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Guest Blog: BOA Short Fiction Prize-winner ROBIN MCLEAN

On the day Peter Conners called me about the BOA Short Fiction Prize, my second cousin’s husband’s boat had run aground on the rocks down at the lake. It was a very windy morning in New Hampshire. I was working on a new story up in the trees on the hill in a family cabin where I write a lot. My cousin’s renters had run up to find me. I was the only relative around to help. A boat disaster is bad for some, but it’s big excitement for the renters from the city. They were happy and eager. Not much happened there usually, and not much good was happening in my life right then. My boyfriend and I were also on the rocks, and two years out from my MFA, a few of my stories had been published, but not my collection. Without an agent, I could submit it hardly anywhere. It had gotten finalist twice in book prizes, an always-the-bridesmaid situation I dreaded. I was questioning everything. In May, I’d begrudgingly submitted on the last day of the BOA deadline, only obeying a mentor’s mantra: “Submitting is part of a writer’s job. Don’t think about it.”

We ran down the hill to save the little motor boat. We waded into the cold water, shivered and laughed, waited for a nice big wave to lift the boat off the rocks. The wave came. The boat was free. We swam it back to its mooring. Their kids went fishing. I went home. A call had come in from an unknown number. I figured it was my second cousin’s husband.

Peter’s message said, “I want to talk to you about Reptile House.”

I still have the message on my phone. The cold water would have been enough, but I was shaking. As I waited for him to get on the line, I said this out loud: “Please. Not finalist.”

I have just written a little story about that day because I am a short story writer and this is the most comfortable way for me to talk about joy.

I don’t have kids, so don’t have the birth miracle to compare it to. There have many other great days, stupendous days, I’ve shared. My life has been incredibly fun and cool. But for me, just me, getting that call from Peter was the best day of my life so far. This is not to minimize all the other amazing stuff that’s happened. This is to acknowledge how important small presses are to writers like us.

The aftermath: I’ve felt lucky ever since, even in bad times. It’s been jet fuel for other stories; I’ve finished a second collection and much of a novel since that day. Reptile House found me an incredible agent, a teammate, a wonderful change leading, hopefully, to the next step.

And so much more fantastic stuff: The book has been read by a bunch of total strangers. Incredible! What more do we want? It’s been a magic carpet to strange, beautiful, sad, sweet adventures, to love and break ups, to cross-country travel, to wild horses and salt water fishing, to glaciers, lakes and deserts, to hotsprings, guest rooms, couches, tents, to friends new and old now family, to geniuses everywhere, people bringing their imaginations aliveworking together, inspiring each other. I’m inspired! I’m grateful! I’m hopeful!

I think this now: You never know what message was just left on your phone. I check my phone more often now, keep it charged up and dry.

Writing is hard. Why do we do it?

You have keep going, I tell myself.

I remind myself that life has altered entirely since that day. I believe more entirely in my dreams now. I dream harder than I did before, with more ambition and humility and more faith in boat wrecks, windy days, strangers at the door needing help.

Thank you, BOA! Peter, Jenna, Mel, the board, everyone on the team.

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!

Robin McLean's first short story collection, Reptile House (2015), won the BOA Short Fiction Prize and was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Story Prize in 2011 and 2012. McLean’s stories have appeared widely in such places as The Nashville Review, The Malahat Review, Gargoyle, The Common, and Copper Nickel, as well as the anthology American Fiction: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers.


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