As you know I’ve been poking around in the basement lately pulling out drafts and manuscripts to send to Meyer Library for its archival collection. In the process I’ve run across some old relics that still have meaning for me. Here’s one.
According to the Record Book into which I painstakingly entered details about each new effort, the story that won this Writer’s Digest’s Short-Short Story recognition — my first award ever as a writer — was my 17th story, was finished on January 10, 1968, originally called, “Tell Them They Can Stop Worrying,” and had been rejected by 12 editors.
I could tell then, as I can now, that I hadn’t won anything all that special. My story fell into the 11th – 300th place picks. But it was SOMETHING! My FIRST something! At 29 it marked the first major step for me as a writer. My prize was a copy of the 1969 WRITER’S MARKET. That was something too. I wanted to make some noise and dance the happy dance, but it never happened. I had no fan base to applaud as I held the certificate in my hand and felt the kind of deep-soul validation that comes with writing success — no matter the scale of the achievement. My sweet wife cheered for me. And that was it. The waves closed in and the ocean rolled on.
That’s why I’m sincere with my congratulations when another writer wins something or signs a new contract or holds a newly released book. It DOES mean something. Every writer who has experienced a moment of personal triumph for his or her work knows how delicious it is when others recognize the accomplishment with a rousing hoorah!
For the record, my winning story, which by then was called, “The Gate,” was rejected by another three editors before I filed it away for good in November of that year. After 51 years in a box, maybe it’s time for “The Gate” to come out of storage long enough to take a curtain call. Here is how it begins.
“Three horsemen crossed an August brown field, working their way carefully through weeds that grew to their stirrups. Just ahead of them a covey of quail exploded into the air, circled around them in a tight pattern, and came to earth fifty yards behind. The middle rider, a pitted faced boy with collar length hair the color of dirt, threw up an imaginary shotgun and twisted in his saddle to follow the flight of the birds, clicking his tongue against his teeth to indicate the number he would have killed.”