Finalist in Writers of the Future

“The Healer of Branford” was a Finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, making the shortlist of eight stories for the 3rd Quarter. Those eight stories are passed on to a pool of judges drawn from professional authors, so although it did not place I am filled with warm fuzzy feelings knowing that some authors I really enjoy reading have now read my work.

Full results for the quarter here.

What was the biggest difference between my submission that placed Honorable Mention last year, and this one that placed higher? I’ve been working on many aspects of storytelling, but the single largest insight that I had was into suspense. In June I took the Writers of the Future Online Workshop (which is free) and was really struck by the essay on creating suspense. I revised the story right before submission with the goal of keeping multiple possible outcomes open at each step of the story. This particularly helped the final third, which lost too much tension in the earlier draft.

The Writers of the Future contest has an incredible online community associated with it. Sharing the goal of getting into this specific anthology series helps to cut through much of the subjective non-advice that clogs other online writing communities. The forum is also defined by a spirit of helpfulness in which past winners often stop by to help current entrants succeed. The teacher who’s invested the most into the official forum is Wulf Moon, running his Super Secrets Workshop there, which is a fantastic resource because it covers all the pieces of a functioning story in bite-sized lessons. It’s been an incredibly helpful framework for digesting the writhing mass of writing advice that I stuffed in my skull and I am honored to be officially joining the workshop for the coming year.

I plan to enter every quarter of Volume 38, because this contest provides a unique opportunity to test myself against the same first reader and judge four times a year. I want to prove that I can consistently write at a high level even more than I want to win.

Pinecones: Author Notes

Pinecones appears in Fell Beasts and Fair: A Noblebright Fantasy Anthology, published by Spring Song Press.

I love the term “noblebright” that my editor C.J. Brightley coined as a response to the “grimdark” trend that boiled across fantasy. Grimdark’s just not my thing: I prefer getting the opposite feelings from books, and giving the opposite feelings as a writer. So noblebright as a reactionary label had my attention enough to see the call for stories, and I had a half-formed story idea about a dryad who’d fit the “fair beasts” part of the anthology theme.

I’m consciously exploring Tolkien’s idea of eucatastrophe in all my short stories: that an apparent defeat is itself the mechanism of victory. Some pinecones only open and release their seeds during forest fires. Horrific disaster is part of their process. This idea combined with the flower-dryad as a way that plant-based creatures might reproduce.

Pinecones and dryads as central elements gave me the satyr with his thyrsus staff as my firestarter.

All artwork becomes a record of where you were at the time, and I hope that the hard work I’ve been putting in since Pinecones will show as growth in my next publication. The prose already feels a bit too cautious and stilted to me, and I think that has two causes: first, that I have to piece together my prose from very fractured thoughts with young children in the house, and second, that I relied too much on automated editing software. I plan to write more about the strengths and weaknesses of the latter.

Image by bigdan, licensed via depositphotos.