Could 2014 be this “Subversive Writer’s” year? A better year? A writer’s year?
The hint of recognition comes my way, a glimmer of hope, sometime on December 31 as the light petered out of the sky on the final day of a fruitless year. A dark year, really, where I was unsure of where I was going, had exhausted my efforts, became terrified of what has become of me, wasted too much time writing, wished I could go back seven years and never had pursued it, stayed on the payroll.
It chimes into my inbox, a note from the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards, its subject header not blatantly suggesting another announcement of doom. Rejection of my first essay never gets any easier. The 18-page document Suzanne aptly entitled “The Subversive Writer,” depicts in summa my tales of adventures and mischief that in her view birthed this writer.
The essay, a contest-worthy piece, is a vehicle orchestrated by Suzanne to obtain pub credits in an effort to make a certain imminent admissions application more robust to academic types and my memoir manuscript more appetizing to the publishing world at large. Suzanne’s communiqué to the former and her editing magic to the latter, will make a world of difference, make me a bona fide contender.
The contents of the email await, it’s subject a breadcrumb for a thrill, a bite of something tasty. Hopeful tasty. Publication tasty. Cash prize tasty.
My heart thumps, a pang in my chest flares, swells hard against my insides. Perspiration comes in a wave. Be. Something. Good. My forefinger hovers over the enter key: I’m on the hopeful tasty rollercoaster, climbing up the lift hill.
The grind of metal teeth clank and crank. Up, up, up.
Biting my lip so hard, it’s got to have gone white. I give Dennis a sideward glance. He’s focused on his computer with laser precision, a quality that precedes him. He could conceivably bear witness to my cash prize tasty elation first hand. I’d have to have my arms raised taking the G and centrifugal forces on the dive down, spine arched, my laptop bobbling on my knees for him to notice. Hell, he deserves the high on the cash prize tasty too. This is, after all, the guy who has lovingly supported me alongside Suzanne through the canal, the rebirthing to writership.
The car crank is burdened, I’m peaking the crest nearing the yummy dive drop. I close my eyes, hit <enter>.
Be. Something. Good. Please.
I see the dark inside my skull, tiny explosions of stars, my neurons are firing like mad. I’d like to stay here for awhile on the seat of anticipation, cash prize tasty. Watch the fireworks. Dream. Doesn’t happen. Stage left, a disturbance registers externally. A cat paws at my cheek, one that’s in dire need of a manicure. She’s picked up on my vibe, the change in energy in the room, trying to snap me out of it. Eyes closed, I shoo her away, does no good, the razor sharp talons have caught and lodged into my skin. It sweetens the moment—no pain, no gain. I squint an eyeball open.
Across my petite MacBook Air’s monitor, text appears. Lots of it. Meaning, there isn’t the standard two lines “thank you very much, your submission didn’t cut it” followed by a concise no-name signature block. Blinking open the other eyeball, I fix the monitor where I can read it—two or so feet out.
The opening paragraph reads:
“Congratulations Writer.” [Lift off. Holy shit!!! I am cash prize and publication tasty! Arms fly towards the sky, mouth drops, I’m taking G’s down the dive. Life is the effin balls!!!]
“The Subversive Writer was chosen as a semi-finalist in the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards competition. We received over 550 submissions, and competition was tough.” [I won, I won, I won!! Whaddo I get? Whaddo I get? Huh-huh-huh? Pub? Cash? Both?]
“Though not one of the three cash award winners eligible for publication, your work was at the top of the semi-finalists list in the nonfiction category.” [Crank jams, my head lunges forward, breath leaves my body. Arms fall. A bowling ball drops into my belly; I’m showered with a ton of salamis.]
Semi-effin-finalist? Semi-effin-finalist tasty?
I surgically disengage the paw from my face, lick the blood away, thrust my laptop on top of Dennis’s. “What do you think of this?” I’m a disgruntled contestant. “It’s a gimmick, isn’t it?”
His face lights up, his eyes dart back and forth scanning the lines.
I watch him, watch for the change and it comes. His expression sours. He got to the bad part:
“Your semi-finalist status grants you an invitation to participate in the Tucson Festival of Books Masters Workshop on March 17 and 18 at the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center in Tucson for $300. Please confirm your participation in the Masters Workshop by January 15 on the tucsonfestivalofbooks website.”
I’ve won something I have to pay for.
Dennis hands me back the laptop, doesn’t know quite what to say. I close the despicable thing, place it on the coffee table, pick up the remote and swaddle the cat that’s continuing to paw my face like a mummy.
The hopeful tasty aspiration fades into the sunset; the bowling ball and salamis remain.
An hour later, I’m curious. The 10-pound bowling ball I used to chunk down the lanes as a kid at St. Mark’s has shrunken to candlepin size. I elbow the salamis for clearance, toss the remote sticky with Mike and Ike’s aside, and displace the cat with my laptop.
Happy New Year.
I was thrilled to receive my semi-finalist ranking. Would it be possibly possible for you to tell me just where I ranked in terms of the nonfiction submissions? Number 15? 45? 449 out of 550?
I’d love to know.
Lisa Mae DeMasi
Killer Receptionist, Writer, and Caretaker of Cute and Furry Animals
There is a good outcome to this whether or not I hear back from Meg. The Subversive Writer winning semi-final status comes in handy for the other endeavor I mentioned: making a certain imminent admissions application more robust. Suzanne again is involved as she is preparing a recommendation letter, the last remaining requisite to complete my MFA application to Florida Atlantic University, a fully-funded three-year program in sunny and warm Boca Raton. A letter that I fathom will include verbiage along the lines of “I highly recommend Lisa, a promising writer with enormous potential who just won top semi-final status in the world renown Tucson Festival of Books Literary Rewards…”
“Promising,” “enormous,” a woman showered by salamis.
The application deadline to the Masters in Fine Arts for Creative Writing is January 15. It was all Suzanne’s idea for me to pursue it, me a very grown woman, seasoned and unseasoned. Suzanne lives and breathes books and wants to convert the masses to become writers, even the ones who have surpassed the age of 25. That’s how critically-acclaimed novelists like her who coach amateur writers think. “I live and breathe books, so should everyone else. Begin the rebirthing!”
Bless her heart.
Last week the FAU admissions office, responding to my inkling of curiosity, told me they usually determine enrollment by February 15.
The date is fast approaching. I’m not taking it seriously, though. You know, getting in, the possibility of getting in, migrating the menagerie down to the affluent and charming shoreline of Boca for three years. It’s just an opportunity I’m considering, if they’ll have me.
Or not considering, if they won’t.
Dennis, incidentally, loves hot, sunny weather. I keep telling him insects keep growing in places where it’s summer most of the time, they don’t die off. He doesn’t seem to mind that daunting fact, one that I’ve repeated ad nauseam and by virtue of experience in living in the desert for three years.
Which desert, you ask?
The Sonoran one in Tucson, Arizona, the location of the infamous Festival of Books–evidence that life circles back to places we think we’ve left behind and cannot possibly offer us anything in the future.
From: Masters Workshop <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Monday, January 6, 2014 3:36 PM
To: Lisa Mae DeMasi <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards] The Subversive Writer
Out of the 125 nonfiction submissions, yours is among the top 30 that were sent to the final judge. (They weren’t ranked within the 30.) Being named a finalist is significant. I was greatly impressed and amazed at the credentials of the writers and the quality of the submissions. So congratulations again!