Tag Archives: St. Nic Inc

Five take aways from the Royal Palm Literary Awards

StNicInc,COVERSt. Nic, Inc., my re-imagination of the Santa Claus myth through the lens of an action-adventure novel. won 2nd place in the Published Mainstream/Literary Fiction category of the Royal Palm Literary Awards. This was a great win for a small book (for now) from a small, but rapidly growing press (Southern Yellow Pine Publishing). But what does this mean for my writing?

A Few Notes on the Royal Palm Literary Awards

The RPLA awards have several benefits for writers, including the fact they provide feedback from the judges and they allow submissions into multiple categories. I submitted St. Nic, Inc. in two categories: thriller/suspense and mainstream/literary. St. Nic, Inc. didn’t make it to the semi-final round in the thriller/suspense category, but it nearly took home gold in mainstream/literary. So, this provides an interesting case study of how competition judges evaluate the same material.

RPLA_2ndPl_BadgeThe judging in the RPLA competition is based on two rounds. The first involves two judges reading the first 50 pages of a manuscript or book. Judges evaluate the submissions using a rubric that generates a numerical score between 1 and 50. Books need to score at least 80 points (or about a 40 from each judge) to make it into the semi-final round. If the book (or manuscript) makes it to the semi-final round, another judge will read the entire manuscript and score it using the same rubric to determine whether it gets into the final round and in the running for an award. The final judge’s score (also from 1 to 50) is doubled, so the final round submissions are ranked based on a total potential score of 200 points.

Here are the categories, each worth 5 points and scored from 1 to 5 except for overall impression which is scored on a 10 point scale:

  1. Setting
  2. Character
  3. Plot
  4. Story flow/plausibility
  5. Dialogue
  6. Creativity
  7. Mechanics/conventions
  8. Appropriate genre
  9. Overall impression

The Ugly: St. Nic, Inc.’s Uncertain Journey

Here’s the breakdown of the total scores for each judge for St. Nic, Inc. for both categories:

Judge Thriller/Suspense Mainstream/Literary
Judge #1 36
Judge #2 35
Judge #3 42
Judge #4 40
Judge #5 (FINAL ROUND) 49
Total Score

I think it’s pretty clear that the judges in the thriller/suspense genre—the one I thought St. Nic, Inc. “fit”–weren’t super impressed. I really wasn’t close to getting into the semi-final round, which means my book probably didn’t make the cut in the top 20% of submissions. (This is my estimate; RPLA does not release numbers of submissions by category.)

Reviewing the comments, neither judge felt the story moved fast enough, thought I devoted too much space to setting and not enough to plot and character development. One of the judges had trouble with the number of characters introduced in the first chapters (too many), and they wanted more “quirks” to make them interesting. On the final category, overall impression, they scored the story identically with a 6.

I appreciated the candidness of the comments as well as their specificity, but I could hardly be encouraged by their evaluation of something I had spent years developing. You need a thick skin if you are going to submit your work to the judgments of others. Fortunately for my ego, one judge wrote that he or she would like to see more work from me. Both these judges in this genre thought the book was in the right category. So, my decision to enter my book in this category was at least validated by the judges with experience in the genre.

Ironically, I’ve always felt that setting was the weakest part of my writing. I consider myself a character-driven author. These judges would clearly beg to differ with my self-assessment.

But this is where the story gets more interesting.

000_RPLA_Finalist_BadgeI also entered St. Nic, Inc. in the category of published mainstream and literary fiction. Honestly, I didn’t think it would perform well because I thought it was primarily an action/adventure story (and not really thriller/suspense either). I also thought this would be a more competitive category because many novels can fit under this umbrella. But my fortunes in RPLA this year turned because I accepted the risk of entering the novel into a second category.

As the table shows, however, the third and fourth judges didn’t warmly embrace my novel either. They also didn’t respond well to my emphasis on setting in the opening pages. Fortunately, these judges gave me scores that allowed me to get into the semi-final round where the full manuscript would be read by a fifth judge.

