Category Archives: Contest

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!

My Strongest Weakness

Is that an oxymoron?

I’ve always known my greatest weakness as a writer is description. Dialog I could write all day, and I’m comfortable writing action sequences.

Describing the sights, sounds and smells, on the other hand? Blech.

When “Traitors” finalled in the 2010 ACFW Genesis Contest, I was supposed to receive the final scoring from each of the three judges. I completely forgot about it until the contest coordinator emailed them to me this morning. Her life had some upheaval including a pregnancy, so she also forgot until today.

She attached the overall scoring of “Traitors” including the judges’ comments.

One contained a score of 81 (the lowest score). Comments included a question about whether the “. . . CBA is ready for this type of futuristic.” The short answer is “no” unfortunately. As for the story it had “a good strong opening, then it dragged.” Characterization was good, conflict excellent and dialog good.

No arguments on any of those.

Second judge gave it a score of 91 with only one comment: “Definitely a good read and a fast read. I was sad to come to the end of the sample — I wanted more!”

Every author wants to hear those words!

The third judge was a bit more thorough. He/she gave “Traitors” an overall score of 93. Added to the score sheet was the 15-page sample along with specific comments to the story itself.

Most of them focused on small continuity problems such as the main character calling another one simply “a woman” then a few paragraphs later he recognized her with no explanation as to how.

The judge also pointed out several instances of telling where I stop the story to explain something. And here I thought I eliminated most of it. Darn it. (I know I’m telling here, but adding specific examples would take too long. Instead click HERE for the 15-page excerpt and comments if’n you’re curious). Also, the excerpt in question has since been revised since the contest. The first part has since been taken out and moved to a prologue although I haven’t decided to keep even that, because I’m not a huge fan of prologues.

The judge pointed out more than once that “Traitors” is missing a lot of description, a failing I’ve known about for a long time. In fact as I’m rewriting my current WIP I’m concentrating on adding a lot more details.

Part of a writer’s responsibility is plunging the reader into our story world. Without setting description how will the reader know if they are sitting in a comfortable living room or standing on a frigid street corner? I know, more telling, but you get the point I’m sure.

Considering the comments, I’m tempted to set aside “The Red Dagger,” and applying the suggestions to “Traitors.” The problem is it’s still at Marcher Lord Press. Would it be better to wait until I hear a yea or nea on publication with them, or go ahead with the changes regardless of the outcome? Or perhaps let the publisher know what I’m doing and ask if he’d be willing to look at a revised version, especially if he’s not even looked at my submission, yet?

I’m leaning toward adding the missing details and work on the other issues the judge mentioned for no other reason than they’re fresh in my mind. I’ve got nothing to lose either way. On the other hand, I could use the practice on adding description. If I do it enough, perhaps I won’t dislike it so much. I may even get good at it.

Definitely a good read and a fast read. I was sad to come to the end of the sample—I wanted more!

I Should Give Up More Often

A few days ago, I sat down with God and gave him my thoughts on a few things. The main one was — as I’m sure you expect — about writing, or my lack thereof lately.

I basically told him, “This contest is it. If nothing comes of it, I’ll know you want me, for the foreseeable future anyway, not to write anymore. At least not for publication.”

It wasn’t an ultimatum, per se, more of a “What do you want me to do?”

My life is full, contentedly full. Raising my two-year-old, enjoying photography and working full time I figured was enough for now. To add writing to it felt more like a burden. With nothing to show for it over the last month or so, I thought it was time to quit.

I didn’t have a problem with that. I love writing, still do and know I always will. But I was beginning to think that the novel writing was a mere phase, something to keep me occupied and passionate about until something better came along — like my son. It was also a way for me to talk to God, and for him to talk to me.

Through my son I’ve found other avenues of communing with God.

Or so I thought. Hence the sign I asked of God via the Genesis contest.

This afternoon when I returned from lunch, I happened to look at my phone. Someone had left me a voice mail. I missed it because I left it at work to charge. I shrugged thinking it was either my hubby wanting to know where I hid Thomas’s shoes, or a wrong number.

Wrong on both counts!

Turns out my novel made the top 5 finalists of the first round and will go to the second.

Am I excited? Sure! It’s an answer to a prayer (well, one of the few yeses anyway). Heck, the first thing my husband said when I came home was, “What’s with the big smile?”

I look forward to receiving my scorecard. I’ll have until May 16th to make any edits accordingly and resubmit for the final round. I also have to send it a head-shot of yours-truly for a presentation during this year’s ACFW writer’s conference in September. I’m wondering now if I should go . . .

