Inspiration arrived in my inbox in the form of a short story contest. A super short story contest: 250 words, or about 4 paragraphs. Literary Death Match was encouraging writers to submit a short story, judged by Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. I remember thinking – holy cow, Lemony Snicket? Read my short story? Next thing I knew the afternoon was shoved aside and I was busily drafting up this 250-word short story.
It didn’t win. But it got close. But I didn’t even think it was going to get as close as it did. First, I was notified I was a finalist: top 15. I was over the moon. I posted it on my personal blog and blasted it out to Facebook. Lemony Snicket picked my piece!
Last year, my two boys and I finished the 12th book in Daniel Handler’s uber popular A Series of Unfortunate Events. We read it, we listened to it read by Tim Curry (amazing), we watched the movie (terrible) and opined about how good the upcoming Netflix show will be. We had been completely sucked into the weird world of the poor Baudelaire children, we loved it when the evil and dimwitted Count Olaf inevitably appeared, and belly laughed whenever Snicket would explain a word definition in his own special way (those of you who have read this series know exactly what I’m talking about).
Now I’m launching The Writing Club in the fall for young writers who are exactly the age of the readers of Lemony Snicket’s books. I teach that it’s not only great to read writers we love, but to emulate them, learn from them and respect them. You can learn a lot.
And apropos of this, I got a lot out of this contest. It recharged my literary battery. As a writer, I spend a lot of time brushing off this annoyingly nasty little bird on my shoulder that mockingly barks: you’re wasting your time, only a few writers are published or actually read, or you should have gotten your MBA instead of your MFA. So when something like this happens, when a writer enjoys your story enough to pick it as a finalist, it gasses the ego-tank for the many arduous days ahead.
Last week I found out I was a runner up – there was a winner and two runners up, one of them me! He actually did pick my story.
Here it is – enjoy! And thank you Daniel Handler for beating that barking bird off my shoulder. For now.
Fourth of July, and we are driving to the beach in a slog of traffic. Winnie, next to me, reads a novel on her Ipad. The twins are in the back seat, my daughter plugged into her Kindle and my son steadily swiping his mini Ipad, while I listen to a lecture podcast on my phone with a single earbud.
The podcast ends and in that beat I look over at the blue Toyota idling in the next lane, so close, a stone’s throw away. The driver is a dark-skinned woman with tight curls, large glasses, pudgy arms, and as we sit unmoving I notice her tears; great rivulets are racing down her face.
I finger the tissue that sits in its box between Winnie and I. The woman now looks my way, and our eyes catch. I pull out the tissue, roll down my window, and call out into the exhaust: “Hey!”
Winnie startles, and exclaims, “Charles!” But I ignore her and dangle the tissue out the window, and the woman takes her cue and leans way over the passenger seat, reaching, grunting. The tissue is a flaccid, unflying flag between us, stagnant in the humid air, and so I reach further, and as I do my arm jostles against the taut wire headphone, and with a sharp tug yanks my phone off the console and it pitches out the window, onto the concrete, smashing into splintery shards.
The woman gasps, Winnie screams. The kids look up from their devices.