Romance-novel contest inflamed hundreds of our readers Sheila Dresser

HEARTS AFIRE

September 19, 1993|By Rebecca S. Fisher SECOND PLACE

Forget "the city that reads." Judging by the number of entries received in our romance-novel contest, Baltimore is "the city that writes."

More than 460 people took a shot at finishing the story outlined by local romance author Mary Jo Putney in the June 27 Sun Magazine. Though most entries were from the Baltimore area, we also heard from writers in California, Oregon, Maine, Arizona, Tennessee, Chicago, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Some of you were very, very determined. Carol Eakin-Burdette of Owings Mills sent hers from Canada. In a hand-printed note faxed in along with her entry, Ms. Eakin-Burdette explained that she had not finished writing before vacation. While traveling back roads in Maine and Canada and contending with "poor, unreliable mail services and no typewriter," Ms. Eakin-Burdette printed her 750 words by hand and got her entry to us in time.

Though you didn't make the semifinals, Ms. Eakin-Burdette, we applaud your effort!

The range of writers surprised us. The oldest had just turned 80 (go for it, Nona Lehr); The youngest was 13 (you've got a promising future, Sara E. Hoover). And about 15 percent of the entries came from men. At least one Ph.D., one lawyer and one doctor participated. And all of you seemed to have a good time.

Well, we had a good time too. It was fun seeing how many ways a romantic relationship could be resolved happily. Take note, marriage counselors.

In general, the "talking it out" method was the favorite. In Ms. Putney's story, lovers Richard and Rebecca had quarreled bitterly over politics following the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. In your conclusions to the story, as Rebecca talked and explained her actions, Richard softened toward her.

Then they met halfway, usually in a crash of crutches.

Poor Richard. He was left with a permanent limp, he was impotent, he was deranged. And talk about being betrayed by love! He was betrayed in love by Laura, Laurel, Catherine, Amber, Anna, Penelope, Lilly, Helen, Caroline, Charlotte and Pamela.

But Rebecca had been busy also. Her former beaus often left her pregnant and abandoned, her child was kidnapped, her father betrayed her and his country, she was jailed on suspicion of treason, she was run over (several times) by buggies.

In other entries, she was very much the heroine. Several times she disguised herself as a boy and went into battle. Once she charged the British line single-handedly after the men in her unit cut and ran.

Many entries broke the mold. For one writer, Rebecca saved the day by rescuing Richard's beloved horse, Blaze. In another, a visiting President Madison brought the couple together. Another writer mailed in a surrealistic political satire involving Richard, Caleb, unpaid Social Security taxes, President Clinton and homeless people.

Many of you wrote notes thanking us for the contest and for inspiring you to try writing. So we have one last note for all of you:

Thank you for participating. And keep writing!

Now on to business.

We selected 25 semifinalists, and asked a panel of five judges -- all of them romance enthusiasts -- to rank the top 10. Our judges were Kathleen Reif, coordinator of marketing and programming for the Baltimore County library; Lila Wisotzki, head of resource selection for the Baltimore County library; Susan Blackman, bookseller at WaldenBooks in Columbia Mall; Eileen Dibler, English teacher and study skills coordinator at High Point High School in Prince George's County; and me, Sheila Dresser, editor of Electronic News & Information Services at The Baltimore Sun.

From that list of 10, Ms. Putney chose our three winners, and here is what she said afterward:

"Resolving a complicated relationship in only 750 words was an extremely difficult challenge, for it is harder to write short than to write long. Nonetheless, all of these entries did an excellent job at providing credible motivations for Rebecca and Richard, and at developing the subtle cues that were in my original story fragment. Some writers went beyond that to create new characters, or to use history to add weight to the story."

Ms. Putney's choices for first-, second- and third-place:

Rebecca S. Fisher of Westminster, a schoolteacher; Lisa Chambers of Los Angeles, a journalist; JoAnne Fernandez of Columbia, an attorney.

In Ms. Fisher's entry, Ms. Putney "loved the characters' insights, and how well Caleb was developed in such a few words." Ms. Chambers' entry "was beautifully written and did an outstanding job with the psychology of Rebecca and Richard." And Ms. Fernandez "came up with a very nice twist on the issue of trust and betrayal."

Of the 10 finalists, Ms. Putney said, "I don't know if [they] are writing seriously, but if they aren't, they should be."

Our thanks to you, Ms. Putney, for your participation in this contest and for encouraging an interest in writing.

FIRST PLACE

"Richard, please," she whispered. He paused, then reluctantly turned back to her. "Yes?"

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