WotF 27 awards to be webcast LIVE!

As with last year, this year’s Writers of the Future awards ceremony is going to be webcast live from the Writers of the Future web site.

www.writersofthefuture.com

Tune in Sunday night, May 15, 2011 at 6 PM Pacific time to watch the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest celebrate it’s 27th year. All of the 12 writer winners and all of the 12 illustrator winners from the vol. XXVII book will be accepting their awards, live from the ballroom of the famed Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. Present will be a who’s who of Contest judges from across the United States and around the world, including Dave Wolverton, Kevin J. Anderson, Robert J. Sawyer, Mike Resnick, Eric Flint, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Jerry Pournelle, Gregory Benford, Yoji Kondo, Rebecca Moesta, Tim Powers, K.D. Wentworth, Vincent Di Fate, Cliff Nielson, Stephen Hickman, Val Lakey Lindahn, and Ron Lindahn.

This is science fiction and fantasy’s premiere coming out party for some the latest, hottest talent in both writing and illustration. Every year the Contest showcases the top rising names in the field, many of whom go on to be some of the top professionals in the field — including returning as judges for the event.

First sale of 2011?

There are still some dominoes that have to fall, but it appears I might have my first fiction sale of 2011 lined up. It’ll be my first collaboration too, and with an award-winning long-established author to boot. I can’t say much more than that until things develop further, but I’m rather geeked about this. If all goes well, the anthology with our story in it will be appearing in 2012. Color me excited!

(ETA: got a message indicating that I might be doing not just one, but now two stories with this author, for different anthologies. Kevin J. Anderson’s “popcorn” analogy in action!)

I would add that this is the kind of thing I could not have planned for, and is a direct result of my having won the Writers of the Future contest. So it bears repeating: the Writers of the Future contest is not just a book or a trophy. It’s a chance to meet (potentially) dozens of authors all working at various levels, and the networking and relationships which come from that can resonate through a career in all sorts of beneficial, unintended ways. If you haven’t entered the Contest yet, or haven’t taken it that seriously, for goodness sakes, ENTER THE CONTEST AND TAKE IT SERIOUSLY! If you write science fiction or fantasy — of any sort — you owe it to yourself to put a story in to the Contest once per quarter.

The value of Writers of the Future — Looking back at my time with the Contest

I could give you a blow-by-blow of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future week — the workshop, the gala event — but such things have been blogged before, and in any case I don’t necessarily want to bore anyone with a, “and then this happens and then this happens,” chronology of my time there.

What I will do, however, is attempt to impress upon you my estimation of the value of the Contest. Economic, professional, and otherwise.

Writers of the Future (cover) Vol. 26

ECONOMIC VALUE:

Writers of the Future requires no entry fee. Like any honest fiction competition, all Writers of the Future requires of the entrant is a willingness to follow basic rules of writing: start a story, finish a story, format it correctly, and send the story to the correct address. Beyond that, there is nothing for the entrant to do, save for waiting for results — preferably done while writing new fiction, both for entry in future quarters of the Contest and/or submission to other markets.

Assuming one does win, the equations look like this.

CASH PRIZE. Every writer who Places in every quarter of the Contest receives prize money determined by tier. 3rd Place — which is what I won — gets $500.00 US immediately upon winning. I got my check for $500.00 from Author Services Inc., the literary foundational company that runs the Contest, roughly 45 days after I found out I’d won. 2nd Place winners get $750.00 US, and 1st Place winners get $1,000.00 US. By any standard, these are phenomenal pay rates for short fiction, and I challenge anyone to find another entry market in the science fiction and fantasy field which offers this kind of money to non-professional authors as a rule of market operation. If we use me as a test case, we can begin to construct a grand total value for the Contest, with things only improving if we extrapolate for higher Placement for other potential winners.

Grand Total = $500.00 US

AIRLINE FARE. Barring those few living locally to Southern California, almost all Contest winners are flown free-of-charge (compliments of the Contest) into Los Angeles International (LAX) Airport. Depending on how close or how far you are from L.A. your fare will vary. I am a short desert jump from Salt Lake City to L.A. so my flight was on Southwest, which if reserved far enough in advance only costs maybe $100 to $150 US for a round trip. So estimate $125, with expenses going up from there depending on your point of origin.

Grand Total = $625.00 US

TRANSPORTATION & HOTEL ACCOMODATIONS. Upon arriving in Los Angeles you are picked up (compliments of the Contest) by an Author Services representative and driven across town to Hollywood, where you are booked (compliments of the Contest) into your room at the Roosevelt Hotel — site of the original Academy Awards, and current home of the Contest awards ceremony & gala event. I don’t know what a cab costs in L.A. or even a shuttle bus, but I’d wager $60 is not a gross estimation. Room cost for a double room — you will get a double room because all contestants room with an assigned co-winner — is about $300 a night. Split that down the middle and you’re looking at $150 a night over 7 nights, which amounts to $1,050 + $60 or roughly $1,100 for travel and lodging.

Grand Total = $1,675.00 US

MEALS. Food is one of the very few items you will be expected to pay for yourself, though here again there are benefits because the second half of the week is chock full of “special” suppers which are provided (compliments of the Contest) for all winners. In my case I had the BBQ social with the judges, pizza after the completion of the short story challenge, the banquet on the night of the gala itself, the late-night winner party burger fest, farewell dinner the following night, and the many complimentary sodas and snacks available at Author Services during the length of the week. All I really had to pay for were some breakfast foods, and some of my dinners and lunches — again, almost all coming during the first three days. Once the judges arrive, the free food starts to roll in. I figure the pizza was $10 per head, the BBQ another $20 per head, the banquet at least $50 per head, the burger fest at $30 per head, the farewell dinner another $20 per head, and sodas and consumables came out to probably $30 per head for the week. That’s $130 per head for the week — and I am probably underestimating.

Grand Total = $1,835.00 US

WORKSHOP TUITION. Earlier this year I went out and did a week of workshopping in Lincoln City that had a lot in common with the Writers of the Future workshop: it was comprehensive in coverage, professionally focused, taught by two industry professionals with impeccable track records. It cost me $700 for the week to pay for those instructors’ time, and they both lived locally to where I traveled. Writers of the Future has to bring in its two instructors, which adds overhead, so I estimate total tuition cost for the time and expense of having Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth at our disposal to be roughly $1,000 per contestant for all seven days. That’s probably an underestimation, but it’s a good, rounded figure.

Grand Total = $2,835.00 US

GUEST INSTRUCTION. Here is where the figures begin to boggle. For the first three days of the workshop, you have Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth almost exclusively. But by the fourth day, the judges of the contest — and any professional guest authors who happen to be past winners, and who have come back to visit — begin to roll in. They are accessible at the workshop itself, giving one and sometimes two-hour blocks of guest lecturing, and they are available non-formally at the Roosevelt hotel bar, lobby, and during and between various social events. I have a tough time estimating how much this would cost a person, to bring in all these extra professionals to an already expensive workshop. The Contest pays for all of these people to come out, often at far more expense than even the winners, and with a little back-of-the-envelope math I guesstimate that the Contest spends perhaps as much as $3,000 per head to have all the judges and other guests come in, which accounts for roughly 15 bodies. Divide that by 24 (all winners, both sides of the Contest) and that’s $1,875 per winner. Guesstimated.

Grand Total = $4,710

GALA EVENT. The awards ceremony is the most difficult for me to calculate, in terms of per-winner cost. The gala is a full-scale Hollywood-standard awards event, complete with professional stage and lighting, professional dancers, professional television and media equipment, production and crews. I don’t have a ghost of a clue how much it costs to set that up, nor do I have a ghost of a clue how much is being comped (courtesy of Author Services and Galaxy Press) together to accommodate guest speakers — like June Scobee, our guest for the 26th annual event. I am going to wager that the gala costs tens of thousands of dollars to put together, if not over a hundred thousand. That might be way high, but it’s probably way low. So we’ll (wildly) ballpark gala expenses at $100,000 between man-hours and equipment and supplies. Again divide this by 24 winners, and we arrive at a gross guesstimate of $4,200 per contestant.

Grand Total = $8,910.00 US

FIELD TRIPS. This year’s Writers of the Future featured two significant field trips to two locations: the Delta Printing plant handling this year’s print run of the anthology, and the Borders book store in Pasadena handling this year’s mega-signing following the gala. A modest charter coach costs about $1,000 for a half day. Figure $200 extra for VIP who traveled separately. That’s about $100 per winner, once the math is done. Delta sported us a business breakfast, and Borders had some goodies too. So stack on probably another $50 per head.

Grand Total = $8,960.00 US

TROPHY & CONTRIBUTORS’ COPIES. The Writers of the Future trophy is a serious piece of solid acrylic, with an artful feather done up in its center, plus plaque. A trophy of that size probably costs $50 to buy from a trophy manufacturer, and the 1st Place and Grand Prize trophies are even bigger, and presumably more expensive. Per contract, all winners also get 12 copies of the anthology, which has a per-unit retail value of $7.99.

Grand Total = $9,106.00

SUNDRY. I am quite sure there were many things going on behind the scenes at Writers of the Future that none of us were even aware of, and all of which cost money to get, or deliver, or have executed on our behalf as winners. I am going to ballpark that $500 was expended per winner on all sundry hidden expenses.

Grand Total = $9,606.00

PUBLICATION PAYMENT. All winners get a check from Galaxy Press upon official publication of the book — usually determined to be the date of the gala — which is equivalent to the amount of their prize. In my case I got $500 per contract.

Grand Total = $10,106.00

I want you to take a look at that figure — over $10,000 US — and realize that in many ways, I probably left out costs or underestimated costs. The actual per-head Grand Total is probably even larger. Especially if you figure that two Grand Prize winners each walk away with $5,000 on the night of the gala. So if you’re one of those lucky people, the actual Contest value for you is liable to be $15,000 US or higher.

And all it costs — for you as the entrant — is the price of paper, printing, postage, time, and effort.

