Like last year but quite different, this year has been a good year for me with awards. My short story “Return to Laurel” was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western Short Fiction Story and was also a finalist for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Short Fiction. My novella “Leaving the Lariat Trail” won the Peacemaker Award for Best Short Fiction. Any one of these distinctions would give me an occasion to be thankful, and so I am appreciative three times over.
I have posted commentaries on these works already, so I do not wish to repeat basic information. But I would like to express my appreciation to Five Star Publishing, who included “Return to Laurel” in an anthology entitled Hobnail and Other Frontier Stories, and to Prairie Rose Publications, who published “Leaving the Lariat Trail” first as an e-book and then as part of Western Double, where it keeps company with an earlier novella, “Pearl of Great Price.” Prairie Rose Publications has also brought out my short story collection entitled Dangerous Trails, which features “Return to Laurel” as the final story (the same position it has in Hobnail).
Winning awards is a complex experience. I won my first award for writing in 1979, with a short story in a literary magazine. Since then, I have won awards large and small in poetry, nonfiction, short fiction, and novel. Over this stretch, I have had a few recurring feelings. At the beginning, when one submits work to a competition, one has a mixture of hope and expectation—hoping to win, but expecting that anything could happen. I try not to submit something unless I think it will be a contender, but even at that, as the date approaches for the announcement of winners, I sometimes begin to feel pessimistic. I think this is a defense against having too great of a letdown. If I think a work should be a contender, I think that in some way it deserves to win, but I do not know what all of the other submissions are like, and so I tell myself not to expect too much. When I do win, at any level, I am elated, although the level of elation varies with the level of the award.
I have heard people say, “I do not deserve this award,” or “I am very humbled,” and I confess that there have been times that I have had similar feelings. On the other hand, because of times when I thought something should have done better when it received nothing, I have learned to take what I get and be happy, not feel guilty.
Perhaps the least productive feeling is that of begrudging the winner, which I confess I have done and which I suspect many other writers have done. It gets me nowhere. When the results are out, the contest is over. It is a good moment for whoever won, and no one wins all the time. Sometimes when I win, I think about the people who didn’t, and I remember how it feels.
Whatever the result, none of this lasts very long. If we don’t win, the thing to do is get right back into it and try again. If we do win, the thing to do is try again and hope for more. While I confess that there have been times that I have won and have felt I deserved it, there have been times (especially as one ages) when I have thought, “I hope this is not the last thing I ever win.” Time will tell, just as it does with first and last frost. For the present, I am grateful for what I have achieved, and I hope to do more.