The Challenge of The Writing Contest

I just submitted my short story to the NYC Short Story Challenge. I’m excited. I think I wrote a pretty good story -here- in my personalized glory, I will quote a review from a friend who read it:

WOW!!! wow, wow, wow!!… it’s AWESOME! I read it out loud to my mom and J– too, they both really liked it. I can just say that I would not want to be in that type of world though… creepy! You sure have a talent. It caught my attention right away and everything is clear. You[r] descriptions are good too, it gives a clear image of what’s going on and I can imagine the surroundings.
I will keep my fingers crossed for you, I really hope you make it to the second round.
Did you see that! Not one wow, not two, not even three, but a whole whoppin’ four wow’s now you can’t buy that on television. I’m a damn genius, a one woman marching band and audience. All self aggrandizing and joking aside, I do feel pretty proud.
If you are not familiar with the contest, I’ll lay it down for ya: It has two rounds. In this heat (#1) we were given our subject and our genre then given a week to complete the story. If you get passed on to the 2nd round, you are given a new subject and genre then given 24 hours to complete your new short story. Oooo exciting. I want to win but I also will be excited to make it to the 2nd round.  I’ve never written a story in 24 hours. You know what? I’m lying actually. I tend not to count my years as a student and professional procrastinator. If I recall there is many, many a story I wrote in even less than 24 hours- shhhhit piece of cake. Of course, the grammatical quality of that work may have not been up to par.
A little about my experience with this venture. I got the assignment at 11:59 pm EST, which made it 9:59 my time, (my time not PST but my time). The genre was open, and the subject was IDENTITY THEFT. I wasn’t all that excited. Identity theft? All I could think of was sci-fi or crime. I don’t think I have ever even tried to write a crime story but I have seen a ton of sci-fi, in fact I love the genre, a true sucker for it. Just watched the Andromeda Strain 1979, loved it. Anyway, I didn’t focus on the word count because I didn’t want to impede my flow of words. I typed away for two days creating this elaborate story about a half brother and sister named Emily and Charlie and the identity theft of an entire town, a sort of  Stepford Wives meet Invasion of the Body Snatchers  (the 1978 version scared the crap out of me as a kid. It still creeps me out, and I have this theory that Kombucha might be a body snatcher but I’ll save that story) meets Nancy Drew and a Hardy Boy, maybe Shaun Cassidy, (I’m not quite old enough but my babysitters were) try wrapping your brain around that magic recipe. But, when I finally did look at the word count limit and saw it was 2,500 and then looked at how much I wrote -nearly 5,000- I knew the story was finished, there was no way I could cut 2,500 words so I erased it. Why? I didn’t want to think about it. I only had 3 days left to write a new story. I went to get a drink of water. As I walked from the living room to the kitchen I thought the words, identity theft, then I pictured some oily guy in glasses, and then I thought of the name Gunther, and I walked back to my computer and wrote out a new story going over the limit by a reasonable 300 words. For the remainder of the week I cut, revised, rearranged, watched the Godfather, cut and edited, watched Downtown 81, Into the Wild and The War Zone (I don’t have much of a social calendar) and then yesterday I had my friend read it to help pull out grammatical errors.
Today, I sat down with Strunk and White and fine combed the grammar. When I say fine combed, I mean fine, like a flea comb. I went through every sentence over and over again, assuring the proper use of verbs, omitting any adverbs and passive voice. The significance is that I have never done that before, never fully committed myself to examining and working my writing in that manner. It was geeky fun. Now I feel completely confident that I will not be eliminated due to my style ,structure or grammar and all that will be noticed is the story, this is a pretty great feeling.
On the home front, I’ve been picking up some hours at my friends store. I signed up with a temp agency. I now have three pieces of my work floating out there in the struggling literary world and that’s more than I have ever put out. Back in 1997, I submitted one story and that was it so I’d say I’ve greatly improved. I wont hear from any of my submissions till March so its back to revising on the novel, and after this editing experience with my short story, I look forward to working on the novel. I will leave you with my absolute favorite line from Strunk and White:
8. Avoid the use of qualifiers
Rather, very, little, pretty--these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.
the leeches that infest the pond of prose… I love the drama.

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