Cleveland Rocks! and so does their Contest!

I bet it’s safe to say, if you are reading this blog, you like stories –the telling, hearing or making and maybe all three. I love stories, my ancestors come from the cold north, where I can only assume, a story made their long winter nights more pleasant. My life has provided me with a rich and fertile ground to harvest stories, which is good, since I am pretty sure I won’t sue myself. There is a wonderful section in the Boston Globe –a sharing of workplace tales. I tend to be a contributor, rather than reader. The Question always draws me in: Worst Boss in Boston, Worst Job Interview, Stupidest thing they say at work…. I’ll read one or two before I’m lured in with “Oh, yeah, well I’ll do you one better!”

I have a bucket full of tales, all sadly and remarkably true. Like the time I was interviewing at a fertility clinic in DC: as I followed the HR woman down the stairs to the lab, I was contemplating one of the duties that would be expected of me if I took the position. Early each morning, I would accept and log-in sperm from prospective fathers, who had traveled to the office with a full container in their pants to maintain the sample temperature. Doing my due-diligence, I tried to imagine the long-term effect of doing this for years… could I control my tendency to make snarky witty remarks? Since, I was hard at work thinking, I was not the hole in the carpet on the stairs, my heel did and I fell forward onto the woman who was interviewing me and within nano seconds we were an open-faced female sandwich in the hallway… I was still offered the job but I took the entire experience as a BIG red flag.

I could go on and on but you get the idea, these things happen to me regularly. I assumed I needed therapy, after all I couldn’t even go camping on the eastern shore of Maryland without being caught in a typhoon, ripping my foot open on the tent stake and limping back to my car leaving a wet, broken tent in the trashcan with my food and several bloody items of clothing used to stop my bleeding. Sadly, all the therapists I tried declared me normal and entertaining, in fact, the high point of their week! Imagine paying a doctor to entertain him! Moving on, I decided to accept and use my life sparingly in my writing –maybe the true purpose to my calamities was to shift me out of poetry to fiction…

Needless to say, I approach every new thing as a challenge to not become another anecdote in my life or worse a Darwin Award winner! So, I am happy and a little surprised to say that entering my first writer’s competition went very smoothly! I just received the results, and no, I did not win, really? Who could possibly expect that? Not, me! My first contest win was in poetry and I was stunned to learn I had to read it aloud! I just did it for the $100! I did not expect to read the line: ‘you stab at my milky thighs with your penis like it was an extension of your barbed tongue…’ -yup, the front row was filled with grandmotherly women with rosy cheeks and folded hands in their laps smiling up at me. I did my fish-breathing-out-of-water imitation for a while before just biting the bullet and reading. oh, my kingdom for a valium!

I joined the Romance Writers of America at the end of December 2012. After taking a few writing classes online and winning NaNoWriMo last year, I became aware of a very large, group of serious professional writers, determined to learn all they could, support each other and get published! Being someone whose writer’s baby bottle formula was full of classes, awards and a few publications, all geared towards serious poetry and literary fiction and a lofty expectation of never getting published or appreciated in my lifetime, I was gobsmacked. And they had contests that offered feedback! Cleveland Rocks is a writer’s contest sponsored by the Cleveland Ohio Romance Writer’s Chapter, NEORWA, the Northeast Ohio Romance Writers of America.

Wait! I said to myself, there are people willing to share magical formulae and a peek into the treasure rooms of publishing’s sacred palace? ‘Holy Shit!’ I said. I have been taught that existed only room for a few precious books each year and the overlords of publishing were dilettantes and wannabes who used a dart board and getting published involved deals with demons to secure a writer’s space in one of the levels or many sublevels of Dante’s hell.

Looking back, I can see this is pretty heady and arguably necessary ephemera to stuff into a student’s head. Maybe, it does weed out many not suited for writing or does it just leave 99.9999% of creative writing students totally unprepared for a career as a writer? Art School is far more honest, on the first day many will tell you that their school is only  expensive training for working at MacDonald’s but if you persevere, if you paint every night after your shift, if you attend openings, catch the attention of a gallery owner… maybe, maybe, just maybe… you can order fries with that burger!

Okay, I digress. I received two thoughtfully written score sheets and some extremely useful advice. They also returned my entry  marked up with useful notes. It’s been a few months since I entered, so I was happy to see I’d caught many of the same errors but some were very, very helpful! One judge even informed me that my choice of genre: Mystery with Paranormal elements was wrong and I had a very strong Paranormal story full of exciting elements, good to know! I have entered three more contest since then and have gone back to online classes and writing. Taking that break for a few months from contests (very addicting things that they are!) I heartily recommend them to all, not for the prize but for the feedback! The contests also force you to really look at those first 5, 20 or 30 pages! It forces you to write a synopsis and to work that hook!

So, thank you very much Judge #10 and Judge #52! Your scoring and comments were accurate and very helpful! You put a lot of work into my entry and I am very grateful! I am also glad I did not fall on either of you or embarrass any sweet little old ladies!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. natalieratcliffe
    Apr 19, 2013 @ 17:57:45

    Congrats on the feedback! I’m a little contest shy myself. I’ve only ever really entered one (outside of grade school) and that was for a poem. I got really good feed back from my BF in college, who was also a fellow English Ed. major and the feed back I received really allowed me to take my writing to a whole other level. Good luck in the future! 🙂


  2. CristineGzr
    Apr 19, 2013 @ 18:03:27

    Hi Natalie and Welcome! If you check out the RWA Chapter’s Contest page you’ll see many, the advice I read online is to put higher value on the ones that have agents and publishers for judges. So, jump right in! I was very happy with my feedback… although, I am still trying to figure out why I keep writing my first chapter as the second one! Easy enough to swap them in Scrivener but I’m wondering why I am starting by sneaking up on my story! LOL


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