…don’t yet know, actually. And frankly, I rather like this state of Limbo. It is the thrill of the still-possible. You toss your couple of bucks on the counter and walk away with your set of computer-generated numbers without giving it a second thought. Clean out your pockets before tossing your jeans in Sunday’s laundry, find that slip of paper and wonder.. ah, I should just check. And there it is, a random selection of digits and your life changes.
A tired analogy, I know. And it ignores the obvious that writing your guts out is far more an investment and a risk than playing a nearly-impossible-to-win game of chance. But when, on a “Whatever happened to that writing competition I entered in November?” chance perusal of the internet a couple of weeks ago, I saw my name appear among the writers long-listed for the Santa Fe Writers Project (SFWP) 2011 Literary Awards Programs, my stomach bottomed out and my blood sparkled. The endorphins sizzled and spat and it felt as if someone had just handed me the winning ticket to The Rest of My Life.
In this blog, where I purport to work on and talk about my writing, I have left off mention that my first short story — first to write, first to submit — was published last summer. Perhaps because it felt like a fluke, perhaps because I had nothing else to show under my byline. In truth, I feel ridiculous calling myself a writer. I’m approaching 43. I should be plowing money into my 401(k), not indulging in fantasies of moving to the South of France to spend my mornings foraging at the Farmer’s Market and my afternoons plinking away at a laptop, writing the Great Ex-Pat American Novel.
I make time every couple of weeks to work through the oodles and hordes of on-line and in-print literary journals and narrow the list to those that might be interested in my stories and my style. It’s overwhelming and often disheartening. What’s largely in vogue is experimental, first-person, borderline stream of consciousness writing with a distinct avoidance of story arc and character development. I’m a pretty traditional wrr..wrrri…writer (choke) — I like stories — a beginning, middle and…. not an end, per se, but a balance between resolution and an open road ahead.
My second short story — second to write, second to submit — was rejected from the literary anthology that’s pretty much the ne plus ultra of short story journals. So, I set my sights a little high. It’s a story I believe in, so I’m retooling and looking for different markets. It’s also a story on which my writing mentor scribbled: “This has the makings of a novel, Julie.” Food for 3 a.m. thought.
Then this third attempt. A story burbling around in my head for months, finally committed to paper and pot-valiantly submitted to the SFWP 2011 Literary Awards competition. First it was long-listed. Then it was short-listed. From 750 entries to 50 to 23. So, no matter what happens next, the winner is The Story. That someone, not just anyone, but Alan Cheuse someone (NPR and contemporary American Fiction junkies, I need not explain who this is), thought a traditional story, MY story, has merit enough to move up through the hundreds of other pages received, feels really fucking incredible. Really. Whatever track I’m on, this is a friendly nudge of an elbow, a wink and a smile that says, Keep Going, Kid — don’t stop now.
I’m working on it. Not as hard as I feel I should be, but there’s the day job I love, there’s keeping in shape, there is precious time with my husband to keep in balance. And there is the time to sort out the past forty-odd years when I’ve been doing everything else BUT writing and now the words are beginning to pour out in ways that terrify and thrill me.
A year ago I had not a single story completed and saved on my hard drive. Now I have five lurking in my virtual folders. I have a listing on Amazon.com. One story has found a home, the others are in various stages of house-hunting. Some days I feel like I am spinning my wheels and this is all a cosmic mistake. But the days when I give myself over to the page are the days when the wheels move forward on a sure and steady track, when I don’t even need to see ahead to know where I’m going.
Looky, ma, no hands: