Pick Your Comps

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Anyone who has ever written knows the value of story competitions. They are places to send your writing where we can test waters without too much risk of drowning; where we can read the winners to see what others, with dreams just like ours, are writing alongside us. They are places where someone is guaranteed to read what you’ve written.

But how does one choose the best competition among the hundreds screaming “look at me?” Some charge high entry fees for a chance of hefty prizes, while others offer the chance to be in a print magazine—which is still the Holy Grail, for authors like me. One factor that nobody ever seems to consider, though, is the feedback a competition offers… and it’s no wonder, since most offer, at best, the same form-lettered pat on the back that they send to everyone else who enters.

Not so over at Writer Advice. Before my flash story, The Cold and The Dutiful, recently won second place there, managing editor B. Lynn Goodwin did what she does so very well; she gave me insights into the strengths, weaknesses and points of confusion for later editing. If this was even before winning a prize, you might imagine how much more feedback I got when the competition was over… and your instincts would be right. Lynn’s judges also took the trouble to select insightful comments to help me continue working to my strengths, and to improve… you know… that other stuff.

This is what we should all seek in a competition: an experience that is thoroughly rewarding, without necessarily needing to “win.” The last two years have taught me a lot about which communities will take the trouble to support and encourage me as a writer—WOW and Writer Advice now among them—and hopefully, should I return to writing next year, I can wield that knowledge for more years to come. Writing competitions may be the best means available to promote our short fiction to the world…

…but make sure you pick your comp.

(Oh, and read The Cold and the Dutiful!)

 

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Four Ways to Choose an Editor (and why we all need one)

This is an expanded version of a post that first appeared on The Muffin.
editor

Too many definitions

There’s only so long, isn’t there? There’s only so long writers can tell ourselves that it’s just an unlucky streak, or that our preferred genre just isn’t popular right now. When that moment comes… when ‘so long’ becomes ‘too long’… it’s time to just do it. Just pack up the draft that came screaming out of you like offspring, work out the Velcro on your wallet, and hire yourself an editor. Someone to help seal up your plot and tone down your hyperbole.

That’s what I did after a few millennia of rejections, and I haven’t regretted it for a microsecond. I am writing again.

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‘Write What You Know…’ but how well should you know it?

Earlier in the year, I posted this series exploring some of the classic advice to writers: you know, ‘Show, Don’t Tell,’ ‘Describe your Setting,’ and other well-meaning contradictions that make writing so much more baffling. It’s a continual struggle to know how far to take this advice—a tightrope act worthy of Barnum & Bailey, in the days that we still loved the circus.

I have decided that a better way to put the advice to ‘Write What You Know’ might be, instead, to ‘Incorporate What You Know.’ It lacks the zing of a catchy slogan, I realize, and it relies on a three-syllable vocabulary… but I caught myself following this advice when writing one of my recent novels. In my humorous adventure, Driven, targeted DMV driving instructor David Bosley (‘Deebo’ to his dangerous-driving students) grapples with a past that is pieced together in a series of prologues to several of the chapters.

What I discovered, as I wrote these, is that I was recognizing more and more of my past. Unlike Deebo, I’ve never been caught up in a conspiracy involving a federal agency, but he and I still share a few experiences, like this one:

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From Driven, Chapter III

The Den

When I was being held prisoner in my childhood Sunday School, the latest in a stream of youth leaders, Margy Chapman, tried to teach us the parable of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Margy had made the mistake of trying to approach us as a ‘cool’ equal, allowing us to call her by her first name, hard ‘g’ and all, and ultimately evoking our predatory nature as children. It was only many years later that I began to appreciate the effort she was making.

“Daniel knew,” she promised us, then raised her voice slightly to compete with our disinterested chatter. “He knew that the Lord would protect him from the lion, so he did as the Romans asked, and…”

“How?” Bertie Wilson interrupted.

Flustered already, Margy stumbled, “How…how did he…?”

“How did he know,” Bertie clarified with exaggerated impatience, “that God would protect him?”

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Recovering Muchness: Four strategies to help walk away from rejection.

LookingGlass

Don’t look too closely…

It’s every morning, lately, that the reflection in my mirror is wrong. Not just reversed, because reflections are always reversed, but wrong: influenced, and mildly possessed. Someone slightly other than me.

I’m sure that others have lived this. Perhaps everyone has. Lewis Carroll almost certainly lived it, when he imagined a world that fractured images rather than glass, just beyond his own mirror. What did he see, that day he was so inspired? Were there really talking chess pieces and bullfrogs looking back at him, or just someone that he didn’t quite recognize? Someone not quite himself?

Did rejection by publishers change even his reflection?

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Always Check the Basement

creepybasementstairsThere is something in everyone’s basement.

The basement is a place where accumulations of treasures coat themselves with enough dust to make them seem immaterial—dispassionate and discolored. Technology that you were going to repair decades ago has gone obsolete alongside boxes of unsorted photos. Exercise benches languish; spare parts oxidize into the air. The smell over there catches your attention, but for another few weeks might be mild enough to ignore. That’s what the place is for, after all: ignoring.

It’s just a basement. It’s where you ignore colors and treasures.

It’s where you ignore your passions.

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Who are we Fooling? …Choosing Simplicity over Style.

April Fool’s, everyone!

fools-hatYes, I know it was last week; my mind hasn’t been that addled by free time and hard drives full of media. Last week, you might remember, is when I pulled my very first WordPress prank, by posting the ‘lyrics’ to the old Meow Mix commercial, and suggesting it might be literature. I then tweeted about it—twice, like I do for every other post—and invited the world to view it. I crossed my fingers, hoping that the world wouldn’t: hoping, despite myself, that world would prefer rich human debate over literary trends to the image of a long-deceased mouser lip-syncing one word.

Guess what? The world likes the cat better.

According to my stats, the singing tabby got more views than my last two editorial posts: one exploring publishing trends, and the other lamenting what the loss of Dana Plato could mean to writers. Continue reading

Mix This

Today, we take a break from my usual medley of fiction, advice and introspective centers for this acknowledgement of true literature. You can sing along with the lyrics I have provided.

 

(First verse: sung piano)

Meow, meow, meow, meow,
Meow, meow, meow, meow,
Meow, meow, meow, meow,
Meow, meow, meow, meow.

(Second verse: crescendo to mezzo-forte. Note emphasis.) Continue reading