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Issue #48

Free Writers' Newsletter

 Feb 24, 2007  

     

My writing competition success
An interview with writer, Brian Richmond

Brian Richmond recently found success in a writing competition he found through firstwriter.com. We caught up with him to talk to him about the competition, and his writing.

fw: Congratulations on your success in the Next Stop Hollywood competition. Tell us a little about the competition. 

BR: The competition was a collaboration between figures in the publishing and movie industries in the USA. The aim was very specific: to find stories that had the potential to be turned into films, as the title suggests. The first step will be the publication of an anthology of the winning stories by St Martin's Press in New York. Over 600 stories were submitted and only 15 were chosen. In fact, I'm the only person from Europe who made it through.

Tom Howard/John H. Reid Short Story Contest Deadline-March 31: $3,200 in prizes. Any type of short story, essay or other prose. Published / unpublished work welcome. Online or mail entry. Guidelines.

fw: Is writing something you've always done? 

BR: I've always been interested in writing and had some very minor successes in my early 20s. But, like a lot of people, career and family intervened. Then I realised that, if I didn't do something soon, I'd become one of those people who was always going to write but never did. 

fw: What made you want to start writing? 

BR: I loved reading. It's something I picked up from my dad. One of the few things we did together was to go to the local public library. And, when you love writing, it's a pretty natural aspiration to want to be a writer.

fw: And what made you think about entering competitions?

BR: I was just looking for anywhere to send my work. My belief is that you have to put almost as much effort into getting your work out there as into writing it. I'd actually sold my first short story directly to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine but I just wanted to know as much as possible about any potential market. And some competitions pay as well or offer as much as conventional publication.

fw: Did you find it difficult to get good information on potential markets?

BR: For magazines and suchlike, no. Competitions were a different matter.

fw: How did firstwriter.com help you in your search?

BR: Without wanting to sound as if I'm sucking up, it was a godsend. To have the information sent to me rather than having to go searching for it... and you hear of things that otherwise you would never come across...

fw: I'm guessing you didn't enter every competition we sent you in an InstantAlert email. How did you select which ones to enter and which not? 

BR: It depends. I write commercial rather than literary fiction. Normally, if you read the competition description closely, you can tell if it's something you have a shot at doing. Also, and this is personal preference, I only write for competitions that have a cash prize. I feel if someone is going to pay for my work, they must actually value it. I don't consider it much of an achievement if someone says they'll print my story for nothing.

Have you protected your Copyright? Copyright piracy is estimated to cost millions annually. Before sending your work to agents, publishers, or contests, make sure you take out copyright protection. Click here for more information.

fw: So do you write stories for specific competitions you want to enter, or do you wait for competitions to come along that match the stories you have already written? 

BR: Sometimes I write for the competition, particularly if it's in one of the areas I'm strong in, like crime. Other times, I might read about a competition and feel that a story I have in my bank is worth submitting. There's no hard and fast rule.

fw: Do you always stick with the same kind of contests, or do you enter a variety? 

BR: I tend to enter competitions where the theme interests me. Next Stop Hollywood was totally open in terms of the kind of story you submitted, so I just went with my strongest piece. However, I am drawn to crime and dark fiction competitions as these reflect my own interests.

fw: How long were you entering competitions before you found success?

BR: Well, my first success wasn't in a competition. The first story I wrote in this, my second phase of trying to be a writer, sold to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. So did my second. The competitions started to come a few months later.

fw: What do you think has been the key to your success?

BR: I'm a lazy person. But, I've learned that if I want to be a writer, I have to work hard. The harder I work, the more success I tend to have. That doesn't just mean working on writing itself, it involves searching out markets, researching what editors are looking for, plugging away as much as you can...

fw: So what next? Are you entering more competitions, or do you have other plans for your writing? 

BR: I'm still entering competitions although I'm more selective now. When I started, I just wanted the reassurance that I wasn't totally deluding myself by wanting to be a writer. Now, I've had some success in seeing my short stories do well in competitions and magazines. I think a novel is the next hurdle. However, I am diversifying a little bit. I live in a very scenic part of Donegal in Ireland and, given that I've had some success in selling my stories, I'm actually going to be running a residential course for aspiring writers in a local hotel. This part of the world is heaven for writers. Watch out for my ad coming soon to the firstwriter.com site!

fw: Thanks very much for your time, Brian, and best of luck with everything.

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You are the box office smash: the personal screenplay
By Gordy Hoffman

Right this very second, in the heart of every struggling, undiscovered screenwriter, in the dark, hidden corner deep within, there is a voice, a clear whisper, saying one thing:

You're never gonna figure this out.

And this is not referring to the story with its gaping hole, the finale missing a payoff, the hit and miss humour, the flat title.

I'm talking about freedom. The freedom to work as a screenwriter. Compensation for a home for family and a life. The resources to wake up and ply your craft and pay the freight, without obstacle. The chance to see your writing made into pictures, to work with the industry's best, to fulfil this goal of professional screenwriter. Hollywood success.

Behind this voice is the idea that somehow, some way, you'll find the hero, or the hook, logline or pitch that will punch your golden ticket. If you could only figure out what the studio wants, if you can only get a solid bead to this game, you know you can write and execute. What is the script I should write to get an agent? What is the one that will sell? It's not that I don't know how to write, I know how to write screenplays, I just need to know what they want, even though I think I know what they want, but I don't think I have the idea that they want. Yeah.

I'm not gonna figure this out, whispers the voice.

Why this uneasiness? Does it originate within ourselves? I don't think so. But where does it come from? The daily obsession with box office grosses? The news of the seven figure deals to newbies? The endless procession of boneheadedly conceived franchises-in-waiting arriving in the theatres every Friday? People winning Academy Awards for movies you would not be caught dead writing? Recognising an idea you came up with years ago on your couch, produced with a $130 million budget drowning in CGI?

