I sent this piece into a contest recently. It didn’t win. ANYTHING!!! Not win, place or show. But that’s okay. I figured I’d put it here and win…your hearts, instead!
TITLE: When life gives you lemons…don’t suck! ( this wasn’t REALLY the title. I just came up with it, like, 5 minutes ago!)
Two years ago I was downsized from my health care job and simultaneously going through the worst menopause Mother Nature had ever bestowed upon a female of the species. I was the human definition of a hot mess with too much time on my hands. My only child was grown and on her own; my husband was still employed full time; perpetual and soul-sucking hot flashes kept me up nights and my brain-like a rabid energizer bunny- never shut down. There’s only so much housekeeping, grocery shopping and cooking a person can do in their free time. My floors sparkled, the checkout people at the market knew me by my first name, my cabinets were organized as if Martha Stewart herself had arranged them, and my husband gained five pounds because of all the new recipes I was trying each week. I’d always liked to read, but starting and finishing a book in a day was a little much, even for me. I needed something to motivate me to get out of bed and showered every morning and to fill those daylight hours productively.
One March midnight, with a snowstorm blustering through the trees outside my New England home, I was sitting in the living room with the air-conditioner turned to high and blowing directly at my hormonally-charged, red, naked and perspiration-dripping body, when I started writing down a story that’d been swimming around in my brain for a while. I’d always wanted to write the great American romance novel but never had the time due to school/work/family/child/life responsibilities. I’d had a tiny bit of success over the years writing freelance non-fiction pieces about everything from Nursing topics (since I was a Master Degreed Registered Nurse), to motherhood and child-rearing concerns, but writing a romance novel had always been my dream since I’d read my very first Nora Roberts book. Now that I’d been shaved down to three days of clinic work per week, I figured I had the time to invest in my dream and might as well use it to my benefit.
Those two days off per week, plus the weekends, were certainly spent well in this endeavor. I treated writing as if I were still working, meaning I devoted the hours I should have been at a paying job to getting the story down on paper, or – in my case – on the laptop. Those hours I spent writing I considered sacred. I could have goofed off; gone shopping; had my nails done: watched a Real Housewives of any city marathon. But I didn’t. I simply wrote my heart out. Three months later I had a 350-page romance novel completed. The day I typed The End is a moment in time I will never forget. The fact it occurred at 2:25 in the morning and I was sweating like a farm animal might have something to do with that.
Now what? I had 350 pages of a story I was in love with but I wasn’t sure what I’d written was any good, had any merit, or even if the story was coherent. Were my characters likable? Believable? Was the story arc interesting or as dull as my brain before morning caffeine? Since none of my friends were romance readers I knew they couldn’t be depended upon to give me valuable feedback because – as my friends – they’d all be loyal and tell me it was wonderful even if it stank. So I decided to do something I’d never done before: I entered a contest. I knew romance-writing contests offered critiques on the work submitted and that’s what I was looking for. I wanted someone connected with the industry to tell me I was either on the right track, or to get the he** off the train because I had no talent and wasn’t leaving the station anytime soon. So I submitted the first three chapters as instructed.
I’d never entered a contest for anything before. I wasn’t that kid who ripped off the back of a comic book and entered a giveaway promotion for a soon-to-be-released-must-have-toy. I didn’t clip the Sunday ad promos begging the reader to enter for a chance to win free samples. Heck, I didn’t even buy lotto tickets when the prize was half a gazillion dollars. Entering a contest was something I’d never considered because I just didn’t – and still don’t – believe in luck. To me, the real definition of luck is when opportunity meets preparation, so blindly entering a contest to win a prize wasn’t on my radar. Entering this writing contest though, where I’d actually prepared something for someone to judge, was a totally different incentive for me.
I knew – knew – I didn’t have a chance at any kind of prize; this was a given. I wasn’t entering to win, though. I was totally invested in the notion my writing would be judged and when I’d get a critique and score back, I’d know if the direction I was moving in was worthwhile. I told myself if the work truly was horrible, at least the critique would show me the areas I needed to address and concentrate on. The added benefit of submitting the chapters, I soon realized, was the people judging me didn’t know me from Adam – or in my case – Eve. Criticism, I’ve found, is much easier to take when you don’t know the person who is critiquing your work, so in my heart I knew my ego wouldn’t be too devastated when the pages came back to me filled with comments about areas for improvement.
But an amazing thing happened: I received an email informing me I’d won my category. And not only that, the judge who’d read it was the publisher of The Wild Rose Press. She contacted me and told me she’d enjoyed what I’d written and asked if I’d submit the entire manuscript for review to one of their in-house editors. Would I? Damn straight I would, Skippy!
So I did. Again, I had no preconceived notions of anything stupendous happening. Just the fact she’d asked to see more than the three chapters she’d read was encouraging. I assumed the editor I’d submitted to would send it back to me, littered with margin suggestions and corrections and with a simple note saying, “Thanks for letting me read this, but it’s not for us,” and that would be that.
But it wasn’t. She liked it too, so the Wild Rose Press contracted to publish it. And my next two books in the series as well, with options for books four and five. And a novella due out in Spring 2016.
At fifty-four years old I had a dream – a dream I’d never shared with anyone – come true. A true middle-aged Cinderella moment. All because I decided to do something I’d never even considered doing before.
To say my life changed forever in the instant I won that contest category would be an understatement. To have the book of my heart actually published, to have a publisher truly like what I’d written and like it enough to take a chance on an unknown, menopausal, sleep-deprived empty nester fifty-four year old bottled blonde with crow’s feet and a muffin top, was not only a dream come true, but a modern day miracle.
When my first book was published in March 2015 I officially “retired” from my downsized paying job. Nowadays I get to go to work in my pajamas every morning – and sometimes in nothing at all, depending on the state of my hot flashes – and I never have to leave my house. I write in an attic loft overlooking my quiet and beautiful wooded property.
In a strange, karmic way, the enforced and unanticipated downsizing was the spark necessary to propel me to change my life and move it in the direction I’d always wanted it to go, but never had the courage to take it. I will never regret entering that writing contest because it opened doors I don’t know would have ever opened for me otherwise. If I hadn’t made the decision to take a chance and submit my story, I think my life would still be the same, unfulfilled, overworked, sweaty, hormonal one it had turned into.
I’m still sweating and hormonal, but now I’m also a Published Author.
And life is so much better – hot flashes and all.