Category Archives: Contest

Spiritual Fatigue

With 2018 less than two weeks away, one can’t help but take stock of the previous year, what we accomplished, and didn’t accomplish, our pains and our joys. We also look toward our goals and hopes for the next year.

One of my goals is to avoid politics (it’s an off-year election in the States, so I expect things to get almost as heated and divisive as both 2016 and 2017, if not worse), and spend little if any time on social media.

A few times this last summer, we camped at a local lake called Lake Tschida. With the heat and drought, however, the lake bloomed with blue-green and slimy algae that few dared to swim in. I was not one of them.

That’s what social media feels like to me lately. Just perusing it with all the vitriolic politics and constant hate and nasty insults to those who simply disagree on a particular subject feels like swimming in a bathtub-warm, and algae-choked lake. I leave feeling slimed, emotionally and sometimes spiritually drained.

In 2016, I took a full year off social media except my author page on Facebook and other writing sites. Not only did the spiritual ick leave me, but I wrote many blog entries and finished three languishing novels. All told, I wrote over 200,000 words in those twelve months.

I hope to meet or exceed that number this year.

First I need to write my 2018 Lenten devotionals which are due by the end of January. I’m not stressing about those, though. Yet.

My other writing goals are to write more entries here on multiple subjects, rewrite my fantasy, and perhaps submit it to ACFW’s Genesis contest. As with the First Impressions contest, while winning is great, the real benefit is the judges’ critiques. Having outside opinions of my work can only help me improve my skill.

My other writing goals are to continue to submit queries to literary agents (four down, fourteen to go of my current list). I’d also like to write and submit more short stories, but we’ll see. I’ve started two so far, but am having trouble finishing. I think it’s due to my spiritual fatigue. I lose both motivation and confidence when I’m so drained.

But I am also an eternal optimist. Having endured spiritual angst multiple times already, I know it’s a seasonal thing, and like every time before, I’ll get through it and hopefully a little wiser in the end.

Oh. And read. A lot.

If this be my last entry for 2017, I pray you have a stress-less holiday season, and 2018 ends up the best year ever for all of us.

And the Results Are . . .

On a whim, I decided to submit my latest WIP (work in progress) to the yearly ACFW (acfw.com) First Impressions contest. Contestants submit their back cover blurb of 500 words and the first five pages of their WIP.

In November, I discovered my story made the finals along with two others in my chosen category.

Two days ago, I received the phone call that my story won. Was I excited! Making the finals to start meant that the judges believed my story was good enough to continue on, and to win is a writer’s second-best validation (The first is for readers and/or publishers to actually purchase said story).

Aside from winning, the best part of the contest is the judges’ score sheets and comments on the submission. The score sheets ask questions such as:

• Did you want to keep reading more when you reached the end of the five pages?

• Did the author hook you in the opening page, enticing you to keep reading?

• Was the dialogue engaging and interesting?

Even if my story hadn’t won, the comments and score sheets are invaluable. I now know — in general — the story’s strengths and weaknesses. None of it came as too much of a surprise, because I know what my weaknesses are. Although I did discover my weaknesses aren’t as weak as they used to be, such as too little detail while at the same time being too wordy.

In short, taking all the comments into consideration — especially where the judges agree — I have one more major edit to go, and it might be ready for submission to prospective agents.

If A Bug Crawled In, I Wouldn’t Have Noticed

Back in May, I decided to submit a short story to the 85th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Even with the $25 entry fee, it’s not much to lose if I don’t win. I didn’t think my chances were good, because every year they receive well over ten thousand entries. Even taking the different categories into consideration, I would still be competing with thousands of entries. I wasn’t even interested in the prize money; I was looking for bragging rights.

I submitted my story a day before the deadline, and of course, I took one more look at the story after I submitted it and found one spelling error. I knew that one typo would toss me out of the running, because considering the number of competitors, the judges would look for even the tiniest reason to toss the entry aside.

A few weeks after I entered the contest, I signed up for the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) annual conference. Part of what gains a prospective agent and/or publisher is writing credits which include any writing contests. Unfortunately, win or lose, I wouldn’t find out how I fared in the contest until long after the conference.

