Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WRiTE CLUB, 2014

I know -- I usually post on Thursdays, and it's only Tuesday. But this is a time-sensitive post by guest-blogger DL Hammons, who is going to tell you all about WRiTE CLUB -- an annual writing contest whose final round is judged by published writers and industry pros! Submissions are open until this coming Saturday, May 31. So, take it away, DL!

WRiTE CLUB, 2014

First off, I'd like to thank Marcia for the opportunity to talk to you today about something near and dear to my heart...WRiTE CLUB. My modest writing contest has proven so popular that the DFW Writers Conference is now considering incorporating it into their agenda for 2015. 

What is WRiTE CLUB? It's a writing competition whose inspiration was derived from the movie Fight Club. There are numerous versions of this concept around the internet, but nothing quite like the way we do it. Its essence embodies simple, good-natured competition, with lots and lots of fun sprinkled on top.

Over the course of eight weeks, I hold twice-weekly bouts in which the winners advance to the playoffs, which will ultimately lead to a single champion. Bouts between whom, or what, you ask? Anonymous 500-word writing samples, submitted under a pen name by anyone who wishes to take part. The writing can be any genre, any style (even poetry), with the word count being the only restriction. It's a way to get your writing in front of a lot of readers without having to suffer the agony of exposure.

And the winners (except for the winner of the final round) are determined by WRiTE CLUB readers!

To find out how to become part of the fun, just head on over to DLHammons.com and click on the WRiTE CLUB tab. Submissions are open now through May 31. After that date, a panel of a dozen judges will read all of the entries and pre-select 32 of the best writing samples to climb into the ring. Those 32 participants will then be randomly matched to compete over the next eight weeks, each of them hoping to make it into the playoff rounds and move toward the ultimate goal -- WRiTE CLUB champion. No one (other than my wife) -- not even the judges who pre-select the 32 contestants -- will see anyone's true identity. Unless you win, of course. 

Again this year, the most exciting part is that the winner of the final round will be chosen by a panel of publishing industry professionals! Judges include New York Times bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning horror and thriller author Jonathan Maberry; agents Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates, Margaret Bail of the Andrea Hurst Agency, Sarah Negovetich of the Corvisiero Literary Agency, and Brittany Booker of the Booker Albert Literary agency; Candace Havens, Editorial Director of Entangled Publishing's Covet line; authors Les Edgerton and Lydia Kang;  and previous WRiTE CLUB winners Tiana Smith (2011), Mark Hough (2012), and Tex Thompson (2013).

Are you willing to WRiTE for what you want? Then crack those knuckles and get ready to flex that imagination. And whatever you do, tell your friends!

WRiTE CLUB -- the contest where the audience gets clobbered!

Thanks for the details, DL! Remember to check out his website for the full scoop, and, if you're an unagented writer currently polishing up a piece of writing, consider entering!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Cranky Reader

Random things I've noticed about reading:

  • There are piles of books I love, and other piles I return to the library unfinished. When I was a kid, I read pretty much everything I picked up. No longer being able to do this is something of an occupational hazard of writing. 
  • Plots that hinge on failure to communicate need big-time, compelling, convincing motivation for that failure.
  • Presently, I'm really tired of contemporary novels with dysfunctional moms.
  • I'm in a plot phase. I want something happening that keeps me turning pages.
  • If I reach a point where I can't remember why I'm reading a particular book, it makes me feel like the characters and author are self-indulgent.
  • I love beautiful language and quotable lines.
  • I love compelling emotion and motivations I believe in my very bones.
  • I love an overarching and at least somewhat concrete goal that the MC must accomplish by story's end. When I'm a third or halfway through the book and have lost sight of this, I get antsy.
  • I love a lot of books, but I'm not blown away by many. The last MG novel that blew me away was Splendors and Glooms.
What have you noticed about reading lately?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Nightingale's Nest, by Nikki Loftin

Twelve-year-old Little John feels responsible for his younger sister's death. They'd been climbing trees one day, and he jumped down, so she did too -- and was killed. Now, his depressed mother is losing her hold on reality, sometimes thinking her daughter is still alive. His father drinks too much. Money is so scarce that all luxuries (gaming system, cable TV) have been sold or dropped, and even making the rent is in question. Dad owns a tree removal service, and this summer LJ must work for him so that they can tackle a large job for the Emperor, so called because he is the rich owner of a string of dollar stores. LJ is only too happy to do so, because he feels that "every last murderous tree" in the world should be cut down. The first day on the job, though, he meets another little girl, about his sister's age at the time she died, who wants nothing more than to live in a tree and seems strangely able to do just that.

