Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Interview with Dorchester's Fresh Blood Finalist—LISA KOOSIS

I’m amazed how many contests there are in existence for writers to enter. Many aspiring authors choose to enter contests to receive feedback on things they’ve written with the view to improving their work enough to eventually win the big prize of a publishing contract. There are various contests out there. Some small contests online and through various magazines, some larger contests provided by writing associations, like RWA. Then there are the colossal contests like Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award, started in 2007, American Title Writing Competition, based loosely on American Idol and these two bring in thousands of entries.

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magazine, horror fiction web site ChiZine, got together for “Fresh Blood,” a new writing contest specifically for unpublished horror authors.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.
First of all, thank you so much, Sia, for having me on your blog.

  • Oh, it's my pleasure, I assure you. So tell me about you.
A little bit about me… Let’s see… I’m a native New Yorker. I grew up on Long Island, so you’ll see the influence of the shore in a lot of my writing, and I currently live in the Hudson River Valley with my family and a bunch of furry, four-legged friends. I’ve been self-employed for the last few years, which has really given me the opportunity to pursue my writing dream, mainly concentrating on my short fiction. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had stories published in a number of great speculative fiction magazines and anthologies like Abyss & Apex, Murky Depths, Meadowhawk Press’s Touched by Wonder anthology and recently, Blade Red Press’s Dark Pages anthology, among others. I’m also a bit of an internet junkie and a hopeless multitasker.

  • Have you been writing long? What’s your preferred genre and why?
I’ve been writing for a long time. In elementary school, when the teacher would assign the class a creative writing assignment, the other kids would turn in a paragraph or two, and I’d be the crazy kid churning out pages-long epics about talking dogs and mer-folk. I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t write.

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?
No. Ironically, my only professional sales have been in mainstream short story markets so I haven’t yet qualified for membership in HWA or SFWA, which would be my goal.

  • Have you entered many writing contests in the past?
I love writing contests, and contests have been kind to me. My first published short story came about through a contest. Several years ago I placed second in The Poughkeepsie Journal’s Talespinners short story contest. This year, I was the grand prizewinner in Family Circle’s fiction contest. It’s a little bit ironic because in both of those contests I won with mainstream stories that were way outside of my comfort zone. In fact, each year those contests served as a challenge, a reason to push myself and stretch my boundaries. I think contests like that keep my writing fresh and new.

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?
Funny you should mention the title, because if you read the comments of the judges, it’s probably the thing they like least about the book. It’s a good thing to know, and I’ve learned through short stories that it’s never wise to get too attached to a title.

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?
Yes. The good folks at Dorchester Publishing, ChiZine Publications and Rue Morgue Magazine decided on the Top 10 based on the submitted manuscripts. From there, a panel of judges, which included editors and published novelists, determined the Top 5.

  • Promotional votes play what part?
Promotional votes began once we hit the Top 5. After that, it became an American Idol styled contest where the contestant with the least amount of votes got eliminated each month.

  • 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 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.
Question to readers and authors: What benefits have you had entering contests?

Here's the blurb on Heart Of The City:

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.


Jill Lynn said...

Great job, Lisa and Sia. Lisa, I've loved all the excerpts I've read of Heart of the City and now reading the blurb, I'm even more intrigued. Win this contest so I can read the published novel. That's an order! :-)

dalecoz said...

Great interview, as usual. Contests are great ways of getting a lot of feedback in a short time if they're structured in a way that encourages it. They're also time-sinks, as I'm sure Lisa has discovered.

Good luck in the contest, Lisa.

Lisa K. said...

Thanks so much, Sia, for having me on your blog, and thank you to those of you who have taken time out of your busy lives to support me in this. You have my sincere appreciation.

Jamie C. said...

I saw the excellent potential of "Heart of the City" back in ABNA when we were co-contestants. I'm so glad you entered it in this contest. You deserve to win. Fingers crossed. You have my vote.

What have I learned from writing contests? Not to get my hopes up too high. One disappointment after another. I'm ready to see someone I know in the winner's circle.

Kat Sheridan said...

Great interview, and I'm wishing you the best of luck with the contest! The blurb sounds fascinating! So, what's on the line here? Is a publishing contract with Dorchester the prize? And yes, you've got my vote! Best of luck to you!

VA said...

I agree with Dale, the feedback is a major win in contests. Best of luck Lisa.

Helen Ginger said...

I totally admire a writer who can face the obstacles head on. I think this kind of contest would be intimidating, but Lisa is doing a great job. I've voted for her twice with different email accounts.

Lisa K. said...

Thank you all for your comments and for your words of encouragement.

Dale, yes, these contests really are time sinks, but I'm finding that the rewards are well worth the time investment, particularly from that feedback.

Jamie, thank you for the kind words. I know what you mean about not getting hopes up too high. I'm really good at that, too, lol. With this one, what's been hard is that so many other people have gotten their hopes up so high. That's going to be the toughie!

Kat, yes, the grand prize is a publishing contract with Dorchester's Leisure Horror imprint as well as a limited hardcover run with ChiZine Publications.

VA, thanks for the good wishes!

Helen, thank you for your support through all this, and for the kind words!

And Jill...that is one order I'd love to be able to follow!

Stephen Tremp said...

You're one of the few successful writers who are do not belong to any author/writing associations. Have you considered joining one or starting one yourself?

Stephen Tremp

Tonya Kappes said...

Good luck Lisa! That's great that you stepped outside the box and did it all on your own.

Lisa K. said...

Stephen, I would love to be a part of one of the author/writing associations. Most of the ones that apply to my genre have strict criteria for a full membership that I haven't yet met but I'm hoping that will change soon. From what I understand, those associations can be wonderful tools for authors and I'm always open to hearing more about them.

Tonya, Thank you! I think sometimes stepping outside the box can really open a person's eyes to opportunities he or she might not otherwise have seen.

Thank you all so much for stopping by Sia's blog and for the kind words!