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Guest Blog: BOA Short Fiction Prize-winner RYAN HABERMEYER

My manuscript almost never made it in the mail. The day of the BOA Short Fiction Prize postmark deadline my printer ran out of ink. I raced to the university library, only to have that printer jam halfway through. Naturally, just as I was ripping pages from the machine, my son conveniently decided to pee his pants. Do I need to add he tried to clean it up with pages from the botched manuscript? I might have screamed Serenity now! believing this was not real life but some Seinfeld sketch. We eventually made it to the post office, then went home where I promptly forgot about the contest, disillusioned at the possibility I could ever win.

About three months later I slept through the call. Rolled over, didn’t recognize the number, and went back to napping through a humid Missouri afternoon. When I woke up I got distracted making other plans. I was feeling lousy. My dissertation defense loomed, which meant the university would soon kick me out into the world, which meant I was planning for a career in rescuing beached whales off the coast of Norway, or hand-crafting thousands of turquoise ribbons to promote awareness of awareness ribbons, or at a minimum developing a theorem to replace the quadratic equation.

Listening to the voicemail from Peter Conners, I suddenly panicked. I had blown it. My one chance for a book prize—poof!—up in smoke. When he didn’t immediately return my call I convinced myself he had moved on to offer the prize to another finalist. Then a deeper paranoia seized me. Surely it was something more sinister: Peter Conners was not a publisher but a con man trying to steal my social security number. I was in the middle of Googling him when he called me back. The first thing Peter probably heard was me muttering: shitshitshitshitshitshit. I assured him I was a real boy, not some foul-mouthed Pinocchio, and would accept whatever terms he proposed, offering a child who pees himself in public libraries as an incentive.

It was a topsy-turvy road to that moment. I submitted a draft of the oldest story in the collection to my very first MFA workshop. That was thirteen years ago. Yes, thirteen years of trying to figure out an aesthetic. Thirteen years of professional ups and downs, false starts and backpedaling. Thirteen years of tinkering, trying to find the right combination of stories to make a collection. Then a handful of years submitting the collection to agents and small literary press contests. Rejection had become an old friend. Twice it was a finalist. I got phone calls and emails and handwritten notes from gracious editors assuring me that someone, somewhere, someday would publish my collection. Part of me shrugged off their compliments. Part of me, despite the disappointment and frustration, believed it.

Maybe this is where I’m supposed to say something pithy, like how when life gave me lemons I made lemonade (never mind that without sugar that lemonade will taste awful, but I digress). Well, kinda. I’m not sure I could have arrived at my collection any sooner than I did. Every time I lost a contest, every runner-up and near-victory, every outright rejection became an opportunity to polish the collection. I didn’t know it then, but I needed those rejections (like Dinah Cox and Zach Powers wrote, I saved all my rejection slips over the years). Even more than fine-tuning the stories, rejection forced me to believe in my work on a deeper level.

I feel lucky. Lucky I found BOA. Lucky BOA found me. Lucky the manuscript didn’t perish at the hands of a peeing toddler. Lucky that already I’ve been fielding inquiries from literary agents. It’s like one of the quirky characters from my collection pulled me into an alternate universe.

Mostly, I’m grateful. Grateful, to paraphrase Beckett, for failing so damn much. Grateful BOA is taking a chance on me. Grateful to other the writers and writing communities who helped me craft my stories. Grateful my stories will find their way into the homes of strangers. Grateful to BOA for this honor that has renewed my confidence in my own writing.

Sometimes I think I’d be better off in a career as a circus ringmaster or working in a lab on a cure for awkwardness. Because honestly, I’m a little terrified of my book making its way into the world. What if I’m exposed as a hack? What if nobody reads it? Hell, what if my mother reads it? No doubt, there will be less than flattering reviews. I hope there are a few good ones. I gotta believe that too.

The BOA Short Fiction Prize is now open for submissions until May 31, 2017! The winner will receive a $1,000 honorarium and book publication by BOA Editions in spring 2019. Click here for the complete submission guidelines, and send in your manuscripts!

Ryan Habermeyer
 won the BOA Short Fiction Prize for this collection The Science of Lost Futures (May, 2018). He earned his MFA from the University of Massachusetts and is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Missouri. His work, twice-nominated for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared most recently in Cream City Review, Carolina Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, and Chattahoochee Review. He lives with his wife and children in Columbia, Missouri, where he teaches creative writing and is finishing his first novel.

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