Comments from the Peanut Gallery

Friday night, after closing on Thursday evening and then opening on Friday morning, I attended the Fourth Annual American Icon. Didn’t participate in this one–unless you count whooping and hollering for my buds participation.

And let me tell you: Deb, Fleur, and John kicked all kinds of butt.

Deb conquered her fear and stood in front of all those people and read like a pro. It was amazing. She claims her hands were shaking like crazy when she was done, but I didn’t notice. I thought she did awesome. Plus she (along with only our table–the cool kids’ table) won one of the door prizes.

Fleur, on top of the door prize she won (see? told you we were the cool kids–or at least really lucky) took “Best Tension” this year. That was the prize I won last year, so I’m glad the torch passed on to a worthy successor. See how I take all kinds of credit? Anyway, she earned it. She did an awesome job–especially after seeing her so nervous at practice. Practice makes perfect! and she was.

John in a suit jacket. Nuff said. He whooped up on all the action/adventure people. He came across professional and his presentation was spot-on. I’m pretty sure if just one guy had been on the panel of judges he’d’ve swept up.

It was great. For those of you plugging away all alone in a home office or on your lunch break, I highly recommend befriending your local writers. Not networking. Making friends. The most irritating part of the evening was the schmoozing. I had fun not because I was there to promote my book, but because I was supporting my friends in their endeavors. They shouldn’t be surprised to see me there: I’m invested in them and what they do. Their successes are mine too. I want them to do well. I’m pretty sure that’s why Shane and Ali and Nicole and John (different John…) showed up as well. Networking is getting your name out. Who cares?

You want people to care about what you do and why you do it. So, even though I didn’t read, I think I got three special prizes from my friends–their stories.

Things I Learned from Icon

First off, here is how the contest worked: There were 19 contestants who read either excerpts from book-length pieces or short stories. In as few words as possible they stated who they were, what they were writing and give a log line (what’s your story about?). They had two minutes to read from their work and if they did not finish within that time frame an obnoxious sound could be heard.

After that, the three judges would give their critiques. And these guys were great, really on target for being put on the spot all night. The judges were Carol Berg, award winning fantasy author, Charles Kaine, head of Last Knight Publishing, and Barbara Samuel, award winning romance author (she has a great blog called A Writer Afoot).

I’m the seventeenth person to read. After sitting in the front row and listening to 18 of my peers read aloud, this is what I have learned:

1. Practice what you are going to read. Out loud. With a watch. Cut your scene if you need to so that you can get the pertinent information across. A lot of people just read until the buzzer went off. The ones that did better in the competition as a whole stopped before that buzzer hit, and took charge of the note that their piece ended on–and it was never a screechy one.

One woman in particular comes to mind, and I don’t remember her name, but there was a scene with a car wreck. The main character reaches out a hand to grab her son and discovers that he is not there. Ending on that image, the image with the hand reaching for the lost son would have been sooooo powerful. But she continued reading for maybe one more paragraph and was interrupted mid-sentence by the buzzer. I think her odds were hurt by that, honestly.

2. Know where the scene is. In about half the cases there was a great deal of exposition. In a couple cases the exposition went back to the dawn of man. An audience, like an editor, wants to be pulled in immediately. And, while my log line sucked, I could tell exactly when the audience started listening to me. It was only a sentence or two in. I was pretty proud of that. For others, I don’t know if they ever caught the audience’s attention.

3. Speaking of log lines–I’m not a big fan of them. The agents and editors I’ve heard from don’t want the vague notions that even the best log lines give. They want the meat of the story. If that takes a paragraph or so, they’re willing to read it, if it’s well written. But, if you’re going to go through the trouble of participating in a contest, follow the guides and write a damn log line. It’ll save the judges something to critique you on. I wrote mine in about thirty seconds, right before I went up there. Don’t do that.

So, Jenny, how’d you do?

Well, I did not win the overall contest. I believe I was a top contender. But, in the spirit of the competition and out of deference to my karma, I voted for someone other than myself. The good news is, he won. Because had I voted for him and he hadn’t won…and neither had I…well, then I’d be a tad bit upset.

Congratulations to Kirk Farber, who took the critic’s prize and the Audience Favorite for his Postcards from a Dead Girl (see, even the title’s pretty cool).

I got an award for Best Tension. And I was granted a reading from agent Kristin Nelson, who also has a fabulous blog.

Barbara Samuel
http://awriterafoot.typepad.com/

Kristin Nelson
http://pubrants.blogspot.com/

Dreaming a Scene

The only time I’ve ever used dreams in my writing (that I’m aware of) has been for poems, and those were assigned. The basic idea was to transcribe the dream, not interpret or manipulate, and see what happens. Results varied.

Last night was weird though.

So I’m exhausted, right? (I blame being pregnant.) I go to bed and it’s all snug and warm. Then the dream starts coming and it’s odd because it’s the scene that I want to write for the American Icon competition. And I’m in two places: at my desk with a legal pad and a pen, physically writing the scene and in the bar where the scene takes place. Like I’m watching it through the paper and pen.

The thought keeps running through my head that I’ve procrastinated too long, everything is going to suck…but the scene is good. And it’s come to me whole…with only one question of continuity because there’s something I want to happen that I may have to let go. I only have two minutes after all–that’s about two-three pages depending on how dense I make the prose.

When I woke up I felt ready and raring to go. Has anyone else had an experience like this? Where you realized the dream was your work and you knew what happened next? It’s pretty trippy. Goodness knows if it’ll work, but I think I’m gonna try to do what I remember.