Thus $3.00 US + your time and effort can = $10,000 or more, and the experience of a lifetime.

PROFESSIONAL VALUE:

I don’t think people should enter or go to Writers of the Future to be spoiled and pampered, though it is 100% true that Author Services and Galaxy Press will spoil and pamper you. I don’t think people should enter or go for the pro comps, though it is 100% true that the pro comps are second to none in the field — just ask Mike Resnick. I don’t even think people should enter or go for the money, though it is 100% true that the money is top-rate for short SF and F fiction, especially considering the entry requirements are ‘novice’ level. I also don’t think people should enter or go for the publication credit, though it is 100% true that the Contest and the resultant anthology is widely regarded in New York and elsewhere as a high-visibility, very tough market to crack — the kind of thing that ranks up there with the top SF and F short markets, like Analog and Asimov’s. I further do not think people should enter or go for the ‘Hollywood’ experience, though it is 100% true that leading up to and during the gala event, every winner is treated like and made to feel as if he or she is, for one week and one night especially, a superstar in the business.

No. The real value of the Contest, is the knowledge imparted and having exposure to working professionals all working professionally. You can’t put a price on having access to Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth for a whole week. And you certainly can’t put a price on having all of their compadres flown in solely for your benefit — long-time professional writers who have been working at the top levels for decades, and who know virtually everything there is to know about how to write, how to be a writer, what to watch out for, what to think about trying (or not trying,) and who will give you (compliments of the Contest) a base-line professional background on which to form future goals and plans. As I noted earlier, to pay for all of this you’d have to fork out hundreds or even thousands of dollars to attend an entry fee workshop of similar caliber, and even then you’d probably be getting half or less the total talent.

I personally cannot think of any other operation in the business where I can sit and listen to Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth, then Jerry Pournelle, then Dave Wolverton, then Kevin J. Anderson, then Robert Sawyer, then Steven Savile and Ken Scholes, Rebecca Moesta and Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and on and on and on, for a whole week — for the cost of a little paper, a little postage, and a little effort to write and submit a good story. You could attend a dozen cons and hit three times as many con panels, and not get that kind of “face time” with the star authors in the SF and F fields. Especially when one considers the social aspect. At cons you are just another face in the press, and might manage a handful of questions which might get short answers. At Writers of the Future you have nearly unlimited time to ask every possible question you can think of, on any subject, at almost any time, because there are always pros in the lobby of the hotel, floating around at Author Services before, during, and after class, and attending the social events.

Consider the following: the magazine Locus threw a room party about mid-week in honor of the late Charles Brown. During which myself and a few other winners — past and present — were able to sit at the feet of Mike Resnick and listen to several hours of war stories from his 40+ year campaign in the publishing business. Mike is an entertaining speaker in any setting, but you get him going about some industry kerfuffle or other ‘dirt’ that goes back to the old days, and he’s off and running, and suddenly you’re transported back to the 80s, the 70s, or even earlier, to a time when science fiction and fantasy fiction was a Wild West of weird, charming, talented, and fascinating people.

And Mike isn’t alone. All of the guest lecturers and judges can tell stories like that. And in every story, there is usually a lesson or a moral to be learned. Never explicit. You have to be kind of quick on the uptake to figure the lessons out for yourself. But they’re there. And they’re the kind of lessons you can’t put into a booklet or spell out on a syllabus. Because they’re wisdom lessons and as usual, most wisdom cannot be terrifically imparted in the classroom setting. Not really. It’s the kind of thing that must be imparted informally, in the moment, when the brain is switched out of Student Mode and you have dropped into that “open” place where you’re having fun and laughing and the wheels are spinning and suddenly you realized you just picked up on something, and oh hey, Mr. or Ms. Pro Author, what about… And what about the other thing… And… Do you see how it happens? Can you imagine it? For days and nights and days? Over drinks and food and weaving in and out of wild conversation?

All for the cost of a little paper, printing, postage, and time and effort to tell one good story.

EMOTIONAL VALUE:

Being an aspirant writer very often sucks shit. You’re by yourself, you have few people to talk with about your writing who give a damn or take you seriously, you spend a lot of time and some money on workshops and supplies and computers and stuff. And all you seem to get all year long are crappy rejection slips that never tell you why you didn’t sell, nor what may have been “wrong” with the story, nor even if you came close at all. So you get discouraged, you get claustrophobic, you feel isolated and the entire thing begins to seem futile.

Winning Writers of the Future and then going to the week and the gala, is like flooding wind into your emotional writing sails after months (or years!) of floating slackly through the doldrums. When you win and go to Writers of the Future you get to escape solitary confinement. Nobody will laugh at you, look strangely at you, or think you’re either egotistical, fooling yourself, or act jealous of you because you’re daring to do something they are not. Everyone you meet will either be a writer just like you, at your level, or a writer further down the track who will cheerlead for you, or one of the Author Services or Galaxy Press people who treat you like a VIP and make you feel like, at last, you deserve some recognition for what you do.

