Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Useful Links to Stir the Creative Soul

All of these links relate in some way to a recent topic of discussion in the Writing Practicum -- a group of talented writers that I facilitate on Tuesday nights. Each of the first four is a sort of C.S. Lewis-like "Wood Between the Worlds" that serves as a jumping-off place to other, related sites that merit additional exploring...

For those who are outlining a story, organizing thoughts, brainstorming, or heavily involved in plot or character development, mind-mapping is a useful exercise. For highly rated and reviewed (free) mind-mapping software, try FreeMind.

If you are considering signing with a literary agent or manager to further your career, first read this excellent blog post on Questions to Ask before signing with an agent. The comments at the end are also enlightening.

If you are interested in finding ways to harness and direct your creative impulses, this blog post by the author of the bestselling "The 4-Hour Work Week" is a great introduction to the particulars of Lucid Dreaming.

And this blog post contains a very good primer on Personal Branding – important for authors interested in developing and establishing a platform. Pay special attention to the presentation embedded within the post. It's a whole mini-seminar in itself.

Writing Contests of Note

Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards (For poems less than 32 lines.) Deadline Dec. 1, 2009.

Genre Wars Short Story contest. For stories up to 2,000 words. Free to enter. Small cash prizes. Publication in anthology for winners.

And the Big One...

Writer’s Cruise with Cynthia Whitcomb

Depart April 10, 2010 for a 14 day cruise from Miami trans-Atlantic, to the Canary Islands, Barcelona, Spain; Villefranche, France; Florence or Pisa, Italy; ending in Rome on April 24 on the Royal Carribbean cruise line. Prices begin at less than $100 per day (not including airfare). Includes the Writer's Workshop, all meals, great networking, and being treated like royalty.

Find out about what happened during the 2009 cruise. Then, set your sights on the seas!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Top 10 Movies For and About Writers...

or, Thoughts on Completing "The Night Was..."

Throw Momma From The Train
I rewatched Throw Momma From the Train last night, after my friend and co-writer Paul Martin reminded me of the dreck the members of Billy Crystal's writing class came up with.

(Ya gotta love Mrs. Hazeltine's contribution to literature:

"Dive... DIVE," yelled the captain through the thing. So the captain pressed a button, or something, and it dove. And the enemy was foiled again!

I was freshly reminded how fortunate I am to associate with the truly talented writers in the Writing Practicum!)

Though I like "Momma," I found myself wondering how it would be reworked and rearranged if released today.

I suspect the entire opening "Writer's Block" scene would be excised completely and the movie would actually begin with Danny DeVito enduring the Momma from Hell -- all in the name of grabbing the all-powerful Reader by the throat and not letting go. In fact, it might be an interesting editing exercise to re-cut the film for "Today's Audience" and see how the story fared in the re-imagining.

Dated or not, the movie remains one of my favorite about the Writing Life. (What's not to like about Danny DeVito's hapless Owen confessing about killing Billy Crystal's hated ex-wife?: You're right. You're right, I'm no good. How could I do that? I'm a sick pers--[a billboard with a pastoral scene distracts him] Cows!)

Watching Billy wrestle with how to best complete the sentence "The night was..." got me to thinking, and inspired me to compile a quick and not-terribly-well-thought-out list of other favorite films that prominently feature writers. In no particular order, these include:

* The remake of D.O.A., which serves to remind us that people will kill for a good book.

* Atonement (though, truth be told, I tend to watch this more for Mr. McAvoy's performance than for Briony's story...)

* Moulin Rouge ::sigh::

* The hilarious and under-seen Tune in Tomorrow, with Peter Falk as the writer for a hot radio soap, and Keanu Reeves, Barbara Hersey, John Larroquette, Peter Gallagher, Elizabeth McGovern, and many, many more, as his pawns.

* Stranger Than Fiction, which is about the closest I've ever seen a movie come to the weird reality of a writer "with book."

* The inspired-by-true-life Shattered Glass (Say what you will about Hayden Christensen, I thought he was very good in this tale of a writer who fakes his way to the top...)

* Adaptation ("Don't call it 'the industry...'"),

* And, thanks to my 6-year old daughter, I would have to add both Miss Potter and Nim's Island for their accuracy in illustrating how obsessively real a writer's characters can become...

