Wednesday, February 29, 2012

how not to....

I really need to stop entering writing contests.

My son is involved with a program called Future Problem Solvers. In this program students are teamed together to address fictional contemporary issues with possible solutions. The culmination of the day's work is an oral presentation regarding their solution which parents are allowed to attend. A few years back at my son's first competition, I was drafted by his teacher to judge the orals along with two other parents. I savored the experience as I thought of being able to share in my son's efforts.

Soon I wished I hadn't. By the time the other two judges and I had reached a synergistic position with each other, five teams had already presented. I feel bad for those first five as they may have been great but as judges we weren't ready to score them properly. Let me apologize retroactively for the kids who might have made it downstate but didn't because I was distracted by one of the other judges who kept making hand gestures to her daughter.

Now I have to say I am not completely against writing contests. My YA novel called Vanity just made it into the second round of judging in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Author contest. That feeling will give a writer quite a high. However, not winning any of the handful of short story contests I have entered tends to disproportionately erase what should be a much more imposing good feeling. WTF?

Today I got an email from Writer's Digest informing me once again that my short story did not win, and I am spiraling downward emotionally. I am guessing the other losers (I can call them that since I am one too) did exactly what I did and read the three winners. Likewise I am guessing they reached the same conclusion I did, the winners works were no better than their own work. Whatever.... To the Judges I say thanks for working with us. Your job is a tough one.

I am proud of my work and feel like sharing it with the world. So, without further adieu, here is my short story called, Advice.

John did all he could to not think about the scarcity of money or the run down conditions in which he now lived. He was sure with the arrival of spring he would be able to find work doing construction, allowing him to stop taking money from his mother to make ends meet. “All I need is a good woman,” he would say in the shower while masturbating, “and I'll forget that bitch Natalie.”

John indulged in the emotions of his poverty and position, all stemming from two sources, his ex-wife Natalie and Steve, her lover. Their association was revealed to John the day he came home unexpectedly and found Natalie lying on her back on the kitchen table, legs wrapped around Steve just above his naked buttocks. All John had going for him now was a job on the township
volunteer rescue squad. While passing the day he often held the cigarette-box sized pager in his hand, hoping for an emergency call.

John had just finished his first cup of coffee when the phone rang. He put down the rescue squad pager and picked up the receiver. Holding it to his face he said, “Yea, what.” The voice on the other end said, “John? It's Natalie.”

“Oh Christ, what do you want?”

“John, I need some advice about the ice on the lake.”

“I... I don't understand. You need advice, about the ice?

“Yes John, how strong is it? I mean I need to know if it's strong enough to walk on. Do you know? I'm guessing you still go ice fishing so I thought you would know.”

“Ice fishing season's over Natalie.”

“I don't want to go ice fishing John, okay? It's just... we're out here in the Mathewson preserve and we see something out on the ice and.... the surface of the ice is very wet. We didn't know if it would be strong enough to walk on or not.”

“We, Natalie? You mean you and Steve? Go to hell, bitch.”

“Stop it, John, it's... I think it's an owl, a pretty big one too. It looks like it's stuck or hurt. It's only about a hundred feet from the shore and it's laying flat on the ice. Once in a while it flaps its wings.... I'm worried about it being hurt John and I don't want to see it suffer.”

“So you're gonna walk on out there and pick it up?”

“That's the idea.... if it's safe to do.”

“Um... yea... sure... sure... it's safe. Probably the most dangerous thing is that owl's talons. Throw a jacket over it so it doesn't scratch your eyes out.”

“Good idea.”

“And make sure Steve stays on shore.”


“If a ranger comes by he can flag 'em down, but keep me on the phone with you out there. I want to make sure you're okay.”

“That's sweet John. Okay, here I go.”

“What's it feel like? The ice I mean.”

“The water on top is deeper than I thought and very slushy.”

“That's fine, you'll make it. You have a coat on, right? A nice heavy coat?”

“Yes, and I have a blanket from the car to cover the bird.”

“Good. Are you getting close?”

“About forty feet away now... Wait... John, I just heard something in the ice... it was like a twig snapping!”

“Don't worry about that, it's gonna happen when you get out over deeper water. How's the bird look?”

“It's really beautiful. You should see it. Definitely an owl.... John, you're sure these noises in the ice are okay?”

“Natalie, concentrate on the owl, it needs you.”

“Okay John... wait... it's moving now, flapping its wings to move away from me... it's got something... there's a fish in its claws... John, the ice is snapping a lot now...”

“Natalie, calm down.... here's what happened. that owl, it was fishing, okay? It found a weak spot in the ice, probably caused by a spring in the lake bed. The ice was weak right there, it opened up and the owl was able to catch a fish.”

“John.... the owl just flew away.... What do I do now?”

“Well, if I were you, I would start wishing you had wings.”

“John... that's not funny!”

“It wasn't meant to be. One more thing, you might want to wave goodbye to Steve. He doesn't strike me as the type to dive into freezing water to save someone.”

A scream of, “John!” was the last thing he heard before the line went dead. He hung up the phone, pulled out a pair of sweatpants, and slipped them on. Then he put on his snow boots so he would be ready to go when the call came in over his pager for an ice-rescue. He had a strong feeling this one wasn't going to turn out so well.