To Be Happy
When sadness turns her into a stranger, one decision may draw her back.
(page 3 of 3)
Meet the winner of the 2013 fiction contest.
by Marilyn Sadler
While in high school, Amy Lawrence wrote short stories and “funny little essays.” She learned early the importance of editing and revising to make the piece “just right.”
That practice has paid off for Lawrence, whose story “To Be Happy” won the grand prize in our 2013 fiction contest. Indeed it’s the second time this Memphian has taken the top honor; her story, “The Pact,” won in 2003.
A lover of literature, Lawrence enjoys re-reading the classics. “I adore Southern writers,” she says. “Peter Taylor is one of my favorites.” As an eighth-grade teacher at Hutchison School, she introduces her students to such authors as Henry James, Willa Cather, and Eudora Welty, along with contemporary young-adult literature. “We choose the books, and we talk a lot about writing,” says Lawrence, who at age 22 earned first place in the 1999 Seventeen magazine fiction contest. “Every single one of my students impresses me when it comes to writing, so I just guide them as well as I can,” she adds.
A few years ago, Lawrence realized that creating fiction can be a lonely process. So she packed up all her notebooks and manuscripts, including two novels — one of which got “tangled up in the selling process” — and began to focus on food writing. She and her husband, freelance photographer Justin Fox Burks, are co-authors of The Southern Vegetarian Cookbook (Thomas Nelson, May 2013). They also created the recipe blog chubbyvegetarian.blogspot.com, and their recipes were featured in The New York Times Well blog in 2012.
“I had to get away from fiction for awhile in order to come back to it now,” says this graduate of Rhodes College and former copywriter for a local ad agency. In developing a story, she takes “a little bit from life,” imagines a situation, gives it embellishments, and gradually makes it her own. Her winning entry — about a woman who rescues a dog while trying to come to terms with heartache and loss — was inspired in part from her own efforts in animal rescue.
For aspiring writers, Lawrence offers truly wise words: “Become resilient and tough when it comes to rejection. Put your head down and keep writing, no matter what. The opportunities will come your way at some point if you’re hardworking and reliable and you’re trying to get better every day. Know how to edit your work and have the patience to do it — even if you need to put something away and come back to it.”
Beyond that, she adds, shed the ego “because that’ll be sure to hold you back. Press on, be flexible, and stay open to writing different things.” After all, she never dreamed her first book would be a cookbook, “but I’m so thrilled that it is.”
Finally, she says, “trust your mentors and rely on them. People really do want to help.”
For the story, which starts on page 84, Lawrence earned $1,000. Honorable-mention awards, each worth $500, went to Tom Bennitt, who lives in Oxford, teaches writing at Ole Miss, and has won various honors and awards, including a Pushcart Prize nomination; and Memphian Abe Gaustad, whose fiction has appeared in several publications and who’s working on a novel and a collection of stories.
We congratulate these three winners, and thank all who sent entries to the contest. We also extend sincere appreciation to our longtime cosponsors, The Booksellers at Laurelwood and Burke’s Book Store; without their support, this contest would not be possible.