Category Archives: Contest

Under No Uncertain Terms

I know I promised to talk about Philipians 4:7-9 in my last entry, but I decided to put that off for a bit. Instead, I want to talk about why I write, and why I can’t stop no matter how much I complain about it.

Back in 2000, I noticed that most mainstream science fiction contained little to no references to God (and many being downright hostile to religion and the idea of a higher power unless it was some ethereal “force” or “universe”).

On the flip-side, most novels labeled as “Christian” had scant little science fiction or fantasy.

I mentally lamented this one day, and a small voice in my head said, “then you write it.”

I ended up writing my first novel in three months. I did nothing with it for quite a few years, because I knew that while the bones of the story were good, the writing itself needed a lot of work. I attended some online writers courses, bought lots of books on writing, and attended writers conferences. I even queried several publishers and agents (to no avail).

In 2008, I had my son, and two years later I wondered if I should pursue publication. I would always write, including blogs, devotions, and journaling that few people would see, but nothing else. Taking care of my boy and working meant I had little time for anything else. I was fine with that.

However, at sixteen I gave my hands to God to use as he saw fit. Quitting on the idea of publication wasn’t entirely my choice, so I needed to ask him what I should do before making any decision.

At about the same time, I heard about a contest for unpublished novelists. It’s called “Genesis” and sponsored by ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). An author submits a synopsis and the first fifteen pages of their completed novel. In return, regardless if a person’s novel wins or not, the three judges return a scoresheet with comments/critiques about where the story worked, and where it needed improvements.

I decided to submit my story, but at the same time set a “fleece before the Lord,” (see Judges 6). I asked God that if he wanted me to continue pursuing publication, tell me by allowing my story to make the finals. Not win, though. I figured that would be asking for too much.

Fast forward a few months. One night I received a phone call, but didn’t recognize the number. Figuring it was spam, I let it go to voicemail. The lady who called left a short message congratulating me on making the finals in the Genesis contest, speculative category.

My first response? Crap. A large part of me wanted to quit. I liked my life as is, and after so much time, so many roadblocks, money spent only to get more rejections, that part didn’t think continued pursuit was worth more of the same.

Fast forward almost twenty years since I penned my first draft, I’m still an unpublished novelist. That’s not to say I’ve been sitting idle, and have zero successes, though. I now have written five complete novels (two need serious work), have published short stories and am an acquisitions editor for Havok Magazine.

Nor do I have anyone to blame for my lack of novel publication other than me. I simply don’t submit enough. Part of it is procrastination, but it’s also extreme pickiness. Too extreme, probably.

Some might say I should go the indie route, and I have thought and prayed about it quite a bit. I keep getting the sense that God doesn’t want me to. At least not yet.

Writers tend to feel a lot. About everything. No matter what happens, we always think of the worst possible consequences. We can’t seem to help ourselves. No one should be surprised, because that’s what we have to do in our stories. That kind of thinking can’t help but spill over into reality.

I submitted a short story for another anthology, and received comments back in less than a day. Many of his changes would affect the plot significantly, but not it’s impossible. That same day, I received edits for my fantasy from a fellow writer who said that she feared her edits would make me think the story is terrible when it’s not (I haven’t looked at them, yet, though).

That knee-jerk-reaction-the-sky-is-falling reactionary part of my psyche once again told me I’m wasting my time. I suck as a writer, because after 20+ years I have scant little to show for it. That alone should prove how bad I am. After all, very few endeavors could have a worse track record. Imagine being a doctor with little success after that many years!

Granted that’s not the best comparison, because mere spilling words onto a piece of paper doesn’t physically heal or harm anyone.

In the end though, all that lamenting, pouting and whining is irrelevant and a waste of more time. God told me during the 2010 Genesis contest that under no uncertain terms am I allowed to quit. It might take another ten years (although I pray it won’t take that long) before I see any of my novels in a bookstore, but I have to keep working on it. Sometimes (most times), it’s all I have to fall back on to keep me moving forward. Luckily it’s been all I needed (even if I do grind my teeth while accepting it).

Oh, and my novel did end up winning the contest.

A Head’s Up

Busy week y’all!

Tomorrow a short story of mine will be published on gohavok.com–a sci-fi story this time, and a bit of a love story. It’s based on a song written in the 1960s, and the first person to guess it correctly will be added to a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card.

I will also be hosting a blog tour for the release of a speculative anthology on the biblical Beatitudes and Woes for which I wrote a story. Be sure to stop by for that, because I’ll talk about how it all started and came together in only six months almost to the day.

Self-Deceit?

