Lynn Hesse is the award-winning author of the novels: Well of Rage, Murder in Mobile, Another Kind of Hero, A Matter of Respect, Murder in Mobile, Book 2, and The Forty Knots Burn. Her last two novels won the 2023 Georgia Independent Authors Association Awards for Best Police Procedural, Best Cover Adult Fiction, Best Suspense/Thriller, and the Spotlight on Georgia Fiction.
Outside my bedroom window, the monarch butterfly gathering pollen from my yellow lantana reminds me why I keep judging and entering contests. Surely, it’s not optimism. One day, my writing may brighten a person’s day or make them stop and think, but… Writing is part of my creative life force, a compulsion. I want my voice heard and appreciated, or I wouldn’t write. I need the reinforcement of positive feedback, and I assume others do, too. Of course, first-place winner has a nice ring to it. With second place, I never know if the piece needs more work or if the introverted, quirky protagonist or the reoccurring southern blue-collar themed plot wasn’t relatable to my judges. One academic beta reader told me my language was beautiful, but she couldn’t relate to the characters. Usually, it’s my plain language that critics dismiss as unworthy of their time.
In the past, I judged local writers’ contests in the Atlanta area, and this year, I sponsored a crime-fiction contest for a regional writer’s association. In the second instance, I made up the guidelines for submission and listed Shunn’s formatting rules as an expectation. Nobody followed them. I was left with the dilemma of whether to give monetary prizes for submissions that took my time to wade through novice mistakes: single spacing, no indentions, and page numbers literally in the middle of the pages, not in the footer. I hadn’t anticipated the necessity to clarify that the submissions wouldn’t be read if they didn’t follow standard manuscript formatting, and I felt the weight of responsibility as a solo judge. I caved.
In one contest, I followed strict guidelines set up by a guest agent and scored the writers on different categories such as character development, plot, pace, voice, use of language, grammar, and conflict. The agent picked the winners in each genre and non-genre category from the accumulated scores. I suspect this ten-page scoring system was more equitable for the contestants but a stretch for busy authors trying to complete their short story and novel deadlines.
Again, manuscript formatting wasn’t a priority in this example.
Being jaded, I wondered if the judges narrowed the field for the guest agent and helped find their next breakout novelist. Rather like a professor assigning each student of education to make a children’s book for their final, thus giving the professor material for their thesis. Moving forward, minus my opinion, five judges scored each entry in the second contest example. Although there was a comment section dedicated to giving positive feedback on each entry, I suspected the writers griped about the critical, unjust comments.
I have felt slighted when a one-judge panelist’s comments ran toward the negative, and they didn’t try to filter out their preferences, if not bias, in what they read. It reminds me of reviewers who don’t like your genre or miss that it’s a police procedural, not a mystery, and make comments based on their misconceptions.
With my hesitations put aside about judging others’ work or having mine judged, I’ve decided this fall to volunteer to read and judge ten spooky stories written by 3rd-8th graders. I will fill out the provided scoring form on each submission, and because I love spooky stories by imaginative children, I can gladly forego formatting guidelines. My expectations are minimal. I hope they can write a sentence. My fear is that they’ll write words on the page in a pretty shape like I did in the first grade and think this frazzled adult mind can figure out the puzzle. “You are as sweet as the morning flowers,” I wrote to my mother, who realized by my pouting face that she had missed something important. All the necessary words were present on the paper, plus a red crayon drawing of a flower, but not in any logical order. My overworked mother and father stayed up into the “wee hours of the night,” figuring out what my grade-school mind and heart was trying to say. Mother laminated and framed this early work.
May I do justice to the budding children, the writers of unfiltered truth, and hear their voices.
My mother and sister taught elementary children with hearing and learning disabilities in Atlanta and Lamar and Monroe Counties in Georgia. They will haunt and curse me if I crush a child’s fledgling spirit. The beast of responsibility is nipping at my heels again. To mitigate my bias, I’ll include in the comment section Mr. Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to first please yourself: “If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” Believe in your story and hone your skills.
A Matter of Respect Forty Knots Burn
Lynn’s short story “Sabotage and A Murder Mystery” is published in Malice, Matrimony, and Murder, 25 Wedding Cozy Mystery and Crime Fiction Stories published by Marla Bradeen and available in November 2023 at local retailers.
“Shrewd Women” was reprinted in Crimeucopia, Boomshalalaking, Modern Crimes in Modern Times, UK in June 2023 and published by Onyx Publications and Discovery Podcast in 2022. Bitter Love,” a humorous view of a homicide detective having a lousy day, appeared in Crimeucopia, The I’s Have It by Murderous Ink Press, 2021, UK. “Jewel’s Hell” was in the Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology edited by Elizabeth Zelvin, published in 2019 by Level Best Books. Lynn left law enforcement to write and lives with her husband and his six rescue cats near Atlanta, Georgia, where she performs in several dance troupes.
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