Once upon a time, there was a writer staring at computer screen and an open email message for the Sisters In Crime Eleanor Taylor Bland Award for Emerging Writers of Color selection committee.
A million thoughts went through the writer’s mind. What was she doing? Why was she sending this email? Did she really think she could win? No, she didn’t think she would win because until now, every attempt she’d made to query her story about a Ghanaian female assassin—really a survivor—who went on a mission to right the wrongs done to her and her family was met with a blaring, red stop sign. The book was a story crafted from the writer’s own culture, from her love of her father, of family both born and found, and of the power of a woman forging her way in a world run by men. She nearly deleted the email.
But the writer knew in her soul that this story was good, that the protagonist would resonate with the reader as she had done with the writer, even though Nena Knight was a killer…hell, we all make unpopular choices sometimes. And yet, at every turn, the writer was met with rejection. So much so that doubt and insecurity crept in and took hold. The writer had tried and failed. Tried and failed. Tried and was failing, for nearly 20 years, to achieve her lifelong goal of becoming a published author.
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Perhaps everyone denying her representation was right and she’d been wrong about herself all this time. Maybe she just sucked as a writer, period.
The writer fell into devastation becoming so disenfranchised from the endless stream of rejections that she finally decided to quit. She would hang up her proverbial pen and paper and end her publishing dream forever.
But then a friend posted the ETB information in a writer’s group and suggested the writer submit. The writer scoffed at that. “I never win anything,” she said. “And this won’t be any different. Besides I’m going to quit writing.”
The writer had every intention of quitting, too. But Eleanor Taylor Bland, and all she’d achieved to make Black women the center of compelling stories in crime fiction—so much like the writer’s own protagonist—kept bouncing around in this writer’s head. She couldn’t shake thoughts or extinguish the tiny speck of flame still burning, coaxing her to “try one more thing.”
The writer went to the website and read the requirements. They didn’t seem so bad. She already had a finished manuscript, though a finished one wasn’t necessary. She revised the first three chapters for the thousandth time. She wrote her essay about the significance of Eleanor Taylor Bland’s work to her and other female writers of color in the genre. She wrote about what she’d do with the money—a writing retreat and craft classes so that maybe her writing would no longer suck in the eyes of all the gatekeepers who told her no. She poured her heart out in that essay, telling her entire truth.
Then, the writer sat on her bed, staring at that screen deciding if she had anything left within her to actually send the email off. Trying to decide if she would, or wouldn’t was nearly paralyzing, and the writer’s finger slid the mouse from the send arrow to the “X” to delete. The arrow. And then again to the X. She hovered there.
But that tiny speck of flame flared once again, coaxing her to, “just try one more thing.”
This thing, Yasmin. Try this thing.
That writer was—is—me. Remember I was going to quit writing? But I couldn’t ignore the tiny speck of flame. It compelled me to try one more thing. And that thing was to click the arrow. I heard the swoosh as the message was sent off to the ether then I forgot about it, realizing that whether I won or lost the award, I was already a winner for overcoming my nearly debilitating fear of another rejection and clicking send.
And this time? This time I got a yes.
Winning the award opened up numerous doors. It sparked more interest when my agent sent out the submission. Yes, I got a yes from an agent and plot twist…she said yes just before the ETB selection committee. I guess it was my time.
The prestige of this award helped people take notice of upcoming writers of colors who are already at a disadvantage. The award provided more equity for me in an industry with historic inequity and inequality toward writers of color, writers like me. I am forever grateful for the support, the experience, the readers that receiving the Eleanor Taylor Bland award afforded me. It has been invaluable.
If you wonder if your work is good enough or worry you won’t win. If you feel you have nothing left, know that you absolutely do have one more thing. Click send, and you’re already a winner.
And that’s real talk from someone who’s been exactly where you are.
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