On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Seven swans a' swimming!
We have a winner of Latter-day Cipher by Latayne Scott--Karen Kukrak! (Latayne said this was so hard because she knew so many contestants -- so it was literally drawing straws!) So, Karen, contact us with a mailing address.
Speaking of winners, do you remember the Audience With an Agent contest we had last summer, in which so many of you sent in chapters of your completed novels? We received entries from a lot of talented writers, but in September we announced six finalists, and sent their chapters to agent Wendy Lawton, so that she could choose a winner.
Have you been anxious to hear who won?
So have we!
All this time Wendy has been reading, and thinking, and reading some more. But at last she has chosen a winning chapter and asked to see the entire manuscript. I am proud to announce that our winner is...
Lori Benton, for her novel, Kindred!
Lori, we are thrilled for you, and so pleased that your beautiful work will be considered in its entirety by one of the premiere agents in the industry.
There is more news.
The prize for this competition was an "audience" with agent Wendy Lawton, so the author she chose is the winner. But serendipity happens sometimes, and it happened here.
Wendy's partner, agent Janet Kobobel Grant happened to catch a glimpse of the chapter we sent from Jean Knight's novel, Broken Arches. Janet liked what she read so much that she has asked to see the rest of Jean's manuscript.
We at Novel Matters are over the moon - two authors have been blessed because of our competition! I hope many more will consider entering the next Audience with an Agent contest in the Spring of 2010.
Now I'm going to turn my attention to all the authors who didn't win, including those who didn't enter.
There's a special brand of discouragement made just for us writers. Before I was published, I didn't need to enter a contest to be disappointed. I only had to read my own work.
Because it was awful. I knew this, because I loved to read excellent fiction. I knew great writing when I saw it, and I looked at my own work and knew it didn't measure up.
When I say this, people sometimes try to defend me, because for a writer, that is a savage realization. They try to talk me down from that embarrassing mix of self-loathing and hubris that says if I'm not as brilliant as Marilynne Robinson I shouldn't call myself a writer.
It is so that all my life people have told me I had talent. But understand: there was something missing, and no matter how much I studied the mechanics of writing, when I read my work, I knew something important was missing! I just didn't know what it was.
I'm saying all this to give you hope. Because for me, that changed in a moment, the moment I read a short story in Walter Wangerin Jr.'s little Christmas book, In the Days of Angels.
The story was titled The Manger is Empty. (Please get the book and read it. And please watch as Wangerin tells the story aloud. When he's done, you will know it is Christmas.)
As I read (again and again over the course of several days) about chain-smoking Odessa Williams, who needed her teeth only when she was angry so she could enunciate each word, as I read about little Dee-Dee Lawrence whose voice could pierce Heaven itself, and about little Mary who triumphed over hard truths about life and death, as I read all of that, something turned over for me. Suddenly I knew what my writing had been missing. It had to do with loving - not intellectualizing - my characters. About deep honesty regarding the darkness of life in a fallen world, and a deeper sense of wonder over the God who created light.
Not the sort of stuff Writers Digest typically puts in its books about writing, but it was what I needed. The next thing I wrote was To Dance in the Desert.
I won't here expand on these lessons, because what I want to tell you today is that frustration can lift in an instant. It's like studying something hard, like Algebra: You don't get it, you don't get it, you really don't get it, and then one day the light goes on. (Okay, the light never did go on for me in Algebra, but you get my point.)
Roll your shoulders. Rejoice because it's Christmas, because the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Because shepherds and wise men and Joseph and Mary learned, and you can learn that everything can change in a moment.