I’ve had various friends compete in small and large contests. I competed in Gather’s First Chapters Romance contest, which was also big and similar to ABNA and to lesser degree, ATWC. All three of these contests have a base in not only writing skills, but also the writer’s promotion abilities and popular vote does come into play at one stage or another depending upon the sponsors and rules. I will say it’s a rather insane way to get a publishing contract. I’m glad I did it; I learned an amazing amount about good writing and the importance of promotion.
Not long ago, Dorchester Leisure, Rue Morgue magazine, horror fiction web site ChiZine, got together for “Fresh Blood,” a new writing contest specifically for unpublished horror authors. I know little about this contest other than it’s similar to Amazon, Gather, and American Title, with thousands of entries. Writers not only have to be able to write well but be able to promote themselves and their work because there is also an element of popular vote.
The prize? The winner will have their book published by Dorchester's, Leisure imprint, and see their book in bookstores in 2011.
My guest is Lisa Koosis, one of two finalists in Dorchester’s Fresh Blood contest. Lisa was nice enough to let me pick her brain.
- Tell me a bit about Lisa Koosis.
- Oh, it's my pleasure, I assure you. So tell me about you.
- Have you been writing long? What’s your preferred genre and why?
My penchant (as you might have guessed by my cringe-worthy early efforts) is for speculative fiction. I’m not so good about sticking to one genre--you’ll find me moving around among science fiction, fantasy, and horror, sometimes even mainstream—but I just love those crazy, magical, surreal elements.
- Do you belong to any author/writing associations?
- Have you entered many writing contests in the past?
I’ve also entered Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award competition all three years with widely varying results. The first and third year I didn’t make it past Round 1. Last year, I made it all the way to the semifinals with the novel that’s now a finalist in the Fresh Blood contest. ABNA was an excellent experience because I not only came away with more confidence in the novel, but also with feedback that allowed me to make the novel even stronger.
- What made you decide on an author promotion styled contest to enter?
I hate the thought of a missed opportunity. I want to keep putting my work out there. I want to push as hard as I can toward my goals. I plan on entering the Amazon contest every year as long as they run it. And when I came across the information for Dorchester’s Fresh Blood contest, I knew I just had to submit an entry even if it meant I would have to give myself a crash course in author promotion.
- It’s always fascinating to me to see how an author chooses a title, why did you choose the title Heart Of The City?
In Heart of the City, Charlie and Eva travel from city to city in a world devastated by Charlie’s creation, the Phoenix Particle, and with every place they visit, the heart of that city becomes a part of Eva. Though I’m not a city person myself, I’ve always been fascinated by cities and how they each have distinctly different personalities, different hearts. Walk down a street in Boston and it has a completely different feel from walking down a street in New York. In Heart of the City, the hearts of those cities and how they change Eva become a crucial part of the story.
The book is also a bit of a love letter to New York City post-9/11, when the world got to see not only tragedy but also the heart of New York, so the title is also a bit of a nod to that.
- This contest is largely decided initially by judges, correct?
- Promotional votes play what part?
- You’re one of the finalist, how does that feel?
It feels a little surreal. Or maybe a lot surreal. I took a gamble entering this contest because I’d always considered Heart of the City more science fiction than horror, so I really never expected to make it too far. To make it to the Top 10 was huge. To make it to the Final 2 is an amazing feeling. I grew up reading Leisure Horror novels, and to be this close to getting a publishing contract with them...I don’t even have words for how good that feels.
- I’ve read the judges critiques. Over all, you have some high praise for the professional polish of your work. How do you handle the negatives?
They promised us at the start of the contest that they would be brutal, and sometimes they have been, but I find that I’m okay with the negatives. I think, in part, being a short story writer has prepared me for the editorial criticism. I’ve worked with zero-sugarcoating critique groups (which I wholeheartedly recommend), and I’ve been out there submitting my work and collecting rejections for years as a short story writer, so I’m no stranger to the tough stuff.
And that adage about being our own worst critic…well it’s true, at least for me. I’m always tough on myself, so the judges can give it their best shot, but they’ll never be tougher on me than I am on myself!
- So, if after reading the first two chapters I want to vote for you, how would I go about doing it? Is it hard and involved?
Voting is about as simple as it gets. All you have to do is send a blank email to email@example.com with “Fresh Blood Vote - Heart of the City” in the subject line. It’s as easy as that. They’ll accept one vote per unique email address and voting closes on July 14th at midnight EST.
- What are some of the good experiences that have come from this contest?
On the whole, this contest has been an exceptional experience. It’s been a crash course in the art of self-promotion and networking, which I needed. Plus, no matter what happens, I’ll come away from it with feedback from a field of professionals, feedback that I know will help me to make the novel even stronger.
But I think the best part about it has been the people I’ve met through the contest, the community of writers that I’ve connected with while trying to drum up support for Heart of the City. Seeing people who hadn’t even known me before the contest going above and beyond to support and encourage me, well that’s a feeling like no other.
- What difficulties have you faced and how have you over come them?
Self-promotion has never come easy for me. For a long time in my life, my writing was something I kept private. Even friends I’d had for years often didn’t know that I was a writer. So having to go to the opposite end of the spectrum and push so hard to promote myself was really very difficult. I’m a pretty determined person though, and I want very badly to succeed as a writer, so I did my best to learn as I went and to just go with it.
- Any lessons learned from this experience?
Absolutely. I’ve learned to have more confidence in myself and in my work, and that sometimes I just need to get out of my own way. I’ve learned that it’s okay to let people know how important something is to me. I’ve learned that there are great people out there who are willing to share their experiences and their expertise to help out a fellow writer. I’ll take those lessons with me now and apply them to whatever comes next.
- Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Lisa. I wish you the very best in this contest.
Here's the blurb on Heart Of The City:Excerpt
The Phoenix particle, created to burn out and replace damaged DNA, should have been the medical breakthrough of the century. Instead, it was the beginning of the end, its fires decimating person after person and city after city with a ferocity its creator could never have imagined. But cities don’t die so easily. The Phoenix particle was engineered to remember, and in the ashes, the particles remain, carrying within them the genetic blueprint from the billions fallen prey to the burning. And the Phoenix still has a mission, to pass on that information.
Eva Moline—immune to its devastation—is the perfect conduit for the Phoenix. She’s prepared to help put the world back together in any way she can, even when she feels the Phoenix at work inside of her, somehow sentient, somehow knowing. As the children of the Phoenix grow to term in Eva’s womb, so does the essence of each city become a part of her. And as Eva joins the creator of the Phoenix in a cross-country journey from city to ruined city, she must decide whether she’s recreating a world or giving birth to monsters.
Lisa Koosis & Taffy
Originally from Long Island, Lisa A. Koosis currently lives in New York’s historic Hudson Valley. She was recently named the grand prize winner in Family Circle's 2009 fiction contest. Over the past few years her short stories have appeared in an assortment of publications including Abyss & Apex, Meadowhawk Press’s "Touched by Wonder" anthology, Susurrus Press’s “Neverlands and Otherwheres” anthology, and Murky Depths. In 2006 she was awarded second place in Poughkeepsie Journal's Talespinners short fiction contest, which was judged by a celebrity panel including bestselling author, Da Chen, and Michael Korda, former Editor in Chief of Simon & Schuster. Mr. Korda called her work, "sharply written and nicely conceived." Lisa is a dedicated and prolific writer of speculative fiction, and a former fiction manager at Barnes & Noble.
Find Lisa online.