What began as a lucid dream that inspired a University of Arizona student to write a short story has led to the student receiving a national award.
Cary Groner, a graduate student in the UA's creative writing program, has won the Glimmer Train Press Fiction Open competition, which is open to writers in the United States and internationally.
The first place award, which comes with $2,000 in prize money, also means that Groner's work will be published in next year's summer edition of Glimmer Train Stories, a quarterly issue the company publishes.
"The award came as a very pleasant surprise," said Groner, who enrolled in the UA program as a returning student after having worked as a journalist for more than 20 years.
"I'm really indebted to the department, the faculty and my fellow students for the instruction and support I've received here," Groner said. "This wouldn't have happened without them, and I'm extremely grateful."
The Portland-based press publishes short fiction on a quarterly basis and has been featured in Best American Short Stories. The Fiction Open competition recognizes work between 2,000 and 20,000 words by unpublished authors.
Groner had worked on two novels prior to enrolling at the UA. He had been living in northern California prior to moving to Tucson. There, he wrote about healthcare and medical topics for a healthcare newspaper, then as a freelance reporter.
He turned to writing short stories during his studies at the UA after being involved in a workshop for the shorter form – one that Groner said was "a little less complex."
He had also come to accept that he needed some academic and professional support in his fiction writing. Groner said "if I hadn't come here, and wanted some more manageable material for that venue, I never would have started writing short stories."
The 25-page story that earned the Fiction Open award is titled "Elaborate Preparations for Departure" and is based on a dream Groner had about his girlfriend. After the dream, he reworked the story into a modern retelling of the Orpheus myth.
The story, he said, is about a man who traveles to Greece to recover the body of his deceased wife. "It's about what he finds there, which undermines his understanding of his own identity, that of his wife, and the nature of their relationship," said Groner, who wrote the story over several months in 2008.
He brought an early draft into a workshop at the UA last year, where it was "pretty well ripped up," he said. He rewrote the story several times over the following months and submitted the 12th draft to the competition.
"I'm always surprised that there's actually a debate about whether writing can be taught," Groner said. "To me it's a little like wondering whether neurosurgery can be taught. I came here without much of a clue what I was doing, and although I still have a lot to learn, I'm living proof that if you have attentive teachers and astute colleagues, you can improve."