Thursday, September 20, 2012

There Goes The Judge

Well, my part in judging the first round of GUTGAA entries is over. To say it was 'fun' seems to damn it with faint praise - though it was fun, it was also much more than that. It was illuminating. Here are three things I learned.

1) There may not be any new stories under the sun, but there are a million different ways of telling them.

First of all I was humbled by the sheer vastness of new, unique ideas. If you think it's all been done before, you need to read the entries in this contest (there were over 200, and I read at least 100 of them.) I can't tell you how many times I sat up and said 'whoa!' Even the entries that weren't what I usually read made me think that there is so much talent out there, so much creativity, it's staggering. I also discovered that I like Steampunk - who knew?

2) Your cup of tea is not my cup of tea, but we can respect our different blends.

When I first started voting I read all the entries and made a short list of what, off the bat, interested me. I had about 15 entries on it. I did this so I wouldn't be unduly influenced by other judges opinions and to give me time to develop my comments on the entries I eventually whittled down to 10. I shouldn't have worried. Although in the end we judges definitely came together on some of the entries, we still needed tie-breaker judges to come in and make final decisions. Why? Because it's SO SUBJECTIVE. There was one entry that I absolutely fell in love with. I mean, if I'd walked by it in a bookstore, I would have plunked down my wallet in a hot minute. And not one other judge agreed with me. I was like WHAT???

But it's not a popularity contest. If you entered and only received one vote or no votes, that does not mean your story isn't good. IT CATEGORICALLY DOES NOT MEAN THAT. I can't stress this enough because it only takes ONE agent to fall in love with your work, to believe in your story and your talent. It only takes one. Lots will go meh, not for me. But with one agent, your story will resonate like a bell.

A short story about what happened to me right before I got an agent. I entered a a contest on a blog where a published author would crit one lucky query. I got picked to be critiqued, that was the good news. The bad news was that the author did not like my query. Not A Little Bit. She thought the idea had promise but thought the query was pretty terrible. I was crushed because, though I'd gotten some full and partial requests, I also got a lot of rejections. I wanted to revise the query in case it was not doing the job. While I went to my crit friends and online community for help, while I worried about how to take apart the query I'd worked on for months and start again, (my soon-to-be-agent) Barbara emailed to say she wanted to talk. The rest is history. I'll say it again - SUBJECTIVE!

3) The Blogosphere is a place full of people who want to pay it forward.

Yes, there are trolls. Trolls are gonna troll. (Don't feed them.) 99% of the people involved in GUTGAA genuinely want to help each other make connections, succeed, and support one another. I can't imagine the amount of hours (and blood,sweat, tears)  GUTGAA mastermind Deana Barnhart put into this project, but I'm thinking it turned into a full time job for months. The judges donated time and the entrants generously put their work up for scrutiny. The agents are about to donate their time reading the finalists to find a winner. I'm not Polly Anna (those of you who know me, know I snark too much for that) and I realize everyone has a stake in the project, whether it's to grow their community, get help polishing their pitches or find new talent. But the generosity is there and it's wondrous.

So, what do you think of GUTGAA? AND it's not over yet! There's the Agent Round of the Pitches and the Small Press contest still to come.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Here Comes the Judge

I'm judging the first round of the GUTGAA pitchfest next week and I'm nervous. I'm not the only judge, there are lots of other talented writers judging with me, and it's only the first round, so the next round is judged by actual licensed literary agents* but still, I'm nervous.

I think it's because I am painfully aware of how subjective this writing thing is. Who hasn't rushed out to the bookstore to buy a hot new book, a pocket full of friend and family recommendations and a glowing review in a big paper, only to get the wretched thing home and say, "REALLY?" I've got a short stack of these books at home that I need to gift to my library. Popular, handsome books that I should have loved, all the indications were there. But I just didn't.

Judging a contest (hell, judging your sister's boyfriends for that matter) is a fraught business. I keep thinking 'who am I to judge?' Of course, that never stopped me from judging my sister's boyfriends, or her haircuts or her choice in nail polish, and that is the point I'm slowly creeping up to. We do judge, every second of every day. We have discernment, whether consciously or not. We decide in favor of some things and not others. We judge. The key to judging fairly, I think, is to keep the personal (as much as possible) out of things.

