Digging for Words

One writer's quest to bring the past to life through imagination

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Writing Contests and Opportunities – Addendum

Just a quick note as some of you have asked about paying fees for entering literary contests.

Yes, in the old days, paying fees to enter would’ve been a sure sign of a scam. (And it’s still absolutely verboten for a legitimate literary agent to require a reading fee!) But in the contest world, things have changed a bit. Check out this article Literary Contests — Facts and Fakes by Victoria Strauss for some sound advice. I’m also adding her very useful website Writers Beware to the Writers Circle Resources list.

Especially with all the new media and print-on-demand opportunities out there, it’s better to approach the business of publishing well informed.


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Writing Contests and Opportunities

I came across several writing contests that look really intriguing:

Narratives Fall Contest Narrative’s FALL CONTEST is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers. They’re looking for short shorts, short stories, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, all forms of literary nonfiction, and excerpts from longer works of both fiction and nonfiction.

Narrative is a high quality literary magazine looking for works with a strong narrative drive, characters that affect us as human beings, and with language, situation, and insight that are intense and total. They look for works that have the ambition of enlarging our view of ourselves and the world.

• $3,250 First Prize
• $1,500 Second Prize
• $750 Third Prize
• Ten finalists receive $100 each.
• All entries will be considered for publication.

There is a submission Fee of $20 for each entry, but with your entry, you’ll receive three months of complimentary access to Narrative Backstage.

The contest deadline is November 30, 2009.

Glimmer Train regularly holds contests in a number of categories. Right now, the Fiction Open and Best Start competitions are accepting submissions until September 30.

Fiction Open (2,000-20,000 words)
1st place—$2,000 and publication in Glimmer Train Stories.
2nd-place—$1,000 and possible publication.
3rd-place—$600 and possible publication.

Reading fee is $20 per story. Open to all writers.

Results post November 30, winning story publishes in issue 77.

Best Start (not to exceed 1,000 words)
Prizes: The 50 most engaging pieces will each win $50 and make Glimmer Train’s Best Start list, which will be announced in our December bulletin as well as on other major blogs for writers.

Reading fee is $10 per piece. Open only to new writers whose fiction has not appeared in a nationally distributed print publication with a
circulation over 3,000.

Also upcoming are their Family Matters and Standard contests. Check out their site for full details.

* * *

Finally, for anyone who knows an ambitious young writer or two, one of my favorite local bookstores, Watchung Booksellers, is publishing its FIRST EVER LITERARY ZINE. They’re accepting written works from 4th to 12th graders for a Fall Literary Zine as well as suggestions for a creative and catchy title.

The Watchung Booksellers’ staff will choose works based on content, organization of ideas and mechanics, creativity, and originality. This FIRST EVER Literary Zine will be unveiled at an author signing party on the evening of Friday, October 23rd for family and friends. Copies of the Zine will be sold at the store – all proceeds will go to IMANI, Improving Montclair Achievement Network Initiative.

Poem (up to 2 pages long)
Short Story (no more than 1000 words)
Essay (no more than 1000 words)

* for 4th – 12th graders
* entries must be received by September 25, 2009
* winners will be notified by October 9, 2009
* all work must be original and done without adult help
* entries must contain appropriate language
* two entries can be submitted per person
* all entries must be typed in 12 point font and double spaced
* fill out an entry form and attach it to your work
* DO NOT write your name on your piece, so we can judge it fairly

I wish my own sons were old enough to participate!

Good luck, everyone. Keep us posted if you submit. We’re rooting for you.


Guest Blogger: Michelle Cameron on Connecting with Other Writers

I’m pleased to introduce our first guest blogger on The Writers Circle, historical novelist Michelle Cameron, the author of “The Fruit of Her Hands“.

“Connecting with Other Writers”

My son, a somewhat arrogant aspiring writer of 19, tells me that writing blog entries is going over to the Dark Side. And you don’t even want to hear what he thinks of Twitter. Or of me being on Facebook.

But he’s a college student whose social life centers around campus and classes. And he’s unusual among his friends because he doesn’t live with his thumbs perpetually fixed on his cell phone or completely immersed online. He doesn’t understand yet what it’s like to work in isolation from those who are passionate about what you care about.

I can mention writing at work only cautiously. My co-workers are not writers themselves and aren’t impressed with the struggle to get the words, the characters, the plot line right. My writing group (on hiatus right now) meets only every two weeks. While we dive headlong into the work we’re critiquing that day, and the words tumble forth as we discuss an aspect of writing that has bewildered us ― or that we’ve mastered ― there is a deafening silence between sessions.

