Monday, November 30, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Last week we had selections from several YA novels:
Tricia shared from Maggie Stiefvater's Ballad

When I woke up, my mouth was stuffed with golden music. It was like having a song stuck in my head, but with taste and color and sensation attached to it. It was all wood smoke and beads of rain on oak leaves and shining gold strands choking me.

Sherrie had this from Beautiful Creatures
The truth was killing me. Maybe Lena was going to be Claimed on her sixteenth birthday, but I had been claimed since birth. I had no more control over my fate than she did. Maybe none of us did.

Nandini quoted from the City of Ember:
The sky arched over them, higher than they could have imagined, a pale, clear blue. Lina felt as though a lid that had been on her all her life had been lifted off. Light and air rushed through her, making a song, like the songs of Ember, only it was a song of joy. She looked at Doon and saw that he was smiling and crying at the same time, and she realized that she was, too.
And a passage from Shakespeare:
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind:
Nor hath Love's mind of any judgment taste;
Wings and no eyes, figure unheedy haste:
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguil'd.

- A Mid-Summer Night's Dream
My line this week is a lot more light-hearted than my usual offering. It is from Brue Covile's middle grade novel, Juliet Dove, Queen of Love, a magic shop book. The dad, a professor of poetry, is lamenting the current sorry state of education and threatens to run for the school board:
Do you suppose I could get elected on the motto 'Less self-esteem, more poetry?'
What caught you this week?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mortar and Pestle, Sore Muscles, and Dimpled Hands are what I am grateful for

CKHB exhorts us to share our thankfulness by showing, not telling: a solid writerly advice. My post yesterday is a bit of a downer, but today's will hopefully be more uplifting.

Sharing the ea
rthy, old-fashioned task of pounding aromatics in a stone mortar and pestle with my budding 9-year old cook, and enjoying the bursts of fragrance released from the ginger, scallions and garlic, mixed in with the air that is already perfumed with freshly ground star anise, clove, coriander and fennel.

[mortar and pestle from rosefirerising from Flikr Creative Commons]

My 7-year old's dimpled hands coaxing a surprisingly resonant Bach Minute from his tiny viola, the same dimpled hands he used to pat my hand gently to say good night.

Sore abdominal muscles reminding me that the torturous core-strengthening exercises in Tae Kwon Do class are not in vain.

Thermometer readings that no longer hover around 101 and the resumption of white blood cells production.

Sleep; restorative, healing sleep.

May you have many moments of thankfulness to choose from, every day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


sucking it up, rolling with the punches, making lemonade

disappointed, discouraged, dejected

unfairness, brokenness, falling short

grit teeth, pound fists, give up

pain, sorrow, hopelessness

Who hasn't?


soothes, warms, girds

gives perspective

grants hope

feeds perseverance

reveals grace, generosity, joys taken for granted

filling, filling till overflowing

Monday, November 23, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Tricia showed up last week with this quote from Pearl North's Libyrinth:

The wind howled and the flames roared, but the books, as they died, merely fell silent.

And Nandini, who has since moved one step closer to this dream (congrats, Nandini!), quotes from Little Women:

Six weeks is a long time to wait, and a still longer time for a girl to keep a secret, but Jo did both, and was just beginning to give up all hope of ever seeing her manuscript again, when a letter arrived which almost took her breath away, for on opening it, a check for a hundred dollars fell into her lap

Here is my line this week:
...that at some unspecified future moment the continuous rehearsal which is my life, with its so many misreadings, its slips and fluffs, will be done with...what I am looking forward to is a moment of earthly expression...I shall be expressed, totally. I shall be delivered, like a noble closing speech. I shall be, in a word, said.

The Sea, by Joh Banville
What caught you this week?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Thank you, my blog friends, for all your good wishes while I've been cocooning. I have been reading your blogs on and off. Nandini said she would check in on Mondays, so I wanted to peek out once a week, in case any of you have lines and passages you want to share.

From Garbiel's Gift by Hanif Kureishi, I wanted to share this line:

Now Dad had gone and was living somewhere else. If the world hadn't quite been turned upside down, it was at an unusual and perilous angle, and certainly not still.

Drop a line.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interview with a contest director, part II

Today, I have the second part of the interview with Dawn Smit Miller, contest director of the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest. Check out the judges for the finalists.

You have scored some high profile VIP judges: how do you do that year after year?

