I was extremely happy to learn that a 4,400-word short story I wrote, “Paying the Devil” was awarded 6th place in the Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. The story had been out so long that I thought it had been forgotten.
To the economics of the thing, after paying federal and state taxes and deducting the submission fee, I will have broken even when I get the prize money.
I thanked Editor Jessica Strawser because the story was personally meaningful to me and not simply an intellectual exercise. Ficton is rarely “intellectual” or simply an “exercise.” “Paying the Devil” let me get a lot of thoughts off my chest. In particular, this exchange:
Alison called again at exactly nine o’clock in the morning—ten a.m. in Montclair. She was observing the proprieties of never calling before nine. “Well, have you talked?” she demanded.
“Good Lord, I’m making my first cup of coffee. Your daughter isn’t even awake yet.” I grabbed a cigarette, lit it and snapped the Zippo shut.
“Dad, please do not tell me you are smoking in the house, polluting my daughter with second-hand smoke. Do you have any sense of what you’re doing to people’s lives with your drinking and smoking?”
“And my liberal politics? Alison, you are a maternalistic altruist. You’ve been one all your life. Just get off your high horse.” I’d been waiting three years to tell her this.
“Materna…? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” I said, exhaling loudly, “you care only about some aspect of another person’s behavior—some characteristic that irritates you. Then you frame it as a danger to the world. That everyone should stop smoking, and wear helmets and seat belts, and get annual colonoscopies, and….”
“You are putting my daughter’s health at risk!”
“She’s running away from you, Alison—not me.” I always felt tense and defensive talking with Alison. Fathers shouldn’t be made to feel like ignoramuses by their children. “You’re like the authorities that make laws to help you cross a street safely. Then they won’t let go of your hand when you get to the other side. You don’t allow for a certain amount of risk taking. Well, I’m a risk taker. Get used to it.”