Saturday, September 28th
While I sat on my porch and listened to the sound of red maple leaves free fall and ping against leaves still green and gripping, a group of literary folks were down in Beaufort, South Carolina whooping it up in celebration of the short story form. I wanted to be there. I had become one of the finalist for the Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction and the winner would be announced live on stage at the Saturday night events. Some time around 11 pm I got the call. Tim Johnston, who is the editor and driving force behind Short Story America, had just come out of a session to let me know that I won!
How did it feel? At first, I felt a bit confused while Tim and I exchanged pleasantries. I kept asking him questions about the conference and the after party that I knew would be taking place–I was babbling, I believe–while another part of me was thinking, “Well, Jodi, why don’t you stop talking and let him talk. He wouldn’t be calling you up at this hour of the night from the middle of a conference when you don’t even know him without a very special reason.” I finished my sentence and kept my mouth shut. He said, “I have good news. You won.” I cried. I told him over that phone that I felt like I could cry, but indeed, I was crying.
The title of the story that took the prize is called “Deep End.” It’s an aftermath story told from the point of view of a young girl who explores guilt and blame and contemplates the adults around her as they experience the grief she has yet to learn to express. I love this story.
I had had 7 different pieces in submission to over 30 journals and contests since last winter. All summer, the rejections poured in. I was feeling kind of blue. I wasn’t sure I garnered enough wind in my sails with the “but, please send us another story” letters to head into another winter of writing and shopping publications and getting answered with a big NO. Then a friend said, “Don’t give up. Just take your favorite story, do one quick edit, and send it out again.” I knew what my favorite current story was. I looked around to see what was opening up for submissions. In my Facebook Feed there was an announcement that the deadline for the SSA Contest would close at midnight that night. I went for it. Then I forgot about it.
A few weeks later, I got the first call from Tim announcing that I was a finalist. Some of the best moments of my writing life have been when an editor wants to talk about the story I’ve written. I was impressed by Tim’s in depth familiarity with my piece and the specifics he gave me about what worked. Tim is an editor who is passionate about short fiction and wants to see it thrive and shine in America. He works tirelessly to promote the form.
While the folks down in Beaufort were all reveling in short story readings and giving talks, I curled up on the sofa with my new edition of Carve Magazine to read an essay by Douglas Unger about Raymond Carver in the workshop. What I took away from the Unger piece was this: Don’t write crap in the first place. You have to like it yourself. And, once you’ve got something good on paper, you’re going to then need some luck.
I wrote a decent story. In fact, I thought it was my best story. I got lucky.
What I am about to say is nothing new, but I’m here to tell you: Keep writing. Write until you love what you’ve got on the page and send it out there.
Here’s a link. Ethan Rutherford at TSP on “Knowing When to Quit (and Not Quitting)” took some time to say this very well.