Thursday, March 6, 2008

Fish Out Of Water?

Don’t know about you, but guilt rules my life. Yep, the secret’s out – everyone including the family dog can guilt me into doing what they want me to do. It’s no different with contest coordinators. "Hey, we have record entries and one of them is yours! Wanna help judge?" Really, you don’t even have to twist my arm THAT much. All you have to say is you have a need, and if your need fits into that moment of my life, I’m happy to help : )

Now, as we all know, when you enter a contest you’ve agreed to judge, you can’t judge your own category. Bummer. What do I know about stuff I don’t write?

Twinges of adrenaline rush begin. . .

What? All you have left are Short Contemporaries with Paranormal chasers?

Blood begins to pound in ears. . .

With a twist of Romantic Suspense and sides of Chick and Lad Lit?

Guilt over being a selfish only child nudges me into the waters of the unknown. . .

. . .and I find I have a blast splashing around in the big pool -- hook, line and sinker : )

For instance, take the first year I had to judge YA. What a hoot! It was so refreshing to judge a sub-genre I never read. Now before any seasoned YAers begin to scream foul over my lack of familiarity with the idiosyncrasies of the of the sub-genre, let me assure you, I know the elements of romantic fiction writing, plus I have two teenagers. I think I have a pretty good idea of what I’m up against. I bow to the YA authors. Frankly, I wish my teenagers could read the completed books I’ve judged the entries for : ). What a challenge to write a good romance, yet make it digestible for the teen market. YA is now my first choice when volunteering to judge.

What I learned from YA: Throw away my jaded attitude toward the adult contemporary re-hashed, re-issues and enjoy being an adventurous teen again.

And how about the time I judged Sci/Fi for RWA contests?? Whoa, was that an experience! Again, the elements of romance remain the same, and the other considerations were clearly marked on the score sheet, so really, it was non-anxiety inducing to judge. . .but what way-out plots and settings I experienced!! I loved it! Okay, my normal, everyday mind does not think in the circles required to write a good Sci/Fi, but I quickly learned which writers had the knack for it. Think about it, a good Sci/Fi, Paranormal, Time/Travel author has to make it believable enough for the regular, on-the-street person to agree with the premise, YET, make me suspend reality long enough to enjoy the world they’ve created. Marvelous talent. Makes me envious : )

What I learned from Sci/Fi: It is WAY okay to think outside the box : )

I’m really not a fan of issue books, but do you realize how much effort and research are involved in writing Womens’ Fiction? Take the hot topics of the day, throw in your modern day super-woman and executive man, shake them together with gripping conflicts of twenty-first century proportions and Voila! You have yourself the next best seller!! Okay, not always on such a grand scale, but hey, you’re living in the here and now, you know what it’s like in the world. . .and to be dating? Womens’ Fiction gives readers like me (a settled, fuddy-duddy of a married woman) a taste of what the romance world is like today. Trendy, cautious yet, hopeful. Gotta love the odds.

What I learned from Womens’ Fiction: It ain’t easy making bizarre life look normal.

This year, I’m judging Contemporary and Historical entries, my most familiar stomping grounds, and finding the entries entertaining and intriguing. There’s a lot of talent out there which only serves to remind me how no one can sit on their laurels and expect to stay in the game. If you keep up on the Market News and Contest Win columns at all, you see some familiar names, but you also see a ton of new names. The sub-genre market may be cyclical, but the writers’ market remains in a constant state of competition. Editors change houses. Publishing houses conglomerate. The cream of writers rises to the top.

What I’ve learned from having the privilege to judge my fellow contest entrants’ work: I have a lot of work ahead of me in order to grab my share of the Dream Whip.

Being out of your element isn’t a bad thing. It hands you the opportunity to learn different aspects of your craft on a silver platter. It shows you’re willing to try something new. It makes your contest coordinator friends (hi Camy; hi Ruthy) happy with you. Most of all. . .

. . .It keeps the well-cultivated guilt molecules from building up inside of you until your eyeballs bulge and pop, spewing noxious gas on unsuspecting victims. Heaven forbid your future editor/agent chooses to sit down beside you at that moment. . .