Of course there are others that feature writers: "The Muse." "Something's Gotta Give." "The Player." Even "Romancing the Stone" qualifies. Without trying too hard, you could probably rattle off several I haven't mentioned.

I suppose I should find it mildly concerning that in most movies, we writers don't come off as a terribly balanced or rational lot. But I don't. We have rich inner lives. We take reviews too seriously and ignore deadlines that we shouldn't. We're neurotic, creative, scheming, and driven. We plot the perfect murders. We manipulate kings and peons. Within realms of our creation, we decide who lives, who loves, who triumphs, and who fails. We fall in love with our words and -- subsequently -- with our characters. We are an odd but interesting lot, forever searching for the perfect way to finish the sentence, "The night was..."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Let the Judging Begin...

Updates From the Front of the 3-Day Novel Contest

I received word from the Powers That Be in the 3-Day Novel Contest that my manuscript has been received and logged and is now with their judging committee.

Since my entry has been officially processed, I get banner-display bragging rights (see accompanying "I Survived..." pic). I find this oddly gratifying, and suddenly have a greater understanding of the importance of war medals.

And now, of course, those of us who entered the fray must return to our normally scheduled lives while The Committee spends the next few months reading (and hopefully rereading) the submissions and debating their favorites.

In my mind's eye, I see several harried readers half-hidden behind stacks of submissions. Each desperately searches for a manuscript to love. Each knows that the likelihood of doing so is roughly the equivalent of finding one's Perfect Life Partner during happy hour at a singles bar. Hope, however, burns eternal. But time marches on, and no reader can spend too much time on any one manuscript because there are still so many others awaiting perusal. I envision an overworked coffeepot, boxes marked "Yes!" "No!" and "Kill Me, Kill Me Now!" and a stash of donuts to give the calorie-laden courage necessary to begin reading another draft.

The winners will be announced in mid-January, 2010. In the meantime, we are free to work on our drafts however we see fit (I am already inflicting portions on the Writing Practicum members), though we are reminded to save a copy in its original form.

Because of the cataloging process, they don't yet have total figures of entries for this year's contest. One wonders just how many of us were gluttons for such punishment. Best of luck to all who entered -- I feel a certain affinity with them, based largely on a shared lack of sleep.

I'm currently working on a book project that takes one elite athlete's insights, training tips, and strategies and applies them to Real Life. It's shaping up to be a fascinating look at what makes people successful -- no matter what arena they choose to compete in. One of the big tentpole tenets is simply: once you've raised the bar, that level of performance becomes your new norm.

I know that writing a novel in less than 3 days raised the bar on my craft. I would strongly recommend the experience to any writer. Though the contest has been over for weeks now, I continue to benefit from it.

Yesterday, I spent 5 hours working on a new novel. I completed 5 pages. Before the 3-Day contest, I'd have been content with that. Now, I'm not. I've been on the front lines of battle and lived to tell about it. I have a better understanding of what I am capable of. I know I have it in me to do better...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More Useful Links for Writers

Blogs & Databases of Interest

Another database of agents

Blog with a great (recent) rundown of average advances and current sales info for several genres. (Look on the right under The Essential PMN for the list).

Insightful, frank, and hilarious blog written by an intern at a publishing company. (Kelly from the Writing Practicum highly recommends her!)

An interestingdiscussion and examples of omniscient and limited omniscient POV from
the blog of literary agent Robert Brown.

Bay Area Editor's Forum: Information on image Research and Permissions.

Call for Submissions:

The Ambassador Poetry Project

The Ambassador Poetry Project, a new online journal featuring poetry from and about Michigan and Ontario, is seeking submissions for the December and March issue. 


Blade Red Press

Small press looking for short stories for anthology. (See site for full details, but here's a bit...) The first Blade Red Press anthology of dark speculative fiction is now open to submissions. The anthology will be available in print and e-book format through online retailers in early 2010 (assuming sufficient submissions are received). Only submissions received between September 17th 2009 and November 30th 2009 will be considered.

Enjoy! And, as usual, Happy Writing!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Against the Wind

or, Marathon Man Movie Has a Name!

The results are in! We have a winner!

Over 450 entries were submitted in the Name the Dick Beardsley Movie contest. Thanks to all who participated. Your creativity and obvious enthusiasm were appreciated.