The book's first sentence sums up the story to a great degree: "When I first heard Gayle, I couldn't tell if she was a bird or a girl." Indeed, in this tale of magical realism, we are never sure. Her hair is soft as down, she "perches" and "hops like a wren," she's so light that possibly her bones are hollow. But the central story is Little John's, as he tries to dig himself out of a mountain of regret only to compound it. And when he faces a choice between betraying Gayle (as he, in a sense, betrayed his sister) or helping what's left of his family survive, he's facing a truly wrenching dilemma.

Based on Hans Christian Anderson's "The Nightingale," this is an emotionally affecting book with gorgeous writing, complex characters, a strong theme of forgiveness, and more richness than I can convey here. I would not be at all surprised if this novel becomes an award contender. While some readers may struggle with the sadness in the book, I never found it overwhelmingly gloomy, and it is balanced by the magic, and the ending. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Living the Dream (World)

The other day, something hit me. Now, this is not news, really. Not at all. But the impact of this realization was stronger than it's been in maybe forever: I live in a dream world. Like, all the time.

I can stare out the passenger window of a car (passenger window; I drive quite attentively, really I do) and be a million miles away. (When my husband's driving. If it's anybody else I feel less freedom and thus more duty to make conversation.) This dreaming goes way back, of course. When I was in sixth grade, and the in thing to do was play dodge ball every day at lunch recess, I always played, if by "played" you mean pranced around my side of the court and, on such rare occasions as I'd catch the ball, lobbed it with no particular aim at the opposing team. But that wasn't the real game, as far as I was concerned. Because, the whole time, I was observing the kids as characters and noticing how they threw the ball. One girl -- tall, skinny, tough -- cocked her arm straight back at waist level and threw bullets. Another, a "cute little thing," used both arms to swing the ball to her left and shot high, graceful arcs. During the game, I mind-wrote descriptions of  the kids and how they handled the ball. Everyone did it differently. Everyone had their signature throw. I couldn't just play dodge ball. I couldn't even mostly play dodge ball. It wasn't that I consciously thought there wasn't enough fun in an earthbound game. It's that I mostly don't know how to do something in the concrete, physical realm only. (And maybe that's why I'm always the one who can't work contraptions.)

The real world, so concrete, so full of things and tasks and jabber, has just never had much hold on me. Rather, the events of the real world have been doors into the games I really want to play, the scenes I really want to live -- and happily do, through imagination, and sometimes, I think, through spiritual, if not physical, reality.

Oh, and the the tall boy who didn't play dodge ball much, but the day he did, hit me "right in the numbers" with an overhand hardball that my surprised arms flew up and caught, causing my friend to scream, "Marcia? You caught that?" and causing me to zing, for once, fully into the moment? Him? He appears elsewhere in this story. Can you find him?

As for that recent event that caused me to realize how fully I live in a dream world? I can't remember what it was. The dream is ever so much more enticing.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ice Dogs, by Terry Lynn Johnson

I know, I know -- it's May. Winter was long enough! But I just have to squeeze this one in.

Fourteen-year-old Victoria is one of Alaska's top junior mushers. She takes after her father, an award-winning musher who taught her everything she knows and who tragically died in a wilderness accident the previous year. Her mother, on the other hand, doesn't understand the love for dogsled racing.

So when Vicky qualifies for a big race, considers a new lead dog for her team, wants to look at the dogs her neighbor has for sale, and Mom turns thumbs down, Vicky hitches up six of her dogs and goes anyway. It's only thirty-five miles, and she'll be back by afternoon. Except she's hit by an unexpected blizzard. That, and she finds an injured boy about her age who has crashed his snowmobile. The extra passenger weighs her sled down,  knows zero about the wilderness (having just moved from a big city), and is unwanted company in any case, but in trying to bring him home she gets hopelessly lost. The rest of the plot follows the humans and dogs as they fight to survive the all-but-unsurvivable.

The emotional story progresses, too, as Vicky slowly discovers that a greenhorn city-slicker might have some value as a human being after all, comes face to face with the way her father died, connects with her dog team in an even deeper way than before, and begins to imagine and have compassion for what her mother is going through now that she, too, is missing in the Alaskan wilderness during a terrible storm. Victoria is a prickly, snarky character whom I didn't always like, but found fully believable. Definitely recommended, especially for readers who love action but prefer some depth along with it.