Sunday, February 28, 2010

Contests Part Three--Blog Contests

Okay. I know my blog has been all contest, all the time lately. So this is the last contest blog for a little while--I promise.

But before I moved on from the topic of contests, I wanted to talk about blog contests.

We've probably all seen a few. Book giveaways. (Gotta love those.) Hat giveaways. (Again, gotta love those.)

But often you may come across giveaways that you couldn't get at the local bookstore. Things like agent query critiques. (Yes, I won one of those recently and the agent gave me some fantastic feedback.) Or things like agent synopsis critiques up for grabs. (Not to be greedy, but keeping my fingers crossed on that too.)

And if you follow agent blogs, they sometimes have query contests where they will invite people to enter for a certain time period. They read the queries and request more if they like what they see--with an added twist. The query doesn't count against you if they don't request more and you want to resubmit later. Pretty cool. I entered one of those recently (my first real query submission) and actually got a request for a partial! Exciting stuff. The reason I felt empowered to enter was that it didn't actually count against me if it bombed. Kinda took the pressure off a little, you know?

Anyway, there are tons of contests out there. And if you're lucky, you might find one that offers something priceless. A query crit without the public humiliation of submitting to the Query Shark. (Waves to Query Shark--love ya and the public humiliation, as long as it isn't me being bitten!)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Contests Part Two--Judging

I recently a  had conversation about what writing contest judges ought and ought not consider when assigning  scores. It made me curious about how other folks judge both contests, but also the books they read for fun.

I generally don't focus on grammar or punctuation when scoring, but on the story. Of course, if there are many errors, that will get in the way of the story. It now occurs to me that pehaps many people don't approach judging the same way and do score down for format, typos and chioce of font.

My thought was that if your entry is perfectly formatted and your punctuation and grammar are perfect, then your story will flow more smoothly and your scores will be higher than the imperfect entry--unless, that is, your storytelling skills are weaker. In that case, no amount of perfect punctuation is going to save you. 

What do you guys think? Have you ever judged a contest entry? How do you approach it? Do you have a personal checklist of things you look for, or do you just sink in and let the story sweep you away--if it can?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Prose and Contests

Like many of the other prepublished writers out there working to be published, I take advantage of some of the craft courses available to help improve my writing. Some are very helpful, and others are not so much. I think that what a person gets out of these classes depends in large part on where they are in their understanding of what it takes to make a good story.

My first classes helped me grasp the broader strokes, and in later classes I was able to build upon some of the lessons I'd learned previously. One class I recently signed up for really stood out for me, and so I wanted to share it with you. Its called Prose and Contests, taught by Amy Atwell.

I signed up for Prose and Contests because I plan to enter several contests this year and thought it would help me prepare for the entries and get an idea of what to expect. And because I thought the name was clever--I admit it. It gave me what I'd expected, and much more. In addition to discussing the best ways to choose, evaluate and format contest entries, Amy helped me to evaluate my own manuscript through the eyes of a judge, looking for multiple things that can weaken an entry, and on a larger scale, can ruin your manuscipt.

So, in what seems to be a pattern, I'm going back to my work in revision, to use all the fantastic things Amy taught me to make it stronger and better than it is right now. Sometimes it feels like a never ending process, but I'm glad to have new tools to make it better, even if it does mean more work.

My recommendation for the month is below. (I'm not affiliated with Amy or lowcountry RWA in any way--I just took the class and thought it was fabulous enough to warrant a reccomendation.)

March 2010 — Prose And Contests: Everything You Wanted To Know About Writing Contests But Were Afraid To Ask, Presented by Amy Atwell.  Dates: March 5-31, Deadline: March 2, Fee: $16.00
Read more about Amy at her website:

If you do sign up, I hope you get as much out of it as I have. And what about you guys? Anyone planning to enter contests this year? Anyone else taking craft classes? Anyone have a recommendation for a can't miss class? Do share--I'd love to hear from y'all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Query Critique Contest Anyone?

