The Prize Winner of Deering, New Hampshire

Between you, me, and the Internet, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I really, really like to win things. Of course, this doesn’t happen very often, especially these days, but when it does…

Years ago, my kids saved up their allowance money to buy me a book based on a real-life story they thought I’d like: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (later made into a movie starring Julianne Moore). They said the title character—a mom who supported her family of ten kids in the 1950s/60s by writing catchy advertising jingles for popular contests found in the back of women’s magazines and on soap and cereal boxes—reminded them of me.

They were right. I loved the book, because as a kid I immediately flipped to the back of my mom’s Ladies Home Journals and McCall’s and Better Homes & Gardens looking for those very ads. I also perused all the “Can You Draw Me?” and “We’re looking for people to write children’s books” ads. I was dying to have my aptitude measured, because my writing career needed to start ASAP. It didn’t help that Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Penn Warren’s daughter, who lived two doors down, had already published her first book—at the age of ten.

I settled for entering the annual poetry contest sponsored by the Fairfield Public Library. As prizes, they gave all of us “winning” authors real hardcover books with our work published (here’s one of the title pages, with my mom’s note):


I loved every kind of contest. I won a blue ribbon in a garden show (no snickers, people—my hubby calls me Round-up) for creating a vegetable sculpture that was supposed to be an elephant. I entered the Dogwood Bazaar poster contest every year. I even entered (heaven help us) children’s art shows with sappy oil paintings (and by sappy, I mean they never dried). I stayed in Girl Scouts for a year or two later than I might have so I could clean up on badges (Cooking was a tough one).

By the time I was eleven, I had become a competitive figure skater. In my first competition in New York City, I came in eleventh out of thirteen. I was ecstatic, because my coach had warned me when I signed up that I wasn’t ready. (But I didn’t come in last!! Yippee!!) Here’s a pic of me at about fourteen, with one of my closest competitors. She’s probably laughing here because she beat me. I am acting polite but clearly I’m not quite as amused.

In high school, I may have applied to a few colleges because my guidance counselor felt they were “too big a reach” for me. The first thing I did when I got my acceptance letters was drive straight back to school to show them to him. (Yeah, I know. What a brat.)

In those days, “nice” girls were not outwardly competitive. They were quietly accomplished, and above all, good sports. I had to learn how to lose gracefully. A lot. There were no huge, gleaming trophies for participation.

Yesterday I found that copy of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio on my bookshelves. Of course I needed to skim through it, for old times’ sake—and perhaps a glimmer of inspiration in completing a writing project that’s been draining my confidence lately.

By the early 70s, the heyday of the jingle-writing contests was over, and all-luck, no-skill sweepstakes became the norm. Evelyn Ryan went to work at J.C. Penney’s to put the rest of her kids through college. But she never gave up. And, in addition to the fact that she was a very clever and talented writer (and sharp businesswoman), she often made the point to her kids that you had to be in to win.

As writers, we are all “in” this game together. It’s not about how many publishing contracts we get, the amount of our royalties, or Amazon stats. It’s about creating books our readers will love, and hopefully we will, too. Awards season is upon us now, and several of our very own Chicks and our bestest writer friends have been nominated in multiple categories. I will be cheering from the audience, and truly thrilled for whichever ones among the worthy candidates win.

Who knows? Maybe someday, somehow, my name will be announced at a writers conference, and my kid self will inwardly jump for joy as I glide gracefully (and gratefully) toward the podium to make my acceptance speech. Such awards are not miracles—they’re most definitely contests of skill—but one thing is certain: You have to be in to win.

Back to the keyboard for me. And I’d like to thank my kids and Evelyn B. Ryan of Defiance, OH.

Readers, have you ever won anything, by skill or chance? Let us know in the comments below!




43 thoughts on “The Prize Winner of Deering, New Hampshire

  1. Lisa, I love to win, too. People who don’t know me very well are always shocked at this.I entered all those contests and never won anything. But inking that 3-book contract sure felt like winning when I did it!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That 3-book contract of yours was definitely a win, Liz!!! I’ve lost so many more times than I’ve won (it’s win, place or show, right?), but why are people shocked by a little zeal? I know just how Glenn Close feels this am.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Lisa — love, love this! I credit winning an essay contest in fourth grade with inspiring (partly, at least) my writing aspirations! (I assume you won the Dogwood poster contest since yours is CLEARLY the best! Love how the boy is standing on a step to make himself taller. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. “Up, up and awaaaay in my beautiful ballooooon….” (gosh,60s car radio much, Lisa?). I think there were prizes for each grade level, ha. Have to say, the girl at right wrote some very impressive copy.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The closest I’ve ever come to winning by skill is ultimate Frisbee leagues and tournaments. But, to be honest, it was my team that carried the day much more than I have. Anything else I’ve won has been luck.