Imagine my total surprise when I received the following email this afternoon:

Hi Andra,

Congratulations! Your story, “Ashella’s Heart,” was awarded Second Place in the Genre category for the 85th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. You’ve won $500 and $100 off a purchase from the Writer’s Digest Shop; more information regarding this will be sent from the competitions department in the next few weeks.

I’ve attached a few forms that will need to be completed and returned so we can get you your prize!

Now you know the meaning of my title. My mouth fell open when I read the email, and I don’t think I closed it until after I read it three times.

The best part, again isn’t the money — although I’m certainly not going to turn it down — is I now have bragging rights, and a mere one week before I leave for the conference.

I Stole This Entry

While it may sound odd, I really do hate when I finish a book or story. Sure, there’s always a sense of accomplishment, but after that, I feel a bit sad that it’s over. After spending so much quality time writing, when it’s done, I have to ask myself, “Now what?”

On my other blog on writing.com, I participated in a blogging contest where I competed with others based on a specific prompt every two to three days. Now that the contest has ended, I still want to write entries, but write about what, exactly?

I’m a thief, but writing — especially blogs — requires a bit of thievery. A thievery of ideas.

For instance, I noticed a few bloggers writing entries using the following prompt:

Write about a scent you remember from your childhood. What aroma brings back pleasant memories when you smell it?

When I think about memories tied to smells, only one comes to mind.

First I’ll start off with an excerpt from http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/smell3.htm… written by Sarah Dowdey:

A smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people’s moods and even affect their work performance. Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it’s sometimes called the “emotional brain,” smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.

The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren’t for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory — associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or lilies with a funeral. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood. Chlorine might call up a specific pool-related memory or simply make you feel content. Lilies might agitate you without your knowing why. This is part of the reason why not everyone likes the same smells.

Makes sense, because my husband doesn’t mind the smell of skunks, whereas me, I’ll plug my nose and move away as fast as I can, thank you very much.

Now for my own pleasant memory.

There is only one smell that brings back strong memories of my mom. It’s not what you would think, either. It’s not a particular food that she made all the time, nor is it a perfume or soap.

It’s Hoppe’s No.9.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s a cleaning solvent made to clean firearms.

I didn’t realize how strongly it brought back memories of Mom until I smelled it while my husband was cleaning one of his firearms. I couldn’t help but laugh at the realization, because other than my sister, I doubt anyone remembers their mother based on the aroma of gun-cleaning solution.

Now for the why.

My mom liked her firearms, and she had a fair selection of mostly revolvers. She kept all her cleaning gear inside an old suitcase made out of 7-Up cans. My sister has it now.

Every six months or so, whether my mom had used her firearms or not, she would bring them and the suitcase out, and clean them in the living room. I remember watching her, asking what each part of the firearm was, and why she cleaned each part the way she did. She even let me help a few times, and for a long time afterward, my hands would smell of a combination of Hoppe’s No.9 and gunpowder. Good times. Great memories.

My question for you is, what smell brings back memories of your mother?

Heart vs Brain

I’m participating in a blogging contest on another website, and I liked this particular prompt and my response enough to share here:

Prompt:

Write about your greatest struggle so far writing or otherwise. You can choose whichever form you want: short story, poem, creative nonfiction, etc.

When I first saw the question, my brain went into overload. Like every other human, my list of struggles is so long, to pick one is near impossible. It seems we are born, live, and die with struggle.

There’s a quote from the movie “The Matrix.” I don’t have it exact but to paraphrase one of the “agents” as he talked to Neo: “We tried creating the perfect world for you. No struggles, death or disease, but you kept waking up, because you could never believe in a perfect world. We lost entire crops.”

I also think that since we live almost daily with struggles, we can’t imagine what Heaven will be like.

The one that I choose for this particular entry isn’t my greatest struggle, but it’s certainly one of my more recent ones.

Call it a slight case of mid-life crisis.

My hair is graying, certain parts aren’t — shall we say — as perky as they once were. I have arthritic knees and now elbows. Last year I graduated to bifocals. I’m finding myself saying “What?” more often than I used to, and I can’t remember anything unless I write it down or tell my phone to beep me a reminder of an appointment or meeting.

Every day I gain a greater sense of my inevitable mortality.

I see younger folks with better health, figure and energy than I do, and I can’t help but mourn the loss of my youth. I look in the mirror and think, “Yuck. I’m old, fat and saggy. How ugly and worthless am I?”