Elana Johnson at is holding a query critique contest. If you enter and your name is drawn, will win a critique of your query from someone who reads multitudes of the things; someone who knows what does and doesn't work.
Yes, that's right--you could have your query critiqued by one of these top five literary agents!

1. Kate Testerman-Shafer of KT Literary (critique will be posted on her blog, Ask Daphne)

2. Michelle Andelman of Lynn C. Franklin Associates

3. Mary Kole of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

4. Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary Agency

5. Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation

If you're interested (and if you're anywhere near drafting a query you will be,) stop by her blog and sign up. I did.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Picasso Award, and Seven Random Things

The lovely Kelly at has given me my very first award--the Picasso Award. Now, as I understand it, the recipient of the award must tell seven random things about his or herself and pass the award on to seven deserving bloggers. Why seven, I wonder? But if the rules say seven, then seven is what you'll get.

So, for the Seven random facts:

1) I was born and raised in Swaziland, Africa. I was a bit of a tomboy, and spent a great deal of time climbing trees and exploring the wilds. Not swimming though--see #4.

2) My favorite pet was a vervet monkey named Joanie, who my father bought for me from some guys on the side of the road one afternoon. She was one of many unusual pets--a woodpecker, a legavan (monitor lizard?), horses (okay, not that unusual), a donkey (technically my sister's), multiple cats, dogs and (for a few hours,) a snake I caught. Apparently it was poisonous, and I had to let it go upon threat of death. Sigh.

3) I am the queen of list making. If it isn't written down, I'm not likely to remember it. I don't know why my memory is so full of holes, but it is, and so I work around it with the lists. I have a list for everything. I have a yearly list of things I want to accomplish, a monthly list, a weekly list and a daily list. I have lists for my lists. They keep me organized, they keep me productive, and there's such a sense of satisfaction in marking something off the list.

4) I can't really swim, (does doggy paddle count?) but I want to learn how. There's an explanation--the nearest body of water to swim in was also home to a very large python who used to take ducks from the surface of the water. Now, I am fond of snakes. They're beautiful, and smooth, and lovely to look at and sometimes even to hold. But I'm not ALWAYS stupid. Not enough to share space with the huge python who hunted in out lake. (Yes the one in the pic is the same type, and he's eating a duck. And yes, That is what it really looks like.) Now these suckers don't confine themselves to ducks. They eat bigger things too, like gazelle. There was no way I wanted to take a chance that it ate kid. Especially when there had been stories of pythons eating kids floating around among the Swazis for years. Besides, we had a few crocodiles in the place too. Between the python and the crocodiles, I decided that discretion really was the better part of valor. 
In the interest of full disclosure, I did once have the opportunity to swim in a real pool as a kid. I almost drowned. I mean, I (climbed on top of the person trying to save me and sunk us both) almost drowned. I never did get very far in swimming lessons after that. But this year will be the year. I just know it.

5) I'm the messiest person I know--if I'm not surrounded by stacks of paper at my desk or already worn clothes on my floor I feel like something is wrong. Luckily, my husband is as messy as I am, so it works for us. We skip spending money on cable and going out to eat and instead have someone in once a week to clean up after us. Hey--don't judge me--I know I need help. : ) I've decided to spare you the pics of the mess.

6) I work with my hubby. People always groan or seem sympathetic when I say that, but I actually love it. We have a law practice, and we get to talk about our cases, and cheer each other on, and commiserate when things don't go the way we thought they should. We get to bounce ideas off each other and have lunch together, and (shh--don't tell)sometimes we take a long lunch and go see a movie. Our movie lunch dates are about the only dates we get to have because we have a 4 year old, a 3 year old and a 1 1/2 year old. Let me tell you, no one offers to babysit that lot more than once.

7) I am a voracious reader. I read fiction mostly, and the kind of fiction depends on my mood and how desperate I am. We have four floor to ceiling bookcases in my garage, double-stacked with books I've read since we moved in a year and a half ago and may want to read again when there is nothing new to read. Some of the books are older than I am, some are new releases. If I enjoyed it, I'll stick it in the case to read it again, because I have a terrible memory and won't remember what happened the second time round anyway.

