Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Entering the Pulitzer Prize by Rhonda Frankhouser

Pulitzer Prize

Every writer, no matter what level, or what genre, knows what winning a Pulitzer Prize would mean to their career. I'm no exception. My first love is Western Romance, but I do dabble in what I would consider, literary fiction. It's that little part of me that prompted this article. I'm sharing it with all of you because I truly believe every writer has the right to dream. 

May 4, 2020, the winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced via an online Zoom feed from Columbia University. It took twenty excruciating minutes of listening to the dozen other categories before the fiction winner was read.

I held my breath and prayed. Up until the moment, I really believed I could win. My heart wrenching novel, Beyond Forever, ticked every emotional and literary box. There was absolutely no reason it couldn’t take the prize.

If by some miracle, my entry was announced, even as a finalist, it could change my life. Up until then I allowed myself to believe my honest story of the last day of a young woman’s life could compete with the works from the great literary minds of our generation.

Beyond Forever
 But let’s start this story from the beginning…

My entry, Beyond Forever, is loosely based on my very own battle with cancer. The sentiment and fear that poured onto those pages came directly from my heart and soul. I created a fictional character living through a fictional scenario of dying at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind the love of her life, and a dysfunctional family who needed her.

I cried through writing the entire first draft. It was painful, yet so cathartic. Ironically, it was never meant to be a novel at all as I was never meant to be an author. My career, and the miracle of the birth of this book were borne of this experience. During a woman’s retreat in the mountains, I asked a friend to read a very rough copy of the story to show how I had written away my own fear of dying. In tears, she demanded I send the manuscript away to agents right away.

And send I did. I had three agents interested. That was unheard of for a first-time author, and it boosted my confidence to the moon, though, that excitement was very short lived.

My hopes of becoming a published author went down with the planes on September 11, 2001. Along with the mourning nation, editors were looking for happy endings. Don’t get me wrong, Beyond Forever, leaves open a door of hope in the end, but publishers shelved my manuscript for another time when our people could handle the struggles faced in this book.

I understood, but I was devastated to say the least.

Some two decades later, the time finally came to publish the long-anticipated novel. I worked feverishly with a very attuned editor to bring a dual perspective to the dying experience. Lily, a young advice columnist, and her ever-dedicated, ever-loving, ever-protective husband, David. I wanted their love to be one for all to emulate. Experiencing the final transition and the closures, then finally the hope for another chance, through both of their eyes, brought a new layer of realism to this sad, yet beautiful final day.

This brings us back to the day I noticed the Pulitzer was accepting entries for the 2020 prize. I hemmed and hawed, considering it, then I felt foolish believing my novel could ever win.

But then I said, WHY NOT ME? If I don’t enter, I’ll never know. It took every bit of my courage, but I did it!

What happened next was more worrisome. I TOLD NO ONE I’D ENTERED. Why not? What was wrong with me? If I was so confident, why didn’t I want anyone to know?   

Let’s be honest, I feared failure. I loathed the thought of others laughing at my arrogance. But then I reasoned, who cares what other people think? I’m at a stage in my life that if I don’t try things now, I’ll regret it later. That’s really what this exercise was all about. That’s the message I’m trying to bring to anyone reading this article. If not now, when?

When the finalists and winner for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction was announced, I wasn’t surprised when my name wasn’t read, but I admit, I was disappointed. I believed, wholeheartedly, in this project and I was damn proud of myself for at least, putting myself out there. That, in itself, was a HUGE accomplishment, and it just makes me want to keep on striving.

My takeaways from this experiment are:
·         Winners always enter.
·         Continue writing to the highest standard & read Pulitzer winning novels.
·         Enter as many times as I have a worthy novel.
·         And last, but not least, continue to take every chance.

Stay safe out there and thanks for listening.

Award-winning author, Rhonda Frankhouser, pens stories with beloved ghosts, twisted mysteries, and timeless love. Her favorite genres are Western and Contemporary Romance, with the occasional mainstream tear-jerker to keep things interesting. Rhonda's Ruby's Ranch Series, earned a starred review in Publisher's Weekly; a finalist honor in the Uncaged Review Raven Awards; a second runner up in the prestigious InD'Tale Magazine RONE awards and a Book and Benches, Reviewers Top Pic ~ Books of Distinction award. Her follow up Shadowing Souls Series and Let Yourself Believe Series, have captured the attention of both romance and mainstream readers alike. After a lifetime in Central California, Rhonda and her own knight in shining armor, moved to beautiful Northeast Georgia to embark on a brand new journey.

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Julie Lence said...

Glad you took the chance, Rhonda, though I can sympathize with your hesitations. I think all of us are like that when it comes to putting out work out there to judged. Hugs to you and thank you for sharing your experience and take away.

Nan O'Berry said...

Congratulations on your accomplishment. That is a high star to jump for and you did well to even enter. I applaud you. I'm sure one day soon, I'll see your name on the list.

Kristine Raymond said...

You took a chance and that makes you a winner!!

Rhonda Frankhouser Books said...

Thanks you guys. You never know, right?