. Anyone who’s ever been recognized as successful at anything knows this bastard – the snide voice of naysaying that sits upon your shoulder and murmurs in your ear lovely gems such as “guess there wasn’t really any competition, eh?” or “wait til someone who actually knows something about literature reads it…” or the classic “you only won because ________________” and talent or skill are not contenders for filling in that blank.
Self-doubt is part of writing. Being self-critical and comparing oneself to The Greats (whoever your personal Greats might be) and then wanting to stab yourself in the eye with your pen when you realize that you actually suck in comparison is pretty normal.
Writing, like everything else – dog training, bread baking, basket weaving – is a journey of self discovery, and it has its ups and downs. Winning, you’d think, is a major up. Losing, it follows, would be a pretty significant down. But the truth is that losing is familiar and safe. Winning is a little scary. It’s uncharted territory. And among the losers you have tons of company, but winners… well, there’s only one. And everyone has all manner of mixed feelings about you – envy, admiration, the desire to emulate (or just plain copy)… and pure unmitigated hatred. Everyone hates the winner, at least a little. It’s a weird place to be.
I entered this contest on a whim – my sister gave me the heads up about it when she asked me to vote for her, and I thought – what the hell, it’s a fabulous opportunity to indulge in writing fiction. This year has been a good year for me as a writer – I had a piece published in a Chicken Soup book, and another piece is coming out in an anthology this fall. Several folks read my articles in the Catskill Mountain Guide, and have sent me feedback about my work, which is so freaking awesome you have no idea. Despite no longer working as a writer as my main paying gig, I seem to be writing pretty consistently and getting paid to do so.
But fiction is different. Fiction is a luxury. Fiction is so much fun, and yet so challenging for me – I feel much more confident about my nonfiction work. Fiction is a place to stretch and push and spread my wings and leap off cliffs…
This time, when I leapt into this contest, a community of readers caught me. I am, in my long-winded way, at a loss for words. How do you say thank you for something of this magnitude? I don’t know how to convey the profundity of my gratitude, and lots of big words don’t quite do it. I wish I could bake you all brownies, or brush your dogs for you – doing something concrete, real, and helpful would feel more appropriate than clicking away over here using more and more words but saying very little. Thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for supporting the American Belgian Malinois Rescue and the North American Dutch Shepherd Rescue – these two groups will each receive a $1000 donation, as I pledged when I took up the challenge.
What’s next? I wrote another story! Inspired by the genre (long-short story is definitely a bit weird but fun – longer than short and shorter than a novella), I wrote a story about a dog. I know, big shocker there. I tried hard to channel Jean Craighead George – one of my idols – and my goal was to write as un-anthropomorphically as possible. It is a fantasy story, not intended to be zoologically accurate, but intended to be close enough to keep a reasonably well informed lay reader from rolling his or her eyes. For the wildlife biologists out there, my apologies. The technical inaccuracies will probably annoy the living daylights out of you. The story is called Wolf Heart (sounds like a teenage werewolf bodice ripper, but I promise, it ain’t!), and I am still editing it. If you’d like to preview it and provide feedback, please send me your email address and I’d be happy to zip you a copy. I really want it to be luscious and perfect. And I need help getting it there.
The Freeditorial website is running another contest in the fall. I’m still deciding whether or not I’ll enter again, but if I do, you will be the first to hear about it. Keep reading, and keep having fun.
P.S. If you didn’t download Queen of the Catskills as part of the contest, that’s ok. You can download it now, for free. Click here for a free download.