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.

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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.

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.

the downs and ups of writing contests: Little Gems Garnet 2011

I’m ‘a bit of’ a contest junkie (addicts find it hard to make a full admission) and over the past few years I’ve entered a couple of Romance Writers of Australia contests. 

I didn’t make the finals in any until last year, when my short story scored a place in the annual Little Gems Topaz Anthology. It was one of 14 short stories with a romantic theme to make the cut and ranked 7th out of about 45 entries (I can’t remember the exact number).

I entered RWA’s Little Gems this year with high hopes. I was sure my story was better than my 2010 effort. I was so confident that I shared it with two non-romance readers – my partner and a good friend.

They both liked it and said they found it an easy read. My friend said she was hooked from the start and keen to find out what happened at the end of the story. This buoyed my hopes of success. Surely, I thought, the three contest judges would feel the same?

This morning THE email arrived, announcing the stories that made it into this year’s anthology. Mine wasn’t one of them.

I’d already put on mascara so I didn’t cry. I drove to work and tried not to think about it, though it hassled me all day.

Where did I go wrong? Was it my heroine? I find it hard to write ‘likeable’ women and she was complex (more about that in another post). Was it the plot – also complex. Was it my hero? I find it hard to write alpha males (more about that soon).

I arrived home to find another email from the contest coordinator that contained feedback sheets from the judges and the ranking sheet.

The maximum total score that each judge could award was 62. Here’s the lowdown from best score through to worst:

62/62: This judge wrote, ‘The story was beautifully done and a privilege to read. Thank you for writing it … I hope you get into the anthology – I think this story is outstanding.’

59/62: This judge wrote, ‘All aspects [of the story] are strong – characters, dialogue and setting, but it is the element of surprise and the way the story unfolds that particularly appeals to this reader … This is good writing.’

47/62: This judge wrote, ‘Overall this story was a good read, it just needs a bit more polish to reach its full potential. I like that the characters were not perfect and that the heroine made some down right stupid mistakes in her life. I just feel that I needed to understand them better.’

My story ranked 26 out of the 84 stories submitted.

Am I pissed off? Yep. Sort of. Well, not really. It’s OK. I’ll live. Things could be A LOT worse. Actually, I feel pretty good. But maybe that’s the glass of red wine kicking in.

Anyway, if there’s a lesson to be learnt from this, it’s to take the good and revel in it like a pig in mud and consider the bad and how it ruined my life.

Now it’s onto the next challenge – the Valerie Parv Award. Not another bloody contest. I can’t help it!

RWA contests entered: three

Romance Writers of Australia runs a number of contests each year. I usually  enter Little Gems, The First Kiss and High Five.

My short story made the Little Gems Topaz anthology last year, and I’m hoping for success in the 2011 contest, which closed on February 4. The added incentive for entering this year was the introduction of cash prizes for the first three place getters. 

First Kiss is self explanatory. It’s the scene where the heroine and hero first lock lips. It can be no longer than 1500 words and must be accompanied by a 25-line explanation, so the judges can understand the context.

In 2010, my First Kiss entry placed 17th out of 43. The 2011 comp closed last Friday, so it will be at least a month before the results are known. Now I’ve put it out there, I hope I sneak up a few more places on the leader board.  

As for this year’s High Five contest, it’s all over. My entry finished in 19th place out of 76 entries. I would’ve tied for 18th had I not screwed up my formatting, which led to the deduction of one point. (I had to share that – vanity).

The final big RWAustralia comp of the year is the Valerie Parv Award, where entrants are required to submit 12,500 words of their completed ms. Unfortunately, I’m not ready for this one because I’ve fluffed around and haven’t got my act together with my latest wip.  

The comps are good fun and, for me, they’re an exercise in self discipline. When The First Kiss results are announced and I receive the judges’ feedback, I’ll be able to re-slot my already seriously edited scene back into my ms with all the rough edges ironed out.

The waiting game has begun.

You don’t read romance? Take another look at the book

During the holidays I read a Harlequin romance and, not surprisingly, received these sort of responses from people who noticed: “Why are you bothering with that?” and “I’m not interested in that sort of stuff. “

To answer the first question, I read All over you by Sarah Mayberry to learn more about the romance genre and good writing in general.

I’ll answer the second question with a question, have you ever read a romance novel?

I’d argue that All over you, a 55,000 word romance in the ‘Blaze’ category, was a reasonable read and far better than some of the books that appear on bestseller lists. The book’s author Australian Sarah Mayberry used to write for TV and has now turned her hand full-time to hot, sexy fiction.

She can write, and while All over you isn’t going to win any literary awards, it’s tightly structured with strongly developed characters. Mayberry has managed to weave some unusual elements into a conventional love story by giving her heroine, Grace, an unforgettable appearance and compelling back story.

I find it annoying that the general public continues to dismiss romance as rubbish that is written for bimbos with a reading age of 12 – the age thing is more applicable to readers of The Daily Telegraph and Today Tonight viewers!

In fact, romance novels appeal to educated career women who are looking for a light read and an escape from their day-to-day lives. They are looking for an HEA – Happily Ever After – where the prince rides off into the sunset with the princess by his side. It might not be rocket science, but it’s an entertaining diversion and pleasantly predictable.

When you think about it, there’s not much difference between books written by Monica McInerney, Maeve Binchy and Sarah Mayberry. Maybe McInerney and Binchy’s books are longer with more secondary characters, but at the essence of the book is romance.

And think of the top rating movies. Romantic comedies always do well at the box office, which is why Hollywood churns out so many.

So, the next time you see someone reading a Mills and Boon, don’t be so quick to judge.