Are Writing Contests Worth It?

Selah awardCarol, Rita, Christy, Inspy, Selah, Genesis, First Impressions, Badge of Honor . . . and those are just the ones I’m most familiar with.

Some contests are for pre-published authors, some for published, some for traditionally published, some for independent, and some mix it up. And only ONE story wins in each category. Which can leave those who DON’T win feeling . . . less than.

I coordinate a contest for pre-published authors at the Asheville Christian Writers Conference and here’s what I know about contests . . . are you ready for this? They are TOTALLY subjective. Scores can vary widely, which is why at least three judges per entry is ideal.

I entered a contest before being published. One judge gave the entry a near-perfect score while another, well, clearly thought it could have been better. MUCH better.

The Carol Award finalists were announced on Saturday and what struck me wasn’t the books that were on the list, but the books that weren’t. I’ve read several really wonderful stories this past year that either weren’t entered or didn’t make the final cut.

So why bother with contests?

For pre-published authors I think it’s incredibly valuable when you get feedback and/or opportunities. Judges’ scores can point you toward weaknesses and strengths in your writing. Being a finalist or winning can sometimes get you in front of editors and/or agents. So if you’re starting out, jump into the fray! I entered multiple contests that provided invaluable input for improving my writing.

But what about the contests for published authors? What good is winning one of those?

  • For better sales? After signing my first contract I asked my editor if winning awards helped with sales. Not really. Okay, that’s probably not why.
  • For the prestige? Maybe a little bit. I mean, it IS fun to sit up front at the ceremony and have folks congratulate you. Plus you usually get something pretty to wear or put on your shelf.
  • For the affirmation? Hmmm. This may be getting closer. Did I mention writing is subjective? Having a panel of judges say, “This is good,” is something of a relief. Writers are notorious for self-doubt.
  • For the joy of celebrating work done well? Wow–I hope so. It’s nice to lift up excellence–to applaud it and encourage those who produce it to keep up the good work.
  • To support organizations for writers? Ahhhh, now this one is a bit different. Quite a few contests use entry fees for things like scholarships or to support an organization that provides services for writers. Even if you don’t final or win, you can feel good about supporting other writers.

I go back and forth on contests. I think they’re a wonderful tool for writers yet to be published, but I’m conflicted about entering now that I have several books under my belt. I guess the trick is to get real with myself about why I’m entering. And then decide if that reason is worth the entry fee . . .

I’d love for writers who have entered contests to chime in and share your experiences!

 

 

How Real Should Writers Get?

We’ve all read those novels. You know the ones.

  • The heroine has been riding in a covered wagon for two months when she meets the dashing cowboy who saves the wagon train. He finds her lovely in spite of the fact that she hasn’t washed her hair since late winter and it’s now well into spring.
  • The heroine is lost in a storm in the English countryside. When the hero finds her the rain has made her hair spring into ringlets that cling to her cheeks and her gown is, err, also clinging to her curves.
  • The modern-day heroine is volunteering in a community garden where she ends up working in the mud with at-risk children. When the hero encounters her he can’t resist swiping a smudge of dirt from her adorable cheek.

And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all that. Often, it works. As readers we don’t necessarily want to think about going to the bathroom, sweating, or having a really bad hair day. I don’t know about you, but I’m reading to escape much of that!

yikes~And yet. Here’s how I look after taking Thistle for a hike and helping my own personal hero with yard work. I went into the bathroom to start washing up and couldn’t stop laughing. Let’s see . . .

Her skin glistened while errant curls sprang from her brow. Her cheeks exhibited a rosy glow of health and Joe Dashing simply could not take his eyes from her.

No, I guess he couldn’t. Thank goodness my husband was working in another part of the yard and I was able to get myself into a semblance of order before he saw me.

So as a reader, how real do you want writers to get? I wrote a heroine who was fuller-figured than her peers and was absolutely covered in freckles. But she was still attractive–especially to the hero. I’m writing a character now with a significant birthmark who is otherwise stereotypically lovely.