Like it or not, I determine some of my self worth based on how I look. I would love to lose a few (or 40) pounds, but it gets more difficult the older I get. My brain tells me that looks don’t matter. My son still adores me and smiles whenever he sees me. My husband still thinks, and calls me beautiful. They don’t care that I’m all squishy. Why do I refuse to see me through their eyes?

During church today, my pastor mentioned a recent scientific journal where scientists have discovered that so-called negativity such as anger, frustration cling to our neurons like Velcro. Positive emotions and thoughts, on the other hand, slide off our neurons like Teflon. If true, my brain is no different from anyone else’s. I often see the positive in most every circumstance, but it also takes a lot of mental rigor to get me to that point. Afterward, I need a nap.

In other words, we have to work on optimism, and we have to work on embracing the fact that we are flawed creatures, but nonetheless loveable and beautiful in spite of — or even sometimes because of — those flaws.

So I’m getting old. So no young stud is going to turn his head and think, “Whoa. She’s hot.” That same young stud, however, may still smile and take down a grocery item from a shelf because I can’t reach it. He will treat me kindly and with respect because I am his elder (they still do that, believe it or not. I’ve seen and experienced it).

My brain is convinced that even though there may be fewer days behind me than before, I still have today, and I must not squander it. I am still worthy of being loved no matter what my age or how much loose skin waddles underneath my arms.

Convincing my heart, that’s the real struggle.

About 1 in 5,000

Those are my chances of winning the Writers Digest 85th Annual Writing Competition. I’m thinking even those odds are a bit optimistic.

I’m sure they receive tens of thousands of entries, so for mine to stand out among so many, it has to be perfect. That means zero spelling or grammatical errors, and a story that grabs readers from the first sentence and won’t let go until they read the final word. Even then, there’s no guarantee the judges will even like the story. Is it too graphic? Not enough? Do they expect a story that makes a political or social point?

The first part I can control, the second and third are entirely subjective and out of my hands. Hence the long odds. I think my story is awesome, but that’s just me — and only me.

I’ll find out by October 10th whether or not the judges liked my story. The winners will receive significant prizes, but I honestly don’t care about them. I’m looking at bragging rights; one more credit I can add to my query letters to gain the interest of agents and/or publishers.

All in all, if I don’t win or place, all I’ve lost is a bit of time and the $25 entry fee. If I don’t win, I’ll share the losing story. Ha! I’m sure that piqued your interest, right, because who doesn’t want to read a story the judges of a contest thought worthy of only a garbage can?

So Much for The Easy Way

The 2012 Amazon’s Breakout Novel Award 1st Round is complete. Yours truly did not make the cut. Am I surprised? Not really. In fact, I knew going in I wouldn’t make it.  I simply figured I had nothing to lose by trying.

I believe there are several reasons for not making the cut (and I admit I’m wearing my cynical-colored glasses while I type).

  1. I suck at pitches. Boiling down a 75k novel down to 300 words is beyond difficult for me.  I need practice, and that’s putting it mildly.
  2. The judging. My book is Science Fiction geared specifically for a male audience. It’s a sad truth that most books are purchased by women. Publishers as a consequence must publish books catered to them otherwise they’d lose money (speaking in generalities, because there are always exceptions). Looking at previous winners, not one was science fiction, and all were more along the lines of chick-lit.
  3. Number of entries. Referring to Reason #1, the odds of standing out amongst 4999 other entries made the likelihood of making the second round steep indeed.

What happens now?

Query letter/synopsis/chapter outline time! Yippee (someone shoot me now).

There is one lesson learned here. Submitting to Agents/Editors is no different than the ABNA. I still have to rise above the rest, and this contest showed my pitch wasn’t good enough. I have to make it better. How do I do that? That’s the big question right now. Part of me (and a rather large part) wants to put it off and watch Netflix and Hulu all night.

Since Lent started yesterday, I decided to cut out all refined sugars. Perhaps I should add television to that as well. It may not encourage me to practice writing my pitch, however, because I’m trying to catch up on my reading as well.

Right now I’m reading “A Talent for War” by Jack McDevitt. It’s okay so far. While well-written, there’s a lot of history going on. Thankfully it’s not all narrative backstory, but the main character following his uncle’s historical research so as to figure out why his uncle disappeared. Nonetheless (being an impatient reader), I’m ready for some action!