The Grand Prize winner is the title Against the Wind, submitted by Tommy Tidwell. Tommy will receive a $150 gift certificate from New Balance, a Dick Beardsley Foundation T-shirt, and bragging rights for naming the project.

The top 5 Runners-Up are:

Beyond the Finish Line – Sarabeth Orlowski
Hitting The Wall – Jack Royal
Running on Empty – David Edwards
After the Finish Line – Mark Berman
One More Mile – Jeff Smith

Each runner-up will receive a Dick Beardsley Foundation T-shirt. Congratulations!

Please note, some of the titles were submitted by more than one person, so the first one who entered the title will receive the T-shirt. But we would like to acknowledge the following people for their submissions:

Jeff Rayburn
Stephanie Kurpiewski
Julie Threlkeld
Renee Saxman
Leland Baskin
Ed Dodak
Janet Cain

We invite you to become a fan of Against the Wind on Facebook. There, you’ll find updates on the status of the film project and you’ll be the first to learn of other contests related to the project. Making a movie is just like running a marathon, and we are on mile 1. Thanks for your continued support, and we’ll see you at the finish line!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Dreamers and Doers

Every Tuesday evening, I facilitate the Writing Practicum, a group of writers dedicated to honing their craft and polishing their prose as they actively pursue publication.

We are all focused on the same goal – to become fabulously successful bestselling authors – and we are all committed to helping each other press on toward that goal.

Every week I am impressed anew with both the talent and the work ethic represented in our group. I am equally impressed by the lack of debilitating ego. We all know that we can write and are confident in our abilities. But no one feels compelled to pontificate and hold the rest captive. Instead, we are sincere in wanting to use what we know to help the others grow and improve.

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, the Practicum is mostly comprised of adult women with complicated histories. And then there is our newest member: a very gifted 17-year old young man. He only recently got his driver’s license, he has just started college, he still lives at home… He’s just getting started in life.

His writing would be good even if he were 20 years older, but coming from someone his age, it’s quite remarkable. Not only can he put words on paper, but he also has good insights into what makes a piece work. He isn’t just there to get our opinions on his writing; he contributes opinions to the rest of us as well. In our Practicum of MFA’s and published authors, he holds his own quite well.

His mother keeps a fairly close watch on what he does, and every week he has to leave the meeting right at 7:30, whether we’re done or not. We all wish he could stay.

This past Tuesday as he was packing up his computer to slip away, a woman who has been in the workforce longer than he has been alive asked, “Do your parents have any idea how talented you are?”

They don’t.

“Would it help if we told them how good you are, how important this group is, and how we’d like you to stay?” another member asked him.

“Please don’t,” he said quietly. “You’ll just make it worse.”

His parents are not writers. They don’t understand how he feels driven to stay up until all hours of the night creating characters and worlds, bringing them to life, and seeing what they’ll do. They don’t realize how remarkable it is that he completed his first novel when he was 16 AND is willing to ruthlessly edit and rewrite it to make it better. They don’t grasp the magnitude of what it means when he can effortlessly turn out 50 very readable pages in a weekend.

I can only imagine what they think their son is doing for two hours every week with 10 ladies “of a certain age.” I like to believe that if they only knew the extent of the practical writing education he is getting, they would allow him to stay and give their blessing. But I may be deluding myself.

Though it may be true that a writer’s greatest resource is a miserable, misunderstood life, I firmly believe that a writer’s greatest asset is at least one person who provides support and encouragement to follow the Muse wherever it leads.

I have taught workshops where I heard horror stories of writers whose spouses ridiculed their efforts and their ambitions to the point where the writer hid his or her work and only worked on it surreptitiously. Clandestine creativity -- how sad. I daily consider myself richly blessed with a husband who wholeheartedly supports my chosen path in life.

Support aside, I would further argue that a writer’s greatest contributor to success is his or her commitment.

I spent Tuesday with Janet, a woman who has always known she wanted to be a writer – but life kept getting in the way. Now her children are grown and she is finally able to revisit all of the projects she has been thinking about for the past 20 years. She, too, is talented. But she has decades of putting a dream on hold to overcome. (We all know that once a thing is done, it’s easier to do it again…)

Sometimes, the older we get, the more we become used to not doing a thing. That inertia can be difficult to surmount.

