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An Unexpected Honor

When I opened my front door today, I discovered a fantastic surprise waiting for me.  No, it wasn’t Jensen Ackles in a tux extending an oversized box of Godiva chocolates.  As unbelievable as this might sound . . . it was actually more awesome than that.

Around these parts, if something is too big to fit in the mailbox, the mail carrier just leaves it at the front door.  The only issue is that I hardly ever use the front door.  Today I happened to be expecting a package, so I took a quick peek out front.  Tucked between the glass door and the wooden door was a brown box, but not the package I was expecting – instead it was from Highlights.  I don’t know how long it’d been there, but from the date on the letter inside, it’s been several weeks.  Oops!  Anyway, I’d already received my contributor’s copies from them, so I couldn’t imagine what it might be. 

I ripped into the package with the excited abandon of a kid on Christmas morning.  Inside I found a pretty pewter plate (I love alliteration!) engraved with my name, the title of my story, and Highlights Author of the Month Award“Highlights for Children Author of the Month.”  Cue the dropping of my jaw and eyes bugging out of my head.  There was also a lovely note from Highlights editor in chief Christine Cully telling me the staff had voted me Author of the Month for my story “Seeking a Hidden Hive.”  Wow, I’m so honored!  My heartfelt appreciation and thanks to the Highlights staff!

This short story has led to many amazing honors and opportunities in my writing life.  I’m just so grateful for whatever odd conversational turn of events led to my brother and me discussing honeyguides in late 2008.

 So what's the most exciting thing you've ever found at your front door?

 

A Bloody Flash

I’ve been a NYC Midnight junkie the past two weeks.  This weekend was the first round of their fourth annual Flash Fiction Challenge.  Writers from around the world are divided into groups, and each group is assigned a genre, a location, and an object.  The writers then have 48 hours to write a story of 1000 words or less that incorporates those parameters.  I’ve participated the past two years, and I love the way it pushes me creatively during those adrenaline-fueled weekends.

For the first challenge this year, my group was assigned the genre of drama, the location of a blood drive, and the object duct tape.  I was kind of bummed about the genre of drama - I’ve had it a number of times over the course of various NYCM competitions and was hoping for something to push me out of my comfort zone.  Plus drama is so broad - almost every story is a drama in some way; and with my fondness for writing thrillers, suspense, and horror, I had to be careful not to cross too far over into one of the other genre categories.  This was especially tough this time given the location was a blood drive - the horror story practically writes itself!

I spent most of Saturday pacing around the house swilling coffee rejecting idea after idea.  Of the two that were my front runners, I worried one was too sci-fi and the other was too fantasy.  In their rules, NYCM states they encourage the creative use of the parameters, so I finally had the idea to push the meaning of “a blood drive.”  Instead of the typical setting of a mall or office building with chairs, nurses, juice, and cookies, I decided to interpret the phrase literally and have a bloody protagonist driving a car.  Once I settled on that, the details began to fall into place.  By 11:30 pm on Saturday night, I finished my first draft.  It was awful.  So terrible, I thought about starting over with one of my earlier ideas.

But after rereading it a few times, I figured out where it had gone off the rails and rewrote it.  I only kept the first paragraph, some of the plot points, and a few phrases I liked from the original.  I finished that draft around 5:00 am (oh, have I mentioned I’m a night owl?), and then immediately did another round of editing.  At 6:30 am I was still 227 words over the limit, but I decided sleeping on it was the wisest course of action. 

Once I woke up, I started the painful process of chopping and tightening and tweaking to make sure every word counted.  I also sent a draft to my brother, sister, and parents to read, since they are always my first readers.  They were all very enthusiastic, but they usually are, so they’re not the best barometers.  As the midnight deadline approached, I finally got the story whittled down to 994 words, and I was pretty happy with the story I submitted.  Here’s my title and synopsis:

A Long, Bloody Road - As time runs out for her son, Sarah’s not afraid to spill a little blood to save his life.

Have you participated in NYC Midnight’s flash fiction challenges before?  Which genres would you like to get?  Which genres would you dread?

A Dream Come True

If the eight-year-old version of me could see what I’m holding in my hands, she’d be cartwheeling around the house squealing at the top of her lungs.  Heck, the adult version of me is having a tough time keeping those impulses in check. 

Jocelyn holding the July 2011 Highlights with her storyToday seemed like any other day until I walked out to my mailbox and found a big white envelope with a return address from Highlights.  I had a hunch about what was inside, and my heart kicked into high gear.  I ripped open the envelope to find complimentary copies of the July 2011 issue, which just so happens to have a story written by me in its brightly colored pages.  Squeeee!!

I loved, loved, loved Highlights growing up – the fun stories, the cool crafts, the hidden pictures, the hijinks of Goofus and Gallant.  Even when I technically grew too old for it, my mom kept the subscription under the guise that it was for my younger brother and sister, even though they never really read it.  I was a sad, sad panda on the day my mom decided all her kids were too old for Highlights and cancelled the subscription.

Even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about becoming a writer at that point, a part of me must have poured over the pages knowing that’s where my destiny would lead me.  Two years ago I entered the 2009 Highlights Fiction Contest, and my story Seeking a Hidden Hive was picked as one of the winners.  My awesome prize was that I got to attend the fantastic Chautauqua Writers Workshop for free, but even more exciting for me was that my story was going to be published in Highlights

Highlights keeps so many stories on hand that it takes years after acceptance to be published, but since this is my first children’s publication, I’ve been anxiously awaiting this day.  Now it’s finally here, and it feels AMAZING!  The illustrator did a fabulous job on the drawings, bringing my characters to life.  I got a little choked up when I saw my name listed among the pages of the magazine that was such a huge part of my childhood.  I am so grateful to the editors at Highlights for picking my story and making one of my dreams come true. 

So what writing milestones have transformed you into your eight-year-old self squealing with excitement?