A review of the comments in the mainstream/literary category found that the first round judges also had issues with the plot and the lack of quirky characters. One judge noted it was difficult to determine which characters were the protagonists and which ones were the antagonists. They were also confused about the central setting of the story (which pivots between a hospital and DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia as two parallel story lines develop simultaneously). These judges also thought the book could be entered into the action/thriller genres, reinforcing at least my sense of where it would fit in terms of genre. The literary/mainstream judges wanted me to tighten up the action by streamlining the story, and one even suggested I consolidate a few chapters. Hardly a slam dunk into the final round, let alone scores to position me well for a top three placing.

Still, I made it into the semi-final round.

The fifth judge obviously made the difference. After reading the entire book—the only judge to read it in its entirety—St. Nic, Inc. received a 49 out 50. I have very little feedback because the judge liked almost everything in it. This judge also noted that the story could have moved faster, but she or he considered the story imaginative, creative, engaging, and pretty cool. Since this judge’s score was doubled in the final round, St. Nic, Inc., made it into the final round and received 2nd place.

The Good: Five Take Aways from RPLA

So, St. Nic, Inc. had a rocky ride in the RPLA judging. This was clearly not a cakewalk or an easy win. I also think it speaks well of the process, but that’s another story.

I want to close with a few observations about what this means for me as an author, with several more books in the pipeline. What are my take aways?

  1. You can’t always judge a book by its first chapters. Stories are organic, but judging (no matter how well it maps over buyer behavior) that focuses on the first chapters (or pages) really doesn’t tell you much about the story if it has much complexity. The first chapters are just the hook. While important, they are not the story. Many of the elements of Nic, Inc. that the judges criticized were, in fact, artistic decisions about plot and character development. As long as writers recognize the trade-offs involved, and the potential downside of readers not buying the book or judges appreciating its complexity in the early chapters, writers should note the objections and consider them, but not necessarily use them as a writing guide. Even in light of the judges’ comments, I don’t think I would change the story much.
  2. Stay true to your vision as a writer. Nic, Inc. scores ranged from 35 to 49 on a 50 point scale. At the end of the day, literary competitions, even when they use a rigorous methodology for ranking books, depend on the subjectivity of the judge. Notably, all the judges recognized that the manuscript was technically well written—no mistakes in grammar, syntax, plot development or character development. Their criticisms centered on the creative and artistic aspects of the book, many of which included choices I made as a writer about plot and character. Not all my characters had quirks because in many cases—such as the way I treat little people—I wanted to demonstrate they were normal people in an extraordinary circumstance and setting. Giving little people quirks would have transformed them into munchkins, the exact opposite of how I wanted them perceived.
  3. Judges in literary competition pay a lot of attention to craft. They like a balance of character, plot, and setting, and they are interested in manuscripts that push, or at least give a strong nudge, to pushing against the edges of convention. Good books that are excellent reads may not do well in a literary competition because judges are looking for artistic qualities, and these qualities may not be what readers care about. Paradoxically, genre judges tend to look for stories that fit certain formulas—the one page hook, unambiguous plots, etc. This all makes sense because they are looking for the stand out contributions, so they want to see something different within the confines of their genre.
  4. The book’s hook—the events that start the story off—is critical. As a writer I should not expect a reader (or judge) to be patient. Most people don’t want to waste an hour reading a book or manuscript to see if they are going like it. As a matter of efficiency (and practicality), the hook is essential. And, in the RPLA competition (as well as other competitions) the hook determines whether you can even quality for the subsequent rounds. An excellent hook is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. This is useful insight in general.
  5. The judges like tight, polished manuscripts. They don’t want to be distracted by formatting, grammatical, or spelling errors. This reflects a lack of professionalism, and they don’t want to bother reading a book when the author hasn’t done their due diligence in producing a book that respects their time and value as a judge. All judges noted that fact Nic, Inc. was free of technical errors and was well written.

This was the third time I have entered RPLA with a manuscript. Notably, last year I submitted St. Nic, Inc. as an unpublished manuscript and it failed to advance to the semi-final round. While the 2nd place finish was gratifying, the ability to see the book do well in published form and receive excellent comments from the judges will help me frame my future submissions and keep me centered as an author.

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

RPLA win raises visibility of little people in mainstream society

One of the more gratifying aspects of winning 2nd place in the Royal Palm Literary Competition was that the it happened in October. This month is Dwarfism Awareness Month, and as readers of St. Nic, Inc. know, little people–dwarves–play an important role in the story and plot. I think my fictional characters mirror the roles real dwarves play more generally in our society, even though they are not always recognized or acknowledged. I am pleased that the RPLA award have given greater public visibility to this novel and, by extension, little people.StNicInc,COVER

Someone recently observed that all my novels address a social justice issue of some sort. In the Pirate of Panther Bay series, the stories focus on interpersonal violence and human dignity. In Renegade and A Warrior’s Soul (the Path of the Warrior series), the issue is bullying and sexual assault. In St. Nic, Inc., prejudice and discrimination are critical elements of the plot and storyline. In fact, I can honestly say. without giving too much away, little people are an indispensable element to the story–the story just wouldn’t be the same, and not nearly as interesting, without them. Dwarves are full-fledged, multi-dimensional characters with their own ambitions, courage, fears, skills, and competencies, and their choices as individuals determine the outcome of the story. In no way are they tokens.

Just who are some of these central characters?

  • Rowdy, the software engineer turned businessman, who company’s revenues power the North Pole to achieve its social mission;
  • Ron Cutler, the seasoned corporate attorney turned civil rights lawyer
  • Lisa Patten, the chief of surgery at the North Pole hospital
  • Fred, a professional nurse who befriends one of a lead average-sized characters

Several other characters play smaller but important cameo roles.

RPLA_2ndPl_BadgeImportantly, St. Nic, Inc. is not a story about little people. Rather, it’s a story about the North Pole, and what it might look like if it really exists. Little people make up about 25% of the North Pole population. Average-sized people play prominent roles as lead characters, but, like all societies, this is an ensemble story with different characters on different paths and arcs.

So, why do little people exist at all? Good question. St. Nic, Inc. was written in part with an eye on broaching a broader discussion about prejudice in mainstream society from a different perspective. I have a lot on my website discussing these issues, and the role of little people in the development of the story as well as their role in the novel, including:

So, thank you RPLA for helping me bring this discussion to a broader audience!

For more information on Dwarfism Awareness month, click here. Support Little People of America by either joining (here) or buying St. Nic, Inc. through the LPA’s web site (under the section “Fiction with dwarf characters”).

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

St. Nic, Inc. Makes Royal Palm Literary Award Semi-Finals!

I am pleased to announced that St. Nic, Inc., my reality-based action adventure about the North Pole, as been named a semi-finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards! The next step is for a judge to review and score the manuscript to determine if it makes it into the finals. RPLA_SemiFinalist_Badge

This is the furthest one of my novels has gone in this competition, so I am keeping my fingers crossed. RPLA’s award competition uses a rubric for scoring the manuscripts. Manuscripts that reach a certain threshold in overall scoring make it into the semi-finals and finals. The award winners are determined by a panel of judges.

Reason magazine has called St. Nic, Inc. a “comic thriller,” and award winning author Donna Meredith writes:

When the talented SR Staley tosses DEA agents, moles, computer whizzes, and a multi-national CEO into one action-filled plot, you get St. Nic, Inc.,  a story that sparkles like the North Pole on a sunny day.  St. Nic, Inc. offers a fresh vision of what modern tools like the Internet and high-speed delivery services could accomplish in the hands of the right Little People. This heart-warming re-imagining gives us reason to believe—and fall in love all over again with our most cherished time of year.

 

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

Narcissism and the one-star amazon review

By SR Staley

I received my first one star review on amazon.com a couple of weeks ago, my first in 47 reviews of my fiction. While I know my books won’t appeal to all readers, a one star is quite deflating. But then I looked at the larger picture, and I realized how narcissistic and impulsive the person posting the one-star review must be. Let me explain.

“Big Bad John”–yes, that’s his on-line handle–posted his review with the title “Save Your Money!” and basically trashes my newest novel, St. Nic., Inc., in four sentences. (He also didn’t buy the book from amazon.) I have no doubt this is his honest opinion of the book. And he is entitled to his opinion and post it on amazon.com. I have no objection with that.

But here’s the context: Big Bad John’s review was the 17th review. The lowest review before his was a 3 star, and these unenthusiastic readers wrote that the book was a “good seasonal read” and “a nice way to pass the time.” St. Nic, Inc. has 10 five-star reviews, seven of which were “verified” purchases from amazon.com. All the four and three-star reviews were verified purchases from amazon.com or the kindle store. So, BBJ has to either ignore all the other reviews, or believe his lone opinion was so superior to the others that potential readers should put aside everyone else’s views except his. I think this pretty much defines narcissism in the world of book reviews.

My biggest disappointment, however, was not BBJ’s displeasure although I do care what readers think. In fact, I incorporate their feedback–positive and negative–in my writing all the time. Rather, it was BBJ’s complete lack of content in his criticism. He had an opportunity to be constructive, but chose simply to trash talk the book.

Fortunately, I doubt Big Bad John will have much effect on my book sales. My book is better than he thinks, and I know that because the vast majority of the reviews on amazon are by people I don’t know. I have also won awards for my fiction.

I guess BBJ doesn’t want to be put on my Christmas card list.

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

Reason magazine reviews “comic thriller” St. Nic, Inc.

Books editor Jesse Walker reviews St. Nic, Inc. in it’s January 2015 issue of Reason magazine (on p. 60), calling the novel a “comic thriller.” Walker writes:

If Santa Claus existed, the feds would probably mistake the operation for a drug cartel. So goes the premise of St. Nic, Inc. (Southern Yellow Pine), S.R. Staley’s comic thriller about a Drug Enforcement Administration operation that nearly takes Christmas down.

Staley, a frequent contributor to reason, teaches economics at Florida State when he isn’t writing novels. He draws on both careers when describing NP Enterprise, an Arctic software firm and toy distribution network run by one Nicole Klaas. Nicole, the fourth Klaas to run the family business, relies heavily on the skills of the world’s little people, for whom the company’s polar community is a haven against the discrimination they face down south.

Their cash transactions catch the government’s eye, and soon a federal agent is convinced he’s found a nest of narco-traffickers. He hasn’t spotted any actual drugs, but the pattern looks unmistakable. And then a bona fide War on Christmas begins.

 

 

 

 

 

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

Why Little People are Central to “St. Nic, Inc.” (No spoilers!)

All my novels grapple with the problems of diversity, tolerance, ethnicity and social justice in some substantive and meaningful way, although always in the context of the story; they are not lectures. In The Pirate of Panther Bay, for example, Isabella is an escaped slave who captains a pirate ship. She has to deal with her own identity and coming of age as a women in a violent, male dominated profession (pirating) and the racism that pervaded the plantation and extraction economies of the world during the 18th century.

So, as I continued to think through the mythology of elves and Santa Claus for the back story in St. Nic, Inc., I began to reflect on little people and dwarves. For some reason which I still don’t completely recall–writing is a process, not a moment in time–I became particularly annoyed by the fact little people were almost always depicted in stereotyped roles in popular culture, particularly movies–munchkins, elves, what have you. But I knew that little people have the same abilities and capabilities as average-sized peopled. Why didn’t we see more of that? So, I began to revise my thinking about little people and elves and thought this might be an opportunity to address issues such as inclusiveness, fairness, prejudice–social justice–through my story. So, the book has several passages that directly confront conventional stereotypes about little people and contrast them with the “reality” of the North Pole in St. Nic, Inc. I am particularly fond of a coffee shop scene in Chapter 10 between an average sized person and a little person, and a very poignant dialogue between two average-sized people on dwarfism and human dignity in Chapter 24.

Read more about the role of little people in St. Nic, Inc. by clicking here:

For more on little people, check out the Little People of America (LPA) website here.

To watch the St. Nic, Inc. trailer, click here.

To buy St. Nic, Inc., click here and help out LPA at the same time!

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

How dwarves ended up in St. Nic, Inc.: An unexpected journey

Little people figure prominently in my newest novel, St. Nic, Inc.  Moreover, the climax hinges on the role of little people. In popular culture, little people are commonly associated with elves of myth, and some people have wondered if this why I included them as characters. Ironically, the mythology surrounding little people and elves is one of the reasons they didn’t end up in the story at all!

I completed the manuscript in 2000, and I didn’t know any little people personally at the time. St. Nic, Inc. is intended for a mainstream audience. So, as I began mapping the Santa Claus myth over the contemporary, reality-based world I was creating, I was trying to create practical analogues that would also be consistent if a North Pole operation actually existed. I purged fantasy elements from the back story. Elves didn’t figure into it, in the same way that the story doesn’t have reindeer, or flying sleighs, or a rotund Santa Claus (who is sometimes referred to as a “jolly old elf”). So, the early drafts tried to avoid little people altogether because I thought little people and elves would be conflated, detracting from the contemporary and reality-based setting I wanted to create.

For more on little people, check out the Little People of America (LPA) website here.

To watch the St. Nic, Inc. trailer, click here.

To buy St. Nic, Inc., click here and help out LPA at the same time!

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

St. Nic, Inc: “quirky, fun and very clever.”

A 5-Star review is in from Jack Magnus at Readersfavorite.com! (I have added the emphasis in bold.)

“St. Nic, Inc, is an action and adventure thriller written by SR Staley. Peter Peary is a washed-up explorer in his early twenties. He excelled in school, graduated on a fast track and was making waves as the consummate explorer until the fateful trip to Mount Everest where a squall claimed the lives of his group as well as his mentor and father figure. The trip up to the North Pole with his friend Sheila Livingston was hard to fund as no one wanted to trust him anymore, but Sheila was finally able to procure sufficient funds for their sled and dog team. When Peter regains consciousness, he’s in some sort of hospital room, and his head is throbbing. His nurse, Jeff, is kind and considerate and is, Peter notices, rather short. Quite a few people in this hospital, or medical facility, are little people. Peter has difficulty remembering the circumstances that led his being here, and his attempt to leave the facility leaves him totally confused and under guard.
SR Staley’s action and adventure thriller, St. Nic, Inc. is quirky, fun and very clever. Peter, descendant of the famed Arctic explorer, finds himself embarking on a grand adventure indeed, as he attempts to understand just what he’s landed himself in this time. Nic Klaas, the driven CEO and computer genius, is a great foil for Peter, and I enjoyed watching as the two damaged psyches work at establishing rapport. I’ve never read anything like this book. You know where it’s going based on the modern mythology, but Staley takes you there via a marvelous and exciting thriller that has some pretty unpredictable turns. I enjoyed St. Nic, Inc. It’s especially bound to appeal to those of us who’ve never quite gotten the hang of growing up, and it’s highly recommended.”

 

 

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

Why Write a Reality Adventure About the Santa Claus Myth?

My newest book, St. Nic, Inc., takes on one of America’s most cherished children’s myths, Santa Claus, and places it into a fast paced adventure that readers have compared to Tom Clancy or Clive Cussler. (Watch the trailer here.) Many people have asked what prompted me to write this book, so here’s my answer:

My story’s origin begins with the question every parent dreads: Do you believe in Santa Claus? As parents, we worry over how our children will react to the “truth” that Santa Claus is a myth. The overwhelming majority of our kids, of course, do fine. They may feel a period of betrayal and a sense of injustice, but they get over it. I think, however, many people underestimate how difficult this conversation is for parents and adults. We perpetuate the myth because we believe in its spirit and the core value of giving as an unconditional act of generosity. In this way the values are very secular. We are afraid that if our children realize that the myth is not real, the value of the principle is somehow degraded. I believe strongly in the importance of unconditional giving and charity. I think its a critical element of any sustainable society or community. As a novelist and storyteller, I wanted to reinvigorate this idea for adults. That’s why St. Nic, Inc. is not a children’s book. It’s a story with characters that gives us the space as adults and parents to believe if we choose to believe.

 

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....

“St. Nic, Inc.” and Dwarfism Awareness Month

October has been designated as Dwarfism Awareness Month, and Little People of America (LPA) has kicked off a series of activities geared toward raising the profile of little people. Of course, little people are critical to the plot, setting, and story of St. Nic, Inc., so we have created a few pages to help in the effort. So head over to www.srstaley.com and check out these pages:

You also can help out the efforts of LPA by buying St. Nic, Inc. from their website. It’s the first book listed under “Resources” and “Fiction with dwarf characters.” LPA gets a cut of every purchase made at amazon.com starting from their website.

Over 30,000 people in the U.S. live with one of the 200 types of dwarfism. Read St. Nic, Inc. and you just might kindle a new belief in Santa Claus through the little people that make this story so interesting.

Like what your read? We'll make it easy for you to share....