Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Definition of Surprise

On Thursday I dragged in late from my Writer's Critique group, and heard the "plink"..."plink" from my answering machine. Messages on my home phone are rarely good. I stabbed the button and heard a cheerful message from my mother. While it played I opened the door to the garage and hauled in my computer from my car. The next message began. "Hello Melanie, I think you will find this an interesting message. You are a finalist in the PNWA Literary Contest in the Mainstream category..."

I froze. My mouth dropped open. While the message continued I slowly lowered my computer bag to the floor and just as slowly raised my hands to my mouth. Heat blossomed over my face and down my neck and my knees wobbled. I sat.

I played the message again to make sure I didn't recognize a friend's voice, playing a joke. I played it again to make sure it wasn't a wrong number. No, the woman said my name.

My eyes filled. My next reaction, after playing the message yet again, was to question the sanity of the PNWA contest panel, and lastly, wonder if they had not gotten any other entries. When I was a child and played Monopoly, whenever one of us drew, "You have won second place in a beauty contest. Collect $10" we all taunted the recipient with "And you were the only one who entered."

Still not positive such a thing could happen, I logged into my computer and brought up the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association and clicked on the Literary Contest section. There, on a sidebar, the option "2009 Contest Finalists" loomed. I clicked on it and there, under "Mainstream" my name boldly proclaimed my entry, "The Pirate's Reckoning" was a finalist.

I stared at my phone, my hands folded between my knees, and calculated the time; nearly midnight on the east coast. My daughter rarely answers her phone and I cannot remember if I even tried. It is best to email her, she has told me repeatedly. My sister, who lives an hour away in Oregon, was probably just getting up on her vacation in France. In shock, I emailed Carolyn Rose, the instructor instrumental in teaching me how much I didn't know about writing, and forcing me to learn. I emailed my family next, then my critique groups, and then my friend, Lili Saintcrow, author, and Mel Sanders, author and bookstore owner.

Mel and Lili both emailed within seconds, as if they had been waiting with their fingers poised over the keyboard for my announcement. The three of us celebrated electronically. Not as good as face-to-face over a margarita, but oh, so close.

I've been wandering around for the last two days, bumping into walls and stepping on discarded shoes. Hobiecat and Schooner took it all in stride. This is right up there with having Ray Orrock dedicate an entire newspaper column to me in 1984. Maybe even better. Certainly more frightening.

In all honesty I never even once envisioned being a finalist. I entered the contest merely for the experience of sending off my precious written baby, and for the two written critiques from the professional and prestigious Pacific Northwest Writer's Association.

What does the future hold?

Monday, June 15, 2009


Interesting things happen in my life. Not the type of interesting things that would make a good book, but the type of things which cause people to look at me askance when told about them. That is why I'm posting it here, where there is no chance of anyone seeing it.

Today I got my mail at the post office. They have a great new recycling program. I saunter in and pry all the mail out of my box and haul it over to the counter. There I open it even if it looks like junk mail, just to make sure there is no check for a million dollars. If there isn't a check, I slide it into the locked recycling container and open the next. Today, out of the twelve pieces of mail, I recycled all but two. One was from my vet, offering me a discount on something. Discounts are good.

The other thing I kept was a card my parents sent me. They were returning a card I sent them for their anniversary a couple years ago. It really wasn't an anniversary card. I couldn't find an anniversary card that made me laugh, so I found a card that did, crossed off the "occasion" and wrote in my own. This works out well. There is no reason we cannot edit a good card to fit our own needs. My parents edited it, yet again, and resent it to me.

The thing is, it made me laugh all over again. Dang good card.

I really like being able to dispose of all the junk mail at the post office. Do you suppose they'd be upset if I brought in a chair and my laptop?

On my way out of the post office parking lot, I had to wait for an SUV to go by with a fresh green Christmas tree strapped to the roof. When I got home, I checked all the trees on my property. Mine were okay. You might want to check yours.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pacific Northwest

Yesterday morning, on the way to work, I had to slam on my brakes for a plump pheasant. It strutted across the road, completely oblivious to the threat I imposed. Following behind a small bird scurried along, gazing at me with worried, beady eyes. I'm not good with birds, but it looked like one of those sandpipers you see on the beach, racing ahead of a wave.

In the afternoon, on my way home, I crested a hill and standing in the road, flipping its tail, a doe challanged me. Once again I skidded to a stop. The deer sent me a scornful glare, lifted her chin and plodded off. I idled in the road another minute, waiting for something else to scurry out in her wake, but nothing did. I finally inched forward until I gathered up my courage to speed away.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Writing Writing

Over the weekend, in the midst of research, I happened across The Old Salt Blog. I found a book called Star-Crossed by Linda Collison. It is a nautical fiction with a female protagonist. I have to get a copy. I've already emailed my local book store, Cover-to-Cover books. I can barely wait.

In the meantime, Julian Stockwin, author of the Kydd series of nautical fiction, was kind enough to answer my email. I tried very hard to read his answer with a British accent.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Road Romance

On Thursday, I braved a torrential downpour, gale force winds and flying debris to get to my writing critique group. Negotiating the steep driveway into the condo complex alone almost gave me sailing experience, with the raging river roaring down to the bottom where it cascaded over the cement curbs to hurl itself into the open field. By the time we all finished reading our seven pages, the thunder and lightning had passed and the sky lightened to a daylight shade of gray.

As I drove home a baby-boomer couple strolled the street, hand in hand, amid fir tree debris. He wore slacks, a sports-shirt and his white hair stuck out from under a baseball cap. She wore a calf-length dress and dark sweater and sensible shoes. They picked their way out in the center of the road to avoid a dangerous grid of wet, green branches and pooled water waiting its turn to splash through the drain grating.

I slowed to ten miles an hour and let the scene imprint itself. I wondered how long they had been in love. My mind painted a picture of them in college, vowing they'd love and honor each other until death. Now, at 55 or 60, they remained together, their joined hands giving testimony to their honored vows. It touched my heart and made me smile.

Yes, yes, I know it is possible they met through an online dating service a month ago, but I prefer to think my own version is true. It gives me hope that good relationships still exist and are not diminished by time or our hectic culture. My hat is off to them.