Writers of the Future is also a place where magic — real, actual magic! — truly happens. That is not an exageration and I am not making that up. Don’t believe in magic?

Allow me to give examples from my experience.

As the workshops wound down, we writers got to enjoy the “unveiling” of our artwork for our stories, by our artists. My artist is a delightfully lovely and ferociously talented woman from Singapore who does pro-level manga and anime-type line drawings. My artwork for my story looks like it’s ripped right out of Æon Flux, the animated series. Talk about fanboy moment! I gushed all over Jingxuan Hu for minutes on end. She had fantastically manage to capture the signature imagery that I myself had originally seen in my head, translated it through the lens of her own vision, and rendered a delicious fusion that literally made me stop and go, “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow!” Many other writers have talked before about the emotional gratification of seeing their stories rendered visually. It was truly a profound thing to see what Jingxuan had created, and I was both humbled by and impressed with her effort. Can you put a price on that? Advertise it as a “perk” of the Contest? No. But it was there, and it absolutely floored me.

During the gala pre-show they had some choreographed artsy dance stuff going on, you know, aerialist girls in leotards doing acrobatic stuff on hanging hoops, etc. During that pre-show some colorful hooded creatures with no faces came gliding out on what seemed like roller skates. They were blue and purple and green and so forth, and everybody was kind of like wow, this is weird and different, and the more I watched it the more I was like, okay, that’s from my story! So Joni Labaqui is walking down the central aisle and I flag her down and ask if they did that on purpose, and she says yes, the dance company read all of our stories, and pulled out certain things to put into the show. So not only did my illustrator exactly capture some of the key imagery from the story, the choreographers captured it too. The level of gratification that engendered, to see my story element — the same key iconic image element Jingxuan had mined for her artwork– rendered in moving visual, physical art form, was just amazing. Can you put a price on that? No, I don’t think you can.

But it got better.

During the frenzied book signing after the gala, all of the dance company girls and the women who designed the dance show came up to me and were all asking about what I thought of the show, and I was gushing endlessly about how astounded I was that they pulled out my signature image and rendered it for the stage. Because my story began with that single image in my head — no story at all, just an image — and bam, almost two years later, my “image” is a moving character on a stage? Then they really blew my socks off when they had some of the dance girls secretly go get back into costume and come back out with these character outfits on, and I turn around and… Oh my goodness!! Larry Niven has talked about his first cons, and seeing fans show up dressed as Kzinti and especially the Pierson’s Puppeteer, coming at him; and how special that was. This moment after the gala was like that for me: oh wow, here come my characters, alive as day! I was about as high as a kite. So much fun, and I kept gushing and gushing and gushing. Can you put a price on that? Well, you know the answer.

After the gala event cranked down enough for me to get a breather, I cracked the book for the first time — oh wow, I am in a book! At last! I wondered who had their stories both before and after me, so I flipped through the pages. My story is amidships in this volume, right before the center card, and lo and behold, which pro writer has his writing advice article directly after mine in the book?? None other than Dean Wesley Smith. Dean is my mentor! He has taken more time than just about anyone else to help and encourage me! How fantastic is it that I get to rub shoulders with Dean in print? I don’t know if Galaxy Press planned that. I don’t know if that was on purpose, or what, but you simply cannot put a price on that kind of moment. Overwhelmingly satisfying, so much so that you literally feel light on your feet — like it’s all you can do to keep from skipping around the room and clapping your hands like a small child.

THAT LINGERING QUESTION:

I have occasionally run across writers (and even one small editor) who look askance at Writers of the Future, because the Contest is L. Ron Hubbard’s greatest lasting legacy — besides Scientology. I have heard it said by some that they are nervous to enter and possibly win, because they have heard it said that the Contest is a Scientology operation, and they’re not terribly interested in anything that has anything to do with Scientology or Scientologists.

I can only state what I know from experience. During my entire time in Los Angeles, not a single individual associated with the Contest breathed a word to me about Scientology. Were some of the individuals working at Author Services or Galaxy Press themselves Scientologists? I don’t know. I can’t read minds and I can’t read souls. But you know what? I don’t think it matters worth a damn. L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest isn’t about Scientology. If it were, I do not think it would have endured as the premiere entry portal in the world of Science Fiction and Fantastic literature. What matters is that Writers of the Future is about writers and illustrators getting a doorway into the professional world. And whatever reservations a person may have about the Contest, due to rumors or speculation, I would suggest that the huge number of professionals — who came out of the Contest, who judge the contest — is its own best evidence that the Contest is, in the words of Mike Resnick, a class act.

If that’s not enough to lay your unease to rest, well, there are a hundred other aspirant writers standing behind you, ready and eager to take advantage of everything I’ve spelled out in the article above. Move aside, and let those without reservation get on with the business of entering and winning.

SO ENTER THE CONTEST, AND DO IT!

