The Journey So Far

 


It's been awhile since I've posted anything other than WRiTE CLUB material here on my blog, so I decided it was time to catch everyone up (for those interested) on where my writing career stands. I'll warn you right now – this is going to be a comprehensive summary.

The story I tell everyone about composing my first story to impress a girl is true. Up until the late-spring of 1974 I had never written fiction. After that, I couldn’t stop writing.  I had finally found something I was good at and others…mostly adults…took notice of.  I ended up working for the school newspaper my senior year, but after high school, my creative writing took a back seat to life.  College, a career, a wife and three kids all ganged up on me and forced my urge to write into an extended hibernation.

My infatuation with prose re-emerged after my three children left the nest and headed off to conquer the world. With time on my hands and the opportunity to explore my own interests, at first I was lost. One of the first things I did was undertake the chore of digitizing my old vinyl album collection, so I could listen to the songs that were lesser known. While I was in the middle of doing that I stumbled across an album and song that brought back a powerful memory, one that had been buried deep in my consciousness for decades.  

That remembrance is what led me to write my first short story in 30+ years. I had such a great time writing it that when I was finished I began contemplating how to turn it into a full-length book. Me…write a book? That was crazy…wasn’t it? How do you even go about doing that, I thought? How many words would that be? How many words per chapter…and how many chapters in a typical book? Could I even come up with a plot to envelop this short story and hold a reader’s interest for the length of an entire novel?

I decided to find out.  With my wife’s help, I etched out a plot that we both felt would be an interesting read…if I could pull it off…then I began to construct an outline to work from. When the outline was complete, I began to write.  And I wrote…and wrote…and wrote.  One-hundred sixty-five thousand words later, I pronounced myself finished. This was 2008.

Now during this time, I was also beginning to experiment with posting personal musings on Myspace (anybody remember that?). It wasn’t really what I would call blogging, but a precursor to it.  In the book I was writing, the main character had a very popular blog he called Cruising Altitude, and I thought it would be a good idea to begin my own blog to document my march to publication (cough...cough), so I opened a Blogger account. Naturally, I entitled the blog – Cruising Altitude. My first post was in 2009.

I now had this newly completed book, so what was I supposed to do with it? This is the part that truly embarrasses me. I Googled the email addresses for some successful publishing houses and sent them all the first three chapters of my unedited, unrevised, uncritiqued, unbeta-read, book. I still grimace when I think back on that. You can imagine the results. Me...I'm trying to forget.

My first intelligent move in this writing journey was when I embraced the blogosphere. It was chock full of writers at all levels of literary achievement, and each and every one of them was willing to pass along what they had learned along the way. I read and absorbed the knowledge of aspiring and successful writers both. I learned the ropes…so to speak. I also began to expand my own presence in the ‘sphere, becoming a semi-popular blogger in my own right. I came up with inventive blogging scenarios as WRiTE CLUB, the BLOG BLITZ, the Déjà vu Blogfest, Blogging Buddies Around the Globe, the Significant Other Blogfest, and the Origins Blogfest, just to mention a few. My intention was to give back to the writing community, a writing body that had given me so much, and I feel I did that in spades.

So what did I learn? One of the first things was that I needed to attract an agent to help me navigate the complex publishing process, and I realized the book I had written was much too long for a first-time author. Somewhere between 75-80K words was ideal, and my first attempt was 165K. 

As I was writing my second book a small piece of legitimacy and respectability came my way in the form of a short story that was accepted for publication in an anthology series entitled An Honest Lie.  I can’t tell you how much that little accomplishment rejuvenated me.  It was like Popeye downing a can of Spinach! "I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam… a-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah!"  I began my querying efforts for this new mystery/thriller, pitching it to agents at a writer’s conference (DFW Conference) and as a result landed a couple of full-requests. Those ultimately went nowhere. Then I tried my handwriting in the YA genre and was very pleased with my first draft (and so were my CP’s). My theme for that year was making it uncomfortable in my comfort zone…and it was starting to pay off. 

