Monday, December 7, 2009

The Cuffer Anthology

I recently attended the launch of The Cuffer Anthology (2009), a collection of Cuffer Prize entries from the first annual competition run by The Telegram. It's the newspaper's attempt to support and, as far as I can tell, even discover and develop writing talent in Newfoundland. The anthology, published by Creative Publishers, contains the top twenty entries to last year's contest, selected by editor Pam Frampton from nearly two hundred entries. The adjudicators were Kathleen Winter, Russell Wangersky, and Joan Sullivan, all noted and respected writers in their own right.

At the same launch, the Cuffer Prize people announced the winners of this year's competition, with Chad Pelley taking top prize after placing third last year. Last year's winner, Josh Pennell, finished 3rd this year, and Jillian Butler took 2nd place. My own story, "Treed," was shortlisted (top 10) out of 160 entries or so, and I feel honoured that it did because I honestly didn't expect it to finish anywhere near that high. Winning wasn't even a possibility. I knew that on the night of the competition and even before. The writing talent in this place is just way too good for me to win a short story contest with a story I came up with in an hour a day or so before the deadline. The winners are deserving, no matter how long their stories took to tell. They wrote their hearts on that particular day when they composed those entries and are obviously talented. Congrats to all three of them.

I've won my share of arts and letters awards and that sort of thing, and I really don't understand why so-called "losers" get their noses out of joint. It just comes down to so many factors: who the judges are, what kind of writing the judges like, what the dynamics of the judges are (sometimes they don't get along so well together, which truly can decide the outcome), what kind of story you wrote, and whether you wrote your absolutely best story.

But even if you write your best story and the judges are amenable to your writing style, that still guarantees nothing because there are SO many fantastic writers out there. It's impossible to take it personally, and yet a lot of writers do. They start crying "Foul!", saying how the judging was biased and they all knew each other or recognized their buddy's writing style. I guess it could happen, but I really think it's rare. In fact, I know it does. I know for sure it's never happened in my favor. When I won the Percy Janes First Novel award (for a still-unpublished manuscipt called Finton Moon), the anonymous adjudicator was a well-known Canadian author who had no clue who I was. But it amazes me how many people, to this day, assumed he must have somehow known me and my writing style and that's the only way I could possibly have won.

Newsflash: If you're going to enter your stories and poems and novels in these contests, you need to assume the best in people and their intentions. Otherwise, don't send it. Keep it. Send it to a publisher. But then, some people have similar problems with publishers as they do with literary competitions. The world might be a little crooked, sure, but I truly believe most of it's pretty straight-up. I think talent eventually wins out. Not always, but usually.

So people keep saying, "Jeez, too bad you didn't win the Cuffer." To which I say, It would have been great to win. I mean, really, that's why I entered. That, and to challenge myself and to give myself a deadline for writing a new story. (Truthfully, that's always my main goal in entering any competition.) But am I surprised when I don't win? Sometimes. But not always. Sometimes, I've written what I absolutely know is a great story and it goes nowhere, for whatever reason. Usually, you know when you've got something good though. And those are the times when you can't be denied. But the "X" factor, again, is all that other talent out there. You don't have to go around thinking you're the best. You just have to know that you're good. If you're not a good writer, then I'm not sure why you'd enter such a competition or try to publish your drivel. But if you know you're good, then what's the problem? Isn't that enough to let you say what you want with your writing and then hope for the best? The odds are always against you. Write a good story, and the odds are considerably better in your favour.

I don't understand the need to be the "best" at all times--to be better than the next person who also happens to be pretty damn good--and I don't get the need to disparage winners and pity so-called "losers".

It was a good game. There's another game next year. And we all had fun.

There was free food, too. Great launch! And a hearty congrats to the winners. May you all pen great works and bestsellers, or at least write whatever makes you happy for the rest of your days.


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