Friday, April 26, 2013

I Have Been Judged

Have you ever judged a writing contest? I have not, but I have been judged. Oh yes, judged and found lacking. I have also been judged and found brilliant. Oddly, it was the same manuscript in the same contest.

I like what I like. I buy books I know that I'm already predisposed to like. Recently I made a foray into horror/thriller and found that I do not like it. I like aspects, but the gore is over the top and doesn't further the story for me. If I was a horror reader by nature, maybe I'd find that gore necessary as much as sex is in romance (disclaimer: I think gore in horror and sex in romance has its place, but can be gratuitous -- this is my main objection).

What I find unfortunate about the judging process is that the judges of writing competitions are generally not allowed to judge within their own genre. I write historical. People who enjoy my stories enjoy historical settings and, generally, understand aspects about the history already. For a judge who does not read and enjoy historical to read and judge it seems out of place. The same goes, perhaps even more so, for paranormal. People who are just unable to suspend disbelief for the supernatural will not enjoy the reading experience if they're judging a paranormal manuscript. They're predisposed not to like it.

Because of this, one of the scores I pay most attention to is about the writing itself. You don't have to like the genre to recognize a well written work. Usually the scores on the quality of writing are consistent across the panel of judges.

This brings me to the reason for this blog. I just got my Golden Heart score sheets (RWA: thank you for the change, by the way. I love that it breaks it down.) In one book, I got scored a 9/10 and a 10/10 for the quality of writing. I also scored a 5/10. Huh? I understand stylistic differences or just not enjoying a writer's voice, but 5/10 makes me think I need a refresher course in sentence structure. How does one judge give something a perfect score, and the other fail it completely? It blew my mind. I don't know how to address it. My fragile self esteem makes me more likely to dismiss the high scores as a fluke rather than the low score. People have all sorts of opinions about story, character, etc... and I can allow for differences there, but if I just can't write paragraphs cohesively this is a huge problem.

Disclaimer: This is not a complaint, it's a reaction. I am very grateful for the judges who took the time to read my manuscript and give feedback.

I'm left with an unclear course of action (if any). Even more so, I'm left unsure about my own abilities. Don't worry; I'm not fishing for complements or in need of hugs. I'm fine -- I just need to step away for a moment and try to look at things objectively. In the mean time...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Touched by the Past

Photo by Dimitri Vervitsiotis
I'm off and running with my new project. A lot more planning went into this than any other project. My Elizabethans were set in a period where I was already an annoying font of knowledge (not counting confirming dates of choreography and specifics about the 17th Earl of Oxford's inheritance.) My New Orleans story required some Google Earth and some research into Voodoo, but beyond that, I already had a healthy understanding of the pre-Civil war history of the city and recent experiences there in regard to the vibe of the culture.

Touched by the Past, while based on my childhood experiences on the woodland property of the hotel my family owned in Ireland, has required tons of research. From the native species of flora/fauna, tectonic activity and layers of sediment in coastal, South-West Ireland, limestone sink holes, and seasonal wild flower growth, I've buried myself in unexpected research. I thought I had this one in the bag, that my experiences would give me the knowledge base to write this story, but no, I had no prior knowledge about the stations of rank within the Garda, Ogham script, or the equivalent price of a pint of milk. When we lived there in the 80's we had it delivered in glass pints and had to scoop the cream off the top -- is it still like that? I entered into this project with a false sense of security. Reality was hard to swallow and frustrating; I was ready to be writing and ended up mired in research.

That said, I'm making good progress. Just for fun, here is my first 381 for your reading/critiquing enjoyment. I value any feedback you are willing to give.

Tendrils of blue electricity glowed and crackled, hovering over the misty earth. Reaching with fingers of light, it sought her out. Gillian watched, mesmerized, unsure if she should run away or give herself to the power one more time. Fear and excitement paralyzed her and all she could was watch as the living lightning snaked closer, a pulsing stream of incandescence, kinking and curling as it crawled.
All she had to do was show herself, take two steps into the open, and it would touch her, filling her with its earthy energy and memories, knowledge of things she had no right to know. It was tantalizing and, she shivered, scary. Really, really scary. Whenever it happened, she never knew if she would ever find herself again. Then that last time…
Gillian blinked in the early morning light, the memory of the old dream fading as reality settled in. No longer the thirteen year old girl hiding from some fantastical floating light, she knew better now. Experience of years, too many years, schooled her in the harsh realities of life. There was no magic in the forest and never had been; her dreams were based solely on the over-active imagination of a child.
The last time she’d stood here, holding her breath in anticipation at the lower mouth of the woods on the once paved carriage path of long dead aristocrats, she’d been a child in tears about leaving Ireland. Now, a thirty-five year old widow with a daughter in college, she didn’t feel any different. The wood before her was just as dark and ominous, and lush and beckoning, as it had been all those years ago.
Her Wellingtons squelched as she shifted within the sodden indents of the manicured lawn. She tucked a stray wisp of her blond hair back under the bandanna and straightened her gloves, ready to work. With a resolute nod, she stomped forward through the wet morning into the shade of the trees. She had nothing to fear here. She was an adult, experienced in forestry and ready to respect the biodiversity that lay before her. The forest would be her friend once more, if not on a magical plane, then on a basic, fundamental one.
She came to save it.

This is currently my desktop wallpaper. As I created it, I found myself using more images of landscape than of people. It made me realize how the forest itself is a dominant character.

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