Hmmm, think about it. . .
Blessings to all, and to all a spectacular Spring!!


  1. First, Audra, I want to share with you the words of my friend Stephanie, which I not only stole but put in one of my msc's..


    Then I want to agree with you about the fish out of water.

    Constantly judging the same category does little to refine our skills as reader and writer. It's a comfort zone but does us few favors.

    I'm judging a few of my own fish from a new pond this year. It makes you think like an editor. See the BIG picture. Makes me stretch as a writer and that isn't always easy and it is time consuming.

    Thanks for sharing today!!!

  2. Audra, i like your descriptions of each genre. it must be crazy hard to judge a genre you don't even read but i'm sure it is a huge growing experience.

  3. I'm so with Tina. Life is too short to live it with guilt.

    But I do understand what you mean about the awesome benefit of judging. In fact, I rarely judge historicals even when I don't enter the contest, which is more cases than none. Why? My first guess is it's the genre dearest to my heart so I hate to *have* to read stories that don't do the genre justice.

    My next judging experience is a handful of romantic suspense entries. When I signed up to judge about a month ago, I said any romance genre. So I get RS. Interesting.

    After I signed up to judge, my agent said an editor requested two of my stories, including the one with suspense elements. I'm suddenly thinking judging 5 RS entries is a God-thing because I need an opportunity to evaluate the genre to help me think more like a RS writer. Gotta love mental exercise 'cause the physical kind is too sweaty.

    Thanks for the post, Audra! You got me thinking about how to use judging as a means to better my own writing skills.

  4. This was a great teaching post! It also gives great insight to the many genres within the Christian market! I still can't get over being amazed at how much it has changed in the last 20 years!

    Guilt. Hmmmm. I related to strongly to that scenario. Gets me into trouble! I'll keep working on it though!

    kimfurd (at) hotmail (dot) com

  5. I can definitely relate to the guilt stuff, too. But I've only been asked to judge a contest once. I figure I'll have plenty of chances in the future, once my incredible talent is discovered. ;-)

  6. I actually have a little different take on guilt. It's true that guilt to an obsessive degree is just a waste of time.


    I think guilt is just what good, moral people feel if they've done wrong.
    I think feeling useless guilt long after, even years after, you've done something wrong is a sign you have a conscience.

    If you feel no guilt then people need to worry about you.

    I try to remember that when I'm remembering some stupid, cloddy thing I said in high school that embarrassed someone...and by extension myself. That's just the price you have to pay for being decent and honorable.

    The good thing about feeling guilt like that is, I have no luck NOT feeling it, so I can at least feel content with it.

  7. I usually duck contest judging for catagories I'm not real familier with but I think you're right, Audra. Good writing is good writing. And I've read good writing in every genre there is and enjoyed it.

    So why not? I always say, "Give me any catagory you need judges for but put sci-fi and the Lits and women's fiction at the bottom of my list, but I'll take them if you're in a pinch."

    Maybe I'll stop doing that and give them a chance.

  8. Great post Audra. It is true that we can learn from the other genres. I try to read other genres just to broaden my box. I think most good writers do.

    I had to chuckle at the guilt thing. My inclination to help all the time doesn't come from guilt but just plain ole not thinking it through. Or not listening to God. sigh. I just jump in and get over my head. Maybe I should try guilt. I'd stop and think first. LOLll

    And thanks to all of you who judge. it takes a lot of time and effort.

  9. I do agree that guilt is a necessary emotion. It's useful for keeping us from doing bad things over and over again, to convict us of what we did wrong. And when the guilt feels overwhelming, I give it to God and say, "Here." And He says, "You're welcome."

    God is love.

  10. Warning: I'm going spiritual, but it's better than going nuclear.

    I think guilt is just what good, moral people feel if they've done wrong.

    Key words: good, moral

    Then again, how do you define good and moral? Even the Bible doesn't give a definition of how good you have to be to be good. And to what degree? 50%? 76% 100%

    King David was a murderer, adulterer, polygimist, and overally crappy father, yet God called him righteous.

    Moses was a murderer, a workaholic, had more arrogance than any man alive except for probably Soloman and Paul when he was still Saul, yet God called him friend.