What do you say? Do you want more physically flawed characters? Or would you rather preserve the illusion that there’s such a thing as someone who looks good all the time?

I think I’ll go with minor flaws, but I’m not giving any character I write hair like . . . well . . . like mine after a stint in the yard in the heat!

Appalachian Thursday – Feuding

feud1I’m currently working on a story idea that involves a feud. One of my goals in writing stories set in my beloved Appalachians is taking some of the stereotypes and clichés and either debunking them or shedding new light on them.

So. Feuding. In the style of the Hatfields & McCoys.

Except theirs was not the only historic feud. A friend who is a Kentucky native lent me her copy of–brace yourself for this title–A history of the feud between the Hill and Evans parties of Garrard County, Ky. The most exciting tragedy ever enacted on the bloody grounds of Kentucky.

Well, count me in!

Written in 1854 by Lieut. J.J. Thompson, this book is priceless. Never mind the feud, the writing is captivating. In Chapter IV, he tells of false accusations spread about Dr. Evans by Mrs. Rus Hill. Here’s an excerpt:

“She took her child into her arms, and with the sincere affectation of an expert actress, set out from her lone cabin of rudeness, and made the welkin ring with lamentations for her miserable fate. The proud hills, disdaining to listen to such airy wailings, repulsed the empty sounds and with reproof echoed them from their rock-ribbed sides to the ear of their degenerate mistress . . .”

This continues as a spectacular run-on sentence, but you get the gist. Apparently even the landscape took a side in this feud. And I am determined to work “welkin” into my next novel. (It means the sky or the vault of heaven. Of course it does.)

I’m only five chapters in and no one has died yet, but they are certainly whaling on one another. The whole thing started one winter when Dr. Evans hired Dr. Hill’s “negro woman.” Then, in the spring, Dr. Hill decided he wanted use of her services and, “thought of no better way of securing them than by inducing her to run away.” He sent his niece to do the inducing and when Dr. Evans took issue much head whacking ensued. I mean that literally. Dr. Hill hit Dr. Evans in the back of the head with a “large hickory stick.”

Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up. Then there’s a set-to at a BBQ, false accusations, doctors undermining one another’s diagnoses . . . good stuff. I’m not sure if anything will make it into my story but I’m having a grand time learning about this “most exciting tragedy.”

You just can’t beat real-life. But you CAN read this treasure for yourself. It’s on-line HERE.

What Character Did You Want to Be?

Me in a sleeping cap

My Laura Ingalls sleeping cap.

I literally wore out a set of Little House on the Prairie books. I read the covers right off of them and kept going until they were in pieces.

I LOVED those books. And I wanted to be Laura. I wanted to wear a sleeping cap when I went to bed in a loft. I wanted a sunbonnet (even though Laura refused to wear hers). I wanted to ride to town in a wagon and write on a slate. Shoot, I already had the freckles!

Of course, I also wanted to be Heidi. I still have the copy of that book my mother read to me over and over and over again. I wanted to eat toasted cheese and go to the pasture with the goats to pick flowers. I wanted to sleep on a bed of sweet hay (I asked Dad if I could–we DID have a barn full of hay. He said no). I also kind of wanted the nice clothes Heidi got when she was packed off to the miserable city, but I felt like a bit of a turncoat for that.

I didn’t just read those stories when I was a child, I lived them. I opened the books and disappeared inside, traveling to the prairie or the alps as surely as if I’d had a plane ticket. Actually, those places were more than real because they lived in my heart.

As an adult, I don’t read books in the same way. Oh, I still enjoy reading stories, but I guess I’ve lost that feeling that what I’m reading could happen to me. The world of possibilities has narrowed as I’ve aged. I’m probably not going to head west in a covered wagon. I’m probably not going to help my best friend walk again.

But then again . . . when I write stories I get to flip through a world of possibilities and choose the ones that speak to me. The ones that touch my heart and stir my soul. I think that’s what I love best about being a writer. I create characters and then gift them with beauty, joy, hardship, and transformation.