I received the score sheets and suggested edits to my contest submission three days ago, and I have yet to download or even open the attachments.

I’m still too uncertain as to whether or not I’m emotionally capable of handling more criticism — even though intellectually I know many of the comments will only help to improve my craft.

As writers we get so close to our stories that we can’t see what readers see. What seems obvious to us can be confusing to the reader.

As I continue to struggle with feelings of rejection and inadequacy, I am nonetheless thinking and simmering over the scoresheets themselves.

I believe I have come up with a way to “speed up” the first chapter, and give the reader a sense — at least at the beginning — of who the main character is. As a reader, I do like to pick one character — at least to start — to latch onto, relate to, and root for. By giving the reader three equally important characters, the reader has more difficulty making that choice.

All it will take for me is to switch the point of view to a different character. Everything else that happens won’t change, so it won’t adversely effect the rest of the story.

Still, by avoiding the judges comments, am I engaging in a bit of self-deceit?

Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” once said: “I reject your reality, and substitute my own.”

Perhaps that’s what I’m doing, both with my previous entry about my manuscript not being the best fit for the contest (and hence the low scores), and by rewriting the first chapter entirely without looking at and thereby digesting the other comments.

I won’t know for sure until I read the comments . . .

Nope, still not ready to face them. I prefer to swim in my chosen “reality” for a while longer.

Maybe tomorrow.

Well That Was Rough

I just received the score sheets from my contest entry, and boy were they critical. Out of a score of 100, it received an average of 50.

What’s interesting is the average scoring for the previous contest was 84 for the first round and 88 for the final round.

For the same book.

What’s even more interesting about the results is how consistent the judges comments are in each contest.

Perhaps the difference lies in that the first contest (where my novel received the highest scores) the judges judged the first five pages, and for the second contest, the judges judged the first fifteen pages.

A few consistent comments:

1. A Christian worldview not evident (which I was aware of; I wondered if it may be more appropriate for a more mainstream audience. Now I know).

2. Who’s the main character? This I thought might be iffy, because there isn’t one main character. There’s three.

3. It starts out slow with too much narration, not enough action, while at the same time not enough world-building details. Sigh. As one who has little confidence in writing intriguing, and story-moving detail as it is, I feel like someone just told me to climb Mount Everest with my stubby legs and arthritic knees.

4. First line (hook) needs work. Ugh.

I just had a thought. While I like entering these kinds of contests, I wonder if the questions asked of the judges are a bit too constraining.

For instance, the questions emphasize the importance of the first line. A lot of readers (at least the one’s I’ve asked about it) don’t seem to care as long as the first few pages are intriguing. Then there are the questions about whether or not the main character (singular) is obvious at the start. At least in my novel, I have three, and I’ll state with some confidence that most books have at least two, especially those with romantic plots and subplots. Add to the mix the questions about an obvious “Christian worldview”. Some novels will always be more subtle in that area than others.

Those questions almost guarantee a lower score for books that don’t necessarily fit into that mold — such as lacking an attention-grabbing first line (but the subsequent writing is), has more than one main character, and the “message” is subtle (or becomes more evident later in the book).

I can’t help but wonder if my novel wasn’t the best fit for this particular contest. Something to think about anyway. I don’t regret it though, because the remaining comments and suggestions are worth considering, and may result in a better book in the end.

Nor do I fault the contest, or the judges. I fact, they have earned from me a greater respect for having to muddle through my entry. I will forever appreciate them taking the time to read it, and give me their honest assessments.

In the final analysis, it’s my fault for not studying my own novel more such as its genre, sub-genre and target audience, and comparing it to the overall purpose of the contest.

I just saw this quote, and think it’s rather appropriate:

“Let your thoughts lift you into creativity that is not hampered by opinion.” – Red Haircrow

An Attempt at Losing with Grace

Well, I’m a little bummed. I submitted my latest novel to a contest, and just discovered it didn’t even make the semi-finals.

Part of me is thinking, “Wow. It must have sucked. Maybe I should give up on editing the darn thing, because it has no chance of even getting published.” (Don’t worry, I’ll get over it, because it did win a different contest last year. All this means is the competition was especially good, not that mine sucked).

Sure I was hoping to at least make the finals if not win, both for bragging rights, and because after each round, the judges submit a score sheet with comments for improvement. Win or lose, those comments alone are worth the price of submission.

The good news is I no longer have to think about going to the conference this year when they announce the winners.

Call it coincidence, or call it irony (or ironic coincidence), but less than 15 minutes before discovering I had lost, I commented on a Facebook post about one of my favorite verses in the Bible:

“Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked.” Ecclesiastes 7:13

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.