I didn’t win the Midwest Book Award for Little Rock Girl. I know, right? I can hardly believe it myself. What were the judges thinking? Were they thinking? Did they just toss a coin to save time?
(Asterisk: I’m kidding. Some people need that clarification.)
Writing is 99 percent rejection, so when I say I’m happy to have been nominated, I mean it. In fact, I mean I can’t f**king believe I’ve been nominated! There must be a mistake. Clearly there’s another Shelley Tougas who published a middle-grade nonfiction book about civil rights, specifically the Little Rock Nine, in 2012. Can’t possibly be me.
So, another rejection. No big deal. I store them in a trunk or two or three.
My first big award loss was in high school. I entered an essay-writing contest about pets, sponsored by the local vet.
I wrote about Bud, my family’s obese and stupid beagle.
Bud’s appetite was insatiable. He’d eat anything, including my dad’s expensive golf equipment. He shredded the golf cart when my dad made the mistake of keeping them in the garage together. Bud ate and ate and ate until, I suspect, he realized the foam seats were swelling in his stomach, threatening a rupture. Then he burped and continued to chow.
He opened the refrigerator with his nose and ate everything on the bottom shelves. Everything. The roast and the foil covering the roast. A half pound of butter, wax wrapping and all. Hotdogs, cheese and bologna. You know how chocolate is supposed to kill dogs? He ate nearly an entire bag of Hershey’s chocolate kisses. I guess the foil wrapping provided protection.
Once he literally leapt into the air and tackled me for a piece of summer sausage that was already in my mouth. And he got it.
Bud would slink into the dining room. When he heard a fork pushing food toward the edge of plate, he would leap Jaws-like to the table, sink his teeth into food, and run away.
How could you lose an essay contest with material like that? That grand prize – $100? – was mine. Until it wasn’t.
I snagged an honorable mention. I went home with a free bag of dog food, which was ridiculous. Obviously they hadn’t read my essay. Did I not make it clear Bud didn’t eat dog food?
I believe the winner was Kelly M., a classmate who occasionally reads this blog — you can find her awesome blog here — and had the pleasure of meeting Bud. Kelly M. wrote a loving tribute to her dead cat. Kelly M. was brilliant—she’d read Tolstoy, write an analysis of Beowulf, correct Stephen Hawkings, and conduct an experiment showing how enzymes break down food into protein. All at the same time.
Kelly M., if you’re out there, somewhere in the lonely world of cyberspace, and you stumble across this bog, please comment and share your side of the story.
(As if there’s another side to the story. Dead cat. Loving tribute. Please.)