Showing posts with label Edgar award. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edgar award. Show all posts

22 July 2019

When to Enter

by Steve Liskow

Many moons ago, I discussed why I enter so few writing contests. If there is a hefty entry fee, I stay away. If I don't know the judges or feel comfortable with the criteria, ditto.

But sometimes, dumb luck gives you an advantage, and it's true of both contests and submissions to anthologies. If you're in the right place at the right time, there are ways to get an inside track.

Several years ago, I learned about the Black Orchid Novella Award. I had a short story that never sold, and I expanded it into a novella and won. Yes, writing a good story helps, but the Black Orchid Novella Award pays tribute to Rex Stout and his detectives Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. My parents liked Stout, so I read many of his novels and novellas when I was young. We were both raised in the Midwest, so his voice and rhythm and characters influenced my own writing. In other words, writing a story that fit the contest's requirements was definitely in my skill set.

I've entered two stories in that contest, and won both times. Since it's an annual event, the submission dates are standard, which means I know when to have a story ready and have a whole year to come up with an idea (or not) and rewrite until it's worth sending. That means no rushing, important because I can't rush. I've written on demand, but it always takes me several revisions, which means lots of time.

My titles should tell you I like blues and rock and roll. Several years ago, I wrote a blog about plagiarism in rock music. Among other performers, I mentioned Led Zeppelin and their frequent "borrowing" from blues artists. That idea was fresh in my mind when the Mystery Writers of America posted a submission call for an anthology with the theme of "Vengeance," to be edited by Lee Child.

Well, Child's first novel is Killing Floor, a title taken from an old Howlin' Wolf blues classic. Led Zeppelin milked it dry for a song they called "The Lemon Song" on their second LP. Child has another novel called Bad Luck and Trouble, a line that appears in both "Born Under a Bad Sign" by William Bell and Albert King and "Double Trouble" by Otis Rush.

I figured Child was a fan of American Blues. What if I could write a story about a blues songwriter who stole a song and the results caught up with him? I called it "Hot Sugar Blues" and hoped the title would help the story get through the gatekeepers to Child himself. It appeared in the anthology and was later named a finalist for the Edgar Award.

Yes, I think it was a good story, but it still needed the right audience. You can help that happen.

Several years ago, I joined four other writers judging submissions for the Al Blanchard Story Award, sponsored by the New England Chapter of MWA. Let me share what that five-month stint taught me.

The submission time was three months, and we received 142 stories of 5000 words or less. Only a dozen came in during the first several weeks, and only 41 through the sixth week, so I read them all, Because I was used to reading lots of papers, I read EVERY story (even though I only had to read every fourth one) and took notes. (Some people have lives. I'm not one of them). I graded them all from 1 to 10 and made a spread sheet of my comments.

I didn't award any story a 9 or 10, but I gave NINETY-ONE stories a 1 or 2. That's right, nearly 2/3 of the entries earned that score, and for the same reason(s). They started with turgid--often unnecessary--backstory and most of them wallowed in description. They tended to tell rather than show, had little or poor dialogue, and a few had endings that came out of nowhere.

Don't do those things.

A whopping 41 stories came in the last day of the contest. Don't do that, either. By then, judges are in a hurry. They're looking for a reason to dump you and move on, so a typo, a badly-chosen name, or a cliche may be enough to knock you out on page one.

If a contest takes submissions for three months, I like to wait about six weeks. That gives readers time to go through enough entries to establish a personal standard of their own. They still have enough time to be flexible, though, so they'll give leeway to something a little different. When the time crush kicks in (the last two weeks), they may already have their personal favorites locked in and it's hard to dislodge them. Hit them when they're still comfortable.

Keep in mind that judging is ALWAYS subjective, no matter how specific the criteria, and no matter whether it's for a contest, an anthology, or a standard submission. Three of the five stories I rated the highest in the contest I judged didn't make anyone else's short list, but seventeen of the stories I rated a 1 or a 2 DID.

Not long ago, an editor turned down my submission because he liked the story but didn't like the golf that was essential to the plot. He never explained why. I sold the story elsewhere in two weeks. Maybe if I'd used tennis or Jai alai, it would have sold the first time out.

You never know. But some guesses are better than others.

01 May 2012

Edgar

by David Dean

April 9th: At the time of my writing this (but not at the time of your reading it), I do not yet know the outcome of the Edgars awards. As you might surmise, I am keenly interested for entirely selfish reasons--my story, "Tomorrow's Dead" is a nominee. Strangely, it appears that other writers have had stories nominated as well. In my fantasy world this would not be necessary, as the flawless crafting of my gem of a tale would simply preclude the necessity. In the real world, however, there's a very good chance that one of them, and not my humble self, will be waltzing out the door with the coveted bust. It appears that these 'others' have written some pretty good stories themselves...at least according to some.