Do it, because the money is top drawer. Do it, because the prestige is also top drawer. Do it, because Tim and K.D. are waiting for that next batch of 12 writers to walk in, sit down, and begin their careers as professionals. Do it, because Mike Resnick is waiting to tell amazing stories about the business, late at night, at the room parties. Do it, because Robert J. Sawyer is bouncing off the floor eager to impart his wisdom. Do it, because Kevin J. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta are also waiting to impart wisdom. Do it, because you will meet 11 other writers just like you, who will at the end of the week be inextricably linked to your career birth, and you to theirs — and you will come away with amazing new friends as a result. Do it, to go learn from some of the best and oldest Names in the business — some of whom might have been your writing heroes since you were a child. Do it, to prove the doubters and scoffers in your life wrong. Do it, to lay your own fears and doubts about your ability to rest. Do it, because it’s there, and it’s waiting to be done. Do it, because it’s the thing to do.

Thank you to everyone who made the last week one of the most amazing in my life, and perhaps the most amazing in my entire writing career.

ETA: Please check out fellow winner Alex Black’s photos, and his blog! Great stuff!
http://infmonk.blogspot.com/2010/08/writers-of-future-trip.html

“Exanastasis” now available in Writers of the Future, vol. 26!!

This is it! Tonight is the big chance for all 12 of us winners of Writers of the Future, vol. XXVI to put on the ritz! We’ve got a very brief time on the stage to thank people and say words, and I am discovering there are far more people I want to thank than I can possible name in 30 seconds, so I am going to try to do it here.

Exanastasis (illustration) Jingxuan Hu

Thanks to Kendall Jackman and Scott Howard and everyone else who was with Searcher & Stallion back in 1992. It was while working with these gentleman on this local Utah science fiction audio production that I got a first taste of being able to write “for real” and get in front of an audience, and I am grateful these guys let me have my shot when I was super brand new.

Thanks to (the late) Chris Bunch and his writing partner Allan Cole. Mr. Bunch was a Vietnam veteran and respected military science fiction author, who along with Mr. Cole produced some my most favorite books from my teenaged years, including the epic STEN series and also the Pulitzer-nominated, A Reckoning For Kings. Allan especially was very kind in the 90s for taking time to encourage a hopefully child. It took me awhile to ramp up to take-off speed, but now that the wheels are leaving the tarmac, I like to give Allan a lot of credit.

Speaking of credit, huge thanks to Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her husband Dean Wesley Smith. Since I first entered the Strange New Worlds anthology contest in 1996, Dean has been an encourager. And when in 2007 the Strange New Worlds line ended, Dean’s direct advice was: don’t be a chump, send your work to Writers of the Future! Well, it’s paid off. And will hopefully keep paying off. And I can’t thank Kris and Dean enough for their advice and encouragement and guidance over the last three years. Truly excellent writers, and excellent people. ETA: following the gala event there was a massive book signing event in the Roosevelt hotel lobby. When it was all said and done, I wiped the sweat off my brown — apologies in advance to everyone who got a book signed and who can’t read my craptastic handwriting — and picked up a copy of the volume. My story appears roughly amidships, and is directly preceeding the writing advice article by none other than… Dean Wesley Smith. Holy shit. Dean and I are shoulder-to-shoulder in the book! I’m just… I’m just…. Oh my goodness.

Thanks to Eric James Stone, Dave Wolverton, Tim Powers, and Kathy Wentworth, all writers and all judges or winners (or both) who have taken their time over the past two years — and during the last week especially — to impart wisdom, insight, and drive home the idea that while publishing can be a rough, tough enterprise, for those with the mettle and the drive to go the distance, it really is the most fun you can have and still get paid for it.

Thanks to Larry Correia and John Brown, Paul Genesse and Howard Tayler, Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells, Dan Willis and Tracy Hickman and everyone else who composes the robust, thriving Utah science fiction and fantasy writing community. When I moved back to Utah in 2007 I had no idea at all that there were so many top-notch, world-class writers working and living in the state. It’s a humbling honor to be able to join them on the Utah totem pole, and along with (the above mentioned) Dave Wolverton and Eric James Stone, help keep the Utah end up in the SF&F publishing universe.

Thanks to Amanda McCarter, Laurie Gailunas, Dave Stephen, Jeff Lyman, Alastair Mayer, and Annie Bellet, people who aren’t just my Alpha Readers, but who have also become my friends. Much obliged to you all for your help and for lending an ear when I’ve need to not only celebrate, but commiserate.

Thanks to Dr. Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog Science Fiction & Fact, who enthusiastically purchased my other Writers of the Future Finalist, “Outbound.” I was crushed when that story didn’t win for 1st Quarter of vol. 26, but it became a double win for me when Dr. Schmidt liked it and took it, after Dave Wolverton said he liked it and thought it was winner material all the way. Now, I have a double debut! Eric James Stone brought his subscriber’s copy of Analog, November 2010, and I was able to see (literally) both stories in print, and gorgeously illustrated, at the same moment. Astounding and wonderful.