    Good thing the Bible says, "...while we still sinners, Christ died for us."

    For some folks, though, guilt--the ability to discern between good and bad, right and wrong and feel remorse/regret over wrong/bad choice--doesn't exist because "God has given them over to their debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting." Romans 1:28-31

    Healthy guilt is what comes from the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

    I think feeling useless guilt long after, even years after, you've done something wrong is a sign you have a conscience.


    Guilt after a sin shows you still have a conscience.

    Guilt long after you've done something AND after you've confessed that sin and repented could be a sign that you're beating yourself up over something because you don't think you deserve forgiveness and don't think God was correct in forgiving you. People who do this (yes, including me) have adopted a higher standard of justice than God's. Yes, we say, He's forgiven me, but my sin was soooo bad, I don't deserve to be forgiven so I'm going to hold on to this guilt because I feel I need to punish myself for my sin.

    Seems to me that's bondage by choice.

    Jesus said He came to give us not just life, but life more abundantly. I don't see how living with guilt--any guilt--fits in an abundant life. You can let go of guilt, yet it may take time. Seems that's where being a living, daily sacrifice fits.

    Embarrassment, though, is a whole 'nutter emotion. Last summer I asked the cashier at Lowe's if I could get a boy to help me load my purchase. She looked offended. For months I couldn't figure out why. Hello. Life is full of boy jobs and girl jobs. Then one day it hit me. What I said probably sounded racist to her. Duh. I never connected how offensive using the word boy would be to a black person. Do I feel guilt over my stupidity? No. Do I feel embarrassed? Tremendous mortification, enough to stop even stop saying to my sons "come here, boy." Although we do still have boy jobs and girl jobs in our household. Gee, I guess that shows I'm not a racist but I am sexist.

    While I don't think guilt is useless, I do believe far too many people, especially Christians, allow guilt to rule/run/dicate their lives. On the other hand, guilt is one of my favorite emotions in fiction. It's a powerful motivator.

    If a contest coordinator asked me to judge and I said "no, I don't have time," I'd feel guilty if I said no because I didn't want to do it and not because I really didn't have time. Guilt from lying.
    If I really didn't have the time, then I wouldn't feel guilty because I haven't done anything wrong.But because I'm a nice person, I'd probably say, "I can't this year, but PLEASE ask me again next year."

    If a contest coordinator said, "Gina, you've entered this contest and we're desperate for judges so you HAVE to judge or be disqualified," I'd feel pressured, even guilted into judging. But my guilt would come from my knowing I am a trained judge and I have the time to judge but I was being selfish in not wanting to give to others while taking from others.

    I'm a firm believer that you should judge and enter contests in a equal or close ratio. 1:1, 1:2, maybe even 1:3 if you're entering two to three contests a month. Judging a contest every other month if you are entering that many or more isn't unreasonable or undoable.

    Plus, I'm confident I've learned more about writing from judging than I have from entering.

    Books to read::

    How Good is Good Enough by Andy Stanley

    Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley

    The Great Work of the Gospel: How we experience God's Grace by John Ensor

    Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

    Choices by Maray Farrar

    And most Beth Moore Bible studies

  11. Well, okay, I'll try and stop feeling guilty. I'm sorry.

    Now I feel guilty for saying it's okay to feel guilty.

    Slinking away..........

  12. LOL, Mary.

    In the last two days, my oldest daughter has been trying to guilt me into taking the blame for her mistakes. Even though I know better, I start to feel guilty. But I have to tell myself my role as a parent is to teach personal accountability.

    Carrying/accepting guilt for something I did not do is modeling wrong behavior.

    So it's not you.

    I have guilt on the brain. Just as much as Niley has something just as nasty in her diaper. Phew.

  13. I have a sister named Nila(long 'I' sound). Your Niley is about as close as I've heard to that name.

  14. Nila is a cool name. :-) I might have to use that in a book someday.

    Niley is an Austrailian Aborigine word meaning "shell." When I had about a month left in the pregnancy, Hubby heard the name in his head one day at work and googled it to see if it meant anything or how common of a name it was. Not very.