I've been writing for twenty-three years and, like most writers, I have largely done so without much notice. That's not to say I haven't been published, but my walls aren't exactly groaning under the weight of plaques and awards for it. My biggest thrill to date, and it was thrilling, was winning the Ellery Queen Readers Award for "Ibrahim's Eyes". Even then, I shared the award with the late, great Ed Hoch with whom I tied in the balloting, though he was certainly good company in which to find myself.

Other stories have received nominations for various awards, but none have come up a winner, and though I don't like to admit it, each loss was something of a blow. Considering the undeniable prestige of the Edgar Allan Poe Award, I can't help but prepare for a correspondingly heavy one in this case. Of course, it's a great honor to have a story nominated at all (and trust me, after twenty-three years I had put the very thought of it completely from my mind) but it also places something of a burden on one's shoulders. I know that many of you have already experienced this (or will in the future) and understand what I'm talking about. As the season of euphoria dwindles and the day of reckoning draws nigh, how I handle not getting the award becomes just as important as what to do should I win it. Not only will many of my fellow writers be in attendance, but so will Janet Hutchings, the editor of EQMM and a wonderfully kind person who has shown great faith in me over the years. My wife, Robin (She Who Walks In Beauty), will be by my side, as will my brother, Danny, and his wife, Wanda. They are traveling all the way from Georgia for the occasion and, I'm sure, expecting a big finale! Even my editing staff, which is to say my children, will be standing by their various phones for news of the outcome! Thank God, I handle pressure really, really well, damnit!

Whatever the outcome, be it tears or joy, the following day (or perhaps just a little longer under the circumstances) I will find myself sitting in front of my computer trying to write something again. Something good and worthwhile and that someone will want to publish. I may find it easier if little Edgar's bust is perched on my desk overlooking my efforts, or I may find it more difficult because expectations have been raised and now I must meet them. His absence may be a blessing in disguise, allowing me to carry on unencumbered and free to do exactly as I wish and that I have always done. Or, just the opposite; creating a black hole that sucks the creativity out of me with a violent implosion. Whatever the outcome, I'll have to start stringing together words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs just as I did before Little Eddie came into the picture. But will I be the same? I doubt it. We writers are always affected by the things and events that surround and touch us, and this will be no different for me. I just hope that when the dust settles that I've been made somehow better by the experience. Saint Thomas More, patron of lawyers and writers (Utopia) put it this way:

Give me the Grace Good Lord, to set the world at naught; to set my mind fast upon Thee and not hang upon the blast of men's mouths (I especially like the 'blast of men's mouths' part). To be content to be solitary. Not to long for worldly company but utterly to cast off the world and rid my mind of the business thereof.

Though it is often referred to as the 'Lawyer's Prayer', I think it is good advice for writers too, don't you? I will complete this posting upon my return from NYC, but will not alter what I have written up to this point regardless of the outcome. Here you have my true thoughts and feelings prior to the conclusion of the whole affair. When I return, you will have the rest...for better or for worse.

April 30: As promised, I have returned to complete my posting and I didn't alter one word of what I had previously written. Most of you probably already know the outcome of the Edgars, but for those of you who don't--I didn't come home with the coveted bust. Peter Turnbull is the very happy writer who carried away the prize; though I use the phrase loosely, as he was not actually present, but at home in England. His story was very deserving, and I'm not just saying this to appear a gracious loser. When I read it some months ago to acquaint myself with the competition, I actually did remark to Robin, "I may be in trouble here." It turns out I was prophetic.

We had a wonderful time at the banquet and got to meet many a writing celebrity; several of whom we stalked like paparazzi. Mary Higgins Clark and Sandra Brown were kind enough to act as if my wife and sister-in-law were old acquaintances and not two strange women who may have gotten past security. It was also a distinct pleasure to visit with many of our colleagues, including my Tuesday counterpart, Dale Andrews (at the EQMM cocktail party) and Criminal Briefers, James Lincoln Warren (as dapper and clever, as ever), Melodie Johnson Howe, and Steven Steinbock. It felt a little like a reunion on fast forward. Doug Allyn sat next to me at the EQMM table and gave me his napkin after the announcement for best short story was made. I believe he was muttering something like, "Show some spine, Dean...my god man, people are looking!"

Alright, it wasn't as bad as all that. In fact, when the dust settled, I felt I might be able to go on after all. As I remarked, quite bravely, I thought, "Tomorrow I will be writing again." And I am.

22 January 2012