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It was a typical evening at her boyfriend Richard’s house when writing hobbyist and former Independence resident Melissa Caudill first got the idea for a short story.
“I was sitting there, and his cat got on my lap and was laying there in what looked like an uncomfortable position. [Richard] mentioned that the cat likes me, and I told him, ‘no, she’s just looking for a comfortable place.
“So he says, ‘That doesn’t look comfortable — that looks like love.’”
When he said that, a lightbulb went on in her head.
“I thought that was so good… not just for romantic love, but for any kind of love,” Caudill said. So she took the quote and wrote around it, giving examples she has witnessed throughout her life of love’s tumultuous moments.
That one sentence, “That doesn’t look comfortable — that looks like love,” became a new philosophy for Caudill, and the story that spun from it became her first published work as one of the 101 stories of the newest book in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book franchise, called “The Dating Game.”
Published just in time for Valentine’s Day, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game” is filled with stories, poems and anecdotes about love and romance, highlighting the light-hearted and funny side of relationships, as well as the ones that sometimes go awry.
And, like Caudill’s entry, some stories serve as a reminder of what is important in a relationship.
In the story, Caudill highlights the little and the big moments that show examples of endurance in the name of love, from the time when her daughter volunteered to hold down the strings of a capo-less guitar until there were small grooves in her fingers so Richard could play them a song; to the days of witnessing her sister, a new mother, stand for hours beside the incubators that contained and protected her premature twin boys.
“Sometimes, relationships just take work,” she told The Gazette.
Although writing is an important part of her life, it comes second to her career as a paralegal and her other full-time job as a mother of two. She graduated high school in Giessen, Germany, as she was a self-proclaimed “military brat” at the time, and then received her associate degree at Wytheville Community College.
She lived in Independence, where her children still go to school, and then moved to her current home in Ashe County, N.C.
She is also is a two-time cancer survivor, having battled and won against Hodgkin’s lymphoma in her senior year of high school, and cervical cancer just a couple of years ago.
Caudill admitted that putting pen to paper has been a hobby for as long as she can remember. “When I was really little, I would make my mom, dad and grandmother do schoolwork, and I was the teacher,” she laughed. “I would give them writing assignments, and I was not nice about the grading, either!”
As early as nine years old, she remembers writing poems, but she never shared her work with anyone until recently, when she started up her public blog, “Missy’s Public Junk.”
“The blog started out as a running blog. I run a lot and at the time I was a new runner. But I just kind of wound up blogging about life, and now it’s very non-specific,” she said.
Her blog quickly gained a following of what she averages at 400-500 viewers, and she as made several friends through the outlet. “I met someone in Australia through the blog, and she was wanting to train for a half marathon. So we virtually trained together.”
As she became more confident with sharing her writing, she began submitting to local contests, and won first place in the adult essay competition at the Chataqua Festival in Wytheville. “After that, I submitted this story to Chicken Soup, and was chosen… I guess it was beginner’s luck! It’s been a big year,” she said.
She officially found out that she had made it into the book in October 2013, and the copies were released to the public in December. “[The submission process] seemed like it took forever. My very first email, when I saw it I immediately started crying,” she said
She received a cash award of $200 for the story, and 10 free copies of the book. As a contributor, she is also able to purchase the books at a discount to sell at book signings.
She shared that she eventually plans to write a novel, but for now she is sticking with essay-length short stories, since that’s what she has time for. She has several other entries in for future Chicken Soup novels, and is hoping “for lightning to strike twice.”
When asked what sort of feedback she has received for her story so far, she says that the praise has been wonderful, and very surprising in some cases. “Some people have told me that they read the story and found a spiritual connection.”
At her church, a Sunday school teacher even used it as a lesson plan for her students. “It did surprise me, but once the person said that, I saw that it does relate to a relationship with God, and how he would want us to be like in our interactions with each other.”
• Caudill’s essay can be found on page 363 of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game,” and her personal blog can be found at missyspublicjunk.wordpress.com.
Autographed copies of the book can be mailed by request. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Chicken Soup series, visit www.chickensoup.com.
Caudill will perform in the two-person play “Love Letters” at the Ashe County Arts Center today, Friday, at 7 p.m., with another signing of the “Chicken Soup” book to follow.