Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Deciphering contest results

I have now revised one of my contest-finalist entries and will be sending it back after one last read. For this contest, eight finalists in all were chosen from across the eight entrance categories, rather than the top three from each category. It's the only contest I know of that does it this way. But hey! It's the way they choose to do it and I'm not complaining. I love that they gave me a week to revise my 10,000 word entry.

It's also fairly rare for a contest to allow the finalists to revise their entries before being sent to agents and editors. In the other contest in which I am a finalist, my entry went to them exactly as I had originally sent it in.

So it was a busy week of looking at each and every statement made by a total of eleven judges; I combined the results of all into one file and saw a fuller picture of the questions that came up as judges read the entry. For example, here is a sample of nine concerns that I decided I needed to deal with. Judges wanted to know:

1.       what made the hero and heroine fond of each other, after an exchange of only three letters (judge needed that answer, in order to have more sympathy for the heroine)

2. why the heroine trusted that the mail-order marriage was God’s will

3. To have another sentence of specific information about one of the villains, without taking away the mystery

4. why the heroine longed to be a mother

5. why the heroine wanted to be married, and why, specifically, the hero is the right man for her

6. To be shown something that allowed the reader to believe the hero was indeed of a higher station than the heroine

7. To read more of the hero’s thoughts, in order to make him more likeable, despite his harsh actions. If she hadn’t read the synopsis, and learned the motivation for his behavior, she said she would’ve hated him.

8. Pointed out that a certain situation (birth of twins) which I used as a motivator, and the way I dealt with it, was out of the time period in which I am writing, and mentioned also that servants had to give notice, even in Georgian and Regency era books

9. Pointed out that the trunks of early motorcars were non-existent or very small, and so I should rethink whether the heroine’s bags were strapped on the car, or small enough to fit in a shallow trunk. Also, that cars were exceedingly rare in 1912, and if I want to have a few cars parked along the street, meaning that they were accessible to the common man, that I should bump my date to 1915  

These are some of the problems I addressed. Some just needed a sentence or two to fix. Number eight took rethinking and rewriting an entire scene to make it work for my Edwardian time period.

Here's a sample of what six of my pages looked like, after I had inputted the comments from eight of the eleven judges. There were places that universally stumbled the judges, and also places that were universally liked. Not all of the comments are critical: 

That's a lot to digest, isn't it? It was quite a learning experience, and I am sure that my manuscript is now far better grounded than it was before, having answered reader concerns. Their questions forced me to go deeper into the characters' motivations. Now I understand more fully the themes and conflicts that I will carry throughout the book. 

As a result of the streamlining (several judges suggested that I reduce the total number of conflicts), at least one conflict was completely eliminated. My hero no longer walks with a limp as a result of childhood polio, which removes him feeling he's less of a man because of it, and me having to deal with that specific conflict. 

Interestingly, while continuing to write the book, I kept forgetting to have him grab his cane, and so yes, it really wasn't an issue for him, or me. References to it were easily dropped from the story.

I still have plenty of conflict, perhaps too much for the projected word count . . . I'll discover that as I continue to write the novel. I will be so happy when I can start making forward progress again.

How was your week, reading, writing, or otherwise?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Beginning and End of Autumn on the Palouse

We're nearing the end of our Indian Summer. Quite often, we will see a skiff of snow on October 31, when the trick-or-treaters want to show off their costumes, but need to bundle up instead, hiding the costume under a warm winter coat.

On October 3rd, my marigolds looked like this. I was hopeful that I could see a couple more weeks' worth of blossoms from them. On October 4th, they were dusted with frost, marking the end of their bloom season.

With the number of good-weather flying days numbered, Mike decided to take yesterday afternoon off. In the morning, we watched our ten-year-old grandson play his last football game in the Kibbee Dome, at the University of Idaho.

By all rights, Mike and our son, Jeremy, *should've* worked yesterday afternoon, though it was Saturday. Why? Read on.

