Winners' Circle: Debbie Roy

November 20, 2020

Welcome to the Winners' Circle where we celebrate the success of our ICL and IFW Contest winners. Today we're celebrating winner Debbie Roy! Her entry Perception came in First Place in our Photo Prompt Short Story Contest!

What contest was your winning entry submitted to?
Photo Prompt Short Story Contest

How many writing contests have you entered?
Far too many to remember. (I've been entering things for several decades)

Please give the title of your entry and a short summary of the story.

The photo we had to use as inspiration was of a pair of rain-spattered, wire-rimmed, tinted glasses lying on
wet pavement with distant and reflected colored lights. The assignment was to write a complete story (beginning, middle and end) in under 1000 words.

I called my story Perception. It starts with a woman, in a rainy parking lot, waiting to be picked up by a "sort of" boyfriend. She encounters a strange little man who is looking for a pair of lost glasses. He has his hands over his eyes and tells her that he can't look for his glasses without his glasses and explains that how you look at the world affects how the world sees you. She is a little disconcerted because he looks, and is dressed like, a garden gnome, but he's asked for her help so she finds his glasses for him. When he puts them on, a flash of light blinds her for a moment and, when she opens her eyes, the gnome is gone and a young man is in his place. The young man asks why she's standing around in an empty parking lot and she tells him about her sort-of boyfriend who asks her to fill in when he has an event that requires a date. The young man give her his glasses and disappears. She puts them on and sends a text to her ex-sort-of boyfriend saying. "You're on your own."

What inspired your winning entry?

When I first saw the photo we were to use as a prompt my head filled up with a whole lot of nothing. I couldn't imagine any sort of story that would involve a pair of glasses on dark, rainy pavement. I thought I'd have to pass up that contest. Then, I told myself to take a chance and just start writing. I started by describing the picture and the feeling it gave me. It turns out there was stuff in my head after all.

The first story I wrote was an internal monologue by a person who'd been hit by a car and the last thing they saw was their glasses on the road. That's a whole lot darker than I usually go and, ultimately, wasn't a complete story . . . and pretty depressing.

The second one was a story about a mother and her young boy fleeing from a bad home situation. That did turn out to be a whole story and I submitted it to the contest.

When there was only a few weeks left before the deadline, I challenged myself to write something lighter and, hopefully, funnier. Since I'm extremely fond of fantasy and fairy tales, that one turned into a story of a woman who encounters a gnome and a chance to change her perception of herself. I really liked that one so I submitted it as well.

I guess you could say my primary inspiration was the challenge of telling different stories from the same starting point.

How has entering this contest helped your writing?
After so many years of entering my writing into any contest I could find, I thought I knew what I was doing, but I'd never taken my writing seriously. In the past few years, however, I have started to look at my love of storytelling as more than just a pastime and made the commitment to actually LEARN how to make it better. I had taken the Institute for Children's Literature's course in Writing for Children and Teens a couple of decades ago, so I looked them up online and  subscribed to their email. That led to me signing up with Katie Davis's Writer's Block group, where I have learned to set aside my ego AND my fear while I examine my writing through another's eyes. Once I began to step back from my  work, I realized how my narrow focus was limiting my writing voice. Entering the contests, once merely an excuse to toss my stories into the world so I could say I was a writer, now became chances to challenge myself. With this contest, I pushed myself to go dark (something I seldom do) and then made myself do a 180 and try to be humorous. But, in both cases, I tried to use everything I've been learning.

How did the critique in the Winners' Workshop help you?
I've been watching the workshops for several years now and, whether I've entered or not, I always hear something that resonates with me as a writer. Always.

It sometimes happens that I don't particularly agree with the judges. I have been known (with my ego front and center) to think I've been "robbed" because MY piece wasn't chosen. Thankfully, I got past that ridiculous reaction and began to actively listen to the critiques that accompany the announcements. True, I still might not like the piece that won but, here's the thing, I'm not the judge. Obviously, the story did resonate with that judge and listening to their discussion, after the reading, helped me to understand why that judge chose that piece. I realized that I might not have done anything wrong in my entry, it simply did not hit that 'right note' for that specific contest.

I am fully aware that my winning entry very likely caused a few people to grumble about how they were robbed. We, as writers, need to understand that not everyone will like what we write,  and that's good, we all have different tastes However, we should always keep learning and growing. To do that, we have to be able to listen.

Are you a full-time writer? If not, what is your "day job"?
I'm a full-time time-waster. I'm handicapped and primarily housebound. (I call it social-distancing since before it was trending.) I spend most of my day crafting anything I can get my hands on, sewing, reading, writing, playing mindless video games, drawing, watching British detective shows, and stalking my friends and family on Facebook.

How long have you been writing?
As long as I can remember but, more seriously for about three years.

What will you do with your piece now that it's been recognized?
Brag to anyone who will listen.
And keep on writing.

Any fun plans for the prize money?

I'm taking another writing course from the Institute for Writers!!! (And I'm pretty excited about it!)

What do you do when you're feeling discouraged or blocked? Do you have any tips for your fellow writers?
My favorite way to get the juices flowing again is a writing game I invented.

I choose (or ask a friend to choose) five words.

A thing, a feeling, an action, a situation and something silly. (Having someone else choose usually leads to sillier and more fun stories.) I then give myself one hour to write a story using all five words. I don't worry if it's ridiculous or if it even makes sense. It's not meant to be read by anyone else, it's just supposed to be fun and get the words flowing again. It usually works for me.

If you could go to the yard sale of any character in the history of children's literature, whose would you go to, and what would you buy?
Jo March's writing hat from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This was one of the first books I remember reading on my own and I loved that Jo was a writer.

What do you like about ICL and our opportunities for writers?
The contests are a fantastic way to learn. Yes, it's amazing to win but I learn more by hearing why someone else's work was chosen over mine. After I began to really listen and to apply what learned, that was when I won. (Isn't it funny how that works?)

Are you our next contest winner? There's $1,300 of prize money up for grabs! Check out our current contests on our Contests Page.

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