HuffPost Memoir Contest. The prize: Publication by Simon & Schuster. I didn't think I had a chance, but went ahead anyway. Then I actually forgot about the contest as months and months went by, until one hot afternoon in July, when I received an email from Rita Wilson that sent me over the moon. You are a top ten finalist out of 2400!
Submit a complete manuscript of no more than 50,000 words by December 15th, the email went on. My manuscript was 80,000 words. So now I needed to decide what to cut, what to leave in, and rewrite every sentence so it was more concise. It took four months, and by December 15th, I was ready.
But wait, back up. January of that year, Salon.com published a story about my face-to-face encounter with the hijacker. "Meeting My Husband’s Killer," they called it. The publication gave me credentials, and garnered great feedback that I could use when submitting to an agent. But I wouldn't need a publishing agent. I was going to win this contest.
A few days after the December 15th submission to HuffPost, I received an email from Salon.com, which informed me that "Meeting My Husband's Killer" earned the #3 top story of the year, and would be reprinted at year's end.
Fast forward a month to January, and another email. This time from the legal department at HuffPost. You have been disqualified, it said, as part of your story was published in Salon.com. Hold on, I wrote back, your rules said Initial Entry, it did not say no part of the story. I scanned the rules over and over, showed them to an attorney. My interpretation was correct, they said. I even found a blog about the contest where sixty-five contestants wrote in to say the rules were ambiguous. Attorney’s couldn’t figure them out. I went back to the legal department with my findings. Sorry, they said. You’re out.
Did I mention that I parted ways with Dede, the friend/agent who had been unsuccessful in placing my book? She decided to go in a different direction, and I was going to win publication through HuffPost. At the time the agreement felt right. Now adrift in publication wasteland, I accepted defeat and put my manuscript in cloud storage. In the meantime, I had also retired from teaching. After twenty-five years, it was time, and I felt I couldn’t be a serious writer and college professor. So now I had nothing to do but feel sorry for myself.
But of course, the story doesn’t end there. That re-publication by Salon.com that got me tossed from HuffPost came to the attention of a producer from NPR. I’d like to make a podcast of your story, he wrote in a note that brought me out of my funk. He rented a recording studio near my home, and from his studio in California, produced a podcast that earned Atlantic Monthly’s 50 top broadcast spot. I was back. With NPR on my credits, I would find an agent, no problem, right?