Thanks to all the other contest winners and judges who have been here in Hollywood this week to help us newbies along our way. Including, but not limited to, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Doug Beason, Eric Kotani, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Robert Sawyer, Eric Flint, Mike Resnick, Steven Savile, and Jordan Lapp. The amount of information and wisdom packed into these final three days is worth every lick of effort it took over several years to win. It’s been like the best of a super-panel at a convention mixed with the best of a super-workshop, and all I had to “pay” for this was time, effort, and never quitting. Having experienced the past week I cannot express enough to all potential WOTF entrants was a tremendous thing this Contest is. I will post next week about the content and experience itself, suffice to say that I think this has been a marvelous time for all participating winning writers, and it’s something I’m damned sure going to remember as a huge milestone in my (nascent) career as a writer.

Thanks (huge!) to Jingxuan Hu of Singapore. Her artwork was… Well, what can I say? “Exanastasis” began as a single image. No story, just a picture in my head. Jingxuan pulled out that image and incorporated it into the artwork in a very impressive way that I did not expect, and the resultant final graphic is so startlingly emotional and has such impact — okay, I am biased, but still I think this piece of artwork is incredibly — that I just had to gush with thanks and gosh-wow, over and over, upon the unveiling of the artwork for all of us authors. ETA: Jingxuan wasn’t the only one who pulled out that image from my story! The dance choreographers for the night all pulled out the same image, and I got to see that image rendered on the stage during the pre-show and after the gala, and I was speechless. It’s one thing to see an image in your mind, write a story about it. Okay. It’s another to have a superb visual arts person render that same image from her imagination, then have half a dozen dance artists render that same image again in physical movement form. Just… Oh my goodness. So gratifying. Not sure I will ever get to have a one-two punch like that in my entire writing life.

It’s almost time to get my duds on. Hope everyone who hasn’t won yet, is getting material in for the latest quarter. Again, it’s worth it, every bit.

Oh, and check out the webcast if you’re so inclined!

http://www.writersofthefuture.com/

Cheers!

Congratulations Laurie, Amanda, and Annie!

Looks like Joni Labaqui has posted (finally!) the latest list of HM, Semis, and Finalists for this last quarter of Writers of the Future, vol. 27. I’m proud to say I am rather chummy with three people in particular:

AnneMarie Buhl, who blogs as izanobu and with whom I attended a couple of Dean Wesley Smith workshops in February — terrific woman, heck of a writing work ethic (puts me to shame) and is sure to either a) win or b) disqualify herself via professional sales, given her skill and prolific production.

Amanda McCarter, who I have been an Alpha Reader for — and who returns the favor in kind — since 2008. Like Annie, she’s got serious skills, and her Silver Honorable Mention would no doubt have been a Finalist or Semi-Finalist in years past. The competition up top is getting so good these days, even the best writers have to fight hard to score!

Laurie Gaulinas, who is in the same Alpha Reading group with me as Amanda, and who has scored HM, Finalist, and Semi-Finalist several times before. I see Laurie as I saw Brennan Harvey: someone who keeps hitting so close around the bullseye, when she finally does hit dead-center, it will be a thing of beauty.

Huge congratulations to all three women. Terrific work, and I am only sorry none of you scored higher. As I have been saying most of the day today, I think the tippy-top of the WOTF slush has gotten furiously good. Big, fresh talent playing up there. With serious game. Not like it was back when the Contest started and they despaired of ever seeing 12 worthy stories every year. Now, they see dozens of worthy stories every quarter, and the hairs being split to determine who advances, and who has to come back to try again next time, are being split more finely than ever.

This is actually a good thing. The tougher the competition, the more sweet the win when it finally does come. Makes me appreciate my modest Vol. 26 appearance because the Vol. 26 crew is composed of some serious, serious talent — people working and selling at pro level and who are pretty much not waiting around to get busy with their careers.

Writers of the Future winners, Q1, vol. XXVII

Looks like Kathy broke the news officially. It’s also making rounds on the news wires.

1st Place – Brennan Harvey of Huntington Beach, California.
2nd Place – David D’Amico of Salem, Massachusetts.
3rd Place – Ryan Harvey of Los Angeles, California.

I want to especially congratulate Brennan Harvey, whom I mentioned below — a man who has submitted diligently to Writers of the Future for years! — coming close several times, and who now has a shot at the Gold Award. See, folks, all you need is to be persistent. It’s not about knowing magic passwords or being born with good luck. It’s about not quitting. It’s about refusing to give up and not letting the rejections fool you into thinking you suck. Write it, print it, send it. Then, write something else, print it, send it. Or e-mail it, if it’s an e-market. Do this over and over and over, and you will win. It’s really that simple. I can’t make it any more plain.

Way to go, Brennan. I hope you’re on Cloud 9 and enjoying the long-fought-for victory!

