Little Known Essay Contests are Easy Wins

Most gardeners don’t enter contests, unlike writers who are bombarded with competitions left and right.  So this post will be mostly writing, less growing.

I have one strict rule when it comes to writing contests, never pay a fee.  I don’t care how prestigious a contest is (like Writers of the Future Contest), I will never pay a dime to have someone judge my work while there are other contests that do not charge a reading fee.  When it comes down to it, if a story is good enough to win a contest, its good enough to be bought by a normal magazine.

One area where people fail to look in for contests is at work.  Large corporations tend to have essay contests open to their employees and family members.  I have won two of such contests in the past few months and the prizes are pretty decent if not generous.

The best thing about entering corporate contests is that the competition is low.  The essays I wrote did not take mush time.  Three drafts and I didn’t even show it to my reading group.  But that’s the difference.  Regular Joes and Janes don’t write three drafts, they don’t check for typos and they defiantly don’t pay attention to things like spacing, bios, or fonts.  So, for a writer with the most basic of skills and experience, willing a company contest is a breeze.

The problem with such contests is that they are not promoted outside the corporate atmosphere or even inside it very much.  You have to search these contests out.

As for me, I’m going to let my friends and family members know that if their job is having a contest, I’d be willing to ghost write it of a cut of the prize.  For now, I’ll post my winning essays on a new page here for those who are interested in such things.


Worldbuild 3: Maps


Who doesn’t love maps?  I am a self-professed cartophile.  As a teen I had AAA state maps alongside my posters of Frodo, Pam Grier, and Isaac Asimov.  I still have one of those old-world maps in a frame I got as a gift seven years ago.  I really have to hang it up one of these days.

For anyone who has read an epic novel, your first experience is the map at the front of the book.  The little graphic depiction of the world you are about to immerse yourself in sets the stage for all the lands you will travel through.  The same can be said for gardens.  Mapping your beds is key for a productive garden.

This is the time of year that my wife and I pull out a large sketchpad and make out where the seedlings are going.  garden map 2013     We check it against the last few years’ maps to make sure we don’t put the same plant in a bed that had it there recently.  Tomatoes are particularly sensitive to blossom end rot from being planted in the same soil year after year.  You also don’t want incompatible plants growing next to each other like melons and potatoes.   A wise gardener will put a nitrogen hungry plant (corn) where nitrogen fixers (beans) grew the year before.

I’m a pro when it comes to mapping out a garden but I suck at mapping out my worlds.  I draw out a rough sketch and that does it for me.  world sketch 1The big temptation is to download or (bleh) purchase a map making software.  Don’t do it, unless you want to waste an incredible amount of time learning the software only to end up with a crappy map.  Leave it up to the publisher to finish a map.

Garden and author maps are not meant for the general public.  They are messy, often inaccurate things that can confuse those not living in our worlds.  With a map you can (generally) see where you are heading.  Without one, it is very easy to get lost and even easier to give up.

Worldbuild 2 Foundations


Writing, like gardening, can be a dirty and tedious business.  Hunched over a bed of lettuce or a laptop we labor for hours and weeks and months for a big payoff.  More often than not, our labors do not live up to our dreams and yet we persevere.

My first year of gardening I began with two beds, tomatoes in one peppers and onion in the other.  It went so well I expanded to four beds the next year, then seven the third.  By the fifth year the old beds began to fall apart and it was time to think about gardening design.

Like building a world for my fiction, building a garden required planning and years of trial and error on what grows where and alongside what.  Like a good fictional world, a nice sized garden should have separate environments.  I visualized what I wanted my garden to look like as much as I imagined what my world would look like.

I didn’t have to start from scratch with either world.  The novel was built from a number of other stories that came before, from characters that I knew for years, just as I used urbanite (broken concrete) to build new beds and pathways.


back 40 beforeThe Grotto after



This project took me several weeks to complete and I got a chance to dig deep and got to know every square inch of this section of the yard.   The urbanite was free.  All I had to buy was a dozen bags of sand to level the stones and pea gravel to fill in the gaps.  All the excavated soil was used in other beds.

Like writing a novel, this was a solitary project that went from a back-breaking task to a labor of love.  I put more than just blood sweat and tears in the project.  I signed the foundation.

Urbanite Star stones


Your fictional world needs a solid base for your characters to thrive in.  The occasional weed or plot hole may show up as an eyesore, but with a good foundation they can be seen easily and yanked out.

Worldbuild One

So it’s been a while since I last posted. Actually two months to the day and I apologize for the long absence. I did not participate in NaNoWriMo as you would assume, but I did spend that time engrossed in my new novel. It is half done and if I can keep to the outline (I think it’s outline #8 by now) I should be done by the end of February. They say that beginning a new novel is like falling in love. It’s true, but the honeymood is over and this draft now holds the allure of watching televised fireworks.

The story is chugging along towards its inevetible end and the engine that carries it along is the world where it takes place. The world, or in my case the Netherworld. In my novel, a sixteen year-old girl is mistakenly dragged to Hell. Her brother, blamed for her dissappearance has to go to the Netherworld, find his sister and get them out.

A story like this requires more than a good plot and dynamic characters, it has to have a believeble world to take place in. Worldbuilding is required to develope such a world. It’s really not much different than mapping and planning a garden. Some worlds are easy, just tweak a few things to our present world and you have The Hunger Games. Others can be as elaborate and diverse as Dune or Star Trek.

The important thing about worldbuilding is consistency. One simple plot device can destroy the most complex world.

Just as a simple mistake can ruin a garden. The first few years we attempted to grow blackberries, we cut the canes down every fall. For three years we didn’t get any fruit until I read that the canes that come up this year, fruit the next year. Also, planting tomatoes in the same spot year after year will guarentee a fungal infection.

Small decisions can ruin both worlds and gardens. It takes patients and more than a little God-complex to attempt either. Over the next few weeks I’ll go over some aspects of worldbuilding that I learned the hard way.

For those novice worldbuilders and gardeners on their first creation, start small. Begin in one village, one culture, one garden bed. The more time you spend there, the easier it will be to expand your garden and your first worldbuild.