Being a Finalist didn’t sink in right away. The phone call was exciting. Talking about what it meant with my wife was exciting, but I fell asleep that night and went to work the next day without too much trouble.
I mentioned on the Forum that I was a Finalist and the first really cool thing happened. One of the other Finalists from the quarter was on the Forum too, and she sent me a message saying something like “I know we’re technically competitors, but want to hang out in a bunker together until we’re through this thing?” I totally got on board. “Besides,” I said, “there’s three winners each quarter, and I’ll consider 3rd every bit as good as 1st, so as far as I’m concerned we’re not even competitors.”
Then about Wednesday physiological anxiety manifested. I was not a fan. Concentrating on stuff was… not super easy. But I bounced messages back and forth in the bunker, and did the only thing I could do: wait.
Also, I reread my story. I probably should not have done that. I found a typo (mis-conjugated verb!)
This was November, of course, so I had grand designs on working on a NaNoWriMo project. I was doing pretty good too. And then the call came on November 6… and my focus was… shall we say… disrupted. So I didn’t even manage to distract myself with that.
The week passed and when I didn’t get the call on Friday night, I figured that I was through the work week and was safe until Monday.
I was incorrect.
In the evening of November 6, I received a phone call that said “Caller ID Blocked.” Under normal circumstances, I would not have answered, but since everyone on the Forum (which I may have mentioned was helpful) was in the midst of twitching about expecting results soon, so I answered.
It was Joni Labaqui from the contest to tell me that I was a Finalist.
I remember strange details from this conversation. I was watching the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers get smoked by the Detroit Lions. My wife was sitting on the couch with me. When I answered the phone and received the news, she pantomimed a person writing with a pencil. I gave her a thumbs up, and she physically reacted with excitement while I tried really hard to stay professional on the phone.
Joni gave me a quick rundown of what being a Finalist meant. My story would be going to a few other judges along with the other seven Finalists, and then 1st-2nd-3rd would be decided, and either way, she would be calling to let me know the results. She said something along the lines of: “Is there any reason you wouldn’t be able to come to L.A. in April? Because we have this super-awesome conference and the artists make art for the stories and its really sad when an author can’t be there. Oh, and since we need to get the book to the printer soon, we’re going to try to get the winners picked in record time.”
And then the call was over.
That left me to mull over the implications of being a finalist. This was something that really wouldn’t sink in right away.
Have I mentioned how great the WotF forum is? It’s pretty great. This whole story does not have this ending were it not for the WotF forum. K.D. Julicher (Published Finalist from Vol. 32… read her story, it rocks) was a Finalist in Q3 for Vol. 34. She noted on the forum:
Yeah, so, that Q3 finalist I just had? Trunk story. Well, not quite, but “story I haven’t touched in a year, pulled out and polished up” counts, right?
I read that and a light bulb went off. I could meet my goal of submitting every quarter without submitting the broken thing I was stuck in banging-head-against -wall zone. All I had to do was polish up the story (that I loved) that was just rejected from a different anthology.
Here’s what I posted on the forum about what was thinking in the moment:
With what I was working on for Q4 being (not-quite-but-close-to) hopelessly broken. I took this inspiration and rather than skip this quarter, got something in that feels not too shabby. And that gives me enough time to fix what’s wrong with the other one.
I submitted sometime near the end of September.
Joni Labaqui called to tell me I was a Finalist on November 6.
For whatever reason, I’ve mostly ended up writing fantasy and almost exclusively in the third person POV. So for the next quarter, I wanted to push myself to get better by doing something I was unfamiliar with. I was going to write a first person POV science fiction story.
I would say the results were… not great?
I still love the idea, and want to come back to it at some point, but man, I couldn’t execute it to save my life. The folks I was swapping with, most notably Kent and Robert were nice about it, but it was obvious it wasn’t working. Sometimes the critique can give you hard insight that the piece is broken as written and the better choice is to walk away.
Don’t throw good money after bad, as it were.
I was running out of time in the quarter and was presented with a familiar set of choices: Submit nothing, submit something I knew wasn’t good enough, or (a new option), submit something that already existed.
I opted for the latter. It was a good decision.
My WotF journey thus far had basically consisted of falling backwards into an Honorable Mention, getting headstrong, and being dosed back to reality by rejections. It wasn’t exactly like I was covering myself in glory at this point, but I was armed with blind enthusiasm and a newfound weapon: the forum, and specifically, the critiques of fellow writers.
For a variety of reasons, I’ve played this whole “Jon writes stuff” thing pretty close to the vest my entire life. Setting aside larger discussion for the time being, the practical effect of that is that I didn’t develop a network of fellow writers, or a writing group. The forum allowed me to connect with other people in roughly the same spot I was. I dove head long into the forum to find people to exchange stories with, and wonder-of-wonders, it was super helpful.
For the next submission I worked it through [checks folder] 43 [dang] revisions. I made a list of all the lessons my rejections had taught me. I made a list of all the things that I knew were important to the contest. I focused on making my prose tight, concise, impactful, beautiful. I poured a lot of metaphorical blood, sweat, and tears into it.
It netted another Honorable Mention.
My first reaction was disappointment. I’d worked so dang hard, maybe that’s my ceiling, I thought.
My second, much more rational, reaction was that was what this story had earned. I didn’t stick the landing. There’s no way that 95% of a great story wins. Maybe it would have placed higher with a killer ending, maybe it wouldn’t have.
Each submission was a lesson, and this one was clear: Stick the ending!