On Writing, Part II: Contests
In the February issue, I devoured a delightful story about a girl who set off to the post office to mail Valentine’s Day cards to her friends. Only problem was, on her walk over, she kept running into other people who deserved cards too – the crossing guard, the firefighter, etc. When she got ready to mail her valentines, she discovered she didn’t have any left to send to her friends. What a predicament! I’m sure she felt quite sad and, later, very warmed in her heart by the goodness of others. Okay, I’ll admit I don’t remember how it all shook out. But I’m certain it taught us young readers a thing or two about the importance of being virtuous.
If only I could write such a clever story, I thought. So when my teacher charged my second grade class with our next writing assignment, I rewrote the valentines story as my own. (Outrageous, right?) Hopefully I was smart enough to change around a detail or two. Hopefully I wasn’t dumb enough to simply switch out the names or alter the holiday to St. Patrick’s Day. A kid passing out cards on St. Patrick’s Day. Yeah, that sounds about right. Happens all the time.
Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how your conscience operates, my teacher thought my story was brilliant! So brilliant that she entered it in a contest. And I won. And I was sent to a special writing camp where I got to serve as my school’s official representative. And I got to meet famous children’s book author, Ivy Ruckman. Very exciting stuff!
Now if this was an episode of Family Ties, you’d by now expect this had all been one highly elaborate set-up on the part of Mallory’s very wise parents and teacher. A test to see what she was really made of. One that allowed her to find for herself the truth that lie in her own heart.
Surely I’ll crack when Mrs. Miles tells me I’d won a writing contest. If I don’t crack at that point, I’ll confess after attending the writing camp. When I’m asked to read my award-winning story in front of my writing camp peers, surely I’ll burst into tears. Or maybe when I meet Ms. Ruckman and she asks me what I want to be when I grow up, I’ll blurt out – I’m a liar! I stole the whole thing!
But did I break under that 3,000-pound weight of gut-wrenching guilt? (You remember we’re talking about a second-grader, right?) Hell no.
What a valuable lesson I learned on plagiarism and how it can pay off in a big way. What I can’t get my head around is this: you’d think the selection panel would’ve seen right through a six-year-old writing a story about selflessness. C’mon, six-year-olds wrote the book on how not to be selfless.
In fifth grade, I entered a contest in a regional TV Guide magazine. The magazine was named “Happiness”. Isn’t that adorable? Television makes us happy. For God’s sake, happiness might not exist without television. Let’s name this guide to television-watching, Happiness. Yes, your guide to happiness! As in, we’ve got a whole lot of TBS 1960s sitcom reruns of happiness inside here, folks!
To add to the cuteness, each month featured a contest where you could submit a short essay on what makes you happy. If they selected your entry, you got to have your essay printed in the magazine! As if that isn’t happiness right there, you also got ten bucks! And they mailed it right to your door! In cold hard cash! And how could that not make you happy!
I got right to work on my entry. And Happiness published it under the title of “Animals and Snow”. So you know right there that it was a phenomenal piece of work. While the brilliance of my prose was surely undeniable, I’m betting my four-decades-late Shirley Temple coils and gap-toothed smile are what really won over the judges.
Okay, I’m getting a vibe that you don’t believe me about how good this thing was, so I’m going to have to pull it out of The Marcia Archives. This is taken from the archives file labeled, “Angie, get this damn box out of our basement.”
A long time later after my essay was printed (in what felt like weeks but was likely only days, perhaps minutes), my money had still not arrived. My impatience festered. Which soon grew into anger. Which naturally grew into a fierce sense of injustice! What, did these jerks think they could rip me off because I’m a kid? Was I just another flash in the pan writer to them? Did they even know who they were dealing with? Just wait until I tell Ivy Ruckman about this. Yeah, I was not happy. I would go so far as to say I was the exact opposite of happy. Ironic, isn’t it?
So I got to work with my paper and pen, just as I did the first time around. Only this time, I told them what made me unhappy.
Do you want to know what makes me unhappy? What makes me unhappy is when people are jerks and think they can rip off kids because we’re kids. What makes me unhappy is when people don’t do what they say they’re going to do, like give someone ten dollars. What makes me unhappy is I never got my ten dollars. I will look forward to getting my ten dollars. I need that money for something important.
Sincerely, Angie Link
Now I’d love to share that letter with you in its printed form, but unfortunately it did not appear in Happiness. Probably something to do with it not reflecting their signature happiness theme.
About two days after I mailed off my letter (two days in actual time), I received a congratulatory card from the publishers of Happiness. And ten dollars. In cash. (Side note: Do people other than aging grandparents even mail cash anymore? What a shame. As a kid, perhaps nothing felt better than tearing open an envelope of cash.) A fleeting tinge of darkness lined the pit of my stomach when I realized the card arrived before Happiness could have possibly received my letter. And the tone of the congratulations note gave no indication that some bratty kid had just taken them to the woodshed. You can probably guess what happened next.
Two weeks later, I received a second letter. This time, an apology. And ten dollars in cash. And you can bet that made me feel good. I’d even go so far as to say it made me happy.