Charlotte's Web Set Me Up: My First Writing Award and the Cockeyed Smile It Gave Me

I'm one of those people who over-commits because of the satisfaction I get from sucking the last bit of marrow from living. This habit will probably shave years from my life expectancy but the euphoric feeling of touching as many facets as possible is not one I would trade. That's why I joined the Red Dirt Writer's Group two years ago.

I'm still uncomfortable at meetings. I even led the discussion this past week, and I still squirm within my psyche when I look around the room. Sitting within the oval-shaped group of authors are professors, PR writers, poets, those who have published more than five books, and those who make a living at their craft.

When I gaze around and listen to their thoughts, I feel like a preemie juxtaposed to their maturity. They speak of author's names like they are assumed pre-context. They talk of writing style and craft as though we all can grasp the language. I can't. I'm so uncomfortable there I still have a hard time asking to use the restroom. I frequently put my sphincter on hold in lieu of disrupting the process.

I've only attended a full meeting six times in the last 18 months. They are held on Tuesday nights and my graduate classes are always scheduled...on Tuesday nights. But I go when I can, and I have to say that I really, really like it. I like it more now. In October, they opened their annual short story contest. I reworked a blog post from a series I wrote and submitted the manuscript. I thought that perhaps getting feedback would help me take a step closer to these folks I admire so much.

When I walked in late to the meeting the following month, they were reading my piece. The funny thing was, the host didn't even recognize me because I go so infrequently. I walked in, excused myself for interrupting, sat down and turned my attention toward the host's wife who was reading a manuscript. Three sentences later I finally convinced myself they were reading mine. The group gave the proverbial, "Aww" then clapped once it was finished.

The host looked at me and asked, "You're Kelly right?"

"Yes," I replied. "I'm sorry I'm so late. Class runs 'till 7:30."

"That was yours, right?" he continued.

"Yes. That was mine. Are you all reading the short story submissions?" I was clueless.

"Well, yes. We saved it for last because it placed first. You won."

I probably blinked twenty times or so before the word "won" processed. Wowzers. Cool. Dang! I then smiled and said, "Oh - okay! Thanks! That's cool."

My smile and face looked somewhat like this:

Photo Credit: Mark Burrell

But inside I felt like this...

Photo Credit: Boco Jay

My feedback?  The first portion felt like an essay rather than a story. The dialogue was important to being selected as the winner. Note to others: Keep your stories moving.

That was it. Well, that AND I got a smile from those in the oval-shaped group.

***

Here's the story if you'd like to read it...

Charlotte's Web Set Me Up: The Truth About Children's Literature and Farm Life

by Kelly Roberts

I have no idea how old I was but at some point between the age of eight and fourteen, I was either asked to go visit my neighbor to help them out or decided they needed to be visited and voluntarily went on my own. My neighbor was an agriculture teacher; he and his wife raised pigs. And, his pigs were farrowing. For those of you who are city folk, farrowing is the process of assisting the birthing and immediate aftercare of pigs.

Farm children get excused absences from school for events such as farrowing, harvesting and deer hunting…no questions asked. An unfortunate practice of pig farrowing, however, is that the babies need iron shots. The act of sticking a baby pig with a needle is horrific! The vein best suited for this shot is right behind their ears. A screaming pig can rock you to the very core, and believe me, they HOLLER during the shot-receiving process.

My job was to hold the new babies while the neighbor gave them their iron shots. No problem. I was willing to wrestle with the little boogers, regardless of how powerful their infant three-pound bodies were, because I knew a secret. I knew that farmers give away runts to the young girls who happen to be around at the right time. I knew that young girls get to be champions of the runts and save their lives by pleading for rights of ownership. I knew that runts then grew into huge pigs who got buttermilk baths and won prizes at the local fair AND that spiders in the pig’s barn turned magically into English-speaking life forms and wove words of adornment about said piggies. On farrowing day, I KNEW I was going home with a prize.

Thirty-six times I held a three pound tornado and endured the eardrum exploding screams. It didn’t matter. All I could think about was how to mix up buckets of pig slop in order to properly grow the fine specimen I was about to receive. The mess, the stink and my aching arms were worth it. I was going to have a Children’s Novel Life.

When I was holding pig number thirty-five, my neighbor’s summarizing words forced themselves through the haze of my daydreaming, “Thanks so much for helping us out, Kelly. You were a real trooper. Tell your mom and dad I said hello.”

I blinked. Twice. I stood there for a second too long before answering, “Uh, okay. I sure will.” My neighbor made another joke about the pig poop on our shoes, we finished number thirty-six and he headed back toward his house.

“But what about the runt?” The question was articulating in my head loud and clear but got trapped in my throat, squeezed off with powerful disappointment. The guy was just a normal, every-day farmer. If there was a runt, he was simply going to raise it like any other pig. Truth be told, I couldn’t see that any of the pigs were smaller than any other. I turned around to set my sights on how far away our own home was, made my legs move, and began the trek across the pasture back to reality.

“Some Pig,” I thought to myself as I navigated the bumps in the pasture. “Terrific. Radiant. Humble.” The cloud of emotion over my head began to rain. Halfway across the pasture I thought, “Stupid.” I tripped over a tuft of Love grass and sunk into a bona fide funk.

By the time I arrived to my front door I was thinking, “Dumb, dumb book.” I took off my shoes and walked in the house. As I passed my bedroom entrance, I glanced momentarily at the back wall. My bookshelf was in full view and I spied my copy of the E.B. White novel quickly. I stopped, hesitated, sighed and then went into my bedroom and grabbed a book. A different book.

I think I’ll read “Heidi,” I thought. I approached my favorite reading corner in the room, sank down onto the carpet and opened the story. The spine cracked as I adjusted my position and found page one.

By the time Heidi and her aunt were on top of the mountain, the cloud over my head had stopped raining and the sun had begun to peek out just a little.

Find me at the Red Dirt Chronicles...

Best, Red Dirt Kelly

 

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