Every year starting around September most of the writer’s groups in the region, if not the country, host all their competitions and events. I forget which one I was entering at the time, but in order to submit I had to prove I was a member of a legit and recognised writer’s association. So I hunted around for the membership prices for pretty much all of them.
Some of them wanted $170 a year. For what?! So I can enter contests? Get the PREMIUM newsletter?
Naturally, any author or member I asked for the value of such things had the same reply: Oh, it’s SO worth it. Besides, it’s not that much money.
To them, I’m sure this is true. I’m willing to bet that none of them ever lived on a Disability Pension. If I’m spending $170 a year on ANYTHING, it better be fkn good.
Well one of them wasn’t that much and, lo and behold, they had Concession rates too (something none of them offered except for one, who only started offering it after I badgered them about it and then didn’t tell me they were now offering it) so I signed up and paid instalments for a $40 membership to OOTA. I also loved the name, “Out Of The Asylum”.
OOTA has the best newsletters, hands down, because they’re literally written like a letter from some writer friend of yours who wants you to know about upcoming events and drops comments about the weather across southwest WA and the joy of grandchildren. SO GOOD.
Then I saw on their newsletter, as well as other places, their Short Story Competition called “Spilt Ink”. Which is an awesome name as well. I typically don’t enter anything that asks for money, because I never have any but also because if I did then I’d end up entering EVERYTHING and go broke pretty quick. But I paid the $12, because we could actually afford that (don’t laugh, there’s things I’ve gone without because we had $5 to last us the weekend) and entered their Short Fiction category.
At first, I chose my entry based on their word count, but then I changed my mind and found a different piece that I had to trim down. For my money, taking your 3000 or 2500-word short story and having to shave it down to 2000 words is a real lesson in how to do more with less. Every writer should have to do that to their stuff. If they did, books would probably be shorter, but WAY better.
Anyway, it was only while entering that I saw it was the “fiction” category and, technically, this particular piece is a memoir. But that was what the 500-word shave was good for too, as I could remove most of the identifying characteristics of the land and region and make it set just about anywhere with a river.
And it worked. It read well and could have been anyone, anywhere. I was pretty happy with it. Nobody at OOTA had to know it was a story from when I was 16 and I wrote it not long after hearing the news that my older brother had died. Wifeage asked what I thought “the rest of the family” would think when they read it, but then I realised that it didn’t matter to me what anyone thinks of the representations in the story.
Because they are My Truth. And if you can’t speak your truth, then you need to change some shit up.
Full Disclosure: I have a folder in my email called “submissions” but it is only named that because I’m too proud to call it “rejections”. Which is 99.99% of the emails in there. ‘Course I DID get asked for a “full” once and that’s in there too. SIGH, if only.
Since nearly all those emails read the same, I wasn’t expecting one of them to start similar to the rest but then tell me how pleased they were to tell me that I was shortlisted in OOTA’s Spilt Ink Competition. Holy balls, was I excited! I ran around the house (limping, with my cane, sure, but limping really fast and excitedly) telling Wifeage and then Teenage Offspring that I’d never received such a high honour as to be shortlisted in ANYTHING before. Hell, even the time I was published in the Stringybark Stories Anthology was only because I was “Highly Commended” and didn’t hit the shortlist there.
So we celebrated with some cookies and I started getting these wonderful emails from this lady at OOTA who told me they’re announcing the winners at their AGM and they’d love me to read some and the judge for the shortlist would be Brooke Dunnell and that got me SUPER excited because she’s one of my absolute favouritest WA authors.
So, holy shit, not only do I get to read my stuff OUT LOUD for the first time ever, because I’m on a shortlist for the first time ever, but I get to meet one of my favourite authors who has judged my stuff? AWESOME.
Then, of course, the anxiety starts to kick in, wondering things like, “I won’t win, of course, but at least I’ll get at least third!” and then the lovely OOTA lady told me that there were five of us and only three prize spots, so then I was certain that I’d get 4th or 5th and a slap on the back. But when she said it’s “bring a plate and quite informal” I said I’d make brownies and bring my wife and kids.
But then the rest of the thoughts sink in. Getting my family to go ANYWHERE is a logistical feat worth of the Army’s Corps of Engineers. Getting anywhere ON TIME is impossible and I have given up on that since the last time we were ever on time during the fabled King’s Park Meetup of 2014. Keeping everyone happy for two hours while listening to various authors drone on about their work wouldn’t be fun either. And I’m mostly talking about myself, not the offspring. They’d likely be fine, heh.
I also had a hard week. Most weeks are hard these days, because most days are hard. When I DO have a “good day” it’s flanked on either side by a bad one, so the cumulative effect is that most weeks are pretty hard. I have trouble walking, sitting, standing or just being anywhere. Hanging out for two hours, standing up for five minutes to read my shit to others, was going to suck unless it was a “good day” and I’m as unable to predict those as the Lotto.
So it would likely be a hard day no matter which way you cut it. Driving for 40 minutes into Nedlands wouldn’t help either. My body’s just not cut out for some of this Life shit anymore. Not until I can get in for the surgery they promised me nearly a year ago now.
I had no way of knowing how to say this though. How to explain things like how even if we got lucky that I could move that day, my mental health is so soured that it’s nearly impossible for me to get up for ANY human interaction, let alone a building full of people I don’t know. Especially when my experience with groups of any genre tends to be that they are mostly not my cup of tea, and I end up not being theirs.
So I lied. I’m sorry lovely lady of OOTA, you are lovely and I feel guilty for lying, but I told her I had COVID and wouldn’t be able to make it to the AGM. I knew I wouldn’t know if it was a “good day” until about an hour after I had to be there, and I didn’t want to stupidly live in denial about it like Homer chasing the barbecue pig down the embankment and into the river. I had to pull the pin early so nobody was depending on me.
Then, on the day, I’ll be completely honest and admit that I forgot the AGM thing was going on. I’d resigned myself to Not Placing and had moved on with making the most of my Saturday. Which included, but was not limited to, figuring out if I could make it to the shops for kale and red wine or not. Spoilers: I didn’t. And I was simply taking a small wander to the kitchen to get smallest offspring a snack when the phone rang.
It was lovely OOTA lady, and she opened with how they had the AGM meeting earlier and she was sorry to inform me that I didn’t win. Which I totally expected. Then she said, “But I’m so pleased to tell you that you got second!” I was so happy that I froze up inside, and proceeded to make only smalltalk about the AGM and the other folk until the OOTA lady told me about one of my favourite authors reading an excerpt of MY work and giving her thoughts and feedback on the writing she’d judged.
Fucking WOW. I had barely hung up as I was on the way outside to tell Wifeage about it. Beautiful thing she is, she couldn’t take the news sitting down and hopped to her feet and announced “Comin’ in!” before wrapping her arms around me. Her warmth, her congratulations, were just about the best thing I could feel. Then we told Teenage Offspring together, and daughter did the same thing! Hopped up and was like, “Comin’ in!” and we had a Congratulatory Cuddle Puddle of Exleys.
So here I am, feeling rejuvenated for my Writing Career. A recognised talent. Prize-winning and published. For as much or as little as that counts, it feels pretty damn good.