Then fall came along, when time gushes like water from a burst dam into the new year. I pulled up Highlights' site, read the contest rules and the 2010 theme: Fiction based on a childhood memory for one of two ages, eight to twelve or seven and under. After a wild search among scattered notebooks, I found the memory I had jotted earlier in the year. Now, to shape it into a 750 word story. My education had focused on writing novels but how different could a short story be? For once, ignorance served me well.
As Thanksgiving closed in, I checked out Highlights magazine from the library to get a feel for the pieces they offer. I drafted my story, then happened upon a blog post by a Highlights' editor (which I've lost or I'd share it!) that talked about the importance of main characters in children's stories solving their own problems. Hmmm . . . my MC definitely had problems but she wasn't taking charge. I revised the plot and submitted it to my critique group with the January submission deadline looming. They pointed out flaws. The ending was weak and the story convoluted with too many plot threads. Short stories required tightly focused plot. I strengthened, simplified and resubmitted, receiving cheers and best wishes.
The story shipped to Highlights and I learned a new lesson: To be a writer is to wait. The contest wouldn't be officially announced until June. I told myself to forget it. It was my first contest and first children's short story. When Highlights' editor, Joelle Dujardin called in April to tell me I'd won, I thought they'd made a mistake. The rest of the day was a blur.
Winning the contest doesn't assure your work will be published, but last fall Highlights sent me proofs to review for publication and this month, my story, The Fog Lifts appeared in print. The editors at Highlights are the best, kind and supportive, never hesitating to respond to a new writer's silly questions. I learned so much from entering the contest and gained confidence that continues to help me fight doubt in my ability. And what a thrill, to see my story travel from memory to publication.