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A Game of Inches

It’s a game of inches. Or at least it has been for me. Other writers, they decide to write a novel and voila! It’s published before I can get my first cup of tea in the morning. My latest endeavor began in 2004. I don’t know how many inches that is in days, but I think an inchworm could have circled the globe with how long I’ve been working—on and off, granted—on IN THE NAME OF MISSISSIPPI.

What keeps me going? The year I first wrote it, I sent it to the James Jones First Novel Competition. It made it to the semifinals. That put the manuscript in the top 25 out of 650 entries. Placing like that told me something was there, if I could just bring it out.

When I’ve gotten discouraged over the years—remind me again why I’m doing this?—I return to that touchstone: something is there, Ellen, if you can just bring it out.

This summer, I submitted the first chapter to a national contest then promptly forgot about it. I went off to the Community of Writers conference in the “Virtual Valley” where I workshopped the first chapter. I returned home with feedback, revised the manuscript, and enlisted additional Beta readers to give me yet more feedback, which I used to make more revisions.

Then last week, I received notice the chapter made it into the top 1% of entries. While I wasn’t watching, it inched its way through 3 rounds of culling and cuts to wind up on the longlist. Ultimately, it fell inches short of flopping into the finalists, but it did garner me an invitation to submit anytime, anywhere to the magazine with a direct email line.

I was so glad I didn’t win.

If I had, I’d have been like, but, but, but…What about all the work I’ve been doing since this summer? You’re telling me that old version was good enough?

Now I can tell myself, yep, I got close. Inches close.

And if they’d read the current version, it would have won.

An old pic of me when I first started writing…

Fiction contests, In the Name of Mississippi, writing your novel

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