Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Nancy Sweetland - Guest Author

Okay, so I'm on vacation. Nancy Sweetland sent me her material and then wrote back to say she had forgotten to send the answers to the questions--all in plenty of time. When I finally got around to posting the material, I realized she had skipped the "five word" questions about who she is and what her writing is, but she had included an interesting  blog on Writing Contests. Since the time was late, and that fault is mine, without further ado, I'm giving you both her answers and her thoughts on writing contests.

So readers, a bonus question for you: Do you, dear readers, agree, disagree or having something you would like to add?

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

I really need to be in my office at my computer. I've tried to handwrite in a coffee shop, or out at the beach but it doesn't work for me; too many distractions!

What makes a great short story?

People in trouble, whether mental or physical, working to solve their problem - but with a twist that leaves the reader thinking, 'Yeah, that could happen. That could work."

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

At least eight books, maybe more, including the audio book I always have going in my car. Amazing how those fifteen minutes to the grocery store or a dental appointment can add up to hearing a whole novel.

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?

The most challenging area for me is finding an idea I think important enough to develop into a story. Too often I'll discover (after 10,000 words) that it just wasn't strong enough to support going on.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

My most recent work, The House on the Dunes grew from discovering how little I really knew about my mother's life. After her death there were so many questions I wished I had asked. This also answers the question about my protagonist's motivation - she is working through the secrets of her mother's life.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Ruth Rendell (her plots and characters are so challenging); Nora Roberts (she's so prolific and just so darn good) and Anne Rivers Siddons (her families are so intriguing, and so believable).

[And here is the bonus material -- which does indeed tell us something more about Nancy!]


Many writers have told me they don’t believe in participating in contests - that they feel it’s similar to buying a lottery ticket, that winning is simply a matter of luck, that it’s not a real assessment of their work’s value. And that (I hear this often) they think you shouldn’t have to spend money to be critiqued.

I don’t agree.

Not only because I’ve had some success in competitions (sure, that’s a feel-good event), but because the outcome is a way of putting my work out there to evaluate it against others’ in the same category. And, by and large, many of the stories/novel excerpts I’ve had the good fortune to place in competitions have gone on to be published.

I think of entering contests as an investment in my business. And writing is a business. (The fee is deductible, by they way.)

“But it costs money!” say the naysayers, especially those writers who are just getting their feet wet and whose efforts haven’t yet brought in a penny.

Yes, most contests do have entry fees and some are overpriced for the possible return. (I don’t enter those.) But there are some that are free to enter (and many are electronic so you don’t have to spend $$ on postage and paper) - so why not jump right in? I do believe that most contests are on the up and up, and the money you send to enter actually goes into the payout to the winners. The contest fee usually isn’t more than $15 - $25, the price of a lunch. Often it’s less.

It boils down to this: Do you believe in your work? Is it the best you can do? Wouldn’t you like to see how it stacks up against other manuscripts in the same category? You’ve written your heart out on that short story, or that novel. You know it’s good.  But how good is it?  Can it stand out above the crowd of other wannabes?

I don’t mean you should enter every contest that comes along; there are ‘way too many, and it takes time to enter even if electronically (while you really should be writing!). Pick and choose. Those that promise a critique for your entry can be helpful even if you don’t win a prize. Judges want to be supportive and they probably have a lot more experience than you do; if you get some advice, take it to heart - is it possible he/she’s right? That just maybe if you’d thought of the story in a different way you might have had a better entry? If so, think that advice over, and if you believe it’s valid, revise your work. And maybe, just maybe, next time around you’ll submit a story that an editor will want to publish.

For more information about Nancy and her writing, check out her website at: NancySweetlandWrites.com
Here's a quick blurb for The House on the Dunes:

Surprised by inheriting spectacular emeralds and a lavish home on Lake Michigan, Olivia is compelled to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past. Ignoring her controlling husband’s wishes, she moves into Dunes House to learn what has been concealed. But her efforts are complicated by dangerous incidents and withheld information. Is the old caretaker really blameless or the possessor of long-held secrets? Is her handsome neighbor romantically interested in her or only attempting to gain access to what has he sees as his rightful estate? Dunes House holds the answers…but will learning the truth bring to light an affair that could cost Olivia the only life she has ever known?

1 comment:

  1. I've entered the Writer's Digest contest for magazine feature articles when I was trying to build my reputation as a freelance writer, and won a few honourable mentions (which, while not as good as winning, felt a lot like validation -- I even have a page devoted to Writer's Digest Awards on my website, under Other Works). I hadn't thought about entering a fiction writing contest, but you make some good points. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Nancy!