We're busy hauling our grain from home storage down to the Snake River, where it gets loaded on a barge and sent to Portland, Oregon. At the beginning of the week, our Kenworth suffered what Mike described as a truck's equivalent to a massive coronary, wherein it seized up and died, leaving son Jeremy stranded in a truck full of grain, the total weight which was about 90,000 pounds. The weight is significant, because Mike needed to drag the heavy, dead truck for five miles up the road before he was able to find a place where it could sit safely until they were able to unload the grain from it. They also need to figure out how to get the truck home, where it will sit in the shop until winter. Jeremy (a diesel mechanic as well as farmer) will overhaul the engine. Mike used the one-ton to drag the loaded Kenworth uphill. It nearly killed the one-ton as well.

So Mike and Jer decided to get out the Freight Liner, our other semi, and use it to haul grain. Super bad luck. It also died!

With both farmers frustrated as heck over last week's developments, and after having been working their arses off since late July, they decided to take the afternoon off.

I will repeat what I said before: With the number of good-weather flying days numbered, Mike decided to take yesterday afternoon off. Now you see a bit of a different flavor to the sentence, don't you?

We flew over Kamiah, Kooskia and Grangeville, and then headed down into the Hells Canyon area. The picture above shows Whitebird Grade hugging the side of the prominent mountain ridge. If you look carefully, although it doesn't show up plainly in the picture (my bad), you can see the old Whitebird Grade with its steep, winding switchbacks.

What you're looking at in the picture above, is the confluence between the Snake and Salmon Rivers. There is actually a short dirt runway down there, way down there, but Mike would never attempt to descend the thousands of feet into the incredibly narrow canyon and try to land there. The RV7 is a fabulous aircraft for many reasons, but it was not designed to be a short field airplane; this would not have been a good choice for a place to land. His Kitfox was designed to handle this type of runway beautifully, however the Kitfox is not very good for actually going places. It flies too slow (less than 1/3 of the speed of the RV7). It would've taken forever to get there, and not worth it unless there was a reason to want to do it.

Driving home from the airport, I decided to turn down Lake Street in town and I was so glad I did. The sun made the trees look like masses of gold.

After leaving town, and on the road where we live, I snapped a picture of our neighbor's maple tree--beautiful. This is where Bully Bully used to live (if you saw my picture of the huge bull with huge horns, that Mike was feeding apples). There are many cows in the pasture, but Bully Bully got moved to a different home nearby. You know, bulls and cows need to be kept separate until it's breeding time, i.e. the most convenient time for the farmer to breed his prize stock.

Lastly, at home, I went outside on our deck which our son-in-law DID finish (yesterday!) and snapped this picture of the patio below. The burning bush on the left and the American Mountain Ash on the right look stunning.

So now we are ready for the truly cold weather and more wintry days to set in. We were hoping to fly to Arizona next week, to visit some friends there for a couple of weeks. Not sure if that will still get to happen. Not next week, for sure . . . It depends a lot on how long it takes to solve the truck problem and haul the rest of our grain down to the Snake River. Then after that, it depends on the weather ...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Turning a corner

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I have begun to enter writing contests. In June and July, I entered my Young Adult Contemporary Romance in five contests. I have now received results from all of them.

In August and September, I entered my Inspirational Historical Romance in six contests.
I have now received results from all but one of these entries.

In all but two, the results were pretty good--close but no cigar. My YA submission always scored worse than my Inspirational Historical submission. 

In the other two contests, the results were great! I am a finalist in both. Yay!

What I will say about all of the contests I entered, and why entering contests is so worthwhile: The feedback is fantastic. Unlike the feedback you get from a critique group, where each individual member's knowledge of the craft may vary widely, contest judges are almost always published authors or contest finalists. They know the craft, and are able to spot weaknesses. Also unlike critique group feedback, these people do not know you, and are able to judge a manuscript on its merit, without fear of hurting your feelings.

Feelings should never be hurt in any case, but some writers tend to be sensitive about their work and even gentle criticism sends them into writers block. It's a huge fear of mine when critiquing the manuscripts of my friends. I may see a dozen things that need work, but I will gauge what I think they can handle, and may point out only two or three things, generally substantive rather than editorial. In the end, I am probably doing them a disservice, especially if they feel their manuscript is close to being ready for an agent or editor's eyes.