Just like the writers we serve, we too have to network. Fortunately, the contest and the conference have been around since 1993, so we've met a lot of people in the industry. The conference has a reputation for being friendly to both attendees and faculty--and what a view of Pikes Peak! This positive impression allows us to humbly approach and ask for this favor that will mean so much our entrants.

This year we have not one but two agents from the Donald Maass Literary Agency, including The Man himself! How cool is that? Not to mention editors from Tor and Scholastic and Harlequin. I'm so excited, I have to mention the whole list.

Jennifer Rees

Historical Fiction
Rachelle Gardner
WordServe Literary Group

Donald Maass
Donald Maass Literary Agency

Kathleen Gilligan
Thomas Dunne (St. Martins) Books

Brenda Chin

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror
Jennifer Jackson
Donald Maass Literary Agency

Short Story
Denise Little

Young Adult
Stefanie Von Borstel
Full Circle Literary Agency

Similarly, how do you persuade your preliminary judges, most of whom are authors who carve time away from their own writing to read the entries?

Many of our judges see this as a way to give back to the writing community, especially if they've won in the past. It also helps that our judges can earn a credit toward the conference each year. It's not a lot, but the judges appreciate it. Several judges don't even use the credit for themselves and instead give it to a needy writer friend or to the scholarship fund. As I said, we have a great bunch of judges. On the admin side of the contest, we try to make the process as smooth for the judges as possible so they don't have a bad experience.

Welcome to Chris: did Dawn tell you that you're merely assisting and doing a bit of paperwork and that there is nothing to it?

Actually, she was really up front with me 1) with how much work I'd be doing and 2) that I'd be taking over the contest next year. (Dawn's addition: And he still accepted!)

I read a comment in a blog sometime ago by an editor who said she looked up the Paul Gilette Contest and found that it was a contest you could win only if you attended the conference. How do you plan to squash these prejudices?

Through word of mouth, our PPW website, and blogs like yours.

Favorite anecdotes?

Hmm, how much room do you have on that blog of yours? No, I'll be good.
Having eight volunteers crammed around a long table my first year as coordinator, and only then realizing that we needed a bigger space to organize everything....
Inviting volunteers to my home, and watching five bankers boxes of entries turn into 40 ready-to-mail judges packets....
Corresponding with one entrant nine times over the course of two weeks as the entrant made absolutely sure that his entry was perfect, and then having to email him again when he forgot to include the check....
Watching my winners walk around the conference with their specially colored name badges, and seeing the moment they realize that their badge is different....
Calling up one writer who won or placed in four different categories in one year.

Plea, I mean advice, to entrants?

Submit soon, before November 15. We are more helpful to entrants who submit, say, more than a week before the deadline. If we see an issue with your entry, we're more likely to email you for a fix rather than making a note to the judge about how many points to deduct for not following the rules.

Other than that? Check that your entry is saved as a .rtf (Rich Text Format) file. Make sure the length of your entry fits within the word count for your category. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you don't get a response within a day or two, feel free to nag politely. And if you have any unpleasant experience, let us know so that Chris can fix it for next year if possible.

The writing contest director and coordinator toil behind the scenes organizing, reading, diffusing tension, persuading, being calm, and generally playing the role of an unsung hero. That needs to be remedied; you will be sung to. At the next Pikes Peaks Conference, everyone you meet, or at least everyone who's entered the Pikes Peaks Writers Fiction Contest will sing of your virtues and hard work.

How sweet. Thank you.

So, you heard Dawn: enter! And don't think that she put that bit about her testing for her TKD black belt just for kicks. (I'll join you in groaning.) She is serious, she wants you to enter, and you'd better!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An interview with a contest director

Fall of 2007, I had been working on my middle grade novel for a number of years, and had gone through numerous versions (my poor critique group.) I had lost all objectivity and decided it was time to get some professional feedback. I entered the Paul Gillette Memorial Contest and paid for extra critiques. When the envelope arrived a few months later, I reminded myself that the critiques were the reason I entered and braced myself for the inevitable disappointment. It took multiple readings and many minutes before "Congratulations, you're a finalist!" made sense to me.

That 2nd place gave me the necessary confidence to take some important actions with regards to my writing.

A year later, I started wondering about my works that live quietly in my "short stories" folder. I love short stories but I also find myself confused often. Sometimes I would love the writing but have no clue what I've just read. Other times, certain phrases or scenes that don't really make sense, would haunt me long after I've finished reading. And then there are those subliminal moments when I would finish a story and thank God for the gift of words. I am not an English major nor an MFA student and don't often get the more literary devises. But I believe I have stories to tell that don't require an entire novel. Once again, to get some objectivity, I entered the same contest, now known as the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest, in the short story category.