Another win for persistence

Second administrative note for everyone who attended Friday’s 1:00 PM panel: on the worksheet where it says, “NEVER say ‘thank you’ to an editor,” it should have said, “NEVER say anything but ‘thank you!’ to an editor. Whoops! And here I thought I’d meticulously proofed that two-pager. Just goes to show you that the writing mind often inserts words mentally where there aren’t really words. Crap, now there is probably someone who will NEVER say ‘thank you’ to an editor, it will doom their writing career, and in 10 years they’ll show up at a con I’m attending, with a shotgun and a suicide note…

Meanwhile, I got some news via Facebook that makes me smile mighty big. Someone I know through the InterToob who has been working very hard at his writing for many years, finally had a terrific win. Big-time stuff. The sort of stuff that makes you want to stand up and do the Bill Cosby Boogie. We’ve butted heads once or twice — you know how the InterToob is — but I’ve always hoped (as a fellow traveler) that this gentleman would have the satisfaction of a certain significant publication victory.

Now he has it. I’ll let him crow when he’s got official clearance to crow, but for now I want to remind EVERYBODY — especially people who came to panels at CONduit — that this really is a persistence game. No magic tricks. No secret passwords. No luck involved. Because luck is MADE through diligence and unrelenting effort. You keep writing and you keep working hard and using your time to do what Dean Wesley Smith calls ‘focused learning’ and you will succeed. Might take years. Heck, for the above-mentioned fellow, it did take years. It took me years too. But it can be done, if you have even a smidgen of talent. Hard work and never giving up are 90% of it. Really.

Winners announced for WOTF Q4, vol XXVI

Joni Labaqui announced the 4th Quarter winners today.

1st Place – Laurie Tom from Torrance, California
2nd Place – Scott W. Baker from Monterey, Tennessee
3rd Place – Lael Salaets from Oakridge, Oregon

If memory serves, Lael has been entering for awhile now? Lael is also the latest Wordo from that ‘machine’ they got out in Oregon. C’mon, Wordos, can’t you take a year off? (grin) Scott, welcome to the club, man! You made it! And Laurie now takes a shot at the Big Money. Very exciting. Fanfare for the three of you. (trumpets) Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray!

Now, on to something a little more serious….

John Arkwright, Andrew Baines, Kevin Kenan, Jeffrey D. Lyman & Meagan Spooner didn’t make it. This time.

They will be tempted to look at that story that had them feeling so happy a month ago, and wonder: what was wrong with it? Why didn’t it win? What flaw or flaws prevented it from rising to the top three spots? The self-doubt will likely be louder than it’s ever been at any time for them during their writing careers.

They must ignore such second-guessing. It is crap.

Because there is probably nothing wrong with these stories. Nothing wrong with them at all. K.D. isn’t kidding when she says all the Finalists are pro-level stories and could just as easily go to any of the pro-level markets. I’ve seen the proof of that with my own work. So non-winning Finalists must not get it into their heads that somehow their manuscripts sucked and the winners were awesome. All of the Finalist stories are likely to be at more or less the same level, and what the final decision came down to was…. taste. The personalities of the four judges. The difference between the 1st place winner and the last non-winning Finalist story is…. The width of a hair.

So now the non-winners have a mission. Their mission is to come back hard. Enter the contest the next quarter, and the next quarter, and the next quarter, and keep doing this until they win. Being a Finalist is their proof that they are ‘there,’ and can write at the level required to win. All they have to do now is make sure they keep sending, until Joni pitches them back up into the Final 8 and — this time — the judges are in the mood for what they’ve put on the plate.

Of course, there is always the chance for Published Finalist. Depending on how thick all the winning stories are, the Contest could put one or even several non-winning Finalist stories into the mix for vol. XXVI, which means some of the non-winners could be coming to the workshop this summer anyway.

Now, if Joni would just release the dates. I’ve got a busy schedule and it would be really nice to know when that week will be.

How to win the Writers of the Future contest

To quote one of my favorite old movies from the 80’s:

CHARLES DE MAR: I’ve been going to this high school for seven and a half years. I’m no dummy.

I originally put this up on the Writers of the Future phpBB forum, but I wanted to repost it here for everyone who doesn’t visit that forum, but is still curious about what it takes to get called up to the WotF ‘majors’ and, ultimately, get a base hit — or a home run!

These are just my opinions, of course. But seeing as how I never got a rejection — four Honorable Mention and two Finalists, one of which won — I do think I have my finger somewhat on the pulse of the contest.

NOTE: Please read recent volumes of the contest anthology. I’d recommend vol. XX through XXV, if you can get them on-line or at your local Big Brick store. My first three entries were all Honorable Mention, but I didn’t crack Finalist until I’d begun purchasing and reading the anthology. Each one has a minimum of 12 good examples of what it takes to succeed with the contest. If you do nothing else, this is the one thing I’d recommend most. Not all of the stories will be to your liking — and I suggest you ignore totally which stories placed where in which quarters — but pay very close attention to the ones you do like. Re-read them if necessary. Let them percolate across your creative unconscious for awhile. Think on what it was about those stories which tickled your fancy, and ponder for a moment what you might want to do with your stories to get them to the same place of impact, with your readers.

Here are some things I noticed, for myself.

1) Put your Science Fictional or Fantastical element right up front. Don’t play around with this, or reach for too much subtlety. Granted, the stories in WotF books run the gamut on this. But contemporary stories where the SF or F element is too subtle, or very abstract, or very under-the-radar, might still be good stories, they’re just not wearing their SF and F credentials on their sleeves enough to make the WotF cut.