I give Janet a lot of credit, though. She has lived in the state for less than a year. She attended her first writer’s conference this summer (that’s where we met). She drove over 3 hours one way just to have a face-to-face meeting and to talk writing with me – knowing that I am neither an agent nor a publisher. She is actively pursuing her writing and is learning about the publishing industry, too.

Which just goes to show that even with unqualified support from your family, friends, or significant other, they won’t make your writing dreams a reality. You still have to commit to making them happen.

I applaud the members of the Writing Practicum -- from the 17-year old to those in their 60’s – who are willing to say “my writing is a priority.” I applaud people like Janet, who are unwilling to let the vagaries of life wrest their aspirations from them without a fight. Their dedication and perseverance never ceases to inspire me.

In the end, I think that’s what it all comes down to – finding those qualities in others that encourage us to continue pursuing our own dreams.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Writer-Related Sites of Note

or, Resources Make the World Go Round

Thanks to the tireless online efforts of Kelly, a member of the Writing Practicum (a weekly critique group for serious writers that I facilitate), these sites have come to my attention lately. Some, like Preditors & Editors and Absolute Write, I already knew about. Others were new to me. All, however, are indisputably useful to the working writer.

Practicing Writing: This blog includes (among other notable posts) a weekly posting of serious, legitimate contests, scholarships, and employment opportunities for writers.

Query Tracker

Preditors & Editors(for checking agent & publisher legitimacy)

Absolute Write (writer's forum)

Two excellent "from the front lines / I'll answer your questions" blogs:

Literary Agent Nathan Bransford's blog.

Literary Agent Chip MacGregor's blog.

Here, also, are two current competitions of note:

Writer’s Digest Short Story Contest Offering a $3K Grand Prize for the best story under 1500 words.

Graywolf Press New Writer Non-Fiction Prize Awarding a $12,000 advance and publication by Graywolf Press to the most promising and innovative literary nonfiction project by a writer not yet established in the genre.

The Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize emphasizes formal innovation, and rewards projects that test the boundaries of literary nonfiction.

Open to any writer who has published at least one previous book (in any genre) and resides in the United States is eligible. Submissions must arrive in the Graywolf offices between October 1–31, 2009. The winner will be announced in early 2010.

Required materials:
• One-page cover letter containing a one-paragraph biographical statement and brief (2-4 sentence) description of the project. Please include any previous publications in the biographical statement.
• A two to ten-page overview of the project, including a description of what is already complete and what work remains to be finished.
• A minimum of 100 pages (25,000 words) from the manuscript.

We writers can use all the resources we can find. Here's hoping you find these of use!

Happy writing!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pain-Free Book Illustration

or, Had I But Known: A Primer on Photos

Today, if all goes well, principal photography will begin on Ryan Gingerich's book. This is part of the project is always fraught with danger. Depending on how things go, it either means that the project will soon be finished, or that I have a boatload of work ahead of me. (Actually, no matter what happens, I have a boatload of work ahead of me. However, the size of the boat -- whether it be a dinghy or a battle cruiser -- remains to be decided.)

When I wrote my first book, I was unaware of certain key questions that needed to be asked before I signed the contract. One of those questions was "who will be the photo editor?" It wasn't until late into the process that I discovered I, the writer, was destined for the job.

The photographer for the project, a wonderfully talented individual, had never photographed for a book before. He took pictures -- over 4000 beautiful images. And then he gave them all to me.

Since I'd never written a book before, I wasn't certain what the protocol was. However, after spending literally weeks wading through photo after photo after photo after photo, I realized there had to be a better way.

Through trial and error, I've developed a system that works for me. It seems to be the most efficient, the least time-consuming, and the least painful for all involved. If I can get everyone, the models, the photographer, the expert, and me on the same page, the shoot goes quite quickly. The key, I've discovered, is taking the reins and directing the entire thing. (I was reluctant to do this at first. I felt that it smacked of dictatorship. But after several nearly disastrous projects, I discovered that "dictator" isn't necessarily a bad word.)

The first step is writing the text. Polish the text until it shines. Get the manuscript ready.

