James Davies: Winning Writers of the Future
James Davies: Winning Writers of the Future
By Angelique Fawns
James Davies had some big news to tell his family – four feral humans and fourteen well-mannered hens – he is a winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, and his story “Ashes to Ashes, Blood to Carbonfiber” will be published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 40.
This means he is off to Hollywood for a gala this April, and winning this contest should be a big boost to his writing career!
Davies is a member of the Wulf Pack and one of my writing cohorts. Wulf Moon’s writing group is specifically geared to helping authors win this contest.
AF: You have lived and traveled all over the world. Can you tell us about that and how it influenced your writing?
JD: I believe traveling helped me learn to write fully-fledged characters, or at least, ‘fuller-fledged’ characters than I could previously. That is not to say that travel is required at all to characterize well: getting to know people less like you, that you wouldn’t meet in your ordinary day-to-day life, is key, and that is something any writer can do. And, I think, should. Aside from that, I like to use the details I’ve experienced from other cultures to better inform the world building process, especially in my fantasy worlds, which depart from the stereotypical British/French medieval tropes.
AF: Tell us about your writing journey and your strategy for winning this contest?
JD: My writing journey stems from my reading journey, although both start with one man: David Farland. With the incredible “Sum of All Men,” David introduced me to fantasy when I was ten. After consuming all of his novels and wanting more, I signed up to his newsletter, not realizing it was actually aimed at writers and not readers. His newsletter, which came daily, was a constant encouragement to write, and at fourteen (over twenty years ago!) I wrote my first fantasy novel because of it.
Through that newsletter I found out about the contest (David Farland was the coordinating judge until 2022 when he very sadly passed away) and set my heart on winning it. I got a rejection for my first submission, then decided to actually “do the work” and bought the latest volumes and read them, as well as a plethora of other short stories and books on the craft, as well as Wulf Moon’s Super Secrets thread on the Writers of the Future forum. That was enough to knock my next submission up to Honorable Mention, which is a rejection but one that means you’re on the right track. Only roughly ten percent of submissions receive one. The Honorable Mention was great, but better yet was David Farland himself personally congratulating me on social media. Honestly, that blew my mind, and I decided to up my efforts again.
I started critique swapping with a number of writers, mostly from the Writers of the Future forum, but also some local friends (Richard Scott-Jones and Jon F Chaddock), and tried to be deliberate with my critiquing: I studied what I was reading, worked out why I liked the good bits and how I would improve the weaker parts. Honestly, I learned more from the critiques I gave than the ones I received. If any newer writers are reading this looking for a nugget of wisdom, the best one I can offer is: critique exchange. Do it with those less experienced than you, on your level, and above. Do it with other genres and other formats. Do it with people not like you, or even, that don’t like you (although that can take some emotional fortitude).
At first I lacked confidence in my stories: I thought they were good, as good as an Honorable Mention, but no better. I thought reading them would be a waste of time for those achieving better, those getting Silver Honorable Mentions (reserved for the ‘top’ 2% of submissions), Semi-finalists (top sixteen submissions, out of thousands), Finalists (top eight), and Winners (top three). So I avoided exchanging critiques with anyone that had received higher than an Honorable Mention, and I continued to receive the same result for several quarters.
Fortunately, at some point, one of my exchange partners received a Silver Honorable Mention and they still liked my stories. That broke the floodgates for me, and I began chasing down and nagging Finalists and Winners to exchange critiques. Almost all of them indulged me, and I learned a lot. My next submission got Silver Honorable Mention. Around that time there was a call to beta read the next volume of Writers of the Future and I volunteered… nay, begged, to read it. And read it I did, multiple times, and I made notes, and a spreadsheet.
The next story I wrote was not forced to fit the mold of those findings, but that knowledge: what the judges are statistically looking for, gently informed my writing. On July 3rd, as I sat in a car filled with noisy children, hammered by thundering rain, and illuminated by red, white, and blue fireworks, my phone rang, and the caller ID said ‘Joni WOTF.’
AF: Why do you think “Ashes to Ashes, Blood to Carbonfiber” impressed the judges?
JD: I think it’s because it felt like a Writers of the Future story. Which sounds awfully immodest to say, but having read scores of them at this point (and having said ‘this story feels like a Writers of the Future story’ precisely once, a week before T.J. Knight got the phone call confirming my statement), I think I have a reasonable measure of that feeling. Honestly, beyond that, I have no idea. I love the story. I loved dreaming it, I loved writing it, and I loved honing it (a thousand thanks to the dozen fellow writers that critiqued it, and a billion thanks to my wife who critiqued it many, many times). I think that love helped, too.
AF: Do you have any advice for other authors who wish to send stories to Writers of the Future?
JD: Yes! Go read Wulf Moon’s Super Secrets thread (not all of it, use the links in the first post to jump to each of Wulf’s points. Between his points is a lot of wonderful conversation, but for efficiency’s sake, not essential reading), then Martin’s Opinion on the Unwritten Rules – both of these are essentially the same thing, a treatise on winning the contest, but from very different viewpoints. Both of them are previous winners of the contest (Wulf is in Volume 35, Martin in Volume 31) and they know the contest well.
Then get yourself the latest volume(s). The more recent the better/more relevant (I hear that Volume 40, coming out in April 2024, is going to be especially good). Personally, I’d also recommend getting a couple random older volumes, so you can see where the contest has come from.
Then, after reading all of that, write a story that you love the idea of. Don’t think about the ‘Secrets’ and the ‘Rules’ while you’re doing it. Once you’ve finished, revise it with those Ss and Rs in mind, and decide which ones you can conform to without sacrificing the heart of the story, and willfully ignore the ones you can’t.
Then critique exchange. Lots. And submit something new every quarter.
AF: Why chickens?
JD: My daughters wanted pets, but my wife is allergic to furry things. And they really are pets to our family: we carry them around, play with them, treat them to special snacks. My girls know the names of every single chicken, including all those that have gone to the big farm in the sky. And no, it doesn’t smart at all that my four-year old can remember the names of ~twenty chickens, some of which passed away when she was two, but not my middle name.
AF: Can you talk about your writing process? How many hours a day, where do you write, any secrets to productivity?
JD: There’s a scene in Scrubs where one of the junior doctors asks a senior doctor what the correct dosage of Tylenol is. He replies, “It’s regular strength Tylenol! Here’s what you do: get her to open her mouth, grab a handful and throw it at her! Whatever sticks, that’s the correct dosage!” That’s my writing process: I grab a handful of whatever time I can get and throw it at an electronic device. Whatever sticks, that’s the writing I get to do.
With a time-consuming ever-on-call job, four wonderful but demanding daughters, and a fixer-upper of a home (inside and out), I write in the little moments between everything else. I dictate as I drive to work, I write on my phone while navigating the halls of whichever hospital I’m working in that day, I research and proof-read whenever machines are running diagnostics or servers are backing up. I typically dictate for between fifteen minutes and six hours (depending on how long the drive to work is), and I write for another fifteen to forty-five minutes. Not ideal, but good enough.
AF: What’s in the future for James Davies?
JD: I’ve written a second-world fantasy novel that I’m hoping to publish in 2024, and I have an alternate history novel begging to flow from my fingertips, but a little more research is needed before I can start writing as it will span from late prehistory up to modern day, and I want to get the details right. I’m also working on a number of short stories, mostly science fiction, that I’m really excited about.
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Angelique Fawns writes horror, fantasy, kids short stories, and freelance journalism. Her day job is producing promos and after hours she takes care