And if I want one of them to sleep on a bed of sweet-smelling hay, there’s no one to tell me I can’t.

How about you? Which characters have you wanted to be?

Queen of the May

May QueenThere are stories all around us. All you have to do is listen.

A dear friend’s mother offers a wealth of inspiration for my Appalachian stories. Anne grew up on a tobacco farm in Kentucky, but spent considerable time with grandparents in town. While she did help with farm work, she was more likely to be found reading.

And she still is.

Tomorrow is her 96th birthday. One of my favorite stories of hers is how she was almost Queen of the May. When she was a child at school, one of the girls would be selected to lead the May Day celebration each year. This is an old-time tradition that often included a parade, May baskets, and dancing around a May pole. It goes back to the Celtic celebration of Beltane and there are variations galore.

Since it was her birthday, Anne assumed she would be chosen queen.

She wasn’t, but her best friend was.

On the way home, her friend gave Anne the crown of May flowers she’d been given as queen. Anne promptly went home and told her mother she had been named Queen of the May.

But lies, even sweet, childish ones, eat away at our well-being. Anne, overcome with guilt, finally confessed the truth with tears.

So every year, we celebrate Anne as Queen of the May (in the photo above she’s a mere 92). Tomorrow, she’ll get to be queen once again.

Happy birthday Queen Anne–thanks for the wonderful stories!

Southern Kentucky Book Fest – Come See Me!

I’m super excited to be heading to Bowling Green, Kentucky, this week for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. I’ll be teaching a class titled “Setting as Character” at 9 a.m. Friday morning, attending a meet the authors reception Friday evening, and sitting on a panel titled “People, Places, and Pie” Saturday morning. That last panel is with Karen Spears Zacharias, Ann Gabhart, Naomi Miller, and Rachel Miller so it’ll be a treat for me as much as anyone!

I’ll also be signing as many books as they’ll let me!

The Southern Kentucky Book Fest is one of the state’s largest literary events and is presented by Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Warren County Public Library, and WKU Libraries. The event is in it’s 20th year and I’m honored to be included.

And while it’s great to meet readers, I’ll confess I’m also pretty excited to get to hang out with some author friends. In addition to the ladies on the pie panel, I’ll get to see some other author friends and hopefully meet several new ones. Writing can often feel incredibly solitary, so having an opportunity to spend time with other writers is always a treat.

If you’re in the vicinity of Bowling Green this weekend, I hope you’ll come out to see us. And if you’d like to register (the event is free), click HERE to learn more.

Dreaming Big – Once Upon a Prince

upon a princeWhen Rachel Hauck released Once Upon a Prince, I hesitated to read the story. I was afraid it was going to be just another reinterpretation of Cinderella. And while I LOVE Cinderella, did we really need another, modern version?

Boy, was I wrong!

Oh, there are echoes of Cinderella, but somehow Rachel has managed to craft a surprisingly believable commoner falls for royal story with a wonderful faith theme woven through.

And now, it’s being released as a Hallmark movie.

The thing is, shortly after an author’s book is released, friends and readers start saying things like, “This would make a great movie.”

And your job, as the humble author, is to thank them and say things like, “Oh, well, it’s tough to get a movie deal.” Or, “There are so many great stories out there–who’s going to notice mine?”

But secretly you’re thinking, “Yes! It would make a great movie. When’s that going to happen?”

Well, for Rachel, it’s happening this coming Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern on the Hallmark Channel. Which could easily lead to things like comparison and jealousy.

But here’s what I know about Rachel. She’s written 30 or so books. Lots of them have won awards. Some haven’t. She’s incredibly active in the world of Christian and romance writing. She teaches. She mentors. She endorses books by new authors. She sits across the table at lunch and listens with her heart.

And now, for Rachel, her dream of a movie is coming true. I, for one, can hardly wait! Check it out this Saturday at 9 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel.