A reason to celebrate: my story won the RWA Little Gems Diamond contest

Uluwatu in Bali

I did it. I proved I can write.

In January I entered my short story Bali Sunset in the Romance Writers of Australia contest Little Gems. Each year a different gem is chosen to feature in the stories. In 2012 the gem was the diamond.

This isn’t the first time Bali Sunset has done the Little Gems rounds. I wrote it in late 2010 and entered it in 2011 when the gem was the garnet.

I loved the story and believed it was a winner. So, too, did two out of the three 2011 judges, who awarded me full marks. But, as is the usual for me, one judge didn’t like aspects of the story. She thought my hero was a doormat and couldn’t understand why my heroine would hang around in a loveless marriage. This judge dragged my full marks down so the story didn’t even make the cut.

Fair enough. Contests are like that. You have to cop the good with the bad. I was upset but confident that my story had the right stuff.

I took the low-scoring judge’s comments on board but I didn’t give up on Bali Sunset. I knew it was, if not a winner, worthy of a place in the annual Little Gems anthology, which comprises the 14 top-scoring stories.

I tweaked the story and gave my heroine more of a reason for her compromised marriage. I didn’t touch my hero because I loved him just the way he was.

Of course I changed the gem from a garnet to a diamond and worked it into the story in another context.

When the email arrived in my inbox from the contest coordinator last week my heart dropped. I’m used to not placing in contests but I knew I’d be devastated if Bali Sunset failed the second time around.

The email started with: Congratulations! Your Little Gems entry “Bali Sunset” has gained first place in the RWA 2012 Little Gems Diamond Contest and will be published in the Anthology…

I stared at the email for at least five minutes – I must have read it a dozen times. Then I called my partner into the room to confirm that I had won – not lost.

A week later I still can’t believe  it.

Does this mean I can write or was I just lucky to have three sympathetic high-scoring judges?

I guess I’ll have to keep writing to find out.

Blog for blogsake: random bits and pieces on my writing progress

Yep, that’s what I’m doing because I haven’t blogged for over a month and if I stop no one will visit at all.

But I do have some news. It’s about taking small steps, which is what I’ve been doing lately.

I have just started a new story, which I’ve decided to put on hold because it was going to be my entry to the RWA’s High Five

Contest. But I missed the deadline … by that much.

Not to worry. I’ve decided to ‘forge’ ahead with my wip that has been around for two years now! I plan to finish it and then return to the start and change my characters’ situation slightly. I reckon I can have it it finished and ready to go by Christmas.

Also, the RWA has opened its Little Gems competition, which I might have a go at.

That’s all for now folks.

Cheers.

PS: I took the pic of this hibiscus when I was in Bali last year. It has nothing to do with writing. It’s just beautiful.

Why I didn’t attend the RWA national conference in Melbourne

I was lucky enough to make it to the RWA national conferences in 2009 and 2010 but this year decided to give the Melbourne conference – From Here to Eternity – a miss.

There were two reasons for this. Firstly, I had nothing to show. My wip hadn’t progressed enough for me to be able to take something of substance to the table at the 2011 gig. I really didn’t feel like telling people I had one book in the drawer and another stagnating on my laptop.

There’s such an overwhelming euphoric mood at these conferences that I didn’t want to bore anybody to death with my stories of ‘failure to launch’.

Also, I’ve done so much ‘craft’ stuff in the last few years that I thought it was about time to put some of the stored (I’m ever hopeful) knowledge to use.

I know you can never know enough about ‘craft’ but as my spouse likes to say: “Just write the book.”

So, that’s it people (or person – I get about one random hit per week because I rarely post BECAUSE I don’t have anything to write about) I’ve laid my tortured soul bare.

I hear it was an amazing weekend in Melbourne – as usual the RWA knows how to hold a conference. And there are some beautiful people I would’ve liked to have reconnected with.

Rumour has it the Clayton’s online conference was equally brilliant.

I hope to make it to the 2012 RWA conference on the Gold Coast. But seriously, I won’t go if I have nothing to show and tell.

The Valerie Parv Award and how contests can mess up your head

My computer crashed a couple of weeks ago, so I didn’t get to see the results of the VPA until several days after they’d been sent to my email inbox (I use Outlook Express, which is a bugger – impossible to access unless from the home computer).

It’s a good thing I was a few days late. My life’s been hectic and I wasn’t in the mood for bad news during the week of the computer repairs.

I was in a more philosophical frame of mind when I finally opened the email to find my entry hadn’t reached the finals but was ranked 58 out of 104 entries. This was disappointing, but not soul destroying (which it might have been several days earlier).

The three judges’ scores were 135/135 (yeah, there’s always one judge who adores my work – a shame they can’t all feel the same way), 94/135 and 105/135.

The judge who gave the highest score was a ‘contest finalist/winner’; the lowest came from an ‘avid reader of the genre’. Bloody avid reader deducted a mark for spelling mistakes. But there weren’t any – I had perfect scores on spelling, grammar and punctuation from the other two judges. Sometimes avid readers get my goat. This one didn’t like my entry at all.

