Boy, you just never know. I found out last week that my dark, dark, dark short story, "Dance Hall Drug," is being nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize by the editor of Dark Valentine, Katherine Tomlinson.
This is extremely gratifying, as you might imagine, but also more than a little surprising, for a couple of different reasons.
First of all, and I've mentioned this before, "Dance Hall Drug" had been languishing on my hard drive for months, rejected by a number of magazines, presumably due to its content/subject matter/general pitch-black tone. There is sex and drugs and murder and betrayal and revenge and madness, all packed into less than four thousand words of fiction.
I had more or less given up on the idea of ever seeing the story in print until last spring, when I heard about this new online dark fiction site called Dark Valentine. I researched the site and decided it might offer the perfect venue for such a disturbing story, so I submitted it, prepared as ever to receive another rejection. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised when Ms Tomlinson contacted me to say she wanted to run "Dance Hall Drug," calling it "a nasty piece of work."
I'm pretty sure I've never received higher praise for one of my short stories, considering nasty is exactly what I was going for.
The second reason I was so surprised to hear about the Pushcart nomination is the nature of the award itself. The Pushcart Prize bills itself as "the most honored literary project in America," and has recognized the work of such literary giants as Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Carver and John Irving, among many others.
In other words, it's the sort of fancy-schmancy award that genre writers like me never sniff. In fact, I can picture some Pushcart judge sitting down with a snifter of brandy in his Manhattan townhouse, opening "Dance Hall Drug," beginning to read, and either dropping dead of a heart attack or getting about two-thirds of the way through the story and crumpling it up into a ball and tossing it into his roaring fire.
But you never know, as I believe I may have mentioned earlier.
I'm not going to lie to you and say that I don't care if I win a Pushcart Prize, despite the fact that until last week I had never expected in a million years to ever be up for one. I'd love to win it.
But there's a lot of truth to the cliched expression, "it's an honor just to be nominated." As I said in an email to Ms Tomlinson after she notified me of the nomination, as an author, my goal is to evoke emotion in the reader. It might be shock or horror or empathy or excitement, but if you read my work and you feel something, then I feel something, too: I feel I've done my job.
Obviously, "Dance Hall Drug" struck a chord with her (and hopefully with other readers as well), and for that I am humbled and grateful. Thanks very much to Katherine Tomlinson for taking a chance on this disturbing story and for believing in it enough to nominate it for a 2011 Pushcart Prize.