Archive for April, 2010

Judging others

April 30, 2010

Nope…this isn’t about being judgmental:   (“I think he’s got an 747 ego and only tricycle ability.”)

Nor has it anything to do with our court system.  (“And how do you find, Madam Foreman?”  “Your Honor, we find the defendant somewhat guilty.”)

Nor does it have anything to do with sports.

I’m talking about judging contests, and, though the end result isn’t as life-shaking as the judicial example, nor as petty as the first,  it does have an impact on people’s lives, both for the judge and those being judged . Trouble is, there often aren’t laws to guide, though rules of the particular contest will apply.

Most beautiful?  Cutest?   Well, who’s idea of beauty or cuteness?

Best pickles?  What if these are dill and you only like sweet?

And I won’t even get into national or international contests where complications abound.

I’m a published writer, and, as such, have been called to judge several writing contests.  Over the years I’ve noticed a few trends:

More entrants follow the rules.  Used to be easy to disqualify a number of entries where the author (it seemed) did not read or did not follow standard submission procedures.  This still happens–for example a friend, a good writer, sent a 140,000 word book manuscript to a publisher who’s guidelines said they accepted work up to 80,000 words in length.  He thought his novel so outstanding an exception would be made.  This kind of mistake is, thank goodness, increasingly rare.

More stories are well thought-out.   In a recent contest I judged I was intrigued by the story ideas in 100% of the submissions.

More writers are paying attention to general rules for good writing–like using few passive verbs, involving all five senses, and showing, not telling, for example.

While the number of people buying books has been declining for years, the number of people writing and submitting has not.  In the current economy and selling climate writers–like all sales people–must perfect what they are trying  to sell in a tight market.

Better widgets.  Better manuscript.

So, faced by a stack of very good manuscripts, what’s an honest judge to do? (In 99% of all such contests the author of the submission is unknown to the judge.)

For one thing, art and emotion become more important.  Message? Yes. Also, suspense, appealing characters the reader cares about,  and a plot that can be easily understood and followed.  It’s back to the old cliche–“I didn’t want to put it down.”

The job of  judging has–in the writing field as well as so many others in our complex society–become more demanding of thought and time.  It calls on everything previously learned in our professions and our lives.

A time-consuming chore?  Oh, yes.  But think what our comments and our decisions will mean in quite a few lives.  I am honored to have had the job.

Where did Carrie come from?

April 16, 2010

The features editor of a state-wide Arkansas newspaper asked me yesterday where Carrie McCrite, the major character in my “To Die For” novels, came from.  I answered with the same words I have used when confronted with this question before:

“I don’t know.  I wish I did.  She just appeared.”

Sounds pretty inadequate.

This time I kept thinking about the question, and was finally able to write the editor as follows:

“I have decided Carrie is the exemplification of characteristics I admire in women:

“Intelligence.  A sense of adventure.  Gutsiness.  (Whether or not that’s a word.)  Ability to cope without male back-up (or a large amount of physical strength).  Compassion and–most definitely–love.  Empathy with fellow humans.  Fierce determination and a ‘can-do’ personality when faced with terrible circumstances and/or danger.  The hint of a feeling she could help save the world if only anyone would give her the chance.  All of this combined with a sometimes well-hidden gentleness.

“Negatives include a tendency to rush in ‘where angels fear…’  Bossiness.  Stubbornness.

“Her favorite coffee mug is one her son Rob gave her.  It says ‘Mom for President.’   She has a t-shirt to match.”

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I went on to think about Henry King, now Carrie’s husband.

“He’s in awe of Carrie but hides it well.  A tough cop with softness inside.  A man who is working through past trauma.  Strong sense of duty and a responsibility to protect others, especially those he loves most.  Tremendous intelligence and a quick awareness of human foibles, and this has marred his life, leading to excessive fear for the safety of his loved ones.”

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I guess I know these people pretty well, even if I still can’t identify a moment or a process by which they appeared.    Oh, I have long known about their  childhoods, their parents, and so much more.  But…where, inside me, they sprang from?  I still don’t have the complete answer.