    When we told the kids that the baby's name was going to be Niley, one of them said, "Like Miley on Hannah Montana?"

    Sure, kids. Just remember it's an N not an M.

    Our girls all have Nicole for their middle name: Jerah Nicole, Rhyinn Nicole, Niley Nicole. Once we came up with a first name, we were too tired to be creative with a middle name.

    BTW, Rhyinn is pronounced re-in, as in re-invent, reintroduce, reincarnate. Every so often she gets called Ryan. I tell people the name is British but we don't what it means because something was lost in translation.

  15. Hi Audra! Great post! When I judge, I ask for historicals because that's what I love. I'll do contemps, too, but you've helped me see I should scramble out of my comfort zone.

    Guilt has value. It tells me I need to act. To ask forgiveness of God and of whomever I've wronged. Once I have taken those steps, I'm free, but hey, the memory of how bad guilt feels keeps me from being a habitual offender.


  16. Which reminds me, I've just gotten my Genesis entries. I'd better go do some judging.

  17. good information in the post. it would be interesting seeing some of the different catagories.

    on guilt i have an elderly mother who tries to use emotional blackmail to guilt me into doing as she wants (it doesn't work much now like she would like)

  18. Great post! Also, a big thank you to all who judge (contests, not people ;-)). And thanks for sharing from a judge's POV!

  19. Oh man, guys! Now I feel guilty for having said I feel guilty, LOL!

    Guilt in any way, shape or form, will always be with me (much like the force) but it's a good thing. Learning to deal with it is the trick : )

    I'm naturally apprehensive of trying new things, especially when I know my name might be associated with it. Judging unfamiliar genres was spooky, I won't deny it. I learned so much each time I reviewed a new category, I wouldn't change the experience for the world! Like Tina said, it really makes you stretch as a writer.

    For anyone willing to take a baby step, try judging YA. If nothing else, it'll give you insights into the new generation of readers : )

  20. I didn't read everything you all said, but if you've done something wrong, I would say what you call guilt is you being convicted by the Holy Spirit.

  21. There is therefore, now no condemnation, for those who are in Christ Jesus.

  22. Audra, I have to admit that, right or wrong, I think I could be guilted into anything, but I loved your take on how these experiences have brought you insight. You nailed all of those sub-genres. I once read that some of the best writing today is being done for YA. Thinking of all the family movies that have come from young adult books, they may have had a point.

  23. Hey, Audra, just got home from work and your blog made me smile. Miss you, my friend!

    Me? I'm guilty that I didn't find the time before now to post a comment. God help me.

    Love ya!

  24. Wow. So right, Lorna.

    Hole by Louis Sachar, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo,The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot--
    Hoot, Tuck Everlasting, How to Eat Fried Worms, I Capture the Castle....sheesh. Lots.

  25. Man, I'm so late coming on board here! Sorry to have missed a wonderful discussion.

    Audra, I'm totally in agreement with you that cross-genre judging helps us open our eyes and minds to different things and can be a huge strengthening tool.



    I'm Irish Catholic. No one can guilt you more than an Irish Catholic mother unless it's a Jewish mother or an Italian Catholic mother...

    Worse: An Italian Jewish mother.

    Please, guilt is how I raised my children. Don't tell them I shouldn't have done it. They have no idea...


    And Mary, I loved your point about conscience formation. I think that's a big part of true childhood growth, and I think good conflict in stories comes from being able to move the character from guilt or loss to a higher plane of acceptance in both CBA and ABA.

    And a hot hero helps.

    Audra, miss you, Sweetcheeks. Come out of your cave soon. It's nearly spring.


    Love you guys,


  26. I know about taking guilt trips over nothing at all, but that isn't what impressed me most about your blog. For me, the flash of light came when I realized yet another way a writer can learn. I am very new to writing as a career and a way of life, but I keep discovering again and again that everything I learn becomes part of the treasure into which I dip for ideas, inspiration and education as a writer. The richer our pool of experience, the richer our drama or analysis or commentary will be. Thank you for pointing out this maxim for writers.

  27. Great post. I enjoyed reading your descriptions of each genre.