ABOUT THE CONTEST Feuer's short story was chosen out of 19,419 manuscripts in 10 different categories. The top 10 winners for each are listed on the following pages. As the grand-prize winner, Mary Feuer receives $3,000, a trip to New York City with a WD editor to meet with four editors or agents about her work, and a Diamond Publishing Package from Outskirts Press. To receive a booklet with all 10 first-place winners, send a check or money order for $10 to The 2006 WD Contest Booklet, 4700 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati OH 45236. For more winners and information about next year's contest, visit writersdigest.com/contests. ON THE WRITING PROCESS "I write until I'm bored and then stop," says Mary Feuer, author of "House on Fire." "I have no discipline at all. I've finally come to accept that procrastination is a vital part of my process. I used to kick myself for it, but I've learned that if I don't go to the gym and walk around the block and watch television, I've got nothing to say."
Mary Feuer's fascination with fire started when she was young. Her father, a Boston fire-alarm dispatcher, couldn't resist watching buildings burn. Often, he'd take Feuer and her siblings along. If smoke hovered in the sky as they drove down a highway, he'd steer their Chrysler Town and Country Wagon off the nearest exit ramp and find the blaze. For Mary Feuer, watching fires became a passion—and that passion sparked her into writing "House on Fire," a short story about a man with the same obsession.
"My fire fascination is an aspect of my life that other people find really interesting, so I always had this thought that I'd write something about it," she says. "All I needed was a deadline."
Feuer's "House on Fire," which started as an assignment for a writing workshop, is this year's grand-prize winner in the 75th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. (Read Feuer's winning entry in the December 2006 issue of Writer's Digest.) Her stylish writing, powerful story and attention to detail—both physical and emotional—are what set her story apart from a record 19,419 entries.
Originally a movie and commercial producer in Boston, Feuer tired of being the logistical backbone for other creative elements—writers, directors, actors—and wanted to create her own material. With limited opportunities in her hometown, she packed her bags and moved to Los Angeles.
After several years in L.A., Feuer established herself as a budding scriptwriter. She didn't even consider writing short fiction until about two years ago. Looking to further develop her scriptwriting ability, she took a writing class at UCLA. It was then that she fell in love with prose.
"I find fiction to be a much more personal way of expressing myself than screenwriting," she says. "While I write scripts to help pay the bills, fiction is definitely where my heart is."
Feuer's childhood memories allowed her to throw a few anecdotes into "House on Fire" (though she's quick to point out that the dark aspects of the story are all fiction). And the greatest reference tool she could find was merely a phone call away.
"When I needed help with a particular detail, I'd call my dad and ask, 'Do you recall that truck that does this?' and he'd tell me," Feuer says. "He even shared with me his own childhood story of watching his father throw up out a window at a fire. Stories like that helped me set a tone."
Inside the flame
The underlying theme of "House on Fire," Feuer says, is the way people can burn their lives down in pursuit of an obsession. "I didn't really know how people would respond to the story when I started writing it," she says. "But the feedback I got from my writing group was very positive." In fact, folks not only enjoyed her story, but they also wanted to know more about the characters. This prompted Feuer to ask herself if the story was truly finished.
"Those conversations helped me realize that I need to dig deeper into the characters' relationships," Feuer says, with an eye toward turning "House on Fire" into a novel. "I just feel this particular story has more to say."
While expanding the tale is on her to-do list, right now Feuer is focused on her screenwriting career. But as her love for fiction blossoms as quickly as her career, she doubts it'll be too long before the novelization of "House on Fire" begins. And, if that's not enough to keep her busy, she's also in the "infancy stages" of writing a nonfiction book.
"It's taken me awhile to get back to writing, but I feel like I'm finally turning the corner," reflects Feuer, who still finds time to drive off with her brother (who's also an L.A. resident) and watch big wildfires through the telephoto lens of her camera. They get as close to the fire as possible.
It's a comfortable feeling for Feuer, who's now finding similar comfort in her writing career.
"I feel like I'm finally where I'm supposed to be."
Click on the category name below to see the top 100 winners in each area.