Fast forward a few weeks to when I arrived at Enders Island, Connecticut, for my FUMFA Alumni Writers’ Conference. For the past ten days, everyone I knew seemed to have made a point to get in touch with me to congratulate me on winning the prize. I posted a notice on Facebook and had over a hundred messages in response, telling me how happy they were for me. The people at my office, all of the folks in my various writers’ groups, the ladies in my book club, but—most especially—all of the other writers at FUMFA. It seemed that just about everyone I’d ever met through the program went out of his way to send me his best wishes.
And when I arrived at Enders for the conference, the congratulations only intensified. Everyone was genuinely happy for me and proud of my accomplishment. I kept finding myself in tears from the sheer joy of knowing such wonderful, big-hearted people.
Richard Hoffman, the judge for the book prize, was a guest teacher and lecturer at the conference. After two days, I finally worked up the courage to introduce myself to him and to thank him for his kind words about Frozen Voices. I mean, it’s not every day that a writer gets her work compared to E. L. Doctorow! But then, as I stood there talking to Richard, I realized that he’d selected FV because he thought it was a good novel. Not that he thought it had potential, but that he believed it already was a good novel! I was absolutely stunned. Something I’d written was deemed print-worthy by as accomplished an author as Richard Hoffman.
Things got even more surreal to me a few nights later, during the formal announcement of the prize. Al Davis, the senior editor at New Rivers Press, described the parameters of the contest and then Richard rose and explained why he’d selected my novel. More kind words! He even read the prologue aloud to all the FUMFA students, faculty, and alumni assembled in the chapel. And he read it very well! (I joked with him later that I’d like him to come to all of my book signings with me since he’d done such a good job reading my work.)
Then Richard called me up to the podium and handed me an envelope. (It contained a congratulations card, signed by all of the faculty members—so wonderful!) I looked out at the faces in the pews and said (something like…), “Although I’ve scribbled down stories and dreamed about becoming a published author all my life, three and half years ago, I arrived here on Enders Island for my first residency, not knowing any of you and not knowing the first thing about writing. That first morning, I sat in Karen Osborn’s workshop, listening to discussions about ‘voice’ and ‘point of view’ and I had no idea what anyone was talking about. So, when I say that literally everything I’ve learned about the art of writing, I’ve learned from all of you, I really mean it. Thank you all for helping make this dream come true.”