We are now up to 2012, December 21st, 2012 to be exact, and that's when the train derailed. Those of you who remember that day, it was when the Mayan calendar predicted the world would end. Well, the world didn’t end, but it felt like it to me because that was the day my wife was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Needless to say, 2013 was a year of setbacks. With much of that year spent in the hospital with my wife, writing pretty much ground to a halt, so did querying. Writers conferences came and went with at least one empty seat, and basically, most of my forward momentum turned into suspended animation.  I kept semi-active on my blog, taking part in A-Z…a couple blogfests…WRiTE CLUB, but even here I was just treading water.  I wasn't getting around to other blogs near as much as I wanted to and most of my posts were filled with so much angst they came off sounding like a bad episode of Dawson’s Creek.  The one thing I was holding onto was the fact that soon I’d see a piece (the short story mentioned above) of my writing in print.

Then the proverbial rug was pulled out from under me when I learned the publisher for the short story had gone belly up! I never knew that ground zero could feel so cold.  Maybe that’s because I didn’t just end up there. I felt like I was buried six feet under it.

But boo-hoo’ing about that wouldn't accomplish anything. There were hurdles, for sure, but they were only speed bumps compared to the Mount Ranier my wife climbed.  I'm so proud of how she came through it all. She bounced back to 100% healthy and I began to merge back into the speeding traffic that was the publishing highway.

In 2015, I finally landed my first agent. The fact that I described that relationship  as my first agent should probably tell you how that went. My 3rd book (YA Paranormal Mystery) went on submission that year and after a flurry of early activity, interest eventually waned. So did the communication from my agent. I terminated our contract after just eighteen months.

In 2017, when things seemed to be falling into place for me, my day-job had other plans. The company I work for was undergoing a massive IT project and it  required my undivided attention and LOTS of travel. At one point I was on the road for fifteen weeks straight. Not only did I not get much writing done that year, I couldn't even hold my annual WRiTE CLUB competition.

Things eventually returned to normal and I wrote two more books, both YA, and continued querying all of them. I subsequently landed my second agent in 2019.

Then the pandemic of 2020 hit. You all know how that's going.

You might ask – just as I frequently do – what has kept me going during all this time? Why do I think I can succeed when so many couldn't? My wife would say pure stubbornness, but she would only be partially right. Over the course of the years I have had the opportunity for my novels to be read by successful novelist – some of them EXTREMELY successful – and it was their glowing feedback that kept me in the fight. That and feedback from an editor I used – one who had also edited some successful publications – which was also very favorable. That combined with the fact I had secured not one, but two agents, was enough to keep me going.

I believe that brings up-to-date. My YA Mystery/Thriller PRICK is currently on submission and my fingers are crossed once again. 

There you go. A slog of a journey, one with no destination yet. I'll let you know when there is one. Be patient. I certainly am. :)

   

My WRiTE CLUB Champion Tale - Whose Story Is it?

As I do every year, I asked this years WRiTE CLUB winner – Daniel L. Link – to compose a little something about what the experience was like. Here is what he had to say.


I first first attended DFWCon in 2018, and had a great experience. When DL Hammons spoke during one of the lunches and explained WRiTE CLUB to the crowd, I thought it was a brilliant idea, and since I started with short stories before I ever attempted a novel I thought it would be a lot of fun to try it.

I followed WRiTE CLUB last year, and I felt some of the second and third entries felt rushed, and the quality of the writing didn't feel consistent with the author's earlier pieces. That happens when you've only got a few days to write a piece. So I actually wrote all three 500-word pieces and a 1,000 word story ahead of time, knowing which order I wanted to put them out in. I picked Nose for Trouble to go first because I wanted to give the reader a melancholy tale with lots of setting and description. With Navigating the Wilderness I wanted to showcase a character that was all internal monologue, abandon the showy description, and give the reader a white room with nothing but the narrator's thoughts to set the scene. Starlight was a mix of both. A little description, a little more internal monologue, and a lot of emotion. For the thousand-word piece, I ditched my own advice and wrote Falling Off two days before it was due. It reflected a lot of what I'm seeing in the world today, and it resonated more with me than the initial piece I had written. If it felt more rushed, it's because it was.

When I first saw Nose for Trouble pop up I was thrilled. Last year I wrote what I still consider to be the best 500-word piece I've ever written, and I submitted it under the name Cole Rutledge. It didn't make it into the top thirty. Knowing the piece I loved didn't resonate with the slush pile readers (except for one, according to the feedback I got) made me reevaluate my approach to the stories. Seeing that approach pay off was rewarding.

As the contest developed a question formed in my head. Whose story is it?

We ask that question the whole time we compete in WRiTE CLUB. The first level is the guessing game. I recognized my mother’s voice right away, and I thought for sure I knew who Dovey Grimm was. It turns out I was dead wrong, but that’s the beauty of writing anonymously. But there’s another level. There’s what happens to the story once you click send and it goes live for everyone to read. What I took from Write Club this year is that as writers, the story we put out there doesn’t even belong to us anymore once it’s in the readers’ hands.

My bout with Peace and Quiet is an obvious case in point. I wanted to show I could do something different than I had with my original piece, and boy did I. The character I wrote struck some as insecure and nervous, and others as aggressive to the point where violence might be an issue. Peace and Quiet gave us a woman who couldn’t bear to live without her child. Some readers found it powerful, but some were offended that she would leave a husband behind. Whether we did it intentionally or inadvertently, we put people off with the characters we wrote.

Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way. If my character is funny to some and scary to others, don’t we all know someone who’s checked both of those boxes? If Peace and Quiet had left out the phone call with the husband, would that make the decision to end her life more palatable? People who make the decision to end their own lives do leave people behind; glossing over that wouldn’t have changed the fact. It’s just interesting to me to see what people do with the characters we give them, and the lives they take on in the readers’ eyes.

The comment I saw pop up the most for everyone’s stories was, I want to know what happens next. At first I thought, nothing happens next. It’s a five-hundred word piece, and that’s all we’ve got. But that’s not true. All these stories took on a life of their own, if only for a moment, in the reader’s mind. I’ve heard it described as a form of telepathy, the ability to put your thoughts on a page and hand it to someone else and make them think the same thing, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the ability to plant a seed of emotion in someone and throw in a drop of imagination. We might not be there to see it grow, and we have no idea what might blossom, but no matter what emotion it sparks, it’s a beautiful thing.

I look forward to coming back next year as a slush pile reader.

WRiTE CLUB - The Final Bell



When 2020 began I had big plans for WRiTE CLUB. Some minor tweaks for this year, but most of the changes would be for 2021 when the contest will have its tenth anniversary. I was hoping to do something special, and at the same time possibly expand its reach.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Even though this contest is 100% virtual, with no social distancing limitations or other restrictions, the world – specifically the writing world – was in too much upheaval to find a lot of time for it. Participation was down significantly, mostly with contestants, but reader/voters had fallen off as well. I have to admit, this kind of surprised me. I'd have thought a distraction like a writing contest would be just what everyone needed. That's not to say that what was going on in the world didn't deserve our full attention - because it did - but every now and then we need to spend time with the things that make us smile – so we don't forget what it's like.

Looking back over WRiTE CLUB's nine year history, it has always been harder than I thought it should have been to get the writing community – which is massive – engaged. At times it felt like I was pulling teeth to get people to read a pair of 500-word writing samples and choose one that shined brighter than the other. Linking up with the DFW Conference gave it a significant boost, but even that waned after a couple of years. Writers would take interest in its appeal and become one of its champions...for awhile...but eventually they would drift away as well. I tried everything I could think of to encourage reading/voting, Twitter campaigns, Facebook blasts, even offering prizes, but nothing seemed to gain the traction I believe our contestants deserved. This year only served to put a harsh spotlight on an ever-persistent problem.

And then there was other issues.

The foundation of WRiTE CLUB was one simple ingredient – anonymity. This was a WRITING contest, not a popularity contest. I was probably foolish in believing this could work, but I'm an optimist at heart. From time to time voting irregularities in the bouts would popup that cast a shadow over the proceedings. It was obvious (but not provable) that people were being directed to certain bouts - and in some cases certain contestants. I'm sure that type of influence has always been going on - to some degree - but it is much more noticeable (and impactful) when voter participation is low. That's one reason I'm always trying to boost participation. When something like this happens it tarnishes the contest, breeds negative comments, and ultimately drives participants away.

