Last summer a friend forwarded me Chatelaine magazine's "Write for Chatelaine" contest, a call for "deeply personal stories about love, loss, friendship, marriage, dating or family." They wanted "creative, compelling and soul-baringly honest."
I thought, deeply personal stories that are soul-baringly honest (slash revelatory slash embarrassing)? Love, loss, friendship, marriage, dating, family? My specialty.
I wrote the first draft by hand, just exploring for fun, a break from the full-length novels I'd been mired in. Riffing on ideas to see what would come out. A couple writer friends convinced me that what had come out was worth pursuing. It was the best kind of writing process, the essay I started referring to as the one I wrote by accident. The final draft I refined while on vacation at my parents' lake home. A first reader prodded me to go deeper into territory I'd been happy to skim over. That's when it became emotionally arduous, and I found myself on the night of the deadline, after a busy day full of family and activity, after my kids were finally asleep, sitting up at my parents' kitchen table facing details from the past and seeking a way to comprehend and reconcile them. The deadline was midnight. My parents' rural internet is unpredictable. At 11:30 I was writing brand-new paragraphs. At 11:50 I was trimming earlier paragraphs to make room for them. At 11:58 I hit send. Then I checked the rules again and saw that the deadline was actually 11:59.
And in the fall I received the news: the essay I wrote by accident won the contest.
It's on newsstands now, a deeply personal story that is soul-baringly honest, about my best friend and me, our relationships with men and how they impacted our friendship, mixed in with some father wound and some emergence from religious repression and into fledgling feminist fervour, and how these things affected the two of us differently and affected our interactions with men differently and affected our approach to our relationship. Meeting and falling in love with my husband is in there too.
It's been an exhilarating and terrifying experience, preparing to be published with such a personal piece to an audience significantly huger than any I've ever been exposed to. Googling Chatelaine's circulation--3 million--gave me a heart attack, and not in a good way.
I needed all the months between the win and publication--to become comfortable with this kind of visibility, to talk with (some of) the people I've exposed in the piece, to accept that this is my story and the story has a right to be told. On Thursday I checked a newsstand and they were still carrying the February issue, and I experienced a small moment of relief, reprieve--for one more day, the essay is not widely available out in the world. But then I started getting texts and tweets from friends who'd gone to different newsstands, and it is indeed, widely available out in the world.
And I'm ready. I'm happy, and I'm grateful, and I'm enjoying the ride.