2019 Writer's Games Winner
Individual Portion 1
The Writer's Workout conducted the following interview with Tony Kelly in May, 2019. The Writer's Workout is represented as "WW" and Tony is represented as "TK". Interview responses are published as received.
WW: What made you want to participate in the Writer's Games this year?
TK: I discovered this competition last year and entered both times. I loved being forced to finish my work and getting the feedback. In the end, I placed one time in each competition and ended up in the top ten overall each time. I probably would've come back this year regardless, but having a bit of success convinced me that I could do this.
WW: Was there anything that you were worried or nervous about coming into this year's Games?
TK: The usual. That I wouldn't be able to finish in time. That a prompt would come up that I couldn't do anything with. That after minor success last year, I'd fall flat on my face this year.
WW: What kept you motivated to participate in each Event?
TK: I was surprised that I finished so high overall last year, despite only one entry placing each time. I assumed this meant that all of those non-placing entries were still getting me points. So I knew that, even if one particular story might not be great, it was still worth turning something in. I also worried that, if I skipped one, it would become that much easier to skip the next one. So I entered each Monday with a mission to wrap up the story, even if it didn't turn out the way it was planned.
WW: Did life ever get in the way during the Games? How did that affect your writing?
TK: Absolutely. The first competition came up when I was vacationing with friends in South Carolina. I wrote most of the conclusion on my phone in the back seat of the rental car. The following weekend, I was helping to run a curling bonspiel (tournament). I toggled between updating scores on the website and plodding through another paragraph or two.
WW: What was your favorite Event and why?
TK: The game show one was really fun to write. As soon as I saw the prompt, I started going through every 1980s video game I could think of and how it could be turned into an actual game show. In my mind, that story was going to have three or four different "scenes," but I was having too much fun describing all of the intricacies of the games. When I was still on the second game at 4,000 words, I decided to wrap it up there.
WW: Was there an Event that was more challenging for you than the others?
TK: The only event that I didn't place in was "Split Up, Gang," the mystery. Ironically, most of what I read and some of what I write is in the mystery or thriller genre, but I just couldn't figure out how to establish and solve a mystery in less than 5,000 words. I tried to go tongue-in-cheek with an over-the-top cop, but then I switched gears to the level-headed cop and what I ended up with was a meandering pile of junk with a not very mysterious, or engaging, mystery.
WW: What inspires you to write?
TK: I always wanted to write. I've had ideas rolling around in my head since high school and I always thought that someday, when my schedule was free, I'd magically start writing. But I never got around to putting consistent words on paper. Sometime around when my daughter was born, I finally started creating time for myself. Now I feel like I'm twenty years late to the game and trying to make up for lost time, all the while imminently aware of how easy it is to put the writing off till tomorrow.
WW: What genre do you normally like to write in? How did that help or hurt you during the Games?
TK: As a history teacher, I seem to do consistently well in the historical fiction prompts. But regardless of the timeframe, I usually try to write slice-of-life stories. Normally, when a prompt was released, my first thought was to put a regular person into a real-world situations and see how it plays out. I don't do well with magic or science fiction, as much as I enjoy reading those genres. I'm not sure if this helped me, but I assume a lot of the entries might be more grandiose, more magical. So maybe the plots of mine helped them stick out.
WW: Whose work do you find most inspiring? Why?
TK: Many people roll their eyes at him, but Stephen King is amazing. The sheer volume of his work is astounding. But the content is wonderful, as well. Even though his stories are usually tied up in the supernatural, the realness of his characters really jump out for me. I remember being fascinated at a scene in "The Shining," when, in the middle of explaining how The Shine works, Halloran keeps taking out his handkerchief, sneezing/coughing into it, then looking at it before folding it up and putting it away. It seemed such an odd, and yet such a real, action to put into a scene. I try to remember that, even when our characters face surreal situations, they still need to be fully developed people with idiosyncrasies and all.
WW: What is the best advice someone has ever given you and who said it?
TK: "You can't edit a blank page." Not sure if I can attribute it to just one person, maybe Chuck Wendig, but it's usually near the top on most "how to" lists for authors. An extension to that for this competition is that you can't submit an empty page. The crucial thing is to finish a story and submit it, even if it's not the next Harry Potter. Most of my stories didn't end up how I planned when they entered my mind Friday night. The easiest way to make sure you've written something well is to write it, then go back and fix it.
WW: What advice would you give to people thinking about participating in next year's Games?
TK: Find a program that allows you to continue writing on a different device. I personally use www.4thewords.com, which gamifies writing, but I also cut and pasted into Google Docs when I could. Being able to write the next few sentences or paragraphs while you're, say, standing in line at Target, makes Monday that much more manageable.
You can follow Tony Kelly on Twitter: @wombatony
It is the policy of The Writer's Workout to publish interview responses as received.