Thursday, May 6, 2010

Solomon's Puzzle: First Bloom

Thanks to all my readers who sent private notes asking what happened when the phone rang in the midst of my confusion and grief for teaching which I wrote about earlier this week. .

It’s hard for me to predict when a rosebud will open. I’ve tried watering them daily with a dilute of “Bloom Booster,” made predictions aplenty and promises to people having parties, but there must be some hidden timer that makes them unfold. Some combination of rain, sun, heat, plant food and I imagine, the opening of God’s hand.

When the phone rang, as I wrote, I was distraught. My husband said, “You’d better get that. I think it is important.” I heard the warm, happy voice of my friend, Sherry, who also writes and who has taught me much about writing.

This week my roses bloomed, first the big antique rose bush with its cup-like flowers spice-scented, then the coral beauty with the headiest fragrance, and just then as if not to be left out, the palest pink rose beside it bloomed giving a tart apple scent. In the spring, when the leaves are new and the bush full of buds, the first unfurling looks the happiest event.

“Remember the contest?” Sherry said. “Solomon's Puzzle won! Your entry won!” Sherry’s excitement for me was so touching. As the contest coordinator, she organized entries and sent them to writers and editors for them to read and judge. She said that she had received the results several days before and finally had found time to look at the results. Her voice revealed her genuine enthusiasm as she voiced her hopes for the novel’s success. As a writer Sherry understands the realities of the work

What? I was astonished.

Right before the February blizzard, I had received a flyer in the mail about the Maryland Writers Association contest and thought maybe I’d enter. The entries had to be unpublished and this included publication on blogs. I decided to enter a portion of my novel that could stand alone in the short fiction portion of the contest.

You’ve probably read excerpts from novels in Reader’s Digest or Redbook or Good Housekeeping. I took two scenes that I thought showed one of the novel’s main conflicts and sent that.

I did not expect my manuscript to win. I knew that what I sent was obviously not short fiction. It didn’t fit the form of a short story which is form that like a sonnet is specific, beautiful and difficult to execute well. My work read like an significant moment or two in a much larger work.

The novelist Ann Hood who has written several novels, including, The Red Thread and The Knitting Circle, judged the short fiction. She did not award a first prize, but awarded a second and third. My work was awarded second. Stunned and grateful, I have no idea what I said to Sherry. I simply couldn’t believe it.

Karl and I drove to the Hunt Valley Inn for the banquet and awards night wondering what to expect. We knew that The Maryland Writers Association is a group formed to encourage writers to hone their craft and to publish. They host critique groups and hold an annual conference; the banquet was held at the end of this. Though gracious and glad to see me, Sherry’s greeting was somewhat apologetic: Since yours is the top prize in short fiction, we’d like you to read a portion. Do you mind?” Mind? Oh, no, I did not mind at all!

The banquet was lovely in the big room full of writers, the coffee at the end of the meal hot and delicious, the speaker informative and engaging, but being handed my prize by a friend felt like an important moment. I was honored to be asked to read and didn’t mind at all. I loved it! I was thrilled.

When I see my roses blooming, a brief instinct causes me to hesitate before I to cut them. They look so perfect, so right. A gardener told me once to cut them when they bloom! She said it takes all the rose’s energy to maintain a blossom and if you want more buds to open, cut, trim, and bring them inside.

I’m still surprised that I won, and so grateful. I think this may be a bit of encouragement, maybe, just maybe it’s the first bloom.


  1. You said, "I'm stunned. I can't believe it. I was sure the judges would see right through me and throw my manuscript out."

  2. That is wonderful! Oh talk about timing! God was so good with that one! I can't wait to read your book.