Ah, yet another extended absence by Fat Fingers Justice. And, as usual, I’ll trot out excuses. So, let’s get on with them, I guess.
I’ve been working on the next Great American Facebook Update, one I’m confident will change Facebook updates forever. When I post it, I’m sure many will say “Best facebook post EVER!!!”, and maybe even, “Hahahahahahahahaha.”
Also, I recently submitted my first ever entry to a short story contest, specifically the Austin Chronicle’s yearly prose cage match. Three years of broken promises to myself finally ended when I finished the story in BookPeople, one of Texas’ finest bookstores, and dropped it in the mailbox December 10.
Over-scrutiny, perfectionism, and just staring at the damn thing too long had me hating it, to the point when what happened next seemed almost merciful, like fate had saved the judges from wasting any eyeball juice on my submission. About a week later I walked into my apartment, and my girlfriend said, “I’m not sure I even want to give you this.” She then handed me the manilla envelope in which I’d mailed my story. “That’s weird,” I said, initially more confused than upset.
For reasons I’ll never understand, mostly because the post office’s message was completely illegible, the envelope was returned. I’d even put two stamps on the thing, just to make sure it got there. I went through emotions ranging from thankfulness that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by sharing what I had come to think was not very good, to frustration, and ultimately to a truly embarrassing bout of self-loathing and fatalism.
Fortunately, I was prodded into another phase of thought, a sort of ah-why-the-hell-not form of pessimistic-infused determination. Thanks go entirely to my girlfriend there, as I had resigned myself to never thinking of the story or contest again, at least until I later explored every nook and cranny of regret at yet another annual broken promise.
Just a few days before Christmas, what I thought was surely too late, I delivered the story to the Chronicle offices directly. In my head, I would be greeted by a front desk person frowning, humph-ing and haw-ing, muttering about the bureaucracy of having to check with a boss or submitting some sort of paperwork in order to accept it. I, of course, would be overly apologetic and say, “Sure, yeah, no, I completely understand. It’s sort of ridiculous, almost two weeks later, me standing here, even asking this. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Instead, there was a guy – I’d even call him a dude – in jeans and a t-shirt, who barely even let me make my case and submit Evidence A – the envelope clearly bearing the pre-deadline postmark – before he cut me off with, “Oh, yeah, sure man.” He accepted the envelope with such nonchalance that I was almost irritated he didn’t let me plead my well-rehearsed case a little more. He then walked, literally, five steps to his right, and with a casualness I won’t forget, dropped the envelope on top of a post office mail bin overflowing with similarly sealed submissions.
“Oh,” I said. “Well, there it is. Guess I can be pretty confident it’s been received.”
A month later, a time span in which I’d both already planned to completely revise the story in the hopes of posting it on this blog and yet also come to hate it yet again and completely abandon it, I received an email informing me I’d been selected as one of ten finalists out of 410 submissions.
This Wednesday, February 6th, BookPeople hosted the reception for the finalists. Wine, sandwiches, brownies and tiny bottles of water were served. My girlfriend (Vickie, as she also has a name, in addition to a wellspring of emotional and creative support), three friends, and my brother attended. I forgot to wear a shirt dark enough to hide my anxiety sweats. My pocket held a folded up copy of the story, in the off chance I placed in the top three and was invited to read it.
And then, moments later: I’m standing before the crowd wondering if I’m reading too quickly. So, yeah, third place! Almost better than that, which was a very nice surprise, was having Owen Egerton, one of the judges, approach me and say how much he liked my story. “I was really pushing for it,” he said. He’s an area author I greatly admire, and I’d been thinking how cool it was that he was even going to be reading it. For him to be championing it in the judges’ deliberations was unfathomable to me.
So, I read the story, and while the podium was not showered with bras, panties, or even roses, I think it was an acceptable showing.
My only regret was not being introduced with the biography I’d provided in advance:
Josh Justice, no relation to Buford T., can be found roughhousing cats or working on his upcoming autobiography, Eat the Extra Taco Now, or Save It for Breakfast? The Crucibles of an American Eater, at an overcrowded Austin coffee shop near you. This is his first submission into the gaping maw of American letters.
The story, published on the Chronicle’s website: