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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

CONTEST!
4/7/2012 5:36:49 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

In late winter, well before March Madness, I said the Wildcats of Kentucky would win basketball’s Collegiate National Championship, but they would have to go through Ohio State to get there. Consequently, I never considered Kansas a factor, so my foresight netted me $0.

I also hereby predict the Atlanta Braves will win the 2012 National League Pennant, and the University of Georgia will win the SEC football championship (of course, I say that every year).

If I am do damned smart, why is it that despite a proposed piece on me in “Southern Writers” magazine’s May issue, whenever I read the words of photojournalist William Daniels (who covers such international crisis’s as Syria and other places), I realize how inept and inconsequential I am as a scribe? When you boil it all down, I really have nothing to say of lasting significance.

All I seem able to do is scribble about meaningless adventures and experiences that no one should be expected to remember or care about. Like the time, for example, that I had a story published in “Seventeen Magazine” because I had won their short story contest.

I was fifteen that spring when the war was ending. I was living with my folks in Norfolk, Virginia — my father was a shoe salesman, my mother was an assistant buyer of “notions,” both in a downtown department store. My kid brother was a plague and a nuisance. In high school I was at best a C student.

Madly in love with another adolescent named Betty Thompson, I rushed to her side after school to show her the telegram I had that day received from Bryna Ivens, “Seventeen’s” fiction editor, informing me I had won 1st place (and $500) in the mags annual short story contest with a piece I had blindly submitted called “Poor, Poor Junior”. I say blindly because it was submitted over the transom as just another short story, not as a contest entry. (I doubt if I knew they were having a contest, anyway; and had there been an entry fee, I would have been disqualified.)

“Look at that, will ya!” I proclaimed, as I walked Betty home from school that hot, sunny day, shoving the yellow paper in her face. “I bet I wrote ten thousand stories before this one clicked! I’m on my way now! Nothing can stop me! Just you wait! Ain’t it great to be alive!”

Today, of course, I have neither the telegram nor a copy of ‘Poor, Poor Junior” to show anyone, and Betty Thompson long ago wisely dumped me and moved on to bigger and better things. The $500 disappeared years ago along with the juvenile ramblings of a moderately talented fifteen year old, which would have never seen daylight were it not for the perspicacious genius of a certain fiction editor with the unlikely name of Bryna Ivens.

I never met Ms. Ivens, although she became my mentor and confidant. Many times she invited me to look her up in New York, but I never had the opportunity (best excuse I can come up with.)

Over the ensuing years, as I managed to finish school and carve out my niche in broadcasting, I wrote at least five thousand more short stories — my postage bill was several hundreds of dollars and my collection of rejection slips easily weighed twelve pounds. On top of that, as Ms. Ivens sagely suggested, I either burned the manuscript of my first novel (written when I was about eighteen), or at least buried it beneath clean but old underwear in a dresser drawer.

Ms. Ivens and “Seventeen”, to be fair, did purchase and publish two or three of my later short stories — another even got picked up by a Canadian literary magazine — but I would have wallowed in a pauper’s grave decades ago were it not for the broadcasting dodge, my second wife, and later the travel business.

But what happened to Bryna Ivens, you ask? Being at least twenty years my senior, I can only hope she lived a happy and full life, eventually retired from “Seventeen” and finished her days on an estate in Westchester, surrounded by musty old books and a bevy of adoring great-grandchildren.

More likely, though, she survived hand-to-mouth, like most of us, with nothing more than Social Security checks in a cold-water flat off Bleeker Street, somewhere in Greenwich Village.

But what about her protégé’s literary career? Well, I didn’t write another novel until he was nearly seventy (“The Better Angels”), and over the next few years I completed half a dozen more (a late starter? The Grandpa Moses of Literature?).

In 2006 I began writing a weekly op-ed column, such as this one, which is posted for free online to about 9,000 readers weekly. One of my books, a Civil War yarn about Stonewall Jackson, is currently under contract to a publisher.

Now an octogenarian and afflicted with Primary Lateral Sclerosis, a debilitating disease I refuse to let alter my life style, I am well into my seventh novel called “Buddy”, about a singer in the ‘30s who turns out to be the very best we’ve ever had.

The author feels similarly about his own writing career, but the odds of it working out, if ever, can only be realized as a conclusion between the covers of time.

William Daniels, on the other hand and about half my age, is more likely to be the poster boy for achievement—even if I make it to 100, which I won’t.



Copywrite©2012 by Robert A. Mills, all rights reserved


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