The middle score came from a ‘published romance author’ and I think she neatly summed up the flaws in my story. Funnily enough, these were things I already knew deep down in my squishy belly. I just didn’t want to acknowledge them because they mean more hard yakka.

By the way, the criteria for the VPA is the first 12,500 words of an ms, plus a 1000-word synopsis. I knocked off the synopsis the night before the entry was due and expected it to get criticised. Avid reader pulled it to bits but the other two judges were much kinder. Figure that one out.

Here’s what the published romance writer had to say about my story. High points first:

‘I do get a good sense of who (hero) is from (heroine). Well done. And you always give a clear sense of (heroine’s) situation and anger. She does come across as a little brattish, but no one’s perfect and obviously she is going to grow up by the end of the book. Should be an entertaining character arc. You do a good job showing her fury and frustration.’

Here’s the low: ‘Pacing. Telling sometimes rather than showing … ‘ She also pointed out that I did a flashback when the hero and heroine first met. This interrupted the talking and slowed down the pace.

To make me feel better, she ended with: ‘Keep going, keep writing. Start/keep submitting. Good luck.’

I will, I will, I will! But first a cuppa and a rethink. Also, do I put this ms in the drawer for a while and get moving on a new one, or do I finish it, fix it and submit? A good friend and fellow writer suggested I look at another sub-genre, which might better suit my writing style. I’ll do that first before making a decision on drawer it or do it!

I may not get to wear a Valerie Parv crown this year, but my goal is now 2012.

A post about nothing except ‘Paris Syndrome’

Paris: what the Japanese don't see

I’m back. The weather in Sydney is bitter cold but my soul is slowly thawing as I move into a new phase of my life. I’m determined to write, which I haven’t managed to do for months.

Enough of moi. Here’s something to make you smile.

Paris is regarded as the City of Love, but for many Japanese tourists it fails to live up to its reputation.

BBC News reports that annually 12 Japanese tourists who visit Paris are afflicted by ‘Paris Syndrome’, which leads to a psychiatric breakdown. The syndrome mostly affects female tourists aged around 35, who are usually travelling abroad for the first time.  

What they expect to see is beautiful French women immaculately attired and coiffed, gallant French men who ride bikes and have crusty baguettes stuffed down their trousers, and an array of delightful cafes and cultural attractions.

What they get is often a different story – a rude waiter who refuses to serve patrons who don’t speak the lingo, frazzled working women on a budget who shop at Target (pronounced ‘Tarjay’) for their clothes, and men who are short and swarthy – more Gerard Depardieu than Gilles Marini.

The ‘culcha and all that’ might be nice, but who could be bothered queueing to see the bottom right-hand-side of the Mona Lisa smile after having been verbally abused by an unforgiving cabbie and visually assaulted by frumpy, grumpy Parisians?

So far this year, four Japanese tourists have been flown home (I guess before their holiday is over) with a doctor or nurse onboard the plane to help them cope with the ‘culcha’ shock.

The Japanese Embassy in Paris has a 24-hour hotline for those suffering severe culture shock, and can admit ‘those in need’ to hospital for treatment.

Poor Japanese. Maybe they need to take the view that a postcard perfect Paris would be pretty boring. Mon Dieu! Merde (that’s the only French swear word I know, which I hope would endear me to a French waiter).

 

More feedback and the Valerie Parv Award

My most recent writing feedback came from the Romance Writers of Australia First Kiss contest, where my entry ranked a respectable 11th out of the 52 entries.

I found the three judges’ comments useful, though the marks from one were baffling (gee, I like that word – I’m baffled by most things).

Let me explain why (not why I’m baffled all the time, but why this judge’s marks had me baffled). Her comments were positive. She didn’t criticise my work at all. In fact, she wrote: “What’s there not to like about your story. I was intrigued straight off.”

She loved the setup, the characters, the interaction between the hero and heroine and EVERYTHING ELSE. But her score was the lowest of the three.

I wonder if she’s just a low scorer? Alas, I will never know. 

Of the other two judges, one awarded my entry full marks. I can’t complain about that.

The judge who scored me moderately high provided insightful feedback. She pinpointed the flaws in my story. I already knew they were there but hoped no one would notice.

She even explained why she marked me down. And I totally got it.

Here’s what she wrote: “… you really need to make the heroine likable, and her rejection of [the hero] is just awful and it doesn’t seem as if she’s changed… yet. The rule for the line is, LOVE the hero, ADMIRE and WANT TO BE the heroine. [Your heroine] needs to be more likable, or the editor may not read past the set up.”

I know. I know. I know.

On the upside, here’s her comment on the kiss: “… what a knock-your-socks-off kiss scene. Well done, and I love [the hero] already!” 

That’s nice to know.

The final contest before the RWA conference in August is the Valerie Parv Award. I got my entry in on the deadline day. Bloody typical. I submitted a hastily thrown together synopsis (double bloody typical) and the first 12,500 words of my wip. 

I’m just hoping I don’t get done like a dog’s dinner over this one!  

Photo: The doyenne of Australian romance writers Valerie Parv