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Guest Blog: BOA Short Fiction Prize-winner DOUGLAS WATSON

I’ll never, at least not this side of dementia, forget the moment when I got the voicemail from BOA Editions publisher Peter Conners saying he wanted to talk with me. I was lying in a hammock in my in-laws’ backyard. Perhaps I’d retreated there to avoid arguing politics with my father-in-law, or maybe I was avoiding a different kind of argument with my not-yet-wife—who knows? It was a standard rope hammock, nothing fancy, but I was very happy to be in it, even before I got the voicemail. Hammocks are one of the few unimpeachably good inventions human beings have ever come up with. (Umbrella, bicycle, anesthesia.) I think 99% of people should spend more time in hammocks. The other 1%—you know who you are—should get up off their asses and do something. But I digress.

Well, there weren’t that many reasons Peter Conners would be calling me. I didn’t owe him money. He didn’t owe me money. We’d never met. I hadn’t been to Rochester since the 1970s, and my only memories from that trip had to do with sugary cereal. Although Peter didn’t say so in his voicemail, it stood to reason that he was reaching out to me because my short story collection, The Era of Not Quite, had either won the BOA Short Fiction Prize or else been a finalist. (I assumed that BOA wasn’t so cruel as to personally call everyone whose manuscript didn’t win and tell them so.)

Eventually Peter and I managed to connect by phone. Thus did it come to pass that, after years of typing sentences and mostly deleting them, I got to be what I’d wanted to be since I was about 10 years old: the author of a book. It wasn’t my first dream. My first dream had been to play second base for the Philadelphia Phillies. Then I switched to wanting to be a pro tennis player who would win the French Open. Eventually I came around to book author as being perhaps a better fit.

There are so many things that are so great about winning the BOA Short Fiction Prize! For me, the first great thing was that I was allowed to enter the contest. At 125 pages or so, my manuscript was too short for most fiction-book contests. They all seemed to set a lower limit of 150 pages. For a while I considered trying to write 25 more pages of short story just so I could enter some contests. Thankfully, BOA came along with a lower limit of, if memory serves, 90 pages. That probably sounded like a lot of pages to a poetry publisher. Anyway: Thank you, BOA, for saving me from adding 25 uninspired pages to my book!

BOA’s publicist, Jenna Fisher, did a great job promoting the book—and still does, four years after its publication. Once a member of the BOA family, always a member of the BOA family, has been my experience. And that is a good thing. I’ve never once felt the need to escape to a hammock in a patch of grass behind BOA’s offices.

Winning the prize kicked off a string of good lit-biz luck for me. Around the same time as I got that voicemail from Peter, I landed an agent who would go on to represent the novel I’d been working on. Then, in the spring of 2013, practically on the eve of The Era of Not Quite’s publication, the magazine One Story decided to publish the final story in the book, “The Messenger Who Did Not Become a Hero.” This happened so close to the book’s publication date that the book had already been plated and was ready to be printed. It was too late even to add One Story to the book’s acknowledgments page. My point is, it was good luck. Had One Story chosen the story a few weeks later, it would have been too late for the magazine to publish it. Like BOA Editions, One Story does a lot for its authors. That spring, while still riding high from seeing my first book appear in print, I had the unusual and memorable experience of appearing as a “literary debutante” at One Story’s Literary Debutante Ball (an annual fundraiser celebrating recent first books by One Story authors). So there was a lot of energy behind the book that season, and much fun was had besides.

The next year my novel A Moody Fellow Finds Love and Then Dies was published by Outpost19. What was nice about having the two books come out so close together was that I didn’t feel I was starting from scratch. It felt like a continuation, almost like Part 2 of the rollout of The Era of Not Quite. I did readings at many of the same venues, but instead of being blue, this time the book was red. (I would like to say that it is widely red, but actually the trim size is rather narrow.)

I could go on, but what good would that do? (To misquote Beckett.) Let me close by saying how lucky I feel that BOA found me. Before I won BOA’s Short Fiction Prize, I was just a strange person sitting alone in a room writing strange stories and wondering whether anyone would ever care that I was doing so. Now I’m an exhausted father with gray hair. If you win BOA’s prize, this will happen to you too! You will have offspring, your hair will lose its color …

I still sit alone in a room when I can, and I still write strange stories. I’ll be forever grateful that BOA Editions, with its quirky sensibility, carved out a little home in the world for my quirky sensibility.

The BOA Short Fiction Prize will be open for submissions from April 1 - 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!

Douglas Watson’s debut collection of stories, The Era of Not Quite (BOA Editions, 2013), won the inaugural BOA Short Fiction Prize. He is also the author of a novel, A Moody Fellow Finds Love and Then Dies(Outpost19, 2014)Watson’s fiction has appeared in One Story, Fifty-two Stories, Tin House, Sou’wester, The Journal, Ecotone, Salt Hill, EpiphanyCatch & Release, and other publications. Watson has degrees from Swarthmore College, Brown University, and Ohio State University. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, the poet Michelle Y. Burke.


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