Last month, I won another writing contest on literary agent Janet Reid's blog.
Stated as such, my victory sounds ho-hum, a walk in the park. But in fact the opposite is true. The quality of the writing in her contests has always been stellar, and the authors have repeatedly raised the bar in recent years. Hell, in a July contest she deemed my tale "a perfect entry," yet it still wasn't enough to pull out the win.
Once school ended, Ben and Jacob headed for the woods. They followed the winding mountain trail until they heard the small creak on the other side of the ridge. The boys clambered up and each took a peak. From either point, the old mill was barely visible, clothed in vines.
Inside, a gaunt figure slumped against rusty machinery, its arm snagged in the gears. The boys poked and prodded the body a while, till it stirred.
"Please... help me," the man said weekly.
Jacob dragged out water and crackers before joining Ben at the door. He smiled.
"Maybe next Friday."
You might not catch it at first—many readers didn't—but I used three of the words where you'd expect their homonyms instead. The first two feel like they could be typos. Clever, sure, but not too exciting. The third one, though...
Yeah, I know. It gives me chills, too.
This marks my third win in Janet Reid's contests. Winning with humor (and bad puns) didn't surprise me, but now I've also done so by being serious and seriously creepy. Considering I've only entered ten times or so, I must be doing something right.
Even if none of you will ever go for a walk with me in the woods again.
(By the way, make sure you go and read all the entries. They're fantastic. And grab yourself a copy of The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie, my spoils from the contest. I devoured it in short order. It's a taut thriller with great characters, wonderful prose, and a dog who—spoiler alert—doesn't die. It's out next week.)
(Also, this story is one of the few documented instances where it's perfectly acceptable to use an adverb within a dialogue tag. Don't try this at home, kids.)