Surprised and comforted by my first place win, I have resurrected quite a few of my stories and written a few new ones.

Many writers don't need the pat in the back that contests provide, but I am one of those who benefited from the exposure and encouragement.

Here is an interview with Dawn Smit Miller, the contest director of the Pikes Peak Writers

Fiction Contest.

Dawn, I can only imagine how much work it takes to coordinate a writing contest yet you've done it for many years. Is it like giving birth, you think, that you forget all the pain as soon as the baby is born?

Well, not quite as soon as the baby is born. I'd lie around at least until May, swearing that the next year would be my last. Then June would come along, and I'd be back into the contest groove again. This year, my last, has been really challenging, since my husband and I were also training for our black belt test in Taekwondo, which conveniently began at the same time as the contest and continued for the next month. Thank goodness for my new contest coordinator Chris Scena.

Tell us more about the contest. And by the way, why the two names?

The PPW Fiction Contest was created to give writers a safe environment in which to submit their work. Sometimes, our judges are the first strangers to read a writer's story, and we try to do no irreparable damage to skins that have not yet been toughened by rejection. Some of our entrants (and winners!) have been teenagers. Knowing that we will occasionally fail, we aim for the high goal of tactful and constructive criticism. We also want to be the first to find those gems out there and give them our praise before they get published. That kind of recognition can be the difference between a writer submitting one more time and dropping the manuscript in the file-n-forget drawer. It was for me when I submitted in 2001.

Beginning this year, the PPWFC is an all-electronic contest, so no more hardcopies! We may have a few bumps in the virtual road, so please bear with us while we learn to streamline the process. Contestants complete an online entry form, pay either online or through snail mail, and email us their entries as an attachment. For more information, including a nifty checklist, go to our online brochure at:

Once the entry comes to us, we assign it to two judges, who judges according to a four-page scoresheet. One or both of them will also type up a one-page critique if the entrant orders one (or two). If the judges just don't agree, we send the entry to a third judge. The most skewed score is dropped, and we add the other two scores together. The three entries in each category with the highest total score move on to our VIP judges, editors and agents who choose who gets first, second, and third place. We honor the winners each year during the awards banquet at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

As for the two names, well, "Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest - The Paul Gillette Awards" is quite a mouthful, isn't it? We just couldn't drop our homage to author and screenwriter Paul Gillette, who was an early supporter of the conference. However, we did want to add "PPW" to link the contest and the organization more directly in peoples' minds. Being writers, we sat around, talked about it, voted . . . and chose the longest, most complete name on the list.

But don't worry. We still answer to "Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Contest," "PPW Contest," "That contest in Colorado," and "Hey, You."

As the coordinator, you publicize the contest, handle money, collect and send manuscripts , train new judges, field the same three questions asked by 107 different people, call the finalist who's in third place, etc. Which ones cause the most sleepless nights / induce the loudest screams / bring you to your knees, pounding the ground?

My primal screams tend to come after interactions with those who have not read the instructions. Now don't get me wrong, many entrants go through the instructions with a fine-toothed comb and may still miss a detail here or there. No, I'm talking about, for example, the entrant who one year submitted one copy of a nonfiction story, stapled three times on the left to simulate a bound book, with no entry form, no check, and no contact information. This year, I've made some subvocal mutterings about people who email their entries as .doc files or who have 6000 words in their 4000-word sample manuscript, but those people sent in early enough that I could contact them, and they've been great about making the necessary changes. So no primal screams yet this year.

My sleepless nights tends to come from situations beyond my (or anyone else's control). Like dealing with the Post Office. If there ever was a reason to take the contest all-electronic, the Post Office is it. Every single year, at least one entry has been lost in the mail, and one year it was a judge's handwritten packet.

And which is the reason for your pouring your time and effort into it?

The people I get to meet. My favorite job is calling all of the finalists in late March/early April. Some say, "That's nice," thank me, and hang up, while others are on the line for twenty minutes basking in the glow of their win. It's wonderful. And the judges are great people, many of whom I have gotten to know as friends over the course of my six years running the contest. Writers are a fascinating and diverse bunch, and a hoot to work with. This is one way I can give them support. (If Chris is really, really lucky, I'll let him call some of the winners this year.)

Tomorrow I will post Part II of this interview, in which Dawn talks about how she finds judges and getting the word out to the general writing public about the contest. We'll even hear from her left-hand man, Chris.