Charlie's Blog

Mentors and Contests and Reviews, Oh My!

Monday, August 21, 2023 6:03 AM

            I have been writing, off and on, for a long time. I'd go through spurts of activity, then get busy with other things and not do much for a while, then have another spurt of activity. 

            I wrote a number of poems and stories in college and for several years after. Then kids, conventions, and theatre kept me busy. While I kept telling myself I wanted to write, I put it off.

            But I've been doing better over the past few years. That's because of people who helped me regain the passion I once had for the written word. 

            It started with several people in college. All of these men went out of their way to help a struggling writer. They inspired a lot of writers, to be honest. They still do. There were a lot of women, too, but I will only list those who had the greatest influence on me.


            Orson Scott Card, who came to LTUE several times and put on some wonderful writing workshops that still inspire me.

            Scott told me, during one of the workshops I attended, that my story was good enough to sell and suggested an editor. I wanted to make some changes, and by the time the story was ready, the magazine folded. But his words gave me hope. 

            M. Shayne Bell, who helped me get my first story published by telling me how to fix my story for his anthology, and then helping with several subsequent edits. He not only bought my first story, he later bought one of my poems when he was the poetry editor of a local magazine. In college, he encouraged me to keep writing poetry.

            Dave Wolverton (David Farland) who was always encouraging and who gave a number of wonderful writing workshops at local conventions. His workshops and books are tremendous. Even though he's gone, a number of his workshops were recorded. Apex Writers is also going strong.

            When my father passed away, Dave was one of the people I turned to for help in starting my own small press so I could take back my father's books and publish them myself. 

            The other person who was incredibly helpful when my dad died was Michaelbrent Collings. He has been incredibly kind and generous with his support and encouragement.

            Michael R. Collings was a professor of English at Pepperdine University for years. He was also the Poet in Residence there. He came to LTUE every year to present an academic paper and talk about poetry. He gave several poetry one-on-ones where you could bring a poem and get his feedback. That was invaluable. As where the hours we were on panels about poetry and were able to share our love of poems and words. I learned and still learn so much from him. 

            My dad self-published his first book and brought it to the 2012 World Horror Convention to sell. Michael took a copy and edited it for my dad for free just to help him out. He has also been incredibly encouraging about my poetry over the years.

            While these four men were the most helpful and inspiring, I have to mention some of the women, too.

            Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury, Lyn Worthen, Aleta Clegg, and others, have always been encouraging and supportive of other writers. Aleta published my second story in one of her anthologies. Linda D. Addison, an incredible poet in her own right, is also the poetry editor for Space and Time Magazine. She held an open mic poetry night at a World Horror Convention. She liked one of my poems so much she asked me to send it to her to consider buying for the magazine. She did. She accepted another poem and will often tell me in a rejection email that one of the poems I submitted made her short list. That is very encouraging. She also teaches about poetry on occasion at Stoker Con.


            My definitive return to writing came because of my work with the World Horror Convention and subsequent membership in the HWA. I became a founding member of the Utah Chapter of the HWA. There were a couple of members who had started their own small presses and the group became involved in a series of horror anthologies. That's where a lot of my publications come from. The collections are really good and have helped a lot of writers in and around Utah get published. Right now, Timber Ghost Press is putting out at least one annual anthology either by Utah authors or set in Utah. It's an incredible opportunity and some amazing writers submit. Cody Langille, F. Scott Forman, Daniel Cureton, Caryn Larrinaga, and many others have helped me with my writing, with starting my own small press, and with encouragement and moral support. 

            Johnny Worthen was instrumental in my joining the League of Utah Writers. It's a great organization with over 30 chapters across the state. I'm now in three of them. They have two annual conferences and a writing contest. I've been privileged to win several Woolley Awards. I've also been published in several League anthologies, including their Utah's Best collections. In addition, one of the chapters, the Infinite Monkeys, has put out several anthologies. These, too, are amazing opportunities for writers to network, get help with their writing, build a support network, and get published. 

            There are opportunities in the various chapters to learn more about writing and to get stories and poems critiqued. There are also a number of small presses that have open calls for anthologies.


            So, why does this sound like a sales pitch? Well, it's not. Not really. It's not about selling anything. It's about showing how supportive and inclusive the writing community really is. It's not about being the best, it's about helping others become the best. Because if people are reading, we all win. And, if they like what you write, they'll look for books by other writers in the same genre, so we all win.

            I would not be where I am now without the help of others. I've mentioned a few, but there are a lot of them, and they make a difference in my writing. 

            I submitted a lot of poems to this year's Woolley Awards. There were three categories that fit the type of poems I write. They have one permanent category, light verse, which is about half of what I write. This year, they had haiku and limerick. I also write a lot of those. I honestly hoped to get two or three awards this year as I know a number of writers who write amazing haiku and other forms of poetry. What flabbergasted me was that I won 11 poetry awards. I didn't do it by myself. I had a lot of help. Some of it came from the people who mentored me. Some of it comes from the poets in my writing groups. There are poets in all four of the groups I belong to. The Red Butte Bards is just for poetry. Every month, we each submit one to three poems and give each other feedback. Several of the poems that won awards were helped by comments from those poets. My poetry would not be as good as it is (and I'm not as good as some of the others in the group). In fact, my poem, "The Ancient Willow" was helped the month before I submitted it to the contest. I made several changes and asked two members of the group to look it over again before I submitted it. They did. That poem took first place for light verse. If I didn't get that feedback, it would never have won anything. 

            Four days after I won those awards, I saw the feedback. That's a perk of the contest, you get feedback from the judges. Some of it was very complimentary. Most of the comments had both good and bad things to say—even about the works that won awards. Some of the comments were helpful and I plan to make changes to some of my poems and one of the short stories. Some of it made it clear that the person commenting didn't get it. That's life. When you submit a work to a magazine, anthology, or publisher, you can get mixed results. It can be a fine story or poem and still get rejected for a number of reasons. I've learned that if I get anything more than a simple form letter, it means that what I submitted was good enough that they want to see more. Sometimes it just doesn't fit what they're looking for, or they just bought something similar, or it didn't resonate with the editor, or sometimes, they didn't get it. The next person you send it to could love it. In fact, one story and one poem that didn't get anything were sold (the work can't be published before the submission deadline, but it can be published after.) Those comments definitely kept me from thinking I was all that and a bag of chips. I'm a work in progress, and always will be.

            Writing may be a solo venture where we sit alone at a computer and write, but it includes a community of other writers who are happy to share what they've learned. They encourage, mentor, and console because they've been there, too, and want you to succeed. Because of other writers, I won two awards for short stories as well. I did not expect that. It's the first time in 20 years that a story of mine won an award. 

            The two stories that won awards were based on stories my dad used to tell me and my brothers at bedtime. He made up his own tall tales and that character stayed with me. So, those wins were because of my dad. The dad who, at 75, published his first book. He published three others before he passed away. 

            He always encouraged and supported me in my writing. He came to my book signings. He came to conventions as a speaker because I asked. He was amazing.

            My life has been full of teachers and writers who helped me, from high school to now. Each one of them left a bit of their light that kindled something in me and inspired me to keep writing.

            I'm now in 21 anthologies and a handful of magazines, but it's a start, and it's growing. I want to get novels published, and collections of my work. I have so much I want to do, and I finally have the drive and the time to do it. Mostly. Life is always about making choices with your time, and I need to choose to spend more of mine on writing. I need to keep that fire lit and to pass on some of what I've learned to others. Because, in the end, it does take a community of writers. I will always be grateful for mine.