The questionable sportsmanship – combined with the pressure to squeeze water out from a stone – has been a constant strain on me and this year it pushed me to the right edge, even to the point where I considered pulling the plug.

Then I come across a note like 1221bookworm posted where she stated that comments received during the contest last year helped her expand their submission and it was published last February in an online Literary Journal. This – and other stories like this – are the real reason I do WRiTE CLUB and I can't quit on that!

What I do need though, is help. Me and my wife can't keep doing this all by ourselves. In order for it to grow and expand its influence, we need others to step up. And do what, you ask? Things like solicit celebrity judges. Solicit slushpile readers. Solicit more sponsors in order to add more prizes. Find ways to boost our signal online. Monitor for things like voting irregularities. Help compose announcements. The list is endless. If that is something that interest you, then leave a comment below or send me an email to dlh(dot)hammons(at)gmail(dot)com. Why not become a member of the WRiTE CLUB team.

For right now, this is WRiTE CLUB signing off for 2020. We'll be back in 2021 – bigger and better!



 


WRiTE CLUB 2020 - A Champion Crowned

Let me introduce you to Daniel L. Link, or you may know him as A. Lynne Smithee, our WRiTE CLUB Champion for 2020.



Daniel L. Link lives in Northern California where he writes short stories, novels, and flash fiction. He's an assistant editor of the Gold Man Review. His work has been featured in the HCE Review, the Lowestoft Chronicle, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Penmen Review, the Copperfield Review, the Esthetic Apostle, the Soliloquies Anthology, and others. His first novel, Cry Wolf, is slated for publication late in 2020 with Fawkes Press. Examples of his short stories can be found at daniellinkauthor.com Daniel now has a free pass to the 2021 DFW Writers Conference and a $100 Barnes and Noble gift card.  CONGRATS Daniel!



Our 1st runner-up and recipient of a $75 Amazon gift card is proof positive that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Scottish is actually Catherine Link.



Retired and living in Hamilton County Texas, Catherine Link is a painter who teaches private students and sometimes accepts commissions. When Catherine was a teenager, she wrote poetry. Then in the 1990s, she wrote a couple of novels, just to see if she could. Later she found that she enjoyed writing short stories. They are like therapy for her, calming her nerves and taking her away from everyday life for a while. Catherine has had short stories published in Dragon Poet Review, Corner Bar Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Bewildering Stories.She is married to Robert Link, also an artist and burgeoning writer. They have two grown sons. Douglas, who lives in Waco and enjoys painting, and Daniel, who lives in Northern California. Catherine and Daniel had the pleasure of competing against each other in this year’s contest.

Here's a breakdown of how our celebrity judges voted. Because there was no conference this year and our access to agents was seriously crimped, the number of judges had to be reduced.


The feedback provided have been forwarded to both of the finalist. These writers have proved themselves to be extremely talented and I predict nothing but good things in their literary futures.

There are some other winners we also need to announce. They are - 

Karen Stanley - won the Random Voting prize of a $60 Barnes and Noble gift card.

There were only eight readers who voted in all 27 bouts.  They were -

1221bookworm
Dannie
J Lenni Dorner
Kate Larkindale
Michelle Kadin
Perrin Birk
Required Field Must not be Blank
Wendy

The prize of  Voting In Every Bout, which is a $40 Barnes and Noble gift card, is Perrin Birk.

J Lenni Dorner - won for the best WRiTE CLUB Promotional Campaign and takes home a $40 Barnes & Noble gift card

Will all the winners please contract me so delivery arrangements can be made.

The contest was a success once again, although COVID made sure it wasn't the record setting year like we've seen previously. There were only ninety-five submissions, but we averaged 42 critiques/votes per bout. On a positive note we did have 39,807 page views while the contest was running, which was only slightly down from last year.

Now that the contest is over we encourage the other writers who made it into the bouts to reveal their true identities in the comments below. People who have read your work really want to keep in touch with you and your work, so why not remove that mask? No pressure though. If you want to remain anonymous, we respect that choice.

Thank you to everyone for making WRiTE CLUB what it is.


 

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