2) Avoid doing “downer” stories. We all know it’s become chic in the literary field to write “down” fiction, because “downer” stories are basically code for realism, because as every good emo knows, life is pain and suffering and you can’t write real fiction and be a real writer if you don’t write about pain and suffering. Especially on a quasi-existential level. Pah! I say, pain and suffering are fine, but they must serve a purpose in the story. A positive purpose. They must either drive your character towards a more positive outcome, or they must be crucibles that transform your character into a better person(s) than they were before. Pain and suffering — for their own sake — aren’t what WotF is interested in. So have your story and your protag(s) follow a more or less positive arc, or at least end up somewhere that, when you read between the lines, appears to be taking them in a positive direction.

3) Don’t go bashing religion. Here again it’s chic — in SF especially — to get up on a soap box and lecture the unwashed about the evils of Belief. This might be fine for other markets or contests, but it’s my inexpert opinion that you hurt yourself doing this. In fact, I’d suggest taking the opposite road. And I don’t mean bible-thumpin’. I mean, explore a religious theme, make a character or characters sympathetically religious, etc. Religion, as an artifact of human behavior and society, can be endlessly fascinating. It can also be a tremendous informant of a character’s ideals, thoughts, motivations, etc. Doesn’t even have to be a religion we’d recognize from modern day. Make it up! But make it relevant. Delve into what it means to Believe. Or, have your character torn between the secular and the theological. Make this part of the character’s inner journey, either away from an incorrect spiritual perception of the universe, or towards something that seems more consonant with a fundamental truth or otherwise defining aspect of the character’s perception.

4) On that note, your character(s) ought to be going on a bona fide voyage. A trip. A journey. Current literary cant dictates that Good Fiction is a talking-heads, painfully self-absorbed thing. Grand journeys are soooooooo passé. Everything has to be angsty and happen inside the character’s head, or it’s no good. Again I say, pah! Take the reader — and your protag — on a grand ride. Go places. At the risk of sounding corny, dig out that box of “kids cereal” SENS-O-WUNDA™ that you put in the closet long ago, and shovel a few scoops into your next WotF entry. Grand vistas. Big places, with big people and big ideas. Get large with your perspective and your characters. Then, dovetail this Big Adventure Thing® with an inner voyage (see #3 and #5.)

5) Your character needs to be going on an internal quest at the same time he or she is going on an external quest. And no, angsty navel-gazing is not a substitute for personal evolution. Have the events and the travels and the exploits of the story change the character(s) on some level, so that they’re not the same at the end of the story than when they set off. This might actually be the most important part of all, beyond everything else I’ve already mentioned earlier. Because this is where you’re liable to Hook The Reader© with the emotional and psychological and spiritual development of the character(s) as they surmount or face down the external challenges you set before them. In the end, your story won’t matter to the readers if your story doesn’t eventually matter to the character(s) in the damn story.

To recap, I am not an expert, and these are just my theories. If you have been struggling with rejections and rare HM — but no semis or Finalist stories — or if you’re brand new to the contest and would like to have a Cliffs Notes on success, then give my advice a shot. Try it out. Take it for a test drive. See if it makes a difference. It might.

CAVEAT: Of course, if you’re literally brand new — meaning you’re truly a Fresh Aspirant with very limited experience writing anything at all — there is no replacement for homework. You’ll have to write a lot of words to improve, and probably none of them will score you a win — or a sale — right out of the chute. Take it in stride. Do the homework anyway, and enjoy the teaching and the exploration of the words. Don’t fret, just work. And when the rejection(s) come, don’t let it go to your heart or your head. It’s not personal, it’s just business. File them and get back to work on the next story. You can’t win if you don’t enter, and you can’t enter if you don’t write, print, package and mail.

In the U.S. Army we’ve got a Soldier’s Creed. I often think there are aspects of the Creed which can apply to life as well — not to mention Big Dream Pursuits, such as getting published and having a writing career.

To quote the Creed:

I will always place the mission first.
I will never quit.
I will never accept defeat.

That is all. Carry on.

Winner, 3rd Place, Writers of the Future vol. XXVI

At last, the silence can be broken.

My success I was crowing about earlier?

It’s official!

Took me six tries to hit the jackpot.

SpongeBob SquarePants

Joy!

Of course, mutual kudos to fellow winners: Brent Knowles and Adam Colston.

Yay us!

And for Jakob Drud, Geir Lanesskog, Dwayne Minton, Robert Pritchard and Tom Waters, keeping at it, people. Brent Knowles had to enter the contest like 19 times before he scored a 1st Place win. Both Brent and I were Finalists who didn’t publish, before we became Finalists again, and won. You just have to get back up off the mat and try again. Besides, being a Finalist is still excellent because you get a shot at being a published Finalist. Depending on how thick the volume is — due to the 12 winners — there may be room for multiple published Finalist stories, which is almost as good as winning because then you can still go to the workshop and you can keep entering until you finally win.