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Part 3 l The Impossible Road to Publishing

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, 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, 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 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 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?

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