Last night, rather too late, I finished reading the last of the entries for our “Notes From Underground” contest. Domey and Michelle finished hours before I did, and cheered me on through the last of the reading. It was like coming in last at a marathon with the runners who came in first waiting at the finish line. Which was nice. My co-hosts are nice. I heart them. And, of course, I digress.
Last night I finished reading the last of the “Notes From Underground” entries. There were 59 of them. The majority of entries were in the form of text, but some of them included image files, music files, movie files and possibly other sorts of files I can’t recall just now. So it was very interesting for me as a reader, and I’m sure Domey and Michelle would agree that this has been a fascinating experiment.
I don’t actually know how all the votes tally just now. Mostly that’s because the hated Microsoft “live” mail program isn’t working and I have no way of communicating with my co-hosts. I’m sure Michelle at least has a good idea of which 25 entrants will be part of the anthology, but I don’t, so I can’t say anything intelligent about that and besides, we will be announcing those results tomorrow, my impatient writer BFFs. But I’ll tell you how we judged this contest.
Last year the three of us discussed the stories, gave detailed comments about each one, weighed the merits and all voted on every story that went into the Genre Wars anthology. That took a lot of time. I will admit that I didn’t want to spend all those hours resolving the results of this contest (especially since a lot of that email discussion would have to take place during work hours when I should be working), and I also realized it wasn’t necessary. Each of us pretty much knew which entries we liked a lot, which ones we didn’t like as much, and which entries we were not decided about. Discussion wasn’t really going to change our minds. So I suggested that we read each entry—multiple times if we had the time—and vote yes/no/maybe on each. Any entry with more than one “yes” vote automatically gets in. If those entries are less than 25 in number, we divide the difference by 3 and each get to pick whichever of our remaining “yes” vote entries we like to make up the difference and get to a total of 25 writers who will bless us with their work in our anthology. Thanks in advance, writers who will bless us! So it’s a simple and quick selection process we used.
The two big questions on the mind of each entrant are, I suppose, Did you select mine? and How did you decide which entries got a “yes” vote?
To the first question I can only say that I don’t know. This contest was anonymous, thanks to the efforts of the tireless Becca. I don’t know who wrote what, and I’m going to try and keep it none of my business. I will say, however, that I know how weird and disorienting the free-form nature of the entry process was for many of you, and I also know that it’s scary to submit your work to anyone, even to a contest run by an obscure website like ours. Everyone who submitted to the contest is very brave—braver than I probably am—and I am impressed by all of you. Thanks so much for participating this year. Seeing what you’re all up to, and getting you to be part of the experiments here, are the best things about this blogging experience for me. So, like I said, thanks to all of you.
To the second question, the answer is going to vary from entry to entry. I can’t really say much about the “no” votes I gave, except that they weren’t things I’d vote “yes” for. That’s very subjective. Domey and Michelle would be able to tell you that I am a very harsh and unforgiving critic. Yes, even a bit of an ass when it comes to writing. But I was looking for things to which I could give a “yes” vote. That’s what my judging philosophy was. “Let me vote for you,” I prayed at the beginning of each entry. I was looking first of all for something that I liked, something that made me want to keep reading. Genre didn’t matter. Stylistic and verbal virtuosity were not my primary concerns. I just wanted something that made me want to read it all the way through. As well as that, I looked for the “wow” factor. I wanted to read something I wish I had been clever enough to write. Sometimes that was no more than a well-turned phrase, a metaphor that surprised me, or really just anything that pleasantly surprised me. After that was something that Domey calls “movement,” which to me (if I interpret his use of the word correctly) means that the writing went somewhere, there was a progression of ideas or events. I will digress a moment and say that I noticed some pieces start with a bang, and go on strongly for a couple hundred or a thousand words, and then sort of fizzle out or don’t go anywhere from the starting point. Some of them circle around, some run in place, some stand still and a lot go to sleep. My advice to you is that if you have a really strong idea and you can’t go someplace from it, you should make that strong idea the endpoint and try working toward it instead. The results, I predict, will surprise and charm you.
Anyway, I was looking for things that kickstarted the right bits of my brain and made me sit up and read. A lot of the entries I did not vote for were well-written and imaginative, but they didn’t have that “wow” factor, which is I realize one of those annoying things that agents and editors say and nobody knows what the hell they’re talking about. But there it is nonetheless. We like what we like and I’m a difficult audience. But one thing I do want to say before I beazle on any longer is this: There were only 25 places available in the anthology (for a variety of reasons I’m not going to defend), and there were 59 entries. So while not everyone could get in, I do not want those of you who didn’t to think that you have, in any way at all, “lost” this contest. Because, dear writer, you have not. I have had my share of rejections from publications for my brilliant stories and each of those rejections wounded me more than is reasonable and I assume the news that your work was not selected will wound you and I regret that deeply. But Domey, Michelle and I invited you and your work into our lives because we value the experience of reading your work, we wanted you to send it to us, and we are grateful that you did. I don’t like the idea of winners and losers, especially in art. I reject that idea outright. You’re all brave, talented and wonderful people, and I am impressed with everyone who entered. You’ve done something difficult, and there is no way that isn’t a victory for you. So congratulations to you, and thanks for playing.