Reflecting at The SunLit Literary Festival in Florida: A Lesson in Owning The Fact You Are an Author

Sunshine beamed across the tall windows of the public library as I made my way towards the Sunlit Literary Festival that Saturday afternoon. Hope in my heart, and a little pep in my step. I walked briskly past the man who asked me if I wanted to sign up to vote regarding assault rifles.

I declined and made my way into the auditorium, where a woman greeted me with a smile behind a sign up table, complete with a schedule for today’s event and a couple of free reading materials. She smiled at me kindly, and leaned into her cane, she asked me this question:

“Oh, I know for a fact, just by the way you are dressed, that you are here as an author.”

At first, my cheeks felt hot, and my brows widened. I told her,

“I’m not an author,” I said quickly without truly listening to her words.

It was clear to see that my name wasn’t at the reading panel table, where real authors sat ready to present their work. And, it’s not like I had my work published recently and ready to receive awards. Though, I did carry a copy of my ARC of Syphons in my purse, just in case.

Then it dawned on me, as I gathered papers the real reason why I was there. I spoke up after imaging a leg appearing out of thin air to kick me in the but.

“A-Actually, I did write a short story for the contest, but I’m not an author, I’m a writer.”

The next things the librarian said made me think deeply.

“Well, that does make you an author. You wrote a story, you’re here to present, you’re an author. Do not sell yourself, short! Good luck on the contest.”

I sat down, feeling a little better after speaking with her. In the pit of my stomach, butterflies swarmed and flew angrier with each presenter. First, a young woman who thanked her father for being her inspiration, she won the teen writer’s award.

And, later the author of 100 Things to Do In Tampa Bay Before You Die, Kristen Hare reported on all the exciting places I should’ve visited by now after living here since infancy for 24 years.

As the day went on and the second place winner of the creative writing contest got on stage. My anxiety hit a pinnacle. I knew for a fact my short story didn’t win. The second place winner’s heartfelt story about her best friend who left her a pair of jeans that helped her travel through time did an outstanding job. My work, would never make first place.

As the day went on and the next presenter, this one the author of The Girl from Blind River, Gale Massey was up next and she shared an excerpt that had me sitting on the edge of my seat.

My hand touched my purse and my book, Syphons suddenly didn’t feel so important.

Why did I even waste my time writing a novel when clearly I’m an impostor? I’m surrounded by real writers who know what they are doing! I’ll never be like them.

Gale Massey started taking questions and someone asked her why did she choose to write her story. And, she said something along the lines of: She chose to write what she cared about. As a woman writer, as someone who is interested in poverty and how it affected single mothers, women, and their children. She wrote what she believed in and no one should stop you from writing what you want, otherwise.

Finally, the time came for the winner of the Sunlit Writing Contest to take the stage. And, while I knew I didn’t win, I was happy to hear the winner’s story. A story about life and birth. Two things that made sense and obviously deserved to win.

My story might not have won the writing contest. But, I enjoyed my time spending time with other writers, authors, and artists in the industry. Maybe next year, I’ll win. I just need to keep on writing.

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