Then, go through the text and look for words that lend themselves to visual representation. Find the phrases that require illustration. Find the words that are particularly evocative. Think of an appropriate illustration for this text, and describe it.

Give each illustration a unique number. The easiest way to do this is in sequence within each chapter. For instance, every illustration in chapter 1 will begin with the number one. I generally use a dot to separate the sequence number from the chapter number. The first photo in Chapter 1 is titled photo 1.1. The second in the same chapter is titled photo 1.2, and so on.

Photos that require being grouped in a sequence, as is often the case with how-to books, are designated with alphabetical letters. So, for instance, four photographs in a sequence might be titled photo 1.1A, 1.1B, 1.1C, and 1.1D.

Directly underneath each photo description, I write a short suggested caption. Captions for photos and illustrations are generally taken from the manuscript text, and then elaborated upon in further detail.

What I've gone through the entire manuscript and indicated where illustrations are appropriate, I make a chart. The chart includes the photo name (1.13, for instance), the short description, and the suggested caption for the illustration.

This chart goes to the photographer, and becomes his or her shot list.

As each shot is taken, the photographer can indicate the frames or file names of the two or three best photos for each required illustration. I tell the photographer in advance that I do not want every single photograph he or she snapped. I only want ones he or she would feel proud of if they appeared in print. This, I have discovered, narrows my selection process down immeasurably.

I generally have 2 to 5 photographs for each possible illustration. I prefer doing the initial photo selection off of thumbnails because it takes so much less time than working off the flow photograph file. I weed out the ones that are patently inappropriate for the text. Then I look at the full files and find the ones that best match the text.

I insert the name of the appropriate file in the manuscript text next to the photo number. My goal is to make the entire manuscript submission readily and easily understandable for the publisher. The publisher then receives a hard copy of the manuscript, printouts of the photo thumbnails, a CD of the large photo files, and an electronic version of the manuscript file.

If all goes well, complete photo selection, edits, and placement can be done in a few days. If all does NOT go well, photo selection alone can take nearly as long as writing the manuscript in the first place. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

In Other News

Made good headway on the Novel in Progress today, while I await the photos to come in for Ryan's book. I'm really enjoying the long-term creative process that a novel requires.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow. Not only is it the next meeting of the Writing Practicum, but a friend that I met at the Christian Writer's Conference in Grand Rapids earlier this summer is planning to come spend the day with me at the beach talking writing stuff. Sounds great! Nothing like a kindred spirit to sharpen the creative edge and make the Muse work overtime!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thoughts on the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest

or, Who Needs Sleep When There’s Coffee?

I am still coming down from the creative high of the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest that I participated in this past weekend. This year was the 32nd year of the contest’s existence. Thirty-two years of people willingly putting family, food, sleep, and all things healthy on hold during the final weekend of summer to create a novel where 72 hours earlier there was just an idea.

Of course it’s nuts. We’re writers. We (literally) wrote the book on “nuts.”

Now, I did not think the event would be easy. I’m not stupid. I know better than to mock the muse. So I prepared as best I could.

We were allowed to have an outline and research notes. I had both (less than 10 total pages of random sentences, driving distances, character biographies, and first-this-then-that sequencing).

I didn’t actually write it down, but I molded and massaged the first sentence and the book’s hook in my head for weeks ahead of time, so that when the time came, I could hack it out by heart onto the computer and thus eliminate the dreaded Blank Page Syndrome.

A week beforehand, I got my much-anticipated speech recognition software. I trained it to recognize my voice and speech patterns so that during the contest I could sit leisurely and dictate whatever brilliant ideas happened to fly into my head.

I was so primed and ready that I started typing up the notes to a completely different project just so I didn’t over-think the project I wanted to write about and peak too soon on it.

Then I came down with the Swine Flu. Which is not nearly as funny as it sounds.

The contest was slated to begin at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 5. I spent the greater portion of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday flat on my back in bed.

(Actually, I got up long enough on Thursday evening for a friend of mine to drive me to the doctor’s office. I lay down on the exam table while the room stopped spinning and waited for the doc to see me. I voiced my concerns that I might have Swine Flu. While he looked me over, his nurse ventured into the waiting room where she informed my friend, “She’s really sick.”

“Yep!” The doctor said emphatically. “You have it!”

