I just returned from the Jackson Hole Writers Conference and I’m ready to jump into my new project, a historical fiction. I’m enjoying this reprieve from Folsom while the publisher goes over the manuscript of my book. Check out my post at AprilJMoore.
Isn’t that how the song goes? “Oh, home on the range . . . la, la, la . . . where seldom is heard a discouraging word . . .” I thought it was “encouraging word” therefore providing some sense to this post—stay with me—but I looked it up and it is indeed “discouraging.” And I don’t want to be discouraging. (Then I realized what a downer if the song said seldom is heard an encouraging word . . .) Ok, anyway . . .
I’m talking about judging entries for a literary contest. I want to be encouraging, but what do I do when those types of words escape me? When I can’t think of an encouraging thing to say except, “Ah, keep at it,” or “Good use of the word the.”
What if I find an entry offensive? Both in content and in language? Now, some people might conclude—if they didn’t know better—that swashbuckling sailors or a pack of wild truck drivers raised me (sorry, Mom) but even the product of those upbringings can easily get offended. Even me. I won’t repeat what the entry-in-question contained, but it did in fact leave me speechless, which rarely happens.
Not every submission has been bad. For every four entries, there is one that earns a double take and leaves me wanting more pages. These, I jot down on a piece of paper for my own use; one to look back on when the results of the contest are announced. I realize that this endeavor; this process of printing out your proverbial baby and sending it off into the unknown to unknown judges for the purpose of being well . . . judged, can be a very scary thing. Believe me, I know. I’ve done it twice. The second time resulted in a finalist position, but that was all. Someone else’s baby fared better.
My motto as I read through these entries: Not a Discouraging Word. In the meantime, I’m looking for sage advice here, folks.
Have you ever judged a literary contest? What did you learn? What would you have done differently? Tell me, O’ Wise Ones . . .
If you’ve ever attended a conference in your given field, you probably know how empowering they are. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people where you can learn and talk shop, can feel like inspiration revelry. I landed in my element. I’ve attended other writers conferences, but the NCW is clearly the most fun (and I don’t say that because I am part of the Creative Conference Team). It’s a bit on the smaller side, so attendees are able to interact more with the agents, editors and presenters, unlike larger conferences. I will warn you, however, that that can lead to cocktail-induced stories involving embarrassing poems written in the first grade (that I guarantee teachers had a good laugh about in the teachers’ lounge), but may later create an unflattering association between you and certain female anatomy. Already, I’ve said too much.
A writer must start somewhere. For those of you wonderful people I subjected to my bad poetry (and jokes), I apologize.
The evening began with me standing in front of 120 people reading a skit I co-wrote pertaining to the conference theme, Passport to Writing. I did not inherit my father’s ability to speak in front of a crowd, but I like to think I gleaned from him, his skill and love for writing. The most I had read aloud something I’d written, is in front of five others—my critique group. My hands shook as I held the one page, my voice quivered in places, and I’m quite sure my teeth hit the mic more than once. Let’s not leave out the audience member who yelled, “Louder!” Next year, I’ll avoid the stage and the mic. (Although, I hear I’m on my way to becoming a You Tube sensation.)
The workshops are of course, much better than silly dinnertime skits. I attended several amazing classes including, How to Build an Effective Platform by agents Michael Ebeling and Kristina Holmes of Ebeling & Associates. Platform. It’s probably my least favorite word when talking about writing, but happens to be one of the most important. I learned so much from Michael and Kristina’s class, especially the importance of branding yourself—oftentimes, way before the book is even a glint in your eye. I also had the wonderful opportunity to talk with these fabulous agents throughout the two-day conference. (It was worth the restraining order).
Kristina got an earful from me about Folsom’s 93 when I had the great chance to pitch the book to her. She gave valuable feedback and suggestions and I feel as though I have a better direction now. She kindly requested the proposal (or maybe I forced it on her) and I will be emailing that shortly. I haven’t meant nicer agents than these two, and I’ll never give up hope that we will all be BFFs (regardless of what the restraining order says).
I also attended The Basics of Narrative Non-Fiction, presented by Greg Campbell, author of Blood Diamonds and Flawless. If you find yourself with the opportunity to take one of his classes, don’t hesitate to do so. I learned a great deal from Greg about storytelling, dialogue, and the arc-driven narrative. I’m anxious to get started on my copy of Flawless, and later, his upcoming book, Pot of Gold. I also sat in on a query critique class with Greg where I found out I have some work to do on my own query. (Big surprise).
Other great classes I attended: Fun with Fairy Tale Characters, Unforgettable Characters and Book Promotion. The conference ended with a relaxing and entertainment-filled (provided by Mr. Ebeling) dinner at a local restaurant where an album containing the mug shots of my 93 guys was passed around and perused through. We pointed out which ones looked like certain celebrities including Sean Penn and Wesley Snipes . . .
This was my favorite conference thus far, due to the talented people I got a chance to meet and talk with. Among them, was Dom Testa, Denver broadcaster and author of the Galahad book series. Dom gave a keynote address that was smart, inspiring, and downright funny. I also got to talk with Justin Matott, author of several children’s book, including one of my favorites, When I was a Boy . . . I Dreamed. Ask him about his urinal story—one you probably won’t find in one of his children’s book.
I don’t want to leave out the most important person of the conference: Kerrie Flanagan, director the NCW. She created this wonderful annual event and each year, makes it better than the one before. Cheers to my roof buddy—well done.
Right after the conference, I fled to the mountains for a much-needed respite. I got to lay by a fire, sip wine, and write. What else should a writer in the mountains do? Well, that’s what this writer did. I ventured out once or twice for some fresh air though.
The relaxation was short-lived as I came home to a large stack of manuscripts that I’m judging for the Pacific Northwest Writers Literary Contest. I knew I’d be receiving quite a few manuscripts, but I won’t lie . . . I gasped when I opened the box.
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the task. Having submitted to a literary contest like this in the past, I know how important this is to a writer and I hope to motivate and inspire them with my comments and suggestions. I’ll be kind, I promise. It took me two tries with the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers to become a finalist in 2008 and I owe it to a less-than-stellar critique in 2007.
I’m confident next year’s conference will be even better than this year’s and I’m looking forward to it already and to the restraining orders (a sign of a damn good conference).
Ask most writers and they’ll tell you that writing a book proposal ranks up there with having a root canal. They run in the same circles with synopses and query letters, also likened to painful dental procedures. There are endless how-to books on writing book proposals, all varying in some way or another, all insisting their format is the best one to follow. The anxiety of picking the correct format could easily be compared to picking the right door on Let’s Make a Deal.
I’ve been told by some in my critique group that a book proposal is unnecessary for Folsom’s 93, as it is creative nonfiction. I have also been informed of the converse; all nonfiction requires a proposal—before the book is even finished. What is a writer to do?!
Well, I wrote one. And I have rewritten the damn thing more times than I care to share, over the course of a year. I’ve added to it, deleted stuff, changed it, altered it, and contemplated burning it. But I know like a phoenix, it would continue to rise from the ashes . . . and haunt me until I got it right.
On March 11th and 12th, the completed and newly revised proposal will make an appearance at the annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference where I will be pitching it to an agent. As a member of the NCW and part of the conference’s creative team, I will have lots of other things to keep my mind off of the proposal. Informative and creative workshops await me, including How to Build an Effective Platform by the very agent I will be pitching to.
In the meantime, wish me luck and for my fellow proposal writers, I feel your pain.