So here's my game plan for next week's judging.
1) Read everything with an open mind, even if it's not my cup of tea. ESPECIALLY if it's not my cup of tea. I bet I'd like lots of different cups of tea if I let myself. Rooibos. Oolong. I digress.

2)Take note of dings. Dings are stops along the reading - when something sounds either off, or confusing, or just takes me out of the reading. When I read anything I want there to be as few dings as possible. Flow and Clarity be your watchwords.

3)What speaks to me? What pitch is something that makes me curious to hear more? What pitch is unexpected, not something I've read before? What pitch has legs? And by that I mean that you want to hear more, you can't imagine how it's going to turn out, but you can't wait to find out. What pitch makes me go AH!

4)The HOOK. Is it there, in the first 150? It should be. I've been there, in the bookstore, a fish swimming in the water waiting to be caught and no hook has found me as I scan the first two pages.

5) Finally, I think I'd look at the quality of writing in the first 150. Is there a consistent, compelling VOICE? Is the writing polished and clear? I'm a big fan of clarity because it's something I struggle with in my own writing (I always want to get fancypants when I don't have to.)

That's the plan. What do you think? Anything else I should be looking at? Whether with crit partners, your own writing or other arts - How do YOU judge?


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

GUTGAA Blogfest- Miss it at Your PERIL!

Have you signed up for GUTGAA? No? Unless you are JK Rowling, Don De Lillo or Judy Bloom, why  in heaven's name not? Deana Barnhart has put together a blogfest/pitchfest that is so chock full of writerly goodness, it boggles the mind (granted, it's back to school week, so my mind is easily boggled!) I'm happy to say that I'm helping to judge part of the pitchfest. There are also amazing AGENT judges. I can't wait to read all the awesome entries you guys will submit. You can sign up here for the fest and here for the Meet & Greet. My M&G info is below. Happy GUTGAA-ing!

Where do you write?
Anywhere. I often compose in my head  in the shower or while driving. I usually need to "see" the movie of a scene in my head before I tackle it. As for where I sit down and tickle the keys, that can be almost anywhere. I have a shed in my garden that I write in, especially in Spring and Fall and I have a desk in a shared office with my husband. I write in Barnes & Noble fueled with Hot Cinnamon Spice tea and I write in Panera while eating orange scones. But mostly I write in the in-between minutes - when littlest daughter is watching Caillou or playing in the yard with a neighbor. That writing I do on the dining room table. Basically, no flat space is safe from my writing.

Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
1) Empty, crumby plate left over from breakfast
2) Crumpled up Justice receipt from eldest daughter's back to school outfit (much sequins.)
3) Nook a/c adaptor
4)Hairbrush, which is funny because my hair has yet to be brushed this morning. Sigh.

Favorite time to write?
Mornings. I am an unrepentant morning person. I will and have written in the wee hours of the night and in the afternoon and any other time - beggars can't be choosers, but if I can choose, it's morning, every time.

Drink of choice while writing?
Tea. Or coffee. The occasional Gin & Tonic, but not more than one. I need to keep a lot of plot strings straight.

When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
MUSIC is a must. I've said it before and I'll say it again, music is an engine for me, it actually keeps me (pardon the pun,) humming along. Some pavlovian quirk in my make up makes me feel ready to work when the music starts.

What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
I start every project with a What If? For FIND ME, I started with an idea from Sleeping Beauty. Not the sleeping part, or even the beauty part, but the idea of gifts. You remember when the little fairies give gifts to the baby princess? Then the bad fairy curses her? I was thinking about gifts and curses and I thought, what if a curse brought with it a gift? What if the curse of not being able to read came piggybacked with the ability to find anything? That was the start!

What's your most valuable writing tip?
When you are stuck - and by all that is holy, you will get stuck - go around the problem. Close your doc (SAVE FIRST!) then start something completely other. Something that might have nothing to do with the direction you thought you were going in. Draw a picture of your MC. Compose a dirty limerick about your villain. Make up a dating profile for one of your characters. Move the scene you are writing to Antarctica or to Secaucus, NJ. Because you are writing away from your WIP it will help you feel freer. And using other creative muscles (drawing, music, poetry) will help you shake off your stuck-y-ness. Hopefully it will reinvigorate your story too. It's worked for me!

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