Monday, September 5, 2011

Welcome John Biggs - 2011 Writer's Digest Winner

I’m a huge fan of John Biggs’ writing. We’ve been cheerleaders for each other since we met at a Bill Bernhardt seminar a few years ago. John is shy until you get to know him. He possesses a sense of humor to die for and weaves it through his character portrayals like fine threads in a tapestry. OWFI and Writer’s, Readers, and Critiques are proud to have John as a member. Let’s welcome the winner of Writer’s Digest’s 2011 Short Story Competition, John Biggs. (Your eyes are not deceiving you. The picture of John was taken in a Mexican graveyard! For those of us who love him, that's not surprising.)

I appreciate the fine threads in a tapestry simile, Bill. Your introductions are always eloquent.

How long have you been entering writing contests like Writer’s Digest and The Lorian Hemingway? How close have you come to winning before this year?

I started entering short fiction competitions about a year after I made my first attempt at a novel—about nine years ago. I had some wins from ByLine, which is now defunct, and OWFI, and a lot of honorable mentions from Writers of the Future. I also had a couple of stories in the top 100 in last years Writer’s Digest competition. The reason I started entering contests is so somebody—anybody—would read what I wrote. Many of the literary magazines and most of the professional (5,000 plus circulation) magazines get thousands of submissions and don’t read past the first few lines of work from an unknown writer.

Did you enter your Writer’s Digest winning story in the Lorian Hemingway competition? How did that story fare—and vice versa?

That question shows a lot of incite into how much luck plays a role in winning a literary prize. I entered the same three stories in both contests. Writer’s Digest awarded me the grand prize for “Boy Witch”, and Lorian Hemingway awarded me third place for “Soul Kisses”, but the judges had no overlap at all. No honorable mention or top 100 honors for the winning stories in opposing competitions.

It must help if the judge is in a good mood when your entry comes up.

Writer’s Digest has interviewed you presumably for their next issue. How difficult did you find that experience?

That interview was an e-mailed set of questions with a one week deadline to respond, so it wasn’t all that stressful. I’ve never actually met Melissa Wuske, my Writer’s Digest contact. We’ve traded a couple of voice mail messages, but I’ve never actually talked to her.

This year is a banner year for you, John. You have a story coming out in Storyteller Magazine as well. To what do you attribute your new found success, persistence, a change in attitude, a newly discovered technique that works for you?

Persistence has to be the main thing. I’ve looked over these stories to try and figure out if there is anything about them that makes them different from my other work. If there is, I can’t find it. I’ve submitted more stories this year than I ever did before, and I’ve finally found some editors who like them.

I want to mention a couple of people who are very good contacts for beginning writers. You introduced me to Regina Williams at the last OWFI meeting. She is the editor of Storyteller Magazine, and publishes a large number of first time submissions. I probably would never have submitted anything to her without your introduction, and now, I have a story coming out in the July/August/September edition. Regina is also publishing “Soul Kisses” in the October/November/December edition.

Dusty Richards is another valuable contact. He is a western genre writer and publishes anthologies of short stories and even novels by new writers. I have one story coming out in his Cactus Country I anthology, and another in Cactus Country II. Dusty is very accessible and is a regular at OWFI. He had a call for submissions in Carolyn Leonard’s e-zine, Writers Reminder.

The last time we talked, you indicated you were going to concentrate on writing short stories for awhile. Having two major trophies for your resume, are you planning on dusting off those novels and looking for an agent while the iron is hot? (Cliché) lol.

Part of the Writers Digest grand prize is meeting with agents and editors in New York City, so I am definitely going to dust while the iron is hot. I am working on a new novel currently, which I hope to show somebody. I’ve structured it so far so that chapters stand alone—drawing on my experience with short fiction. That probably won’t be possible to maintain as the plot thickens. (Cliché back at you).

I’ve asked each person I’ve interviewed about the current marketplace for novels. With Kindle, Nook, and social networking, marketing your own material is easier than it was in the past. I’m personally torn between holding out for an agent or jumping in and doing my own marketing. I find some gems in the self-published world. But overall, I believe the quality is woefully lacking, what’s your opinion?

I agree completely. Where my own work is concerned, I’ve looked at old stories and novels I thought were fantastic at the time, but now I find them a little bit embarrassing. It’s also true there are a lot of really good self-published books available, and some really rotten books represented by agents and New York publishers.

The thing that most discourages me from doing my own marketing is—dare I admit it—laziness. I’m a terrible salesman, don’t meet people well, and am easily discouraged. Some people can market well, but I can’t.

How are your wife and family taking your success? Are you planning another Viking Cruise?

We’ve got a couple of ocean cruises planned—one this year and one next year—but no river cruises are currently in the works. As an aside, I wrote “Boy Witch” on a Holland America cruise. Short fiction fits in well with travel and limited attention spans.

What advice can you give to those who haven’t achieved recognition and the agent rejections are piling up?

Keep on submitting. It always hurts to put your heart and soul into something and receive a rejection—or no response at all—for your trouble. Take Prozac and keep writing.

Put things aside for weeks or even months and then rewrite and revise.

Attend workshops and listen to what other writers have to say about your work. My experience with you, your wife Pam, and others in our critique group has made all the difference in my work.

Remember that luck is key to getting something published. After you have a couple of things to put on the bio portion of your cover letter, editors might actually read past the first paragraph.

You’ve shared some great information. I’m sure our readers will gain confidence from you.

It’s always good to talk to you, Bill. You provide a great forum, especially for writers who are just starting on the journey.

Thanks John, watch for John’s interview in the Writer’s Digest after October.