I Never Win Anything

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On July 3rd I got an email and a facebook message from Eric, the editor of the Scythe Prize, asking for my mailing address so he could “send me some correspondence regarding the publishing of [my] story “Kittens” in the 2017 Scythe Prize book.” This isn’t strange. I’ve been asked to sign all sorts of contracts and disclosure forms before my work shows up ‘in print.’ As Redding would say “no biggie.” When I told Josh though, he said, “You probably won. He’s probably sending you a check.”
“I doubt it,” I said. But I wondered/hoped.

I never win anything. Could this story, could I be good enough?

“Kittens” (which you can read by following this link) was a really tough story to write. My brother is a Social Worker and his specialty is addictions. I should also mention that he is a far nicer, and more compassionate person than me. When we get together, our conversations often drift to his work, and since I’ve become a mother I’ve been fascinated with the idea of how addictions affect family life. I’m also very interested in that warzone of “good” and “bad.” Morality vs. Law. What feels right vs. what is right vs. what does society say is right?  When I was brainstorming this piece I was thinking about what would be the worst decision I would have to make if there was an addiction in my family? What if it was me? What if it was my spouse? Those answers seemed too easy, too pat. But what if it was my child? Even then, I felt confident that I could find an answer I was happy with. But what if one child’s life was a threat to the other’s. That’s where it got tough for me. Could you choose one child over another? The story is edgy, and I recognize that it is edgy in the wrong way. The story doesn’t fit with my progressive liberal personal ideology, and I think that’s why I like it. “Kittens” is hard to read, heartbreaking and hopefully thought provoking. I don’t think I could do what Cheryl did. But I would hope I had the strength to consider it.

Despite some very recent success, (In addition to the Scythe Prize it was accepted by two other journals, and will be appearing in the Santa Fe Writers Project in October) “Kittens” has been very hard to place. It took me months to find a journal that wanted it. 20 said “no.” I had some very kind rejections; the consensus seemed to be that it was well written and emotionally resonant but they all said it “just wasn’t right” for them at this time. My heart hurt. It’s like watching your child struggle: pain and hope knotted together.

But on Saturday, July 8th, I was sitting on the deck smearing sunscreen on my pasty skin, watching Redding in the sprinkler when the mail came. Josh said: “You got a letter from Eric Forrest.” And then he held it up to the light. “I think it might be a check,” he said.

“No way,” I said, fingers reaching and tearing, sunscreen leaving grease stains all over everything. My eyes searching the small piece of folded paper in the envelope for a word that would mean something. “Congratulations on winning” were right at the top. “I won” I said, in disbelief. I never win anything. Josh hugged me and started making jokes about how he is now married to an award winning author. Then he made reservations at our favourite fancy restaurant to celebrate. I read and re-read the note. I took a picture of the note from Eric and sent it to my parents. Maybe telling someone would make it feel real.

I like winning. I like that I can now say I’m “an award winning author” in my bio. I like that I can pay to take my husband out for dinner. (He pays for everything.) But the best part of this whole experience is the idea that someone read my story and liked it, really liked it. Liked it more than other stories that they read. For someone who is supposed to be good with words, I’m struggling with the fact that I can’t put into words how amazing it feels that someone took my work seriously. Someone took me seriously. And the thought of that.. shit, I’m crying.

Eric wrote a paragraph at the end of the note that spoke of his feelings on the piece, and I’m going to quote him here without his permission,

Personally, I enjoyed the craftsmanship of your story; the concept was effective and the prevalence of ethos was absolutely visceral. The story is topical to be sure, but it seems transcendent as well.

The letter is on my fridge, and I have a picture of it on my phone. I find myself reading those words over and over. Could they really apply to something I crafted?

When Rusty Scythe announced that I’d won, I shared the link on facebook. Again, I was overwhelmed with emotion. The support I’ve received has been amazing. Thank you to those of you who clicked “like.” Thank you to those of you who read the story, and who took the time to write me a note. It means the world to me. Winning is nice, but readers are why writers write. Knowing that someone is reading my work, and finding truth in it, finding something shared in it, makes all of the rejection, all of the heartbreak and the “no” worthwhile.