Monday, August 29, 2016

A Contest Full of Surprises

Some of you may have heard me mention that I am a member of an online writing group called “writing.com.” I joined it in December of 2008 during a time when I was Jim’s caregiver. It saved my life, or at least saved my sanity, by providing me with an hour or so each day of normalcy during a period in my life that was anything but normal.

In the beginning I read the writing of others and provided tentative feedback, unsure of my own ability to do more. It was late February of 2009 before I was brave enough to “publish” a poem, a poem about my kitty, Mopsy, and a visiting friend named Oliver. We called him Ollie and he belonged to my daughter who, at the time, had moved into an apartment that did not allow pets. The poem was terrible, but I have left it “published” to remember how it all started. Now, I have over 232 published items of which some are book items, meaning they have more than one entry, for instance, my blog and my memoirs, which have several.

A couple of years ago I was promoted to the role of moderator on the site because of my activity and involvement with others, I guess, not really sure why. It’s not a big deal, but it does allow me to do certain things such as edit newsletters, judge contests, try out new site tools before others as well as being helpful and positive when questioned about things on the site which sometimes I can answer and sometimes not.

Finally, slow though I am, last month I, along with two other moderators, volunteered to judge the monthly official writing.com contest. The other two moderators were old hands at judging. This contest is called “Short Shots” and the required story of up to 2,000 words was prompted by a photo. From my viewpoint, the picture was eerie-looking, mostly dark green and blue with patches of bright light shining in from above. I saw old buildings around a lake, rocky and barren backdrops, with industrial smokestacks in the distance. My first thought was of a book I had read awhile back called Among Others which was set in a coal mining area of Scotland. The small town’s laborers worked in factories that made charcoal briquettes. Not one other person who entered the contest saw the picture the same way I did.

First, let me say, the judges had to read all the entries and give a written review of at least 250 characters which is not really very long. This is what amazed me. Nearly every story was sci-fi or fantasy, and there were 49 entries. The closest I have gotten to reading science fiction and fantasy would be Steven King and J. K. Rowling so believe me, I was not prepared to “understand” most of the entries about supernatural caves, dragons, aliens, fantasy warfare, fairies, time warps, black holes, spaceships, middle earth, and on and on. So to say I got an education in an unknown genre would be an understatement.
In order to write the review I had to try to understand the story that was being written. Sometimes this took four or five readings and “googling” strange words.
After reading all the stories my judging job was to pick my favorite ten, with number one being my most favorite and so on. The contest ended on the thirtieth of July and my selections had to be submitted by August 15th. I wasn’t supplied with the entries until the first of August because editing was allowed until the end of July. With my lack of knowledge in the genre I placed the extra burden on myself of finishing all my reviews by August 15th. How could I make an intelligent decision otherwise? Then the moderator of the contest would compile the selections attaching a point system to determine the top three, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places. The prizes are in writing.com gift points of $100, $50 and $25, and you must have a paid membership to be eligible. I had no idea so many people would enter.

The winners were announced on August 22nd and I was shocked to see that my first three picks had won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places just as I had selected them. So I guess the moral of this story is that even though you may not think you know what you are doing, if you try to do your very best, you can get through it and maybe even learn something along the way. I anticipated emails from writers who laughed at my reviews, but all the responses I received couldn’t have been nicer, and several actually said I “got” exactly what they were trying to say. That was a big surprise.

My comfort level with sci-fi and fantasy has improved, but I’m not sure I would knowingly volunteer to judge another contest in those genres. I did learn a lot, not only about writing but about people, and now that it’s over, I’m glad I put myself out there and saw it through to the finish line.

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