There you go! Seven random things you probably didn't really want to know about me in the first place. You're welcome!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Year In Fast Forward?

So here it it, the second week of February (already!!) and I am sitting at my desk (an old piano converted into a wonderful work space) feeling completely overwhelmed.

I'm not sure where January went, much less the first week of February. I have tons of things to do, and they seem to be stacking up faster than I can do them all.

I have six contest entries to judge.

A couple contests to enter (which includes preparing and proofing the entries.)

I have stacks of chapters to critique from my two critique groups, and chapters to edit before I can put them up for critique.

I signed up for three workshops this month, because they all three dealt with things I need to work on in my writing and couldn't choose just one. So now I have three sets of lessons to pore through twice a week, pulling the gems out and trying to commit them to memory. I have three sets of homework to do.

I also signed up for my GIAM loop's  Tour de Force, where we commit to writing 50,000 words in the month of February. I did this because my work in progress was progressing slower than a blind slug, and with about as much direction.

I have a multitude of legal work at the office that must be done, and three young kids when I get home, each trying to outdo the other at the game of Who Can Make The Biggest Mess by slinging frozen corn and dried cereal around the kitchen and living room. (No, I did not make that up. My kids played that game just yesterday, laughing like loons until they saw my face.)

As I sit here, going through these things, I see a pattern. I say to myself, "Self, you're an idiot. You do this to yourself. You signed up for all these things, and chose to do them all at once. 50,00 words in February? Really? And with everything else you've got going on? Idiot."

But here's the thing I've discovered, and it applies not just to writing but to life. If you don't strive, if you don't sign up, if you don't grab at knowledge with both hands and with no reservations, you get nowhere, you learn nothing and you achieve very little. If you wait until your schedule is clear, you'll be dead before it's done. Because life is busy. It serves to fill every waking moment you have, and if you don't chose to fill them with useful things, then life will fill them with things like watching when pets attack, or doing laundry or cleaning toilets. (All of a sudden the to do list seems far less terrible, doesn't it?)

I guess what I'm saying is that life is busy no matter what.  You may as well choose to fill it with the things you love, the things that interest you. And if you can't meet every goal, or put 100 percent effort into every thing, that's okay. You still will get a lot out of it, and with writing--well, the beautiful thing there is you get to edit until it's as close to perfect as you can make it. Unlike life itself, or my blog.

How do you guys deal with all the stuff you have to do? What do your to do lists look like? (And if any of you is a toddler whisperer, please get me your info--I have some advice I'd like to get from you.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Write or Die?

I've been a very bad writer. I haven't updated my blog in a few weeks. Bad, Bad writer. I have been committed to writing a hundred new words a day on my work in progress, but haven't done much more than the minimum one hundred. Bad, bad writer.

It often seems that my time drains away, but quietly, without the lovely (Alert! I'm draining!) gurgles my tub makes as the water pours down the pipes.

This isn't a problem personal to me alone. I hear similar refrains on the same theme all the time. So what does a busy writer do?

Enter: WRITE OR DIE!! Yes, it is as dramatic as it sounds. One of the folks on my loop mentioned it and I thought I'd check it out. Now, I'm not generally a middle of the road kind of gal. I like my baths parboil-hot, my iced coffees in icecream form. So I set the thing to Kamikaze-Evil.

Gentle readers, you may want to start out slow. Something I found out when write or die began erasing words I had already written, because it thought I was writing too slowly. When they say Evil, they don't mean the Diet Coke of Evil, let me tell you.

But the end result, is that yesterday, I shot from doing a little over a hundred words as has been my custom since the beginning of January, to 2037 words. That's yesterday. In two hours. After a full day of writing motions and orders to the court, and grinch-like nasty letters to other deserving folks.

Write or die may be evil, but I love them with all my little writer heart.
What about you guys? Have you ever tried it? What did you think? Did it work for you?