The Fun is in the Winning

Last weekend, I went tubing for the first time. We started on the Saluda River where it snakes around the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, S.C. At some point toward the end of our journey, it converged with the Broad River. This convergence is the inspiration for the Columbia-based Jasper Project journal Fall Lines: A Literary Convergence.

Yesterday, the Jasper Project announced my short story “The Shower” was the winner of the Broad River Prize for prose.

Instagram post @KasieWhitener

Sunday afternoon, floating along the river, seeing the inside of that convergence for the first time, I had all but forgotten about the submission back in June.

I was thinking, instead, about the news from last week that Before Pittsburgh had earned Honorable Mention at the New York Book Festival and considering what I was going to do with that information. Share it, certainly, but what does it mean?

What do awards mean, really?

They mean others who read your work have judged it superior. Have judged it worthy. Have liked what you produced.

Awards mean you have paid to enter (usually) and put yourself forward as a contender.

Awards mean marketing and (hopefully) sales.

Awards mean you’re building a literary life for yourself.

Follow on Instagram @KasieWhitener

In an interview with Jasper, unrelated to the Broad River Prize, I said I hadn’t really thought about having a literary career. I haven’t, not really. I don’t expect to earn a living on fiction. It’s a hobby. A side hustle. A place to put those memories that seep from old wounds.

Fiction is how I analyze and catalog the person I used to be so that I can safely continue being the person I am now. 

“Maybe I’m seeing my real self, my original self, my one-moment-in-God’s-Mosaic self in the mirror over the sink.” – The Shower

It might be prophetic that the concept of convergence is preoccupying me lately. So many of my stories—Cover Up, The Shower, Missing Scene, Daylight, Choose Life—are about reconciling accounts, or identifying the dichotomy between who we were and who we are. They are all fictionalized. Memories that needed excavating, retold with more drama than they really possessed. And yet, they are cathartic for me.

And now they’re out in the world for the general public to read and guess at which parts are “true.”

Readers of After December frequently ask me if it’s based on a true story. Maybe the most compelling fiction feels so real you have to believe someone lived it. I usually answer that it’s all true. And none of it is.

Except I hope when people read my fiction they feel my truth. They feel me picking up and examining the things we all struggle with. I don’t want to perform fiction. I don’t want to be a storyteller that entertains. I want to tell stories that feel so real you see yourself there.

In the shower with a sexy teammate. At the shower with the pudgy-cheeked women your mother-in-law invited.

Is it true? Sure. Except my baby shower was on my birthday in 2008. My mother fucking birthday. But that’s not the story I wrote, is it?

Visit this site for details on when Fall Lines with “The Shower” will be released. Get the Carrie McCray Award Winning story “Cover Up” with the download below.

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