So what’s left is the instant gratification of social media ― the quick, haiku-like pull of the 140-character Tweet, the specialized discussions of the Historical Novel Society or in the groups of shewrites.com. (If you haven’t heard of shewrites.com, you definitely want to check it out.) If I post an article about writing on Facebook, I’m certain to foster comments from my writer friends. If my profile status is “Stuck on this chapter,” my friends will respond asking me what’s wrong or counseling me to take a long walk to clear my head. Suddenly, there’s someone to talk to.

And using social media – even Twitter, which took me a long time to understand – can connect you in less virtual ways as well. It was because of a post in the Historical Novelist Society, for instance, that first introduced me to Judith and her writing. Another post, coming from the Women Who Write organization, a local women’s group, brought me to BooksNJ 2009 – and who should be standing there, but Judith, in the flesh. So we actually got to talk in person.

With my debut historical novel, THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS, just published by Pocket Books, social media has connected me to people I would never have had the chance to meet personally. It’s given me reviews in California and Israel, opportunities to speak in Boston, a place to stay in Washington, DC. A great portion of the blog tour I’m on right now came about due to my appeal to the historical novelists I talk to online. And while the jury is still out on whether or not the time I spend there will help actually sell books, there feels like there is a mild buzz building about the novel that couldn’t generally happen for a debut novelist. (If this is an illusion, let me keep it awhile longer.)

But, of course, there’s a seductive quality to all this chatter, a trap writers can fall into. It becomes compulsive, and I find myself wanting that fix several times a day. I have to be disciplined about how often I turn to these outlets. You can switch on the computer for “a quick check” and pick your head up considerably later, not knowing where the hours have gone. My writing time is limited and the last thing I want is to fritter my time away in something that feels productive but results in no actual work. Perhaps this is what my social butterfly of a son, who complains that there is no time for writing when he’s at college, is getting at when he shakes his head at my Twitter screen. “It’s going over to the Dark Side, mom,” he tells me. “Watch out for the Dark Side.”

Michelle Cameron’s The Fruit of Her Hands: the Story of Shira of Ashkenaz (Pocket Books, September 2009) is based on the life of the author’s thirteenth-century ancestor, Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg, a renowned Jewish scholar of medieval Europe. Michelle lives in New Jersey with her husband and two college-age sons.

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Pages in a Storm

In a fascinating look-back on the way things were, publishing icon Joni Evans muses on simpler times in her article, When Publishing Had Scents and Sounds. Her descriptions of the editorial office of the 1970s completely suit my romantic notions. But oh, how things have changed. Darwin, indeed!

Evans writes, “We were a small community of authors, editors and agents, and we were on fire.” It was a time when enthusiasm, insight and belief had power. The world of words seemed tactile and immediate back then. That the sheer enthusiasm of an editor and a house could send an author from obscurity to renown simply by placing the anointed work in Doubleday’s front window is simply amazing!

Today, even with the hard push of a publisher, it seems there are absolutely no guarantees. What lights the world on fire is media attention, and grabbing it amidst the constant noise of a 24-hour news cycle cluttered with both serious issues and inanity is beyond my understanding. Add to that the digital disco of social media where everyone is his or her own publicist, hocking their works and wares on friends and family (and so on, and so on, as the old shampoo commercial used to say). How can anyone hope to stand out in this invariably deafening entrepreneurial clamor?

We authors in this modern moment are also on fire, pursuing our passion for better or worse, seeking out the deep expression our imagination and our understanding of the world. The simplicity of our work never really changes. We come to our desks each day with a cup of coffee and an idea. We open a file or set a pad of paper on our desks. We breathe deeply, then begin laying out the story that’s been churning in our minds.

But when the truth is finally wrought on that stack of sheets (virtual or otherwise), we still long to lift it up and share our effort with the world. Today we must face the whirling storm of multi-media – a drenching cyclone into which we hurl our creative sparks, mostly to watch them quickly quenched by the over-stimulated, over-crowded, super-saturated media world.

As Ms. Evans writes, Charlie Darwin is sitting in the corner office. So much is changing in publishing right now that even insiders are uncertain where the next steps will be. And it’s not just in publishing. The entire world, rocked by economic and technological upset, is trying to find new footing on uncertain ground.

Why should we insignificant writers escape? As I sit at my desk, the pile of pages on my left are my anchor in the storm. I’ll hang onto them for as long as I can, forever if I must, gazing at them with gratitude and trust that somehow they will save me – if not in any professional sense, then perhaps in the honest effort that they represent. They are my offering to myself, my interpretation of this strange experience called life in a chaotic world.