Each contest has its own score sheet for things that they are looking at, such as how well the opening scene is working; pacing; point of view; setting; characterization; dialogue; style; mechanics. Each judge is given the opportunity to comment freely. I've gotten both substantive (how well the overall story is working and what needs to be changed/improved) and line-edit type feedback. It has been, as I said, wonderful.

One especially helpful judge, who must be an angel, told me that the only thing between me and publication at this point is polish. I'd never understood (call me uninformed) what, exactly, was meant by polish. I thought it must mean that the words are so brilliant and evocative that they shine and float on the page. (Something that I could never achieve.)

It's more meat and potatoes than that. It means that you will not repeat a word more than once on a page. For example, you will not describe someone as beautiful at the top of the page, and then use beautiful again in the page, no matter who or what you are describing. In fact, if a word is a bit unusual--I used beacon twice in a 10,000 word submission--you do not use that word twice, either.

It means you will banish each and every cliche and replace it with your own fresh thoughts. It means you will replace most dialogue tags (he said) with action tags that contribute something to either the conflict, characterization, pacing, or any/all three. The action tags need to be more than "She bit her lip." (Which, again, is cliched and says nothing.) And, of course, you will not over-use adjectives and adverbs.  

So, what does being a finalist in two contests mean to me? It means that an editor and an agent (one each, from each contest), will be reading my pages. For one contest, that means Elizabeth Mazer, editor from Harlequin Love Inspired (the line I am targeting) will be reading them, as well as Amanda Luedke, from MacGregor literary (who I would love to have for an agent) will be judging my submission.

For the other contest, an editor from Bethany House will be reading it. As to the agent, I am being asked to request who I would like from a list of five agents. I will choose Nicole Resciniti from the Seymour Agency (a Christian agency--I would also love to have Nicole for an agent).

Being a finalist puts me one step further along the road to publication. I may discover that I still have a long way to go, but I am, at least, at this level.

If you're wondering about the type of things judges have said about my submissions, I've compiled a short list, below. These are all generalized, summation-type comments, and all are from judges who did not give my manuscript a score that was quite high enough to put me in the finalist category. All comments are about my Inspirational Historical submission.

What are the strengths of this entry?
  • An interesting setting, a likable heroine, a good voice, a strong sense of theme and genre (both as historical and as inspirational).
  • You craft interesting characters, and you have a good set-up for the conflict—a mail order bride arrangement contracted under false pretenses by a well-meaning child. Your command of writing craft is very good, and I found reading this entry very easy and enjoyable.
  • I have a strong sense of the time and place. The writing is strong. The conflict of having someone you didn’t know you were engaged to now working in your house is good. I like Sarah. She’s been through terrible things, but she’s still strong and capable and hopeful for the future
  • This work has so much potential. 
Writing skills:
  • Very smooth and controlled, neither overwhelming with detail nor skipping too quickly. There’s some telling at the start; I think this is more a function of where you chose to begin the story than of your style, and there are some inconsistencies (marked in text) that need to be reconciled.
  •  You are a very deft writer, with good narrative skills. 

If you are on the fence about entering a contest or contests, I would strongly encourage you to do so. The feedback is invaluable.  

How was your week, reading, writing or otherwise? Have you entered contests? What was your experience? Would you do it again? 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Word Count Progress Meters

I've never gotten into these little meters (top right sidebar), however I am always intrigued when I see one on someone's blog. So today, after my writing stint, I decided to put one on my own blog. I have begun to actually write my book, creating full scenes where there had been only notes about each and every scene.

I don't know how many words' worth of notes I erased today, but I ended up with a net gain of 900 words. In four hours. Snail's pace, for sure. But I'm the type of writer who needs to examine every single emotional nuance, every step of the way in a scene, so there is no way this process could ever be speedy.

I completed only three scenes today. And still have a zillion to go. But according to my meter, I have "completed" 50,060 words of a slated 75,000 word manuscript.

It's not really only another 25,000 words to go. Or is it? Really? Huh.

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