Whether or not my novel wins, I can at least mention it made the finals in future (verses past?) query letters.

Don’t you understand? I had Plans!

About 15 minutes ago, my husband and son left for the ND Badlands for a father/son camping trip with about four other father/sons.

I miss them already.

By the same token, I had planned to go out and about to take about 1000 photos of our lovely spring landscapes/flora/fauna, et al.

But the skies decided to cry.

All weekend according to the forecasts.

What to do instead? Since I haven’t written anything in a while, it’s probably a good idea to take advantage of the time alone and catch up. I have an outline to complete for my new installment of “The Red Dagger.” I should also research publishers/agents for the first one. This will be easier than my Christian SF “Traitors”, because it’s a more secular story.

Sad, isn’t it, that secular stories sell better? Then again, it is a secular world.

Some might say it’s a sell-out for a Christian to write a secular story in the first place. Not really. Jesus said to go out amongst and preach to the “sinners.” I’m no preacher, but I can still spread the Message, however subtly.

Who knows, if I manage some success with “The Red Dagger,” perhaps those readers will be curious enough to read my more overtly Christian works. One never knows — even if one can hope.

It’s now May 1, and I should find out in about two weeks whether or not “Traitors” made the second phase of the Genesis contest sponsored by American Christian Fiction Writers. Am I excited? Eh. Not really. I figure it will be what it will be. Like I said before, I’m more interested in the critique.

You can find the score sheet HERE if you’re interested in how the stories are judged. Regardless of my score, I’ll be able to see concretely my strengths and weaknesses and go from there.

Well That’s a Bummer

The results of the ABNA (Amazon Breakout Novel Award) came out, and out of 5000 entries, mine ended up near the bottom 4000. No next round for me.

Oh, well.

There are other contests, other publishers, other books.

Speaking of which, I should get back to it. I have some editing to do as well as continue the brainstorming/preliminary structure of my next novel. Although, I could spend a few moments and lament my poor fortune and scream to all who don’t care that I’m a terrible writer after all, blah, blah, blah.

But I won’t. The contest was decided by three people. As far as odds go, that’s not enough to drag me down. There are other editors and other publishers out there who will like my stuff.

It’s finding them that’s the hard part, and I was hoping to avoid that hard part with the contest.

I should no better. After 40 years of life, I have yet to learn God’s lesson that his path is never easy, never short . . . but always worth the trip.

I want what I want, I want it now, and I don’t want to work for it, dang it!!

Yeah, I feel God rolling his eyes, too.

Entertaining “What If”

As a writer, entertaining “what if” is what I do. No story can begin with out asking that seemingly simple question.

There are the depressing what if’s when looking at the woulda-shoulda-couldas of our past.

Then there are the future “what ifs”.

I asked a big “What if” last night: What if I actually win the ABNA contest?

Now there’s something that’ll get the heart going.

But my reaction isn’t what you imagine. I didn’t smile at the idea, fantasizing over how I would spend the $15k, and the sheer joy over actually — finally — seeing my words in print that I didn’t have to pay for. With cash that is.

I cried. Out of disappointment. Perhaps it was due to a terrible headache, and a little boy who refused to let me sit on the couch and mope about it.

There’s always a sense of sadness when I finish a book along with that feeling of accomplishment. I guess the act of writing holds more allure than finishing it. Once it’s done, I think, “Now what?” For a few days I actually feel a little lost, as though my purpose in life has escaped me.

And coming up with a new book idea? Yikes.

But the disappointment that came with the thought I might actually win this thing went deeper than not feeling well.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t be thrilled if my book won. I would be. As with most my books, I love this one. I adore the characters, and I think both the story itself and the world it resides in is both interesting and sound. I think it’s worthy to be published.

If “The Red Dagger” wins, I would be sad as well as excited, because it isn’t my first novel. It’s not the one I spent over the last eight years writing, editing, crying and sweating over.

Granted few first novels make publication. Even if “Traitors”, my first, never reaches bookstore shelves, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. “Traitors” was where I learned to write and to edit.

Without “Traitors,” “The Red Dagger” would never have been written. They both take place in the same universe, and have some of the same characters, including the main character named Titus. The main difference is “Traitors” is Christian Science Fiction whereas “The Red Dagger” contains no overt Christian components.

So even if “The Red Dagger” makes publication prior to “Traitors,” there could still be a chance for “Traitors” sometime down the road.

To keep my mind away from the contest, I will tackle the next installment of Titus’s story. I will be using a story template developed by Amy Deardon, author of “Lever Long Enough,” to help me develop it, because right now, I don’t have a clue where to begin!