The third round of the Shootout determined the three finalists by determining those with the highest scores in each of the three groups. That means that as of today, I'm officially done with the Shootout, at least as far as writing. There's still deciding a winner, which all participants get to vote on when the final prompt delivers the final stories.
Martin Ingham is using the final round to select at least one story for inclusion in a forthcoming Hall Bros Entertainment anthology. I've had a mixed history with HBE anthologies. I worked with A.C. Hall (one of the, ah, Hall brothers) on a literary journal that kind of fell apart some five years ago, and so I've been in contact with him since that time (aside from the fact that we met writing for a now-defunct comic book website), and he's humored me quite a lot, publishing one effort as an editor's selection in Villainy, but turning down half a dozen others, which may or may not include the one that was still sitting on the table when their most recent anthology was cancelled.
(Martin's announcement for his anthology can be found here, by the way.)
HBE is currently trying to catch up on things, including my manuscript for Yoshimi, which I'm petrified will either be rejected or become a victim of an implosion. I suck at networking. The participants in the Shootout will probably suggest that I don't play well with others, too, and readers of this blog may know a few reasons why. I have certain expectations for the things I read. I don't just want a story that's technically readable. I don't just want reasonable grammar. I want something that feels like it should have been written, by someone who feels like they should be writing. It's always a little odd to suggest that some people shouldn't be writing, because there are so many people who call themselves writers, and if I say that some people really shouldn't be writing, it may come off as frustration that I have to compete so fiercely to be heard.
People say that adversity is good for character. I mean to suggest that people only say that because for most people, competition is inevitable. Some people get lucky breaks, know the right people (which admittedly is exactly how Yoshimi was first breached with HBE), seem to have no trouble at all in finding success. Others never do, or at least find it after many frustrating years and advice that suggests if they just do it this way they can't help but succeed! And suggestions for improvement are always welcome, but you must understand that what worked for you won't always work for everyone else.
In sum, it sucks to be human.
There is no one surefire path to success. Everything that happens is basically a fluke anyway. Even if you believe in an intelligent creator, the tenets of free will suggest that even if someone knows everything that will ever happen, it all happens because of the actions of an individual. And the sad part is, nothing is truly in anyone's control. The illusion of control (something cleverly demonstrated in the movie Instinct, which I try to support whenever possible) is humanity's greatest folly, something just about everyone seems perfectly happy to ignore, and suggest that it can be overcome. Well, it can't. Suck on that for a moment.
The Shootout basically sucked, by the way. I appreciate that my stories weren't perfect. My scores were equally imperfect. They seemed downright insensible. The people who read my stories used a different kind of logic than I did. Now, I know this is at least partially true, because across the board those who referenced overall quality of writing said mine was high. They just kept saying that they wished it had been longer. Structurally, the second piece improved on the first, and the third on the second. I wrote longer and tried to be clearer, while attempting to preserve my original intentions. I didn't write any of the stories in a way to invoke absolute control. The second story ended in a huge twist nobody really got. The third was a total play on Dan Brown style thrillers. By that point, I really thought if I just had a little fun, the reader would get that. I went back and edited to try and make it obvious enough without outright spelling everything out, just to preserve the playfulness, and still people came back saying that they wanted longer, they wanted more; they wanted a roadmap, basically.
Participants had a hard time with my approach. Many of them seemed to be writers who knew exactly what they expected to expect, which was what they believed to be fairly routine short stories, which of course were generally much longer than mine and very much structurally different. The sad part is I truly tried to conform more than I usually do, writing a lot more visually, for instance, while still trying to keep the focus on the particular perspective of the characters. In the third story, as I said I tried to be playful with that, and the readers really hated that. They didn't get it at all. When I didn't get a story, I at least explained why I didn't get it, why I couldn't get into it, but my readers simply said they wanted something other than what I had written. That's not the point. I'm not even forcing any of them to read a long story, which most of the participants did, so it's not like if they felt tortured they were tortured for long. It's just, they had different expectations.
Some participants simply felt entitled, and the whole framework helped them. For this reason, I believe another Shootout simply isn't in the making for me. The same is true of WRiTE CLUB. In this one, there's just too many participants. It's completely unwieldy. DL Hammons has all but admitted this, first by his comments this past Wednesday that he regrets being completely lost as host to the contest, and by not even posting a round on Friday. Part of him is doing this to get attention. Part of him is doing it to support others. None of him seems to have taken into account that he's asking far more of the exercise than it's capable of accomplishing. The range of the writing quality is astounding, as I've said, and nearly every vote is cast basically ignoring this, telling me that most of the participants are about as far from honest as possible.
As someone who's trying to figure out what it means to be in a community of writers, none of this is what I would have expected or hoped to find. Like every English Major, I went through school believing that writing circles are made up of incredible talent, raising each other up and becoming a movement with its own chapter in literary history and a name that is as famous as the individual members. The reality, in the 21st century, is that such communities only exist now to support a bunch of amateur writers who hide rather than expose the faults they find in each other's writing. They're not pushing for excellence, but rather for exposure. In my book (clearly a work of fiction), excellence breeds exposure.
Maybe I ought simply to emigrate to some other country. American is full of itself. I'm as patriotic as the next guy, but we're headed very clearly toward the Roman Empire, not because of inept politicians, but because the citizens have no concept of perspective. I'd think writers of all people would. But the increasing truth of American writers is, they don't.