Guideposts winner submitted 30 minutes before deadline

By Jason Schock

Lori Gottula’s IDP (Initial Delay Position) in US Army Col. Charles R. James, Jr., DDS’ dental office lobby was in close proximity to a coffee table, and STF (Standard Delay Format), depending on one’s CDT (Cell Delay Tolerance), is to obtain recon of said coffee table and acquisition of a TDU (Time Delay Unit), aka a magazine, to utilize as either a diversionary tactic, for those sweating the drill, or as weaponry, for deployment in the Battle of Boredom. Col. James’ atypical failure to adhere to secretary Judy Handley’s regimented appointment schedule had created time-lag and, for some, the only thing worse than going to the dentist, is waiting for the dentist. 

On this day, however, the momentary delay turned into one of the best, most consequential moments in Lori’s life. The patient patient, an aspiring writer, filmmaker and regular contributer to The Falls City Journal, spotted Guideposts magazine that June 2014 afternoon in Dr. James’ office and some four months later in Long Island, NY, was training to write for the international magazine founded in the 1940s and currently circulated to nearly two million people worldwide.

“It just struck me, because I used to read that as a kid,” she said. 

It was June 10 and Lori happened to open to the very page advertising the Guideposts Writers Workshop Contest – with submissions due in two days. 

“Was it some kind of divine intervention, or what?,” she said recently, because the advertisement prompted her to join with some 4,000 others and enter the contest. She and the 11 other winners – all women – were notified in August  that in late October they’d be participating in the Guideposts Workshop, with all expenses paid, at the Wainwright Mansion, in Rye, NY, rubbing elbows not only with Guideposts editors (including the editor), but also with award-winning author Catherine Madera and #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber (“Cedar Cove” and “Love Letters”), both of whom got their breaks in the very same contest and workshop. As it turns out, the Guideposts staff is a collection of its contest winners.  

Guideposts magazine features first-person, true-life stories that “offer practical solutions to everyday problems and inspiration for overcoming personal difficulties.” Gottula, 53, a native of Auburn and Peru State College graduate, had authored one such story which had previously appeared in The Journal in April 2013: Her account of conquering drug dependence, the pain and suffering that accompanies acute withdrawal, and transformation of her life. She lost lost nearly 100 pounds and says she’s “physically and mentally stronger than I’ve been in 15 years – maybe forever.

Two years ago, I weighed 216 pounds, couldn’t tie my own shoes, and couldn’t walk a block without stopping to catching my breath or stretch out my back,” Gottula told The Journal last fall. 

“I guess I’ve always wondered whether or not I had the talent to really make it on the national stage, or if anyone would be interested in a brutally-honest account like that. This contest has made me feel like maybe I do after all, and maybe someone would!,” she said. Gottula said The Journal article spurred more than 300 phone calls, emails, text messages, cards, letters and face-to-face conversations. 

A second project, a rendering of “Sissy,” Lori’s project about Christina “Sissy” Georges, a gifted horse racer who has overcome blindness to win national riding championships, also fit the bill, albeit not from a first-person perspective. The “Sissy” screenplay has been in the works for years and has on occasion teetered on the cusp of widespread acclaim, reaching the finals of two international competitions. Gottula began the interviews with Sissy and Angel in January 2009.

She scrambled to retell both stories in 1,500 words or less — “It took me probably 10 hours to rework them,” she said — and entered the contest with 30 minutes to spare. “I didn’t start working on the submissions until the morning of June 11; I remember thinking that I didn’t have enough time to pull it off, but changed my mind.

“I’ve entered several screenplay writing contests,” Lori said, “but this was the first feature-writing contest I ever entered.”

Both basically “won,” because the detox/life transformation article was chosen as the workshop winner, but Guideposts editors were interested in the ‘Sissy’ article and it was slated for May 2015 publication, but its “since been pulled by the subjects,” according to Gottula. The autobiographical story will be published during sometime during the calendar year, but Gottula says she hasn’t been notified about a specific month. 

Upon arriving at the Wainwright Mansion, Guideposts Editor-in-Chief Edward Grinnan, who also serves as Vice President of Guideposts Publications, alluded to Gottula as “the two-fer” in the group, emphasizing the rarity of one contest winner attend the workshop on the strength of multiple stories. 

“I was a little nervous about going because I figured I’d be the only person in the room who hadn’t had a book published and be around a lot of big city people with a lot of credentials,” Gottula said. “But there were several who have never been published and even some who just contribute to their small town paper, like I do. But there were more than 4,000 entrants and after Edward Grinnan said that, I knew I deserved to be there.” 

Though they were “treated like royalty,” the “work” in workshop was very much that, according to Gottula. The writers spent 12 hours per day with editors “learning how to write Guideposts stories,” she said. Each writer essentially rewrote their story.

“We went through each story and dissected it,” she said, “but it was an environment of constant constructive criticism, but not confrontational. It was a great experience of a lifetime, in a gorgeous setting with women who have become friends. We’re a sisterhood, now.”

 The workshop has launched the careers of authors such as Sue Monk Kidd (“Secret Life of Bees”), Dick Schneider (author of dozens of books, including “Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect”), Marjorie Holmes (author of scores of books, including “Two From Galilee”), and Marion Bond West (“Praying for My Life”). Sue Monk Kidd was also listed as one of the past teachers of the workshop.

Though the “Sissy” story won’t likely appear in the pages of Guideposts, Gottula said she expects to submit new material for the foreseeable future.

“Stories don’t have to be major life events,” she said. “They just have to be inspirational.”

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