Cue the dancing girls.)

Because I don’t work on Saturday, I knew that I would miss the first hours of the contest, but had figured I could make up for lost time. Had not planned on making up for illness, however.

I very nearly didn’t do the contest. My family hadn’t seen me in days, and had to pick the slack for me all week, I reasoned. I couldn’t ask them to indulge me for another few days.

My husband pointed out that not trying would have been like setting fire to the $50 entry fee. He and a friend of ours didn’t mind running the household, taking care of Cassandra, and bringing me food at regular intervals (though an interesting sidelight of the flu was a complete and total disinterest in food).

My support staff gave their blessing. So, at 8:45 p.m. Saturday – nearly 21 hours after the contest began -- I took the dog and a fresh box of Kleenex and started writing.

The experience was unlike anything I have ever done. It was also completely different than I expected. I figured I’d be drained, sapped, and fried. On the contrary – as the hours went on, I felt that new pathways in my brain had opened up. I felt increasingly energized, seized with creative fervor.

I discovered that my wonderful new dictation software was incapable of recognizing my knocking-at-death’s-door voice. After four days in bed, my fingers weren’t the most coordinated typing instruments. Thank heaven for spell-check.

By Sunday morning, I had 30 pages written. The dog and I curled up on the studio loveseat and grabbed an hour and a half of sleep.

Late Sunday afternoon, I had an epiphany – I was writing almost on auto-pilot. Over 25 pages had flown from my brain onto the screen without me hardly even registering them. I had no idea what I’d written. But I wasn’t tired. Instead, I was… buzzing.

By 3:00 a.m. Monday morning, I was rounding on the 90 page mark. I started thanking God for keeping me cognizant, alert, and aware – and realized that I REALLY needed to get a little sleep, even though there was still a ways to go.

Kestrel and I curled up on the loveseat again, but this time, sleep was a hard time coming. My eyes kept seeing the computer screen and hearing buzzers. My hands had developed a nasty shake. I kept having flashbacks to the 56-hour marathon I once lived through when I was an inmate at an advertising company.

After 2 hours, I pressed onward. By Monday afternoon, with 12 hours left in the contest, I had all but two sequences done. But there was a glitch. An important piece of a character’s puzzle needed to be included. I knew what the piece was – I just didn’t know where to put it.

Sleep would help, I decided, and headed inside, to the comfort of an actual bed for an hour.

Five minutes after I laid down, the Answer for where the piece belonged pinged into my addled brain. Of course, sleep was impossible then….

So, back out to the studio Kestrel and I trundled. Inserted the missing piece – voila! It fit beautifully. Hammered out the ending, laughed out loud at discovering that it was unintentionally funny, and started editing with 3 ½ hours on the clock.

I read and discovered things I did not remember writing. They made sense, though, and moved the story along, praised be!

The final edit was finished at 11:57 p.m. Monday evening.

The next day as I printed out the manuscript for mailing, in keeping with contest editing rules, I did NOT re-read it with a fine-toothed comb, looking for errors. In a sense, that was the hardest part of the contest. Rrrrghhh! Sending out a first draft! The horror!

I expected to crash, comatose, and awaken in 2011 or so. But a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion… It never came.

I finished the contest so jazzed with creative juices that, though I’m exhausted, I’m UP. It’s as if those newly created brain paths would kind of like to stay open and accept some direction. It has been an unexpected, and thoroughly delightful, part of the experience

That’s the long version. In short, here are a few things I learned from the experience:

1. Spending 52 hours non-stop with a new dog results in the dog developing an unhealthy attraction and dependence upon you. This manifests itself by the dog spending the entire night whining at the door when you are trying to sleep for the first time in days.

2. Trust your instincts. Second-guessing only leads to creative bottleneck. It’s fun to find out what’s behind Door #3!

3. Coffee is, truly, the nectar of the gods.

4. General Foods International Coffees Swiss Mocha Instant Beverage is, perhaps, the most repulsive thing on the planet that one can put into one’s mouth.

5. Nothing compares to having a flock of family and friends who support you even though they get stuck picking up the slack while you wander off to be “creative.”

Official contest results won’t come out for months. Unofficially, however, I have to say that I consider my experience of the past few days an unequivocal creative mountaintop. I highly recommend it!