Congratulations to Mary Jo Dyre for Winning the November 2022 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received as a writer?

Mary Jo told a gripping story about the upside to great tragedy. Enjoy her winning submission:

“What’s the best gift you’ve ever received as a writer?

The accident occurred as a result of the driver dying immediately from a massive heart attack. A partially finished manuscript for the fourth and final novel in the Jake Baker Murder Mystery Series was eventually recovered in the “totaled” truck on an equally damaged hard drive along with the body of the deceased author, my brother. The overwhelming grief played out in all of us. Out of this deep loss, the greatest gift I have ever received as a writer presented itself to me.

The family knew my background in teaching high school and community college writing courses had caused me to dabble with the idea of writing a novel. They also knew that a long administrative career in education had placed my goal to write fiction on hold. The founding of a small private school followed by one of the first charter schools in the state of North Carolina, inclusive of all the staff and parent communication demands, professional papers, and grants that came with the territory, filled my days to overflowing. Yet, I never gave up on the dream of that novel. Like so many others, I wrote the manuscript, not fully developed, certainly not edited, sitting in the proverbial dust-covered box.

An overriding question surfaced in the weeks after our brother’s death. “Will you consider finishing the manuscript?”

I instinctively knew that the connection with the plot needed to be strong if I were to tackle the task with any confidence. I also knew that I needed to be in my brother’s head, so to speak. With a little over half the manuscript left behind at the time of his death, I believed I could bring the project home. The connection and commitment were strong. By diving deep into the earlier three books in his mystery series, I mapped the character development from previous plotlines and built it forward. Additionally, the gift offered what seemed like treasured time with my brother and his creative mind. I was 150% in on this somewhat unusual collaborative effort.

Dark Spot: A Jake Baker Mystery was self-published in 2018 under both our names, Arnold Dyre and Mary Jo Dyre. Springheads, my dust-covered-box manuscript, fully developed and edited, is set to be published through Redhawk Publications in January 2023. Source, a sequel to Springheads, is getting my attention daily as a work in progress. Redhawk Publications plans to republish Dark Spot under their masthead. With the discovery of the AWAI opportunity and Pat McCord’s moving author story, I found the bow for the top of this unexpected gift.  

The greatest gift I have ever received as a writer can only be defined as the gift that keeps on giving. In loving memory and gratitude to Arnold Douglas Dyre, October 31, 1945–June 12, 2017.