All these things are but a few of the possible reasons why this seeds unhealthy doubt and confusion in the modern screenwriter. Tracking these forces outside us and beyond our control in an effort to trudge the path to a successful screenwriting career will prove to most to be unproductive and corrosive. Basically, trying to figure out what Hollywood wants will land us in a resentment that makes "giving up" a sane response to the very challenge which used to inspire us. In short, we cannot chase a perceived trend and remember our dreams.

You cannot look at the marketplace and find your voice. You can find ideas, trends, and inspiration there, perhaps, but you can find these things driving in traffic as well. But listening to your voice is the key to creating original, compelling stories.

Your life is your own story. You have a completely unique thread of experience. By allowing yourself to express these emotional experiences, your screenplay, your story, will be different from any other and powerful, as original as your fingerprint.

Why is it powerful? When we have the courage to be specific about what we know about living, we create an authentic world an audience recognises as the life they are living on planet Earth. This connects your audience to your story. This connection is the foundation of the phenomena of story.

Why does story mean so much to us? We recognise the triumphs and tragedies of our lives, with all the hilarity and tears. By seeing it, we are validated and it underscores meaning and purpose to living.

If we don't use what we've collected in life in our hearts and spirits, then our story loses its authenticity and the connection the audience should make fails. They do not see themselves, and when they leave the cinema, they do not call their friends. When people do not call their friends after seeing a movie, the movie bombs.

When a writer opens their person to their work, when they allow themselves to be vulnerable, to risk exposure of the secrets of their life story, they take a huge step towards creating a screenplay of substantial value, a screenplay with a greater potential of a large number of tickets sold.

This is precisely why art and commerce have remained bedfellows for thousands of years. To look at the relationship between art and commerce as adversarial or incompatible is just plain foolish. Art happens when people invest their spirits in their work without fear, and story is artful when the writing is truthful and the writer is authentic.

And what do we have to be honest about? We can only lie about what we know, and we can only tell the truth about what we know. And that is what has happened to us, our life story. This is what we share.

This is not a pitch to write "what you know". This is not about writing stories about where you work or where you live. This is about writing about what you felt. You can imagine characters and worlds and actions and speech you've never personally experienced, but if you remember to infuse your choices with your emotional and spiritual struggles and victories as a human being, your screenplay will be different in the very best sense of the word.

The question you have to answer is not what does Hollywood want today. The question is how honest of a writer do you want to be. I guarantee you can write a blockbuster, you can write a box office hit. This will happen when you find an audience. And the correct path to this crowd of people is listening to yourself. If you practice, you will develop an inner ear for who you are and what you know and you will become masterful in loading your work with your fingerprints. Writing is personal work. You are the guitar. You are the box of paint. Give of that and your audience will remember why life is good and they will talk of you.

About the Author
Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival for LOVE LIZA, Gordy Hoffman has written and directed three digital shorts for Fox Searchlight. He made his feature directorial debut with his script, A COAT OF SNOW, which world premiered at the 2005 Locarno Intl Film Festival. A COAT OF SNOW made its North American Premiere at the Arclight in Hollywood, going on to screen at the Milan Film Festival and the historic George Eastman House. Recently, the movie won the 2006 Domani Vision Award at VisionFest, held at the Tribeca Cinemas in NY. A professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Gordy is the founder and judge of BlueCat Screenplay Competition. Dedicated to develop and celebrate the undiscovered screenwriter, BlueCat provides written script analysis on every script entered. In addition, Gordy acts as a script consultant for screenwriters, offering personalised feedback on their scripts through his consultation service, www.screenplaynotes.com. For more articles by Gordy on screenwriting, visit http://www.bluecatscreenplay.com.

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Resources for writers at firstwriter.com

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In this issue:

Spelling conventions

fwn uses English spelling conventions. Spellings such as "realise" "colour", "theatre", "cancelled", etc. differ from other spelling conventions but are nonetheless correct. 

News:

Free Fall seeks submissions
Free Fall, a magazine for writers, readers, editors, and agents, is seeking submissions of poetry, short stories, articles, personal essays, and reviews of books on or about writing.

The magazine would also like to hear from published authors who would be willing to take part in an email interview.

To contact the magazine, or submit material online, click here.

For over 700 other magazines, click here

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Commonwealth Short Story Competition
Entries are now invited for the 2007 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. There is no entry fee or form. The deadline for receipt of entries is May 1, 2007. 

Stories may be on any theme or subject, up to 600 words, and all commonwealth citizens are eligible to enter up to three unpublished stories. The winner will receive 2,000.

Entries may be posted to Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, 17 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1AA, UK or emailed to story@cba.org.uk.

For more than 150 contests, click here

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Libbon changes submissions policy
Libbon has moved away from its previous policy of sourcing contributions by competition. It has also increased the accepted word length to 5,000 words of fiction of any topic (except Children's stories). Full details of how to submit your fiction can be found at www.libbon.co.uk.

For over 700 other magazines, click here 

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Select Six website moves
The Select Six website has moved.

Six of the best – an entirely subjective assessment – can now be found at www.bewrite.net/
select_six.htm
 

Submissions, reviews, and links continue to be welcome.

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UK North West poetry competition
A free poetry competition has been launched for residents of the UK North West. Poems are invited on any subject, up to 40 lines.

Prizes include 100, 50, and 25, and all winning poems will be read at the "Hear the Word" Literary Festival on April 14.

For more details contact M Hunt, 73 Barnsley Street, Wigan, WN6 7HB, or email mj.hunt@
blueyonder.co.uk
.

For more than 150 contests, click here. 

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firstwriter.com 2007
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