Category Archives: Joyce Carol Oates

Tania Opens the Door

This morning I was cruising my blog list and ran into a good discussion over at TaniaWrites (worth reading). Who exactly are we competing against when we enter writing contests? THE ANSWER: Everybody and their mothers plus writers who are established. One example Tania gives is a writer who won a recent Narrative Magazine competition, Gina Ochsner.

Tania poses a provocative question. “Now, Gina Ochsner, a very fine writer, has published two short story collections and I see her name in many literary magazines, including the New Yorker. I don’t doubt that her prize-winning story is worthy of the prize – but my questions would be, Should she still be entering these comps, given that she doesn’t need the exposure/fame as much as some of us?”

Here is my comment left at Tania’s Blog:

Provocative discussion, as always, Tania. As a writer with only a small sprinkling of publications, I find it disheartening to hear that those who have achieved what I consider a terrific amount of success–the New Yorker,for goodness sake–should feel inclined to enter competitions, especially if the competitions aren’t blind ones. Knowing the identity of a entrant must influence the selection process, even if an editor tries to submerge that urge. Who you are and where you’ve been in print certainly matters in mainstream publishing.

The New Yorker is one of the most difficult mags to get into. The editors seem to go back to the same known ( and admittedly wonderful)authors time and time again. I don’t blame them for this. Ellery Queen does the same thing in its field too, making it really difficult for newer writers, lesser known writers particularly to break in. Also there are very few venues for publication at the commercial level. So if one wants to write a story and publish a piece to a larger audience than say THEMA, that person is already competing against many, many already established writers.

Yes, new writers need to pay their dues. One must earn the right by developing strong craft and inspired content to appear in the best publications. I know because it’s taken me a long time to learn exactly what all the goes into a great story and I haven’t actually gotten there yet. So I look to contests for the exposure to editors, the deadlines they provide, and the occasional feedback that’s offered.

Contests have always offered an opportunity to new and emerging writers. They get the juices flowing, the butt in the chair, the close look at craft out of the writer. “Here is my chance!”

But I’ve always assumed that in a competition I have been competing against writers like myself, not the Joyce Carol Oates of the world.

I suppose it IS fair in the sense that the world isn’t divided up by degree of effort, talent, work ethic, and genius. And there are occasional contests specifically designed for the unpublished.

I suppose, too, I need to work on getting to the next level so people can start complaining about ME!


by Alan Beard

I’ve been ‘tagged,’ whatever that means, by Alan Beard, author of Taking Doreen Out of the Sky. The editor of the great ‘Short Review’ Tania Hershman tagged Alan to answer some questions and Alan, in turn, tagged me. Here I go with more info than you ever wanted!

1) What were you doing ten years ago?
1998? I was walking everywhere and very fit because I let my son use my car to get he and his sister to school. It was a good thing. What I remember about it is that being without a car, time slowed down. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. I remember I wrote every morning. I’d had no success in placing any piece anywhere, but I hosted a writing group every Thursday (maybe it was Wednesday) around my dining room table.

2) What 5 Things are on your to-do list today?
**Work on the novel. I’ve listed the chapter numbers on scratch paper and as I edit each one I cross it out. Just started this process for the millioneth time a couple days ago. I’m on Chapter 6 and determined to get to the end this time.
**Walk at 8:30, this weird cross-country ski thing (on the streets of SoPas) I do now every Monday and Friday with Estelle and her band of acolytes.
**Go to lunch with my mom-in-law and some far-flung cousins in from Oklahoma.
**Cook dinner.
**Welcome my husband back from London. I have missed him!

3) What would you do with a billion dollars?
Revamp the education system in the United States. Encourage the culture to elevate the position of “teacher” to the status of JDs, MBAs, and MDs. All those kids who go to law school because they have no idea what they want to do would go to hard to get into grad schools to learn how to really teach and to develop new and effective strategies. I know. The teaching to teach and the strategies happens, but if a country cannot lure its brightest citizens to the profession, then the profession needs to be put on a par with those that do lure. What is that lure? Money, yes, but also cache, status, and satisfaction in actually contributing to society.

5) List the places you have lived.
Louisiana, Iowa, California, in my head.

6) List the jobs you have had
Parks and rec, retail sales, counter person at Rusty’s Roast Beef, as well as store manager, district manager, buyer, and teacher. Did I say wife and mom and mistress of Risuli and Cinder?

7) List the people you’d like to know more about.
Not so much “know about” but rather to go to lunch with: Joyce Carol Oates, Carol Shields (alas), Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, W. Somerset Maugham, Pablo Picasso, Abigail Adams, Jane Addams, Helen Keller, and Joshua from “So you think you can dance.”

BTW, the numbering isn’t mine though I probably messed it up somewhere!