Interview with David Armstrong, committing to contests

We’re happy to share an interview with David Armstrong, author of “Hear It” in our newest issue of Crossborder, conducted by Nate Worrell, writer and creator of the blog The Competitive Writer.Armstrong shares some insight on submitting and winning the annual Leapfrog Fiction Contest in 2012.

What does winning the Leapfrog contest mean for you?
It means a great deal. It’s my first book, which is of course a kind of milestone. I’m just glad the editors at Leapfrog and the contest judge, Lev Raphael, saw something there worth publishing as a whole. I’d received some good responses (publications and contest wins) to individual stories, but I’m always plagued by a nagging feeling I might be returning to the same waters too often. I tend to obsess over a few certain philosophical and psychological questions, as writers are wont to do, so I often worry that all my stories are iterations of a few narrow concerns. Having the book selected tells me that I managed to push each story into new territory—enough that the folks at Leapfrog saw it as a complete collection, with thematic elements holding it together, as opposed to a dozen versions of the same story. In general, I guess the win tells me I’m working with a sufficient degree of breadth, an expansiveness for which I consistently strive.

How has winning this contest, or others, boosted your career as an author?
The Leapfrog contest win is quite recent, so, other than a lot of congratulations from all of the wonderful and supportive people in my life, the substantive result has yet to play out. The book itself, which I hope is the true measure by which I’m judged, is still over a year away from publication. Hopefully there’s a good response once readers see my work as a whole.
My other contest wins are also very recent, less than six months old. But it’s been an overwhelming six months. In that time, I’ve managed to have thirteen stories picked up for publication, nine of them winners of contests. I just started seriously writing short stories about two years ago, and only last year started testing the waters of contests. I began to receive good feedback—a few were finalists and Honorable mentions for contests held by publications like The Cincinnati Review and Glimmer Train—so I knew I was at least in a certain realm of consideration for the editorial staffs. But it’s been within the past six months that I started to see more significant results in the form of wins.
Because of the relative newness of all of this, many of my stories aren’t even published yet. Anything I might have to say about contests and their impact on my career is purely speculative. What I hope is that the contest wins serve as a little validation. I see a lot of stellar writers that I respect ending up on the finalist and honorable mention lists. When I’m a finalist for a contest, I tend to take pride in the fact that I’m even being considered alongside some of these folks whose work I admire.

How did the experience with Leapfrog compare to other contests?
The Leapfrog Press staff were wonderful. One way the actual contest stood out to me was the way it was conducted. With most contests you send something in, you keep writing, you try not to dwell on it. Meanwhile, the brave editors tackle an enormous pile of manuscripts and slowly whittle them down. Finally, you hear the results. With Leapfrog, they let the contestants know when the manuscripts were all in, how many there were, when the judging began, and, in my case, the point at which finalists had been chosen and how long it would be before a final decision was made. This may not sound like a huge thing, but that kind of consideration for the contestants shows that the staff at Leapfrog know what a big deal it is to individual writers to be considered for publication. That kind of thoughtfulness, I think, is evidence that Leapfrog has their writers’ best interests at heart. I’ve since heard from other writers who’ve worked with Leapfrog and who have very positive things to say about their experiences, so I think it bodes well for our future working relationship.

Related to that, this work is a collection of shorter pieces. Talk a little bit about how this compilation came together.
In first writing the short stories that ended up in this collection, I didn’t set out to link them. I didn’t have an overarching plan. In fact, one of the most appealing aspects of working in the short form, for me, is the capacity to experiment with varying concepts, characters, styles, and ideas. But the intriguing thing I found, after writing enough stories, was that, inevitably, there were themes that emerged I couldn’t have predicted. I began to form the collection in such a way that each story was linked through these themes. You learn a lot from having to go back over your own work. In some ways it can be distressing to see, as I mentioned, that you’re obsessed with story elements or character attributes or even details that you had no idea were even in your mind to begin with. But because of this new awareness, I also think you can grow as a writer. I think, because of it, I was able to make sure each story offered something all its own to add to the collection.

What role should contests play in a writer’s development?
No idea. Writers develop their craft in all sorts of ways, so I’d never prescribe a certain path. I only know that my experience with contests has been an extremely fortunate one. Personally, contests have played a distinct part in my own development, at least as far as publishing short stories is concerned. As I mentioned above, I had a number of stories that, because they were finalists or honorable mentions, I knew to keep sending out. In terms of talking to anyone thinking about entering contests, I’d point out that those contests can tell you a lot about where you stand in the overall pack of writers submitting to them. Being a finalist, even if it doesn’t result in a win, can at least let you know that your work is being considered at some level beyond the initial reader. You don’t always get that kind of feedback with straight submissions.
A friend once told me that to be a finalist in a contest, you have to be good, but to win, you have to be lucky. I like that. Certainly, there’s a very subjective aspect to winning. It relies on some person at the end saying, “I just like this one the best.” But having a specific story do well (be a finalist, semi-finalist, honorable mention, etc.), that tells me there is something of quality to which people are responding, and maybe I just need to keep sending it out until it gets “lucky.”

David Armstrong’s story collection, Going Anywhere, is expected to be released at the end of 2014. To read the entire interview, visit www.competitivewriter.com.

New show at Vassar College for Lily Prince

 ImageImage
Artist Lily Prince, whose paintings were used in our first two covers, has a new show opening at Vassar College titled, “Here, There,and Everywhere.” Her work will be shown Wednesday, November 20th – Thursday, December 19th at James W. Palmer Gallery, College Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY. There will be an artist reception Wednesday, November 20th from 5-7 pm.
Those who want more information, call (845)-437-5370.

Lily Prince has her BFA from The Rhode Island School of Design and her MFA from Bard College, and studied at Skowhegan. Prince has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally, been in numerous publications and on the radio and has been awarded commissions by numerous hotels and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Her portraits of artists appeared in Richard Klin’s Something to Say: Thoughts on Art and Politics in America, published by Leapfrog Press, 2011.