Every year the Society of Southwestern Authors sponsors a writing contest for writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The SSA contests are open to non-members, so entries come in from all over the country. This year was the first time they included a category for first-chapter, novel submissions. I think they were a bit overwhelmed when thirty entries hit their mailbox.
Winning entries are published in SSA’s annual publication—The Storyteller; however, only the first page of each first-chapter entry is included in the hard-copy publication (space constraints.) But, thanks to SSA’s wonderful techie types, digital files are now up and running on their website, meaning that the winning chapters can be read in their entirety.
I’m guessing you suspect this is more than an info dump about the SSA contest. Right you are, of course.
Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath, fill out the entry form, and pop that sucker in the mailbox, and trust me, every single time a little bit of your heart goes with it. Yup, even though Dancing Between the Beats is still undergoing final revisions, I entered the first chapter, Enter Stage Right, anyway. I entered without expectations, but paid the extra fee to receive written critiques from the judges. Always invaluable in any contest.
So, imagine my surprise when I received an email, not just with critiques attached, but with an invitation to the awards ceremony (yesterday), because my chapter won an Honorable Mention (that means 4th or 5th out of 30). I’ll take it! I’d expected to end up on the “to be shredded pile.” I'm quite pleased. If interested, here’s the link to the full first chapter:
I worried and stressed over having to read an excerpt, but I survived the mike, and if you want to read just the bit I read at the ceremony, you can find that here:
DANCING BETWEEN THE BEATS In ballroom dance, movements blend over the beats. This merging of movement means that one dances “between the beats” rather than on each beat of music. In this respect, dance is like life. We live, as we dance, between the beats.
While DBTB offers an insider’s view of the ambitions, ethics, and rivalries in the world of ballroom dance, it’s also grounded in the veracity of human nature. The spine of the story is our need to belong, to find our tribe. The secondary theme is how we react when expectations clash with reality, and the status quo unexpectedly shifts. When motives, priorities, and relationships are re-evaluated, the rose-colored glasses come off.
Chapter One introduces three main characters: studio owner, Katherine Carrington; Dance Master, Marcos Stephanos, and the new hire, Paige Russell. This excerpt is from Paige’s section.
Paige cupped her hand protectively around the lit match. The feeble flame arm-wrestled with the wind, fighting for its few seconds of life. Cigarette clamped between her teeth, Paige increased the shield, tightening the curve of her hand and bending her head until her nose twitched from the pungent scent of phosphorous. She, by God, needed this cigarette, and right now. Damn this wind anyway, and the neighborhood idiot who was stinking everything up with mesquite-wood fumes. If she wanted smoke in her lungs, she would smoke.
Paige leaned against the old Eucalyptus tree in the corner of the back parking lot. The wide trunk made a great shield against the wind. Her pale cheeks hollowed as she dragged hard to light her cigarette, pushing the tip deep into the base of the flame. The delicious scent of tobacco filled her nostrils and a gentle stream of smoke swirled through her fingers. She’d started smoking only two years ago, but the habit was so embedded, it was as though she was born with a cigarette clutched in her tiny baby fist. Without her smokes, she was a bundle of hot-wired nerves. She hated herself for her weakness, even as she closed her eyes in pleasure. Smoking brought her back from the brink of insanity, but landed her on the ledge of despair.
“I’m such a mess,” Paige muttered, shaking her head. There were still too many mornings when her mother’s face was the first image that popped into her head. Sometimes she would wake up thinking she heard her voice. Grief doesn’t march through five neat stages. That’s complete bullshit. Grief spirals and turns back on itself. It hides, and then springs out at you like a lunatic ghost in a not-so-fun Halloween corn maze.
“How can I miss my mom so much,” she said to the wind, “and still be so damn confused and mad at her all at the same time?” Paige felt angry tears damning up behind her eyes. She blinked rapidly to stop them from spilling over. The quickly moving clouds almost obscured the blue desert sky she had so come to love. Dirt-filled dust devils ripped hidden bits of litter from under the bushes, creating a careless collage of rubbish, only to dump the discards helter-skelter. The exposed litter reminded Paige of an old saying of her mother’s—something about not airing your dirty laundry in public.
Paige’s shoulders slumped and a familiar hollow bubble began to form in the pit of her stomach. She had to stop thinking about herself as dirty laundry—someone’s dirty secret. Paige ached to confront, and cry, and scream, “Why, Mom? What was so bad that you couldn’t tell me?” But you can’t ask a dead person questions
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