There are certain people whom we always want in our corner. It doesn’t matter why we need their support or how many times we have to lean on them. We know they’ll be there for us no matter what.
Then, there are those whom we hope will be there when we’ve achieved something great. Or when we reach a point where we can see – and share – the fruits of our labor. Maybe there are a few people who need some convincing that our hard work is actually paying off, or perhaps there’s a handful of people whom we never thought would even give us a chance.
That’s how I felt as I held the envelope from Finishing Line Press in my hand, on a hot summer’s day in June 2017. I had a vice-like grip on it because getting it in the mail was so unexpected. My health, or lack thereof, became the focus of every thought and feeling I had. My symptoms from Graves’ Disease were flaring up frequently and I knew when I needed to shut myself off from everything going on around me at any given moment. I also didn’t know how I was going to feel from day to day, even though I had a small, yet strangely comforting peace of mind.
I admittedly wanted some good news more than I wanted anything else at this point in my life. I never thought Finishing Line Press might entertain the thought of publishing my small manuscript of sophomoric poetry. I had submitted the same manuscript into one of their annual contests several years earlier and was turned down. I assumed this envelope held the response for my most recent submission in 2016 – for the exact same contest I had entered before. However, I didn’t want to let my hopes get too high.
In fact, I forgot I even entered this particular contest again, until my mom yelled, from the top of the stairs leading into my first-floor bedroom, “Erin, you got something in the mail from a publisher called Finishing Line Press!”
I wanted to believe this was the culmination of everything I’ve ever worked for. I wanted it to be proof I didn’t spend the majority of my life chasing an empty dream. Most importantly, I needed a sign there was a light at the end of the tunnel I’d been stuck in. I took a few deep breaths while still clutching the envelope, nervously turning it over in my hand. My fingers touched the edge, ready to open it as my mom walked downstairs into my room.
“What’s in that envelope?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I forgot I entered another contest a while back…”
I waited until my Mom was sitting comfortably on my bed before slipping my finger under the open flap on the envelope. I took another deep breath and slowly opened it and carefully unfolded the letter inside to read these words:
“Thank you for your entry in our annual chapbook competition. Congratulations! Your manuscript has been accepted for publication in Spring 2018!”
I read a little further to find out I didn’t win the competition, but Finishing Line Press had made the decision to publish my book in its entirety because of the quality of its contents. All I could do in this beautifully overwhelming moment was hug Mom as tears of joy rolled down my face.
I gathered myself before texting my Dad – who was still at work – about a half hour later. I wrote, “I have something to tell you when you get home.” I sent the text and tried my best to calm down enough to think or speak. I was so certain I was going to humbly add another rejection letter to my pile of failed attempts to get my book published. I was so sure this wasn’t my time to show the world why I didn’t give up on my dream, but my moment had finally come.
Later that night, my Dad asked, “So, what did you want to tell me?” I went into my bedroom and grabbed the envelope on my desk – with the acceptance letter inside – and handed it to him. He then asked what it was for, and what was in it. I told him it was a letter from a publisher, as he always checks with me to see if I have any good news. He put his car keys on the computer desk outside my room, sat down and opened the envelope.
He started to read the same words Mom and I had read earlier. At that moment, he stopped reading and gave me a huge hug without saying a word. I think it simultaneously hit all three of us that all my years of writing, editing and re-writing finally paid off. The proof was literally in my hands.
I began telling those who are closest to me the good news – friends, family and my professors from Penn State Altoona, who have allowed me to sit under their learning tree since Day One. As I went down the long list of names, I couldn’t help but to think of my grandparents. I thought about what they would say if they could’ve been alive when my career truly started to blossom. Most importantly, I thought about what they both always said whenever they crossed paths with other people: “My granddaughter is the best writer in the world!”
Deep down in my heart, I believe their love and support carried through in every person who had a kind word to say about the impending publication of my first book. Being able to share this news with those who have been in my corner for so long, was more than an emotional moment. It was more than just getting good news and simply reacting to it. This was the culmination of every drop of blood, sweat and tears that has fallen on my keyboard for the better part of 20 years. It meant more than I can ever say.
It was proof I was meant to be a writer. Every hoop I’ve had to jump through was leading me to this. I felt unbelievably fortunate just to have the opportunity to finally become a published author. One phone call in January 2018, however, served as a very genuine reminder of where this all started.
“Hello, Erin! I’m calling to inform you that you’ve been selected as the recipient of the 2018 WISE Women of Blair County Award for Arts and Letters.”
You might have a dream that starts in one place. You may even have goals bigger than your mind can contain at a given moment. Always remember where those dreams and goals begin. It will bring you back “home” when your journey takes you far.
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