    But in both cases I definitely wouldn’t have won if I hadn’t been participating.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. What a great post!! LOVE the pix. They had a Halloween window painting contest in the town where we lived and I once won honorable mention. Aside from that, I won $10 in the lottery. LOL, I’m thinking about my past and almost forgot that I won two Lefty awards. It was an amazing experience, only colored by my feeling badly for my friends who didn’t win. ;-(

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yay on those Lefty Awards, El!!! I did win a full membership to my own skating club in an ice-show drawing once. I was thrilled when they called my name, but the board was very disappointed, as my parents had already paid for the year. Oh, and I won a basket of writing books at Crime Bake. A hint from the Fates, perhaps…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Keep that positive attitude, Kathy! Right now our local grocery store is running a Monopoly game where we paste tiny, glue-deprived little tickets to a paper game board for months. One ticket for every 10 dollars spent, sigh. But there’s a dream trip, a dream home, and a big cash prize! (Or a lotta ketchup coupons.) Fingers crossed!

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Fabulous post, Lisa!

    So true about the pressure for “nice” girls to not be outwardly competitive in the days of yore. I still see glimmers of that in the world of my 12 year-old daughter, but it does seem to be changing.

    I was very proud to have won a coloring contest in first grade. In high school, I placed at a state music competition, but, alas, it wasn’t for playing The Eye of the Tiger. That would have been a memorable victory!

    These days, I buy every raffle ticket because I’m CERTAIN I’ll win. It’s a crushing disappointment every time I fail to take home an Instant Pot or the basket of bath bombs at the school bingo night.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Kathy, you are a woman of many talents! Don’t feel bad about the Instant Pot–they can kill people, you know. (And then they draw again for a new winner!). And agree on the steps forward for girls–we didn’t have many team sports available, except for tennis. (Don’t ask.) I have to say, though, I had a mom who had a very competitive spirit. She even signed me up to take the entrance test for the local boys Catholic prep school as L. Quinn and when I showed up the Monsignor was very upset.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I rarely win anything, but then again I hardly ever enter, because I figure I won’t win, lol. I’d have to say that being nominated for the Lefty this year is truly the best competitive experience I’ve ever had!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Leslie, I’d say a Lefty nom is much better than saggy ribbons for veggie elephants. And my Betsy Ross diorama (carpeted in moss from our patio) didn’t win anything, which I never understood. Very best of luck, Leslie–can’t wait to hear!

      Liked by 4 people

  7. I love Terry Ryan’s book and was so sad when she died. I bet she had a bunch more stuff to say in her unique voice.

    As for me, I placed in the top ten of a comedy writing contest for a chapter involving Spanx in BANANA BAMBOOZLE. That was fun.

    I face conference season with trepidation every year because I want EVERYONE to win, even though I know there’s nothing worse than an — ugh — participation ribbon. But like you, Lisa, I’ll be cheering madly for everyone who takes home a trophy, and weeping silently with Ellen for everyone who didn’t.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I didn’t know the author/daughter died! That’s so sad. And I’m glad someone other than the creator of the product got something worthwhile out of Spanx.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I feel like I’m luckier than most, because it seems I win more than my fair share of luck-based contests. The only skill-based contest I can remember winning is a team math tournament. That was a long time ago, back when I could actually do math. I’d probably come in last if I entered now.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. What are the mathematical odds on those luck-based contests? (Maybe better not to know.) But I am so, so impressed re: math tournaments. I was always one of the first people to sit down in math bees. I just stood there in a panic until time ran out.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Lisa, I never win anything by chance but I don’t try much either. However, I did win a snowshoeing trophy in 8th grade. There were two races. Afters placing in the first, I won the second because the other girl fell flat right at the finish line. PS I also live in NH and write mysteries.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Liz–it’s great to meet another writer from the 603! And I’m amazed and enthralled by your snowshoeing talents. If I knew how to snowshoe at all, that girl falling at the finish line would be me!

      Liked by 1 person

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