Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Long Shot Paid Off

I’d just finished polishing my story Whiskey Nights for submission to Suspense magazine when I saw the posting on Brian Henry’s Quick Brown Fox site for a crime fiction contest. With high hopes of what I considered a long shot, I entered the story in the contest instead of submitting it to the magazine.

First, I had to comply with the contest criteria. The story had to include the word ‘oil’. No problem. I then decided to change the location of my story. Since the contest was in Fort McMurray, I changed the remote Ontario setting to one in Alberta. Not necessary, but why not. The biggest problem was the submission could not exceed 2500 words. Crap! My story was 2942. It was already tight and I laboured over what could be omitted without affecting the flow. I whittled it to 2500 words, but I wasn’t happy. My gut cramped reading the abridged version, but I sent it in. And waited.

Those who ‘like’ my facebook page are already aware that Whiskey Nights took second prize in Your McMurray Magazine crime fiction contest – one of the biggest monetary award contests I’ve seen. Apparently, the changes I made didn’t affect the quality of the story. I never gave up on the original though. After the win, I emailed the editor and mentioned that if they were to include my story in an anthology, would they consider publishing the unabridged version. haha

For most contests of this size, the winners receive a phone call or email. When Eden Mills Writers’ Festival phoned about my win in the fall, they asked if they could put me on speakerphone. I nearly died with anticipation – guessing that I must be a winner, but waiting to hear the words. They said I had to answer a question to qualify. Oh god, I thought, I hope it’s not math. Of course, it wasn’t. They needed to confirm that I didn’t have a published book.

When I received notice from the Fort McMurray contest, it was a generic email to (I assume) all entrants. The winners are listed on the website now, it said. I groaned – my expectations crushed. If I’d been in any kind of a hurry to get off the computer, I wouldn’t have checked out the winners for a few days.

I clicked on the link. OMG! Yes!! That was my reaction. My three-year-old granddaughter Sadie was with me. I grabbed her up in a big excited hug. I won, Sadie, I won! I re-read the announcement and again scooped her into a tight squeeze, I won, I won. After a few seconds, while I was reading the announcement for the third time, the little cutie, not having any clue what was going on, wrapped her arms around me shouting, Nana, you won! I couldn’t stop laughing.

What impressed me most was the calibre of professional writers who entered the contest. It stands to reason with a $3000 first prize. That makes my win even more astonishing. Crime fiction has always been my favourite read, but it wasn’t until my third novel that I tackled that genre. Short stories are a good exercise as they are more challenging to write than a novel. For me, anyway.

In Whiskey Nights, philanthropist Broderick Carowag Taylor, conceals his tortured fixation on the memories of one long-ago summer day at the family cabin.

You can read Whiskey Nights, as well as Melodie Campbell’s prize winning story, Hook, Line, and Sinker, and third place winner Bill Clark’s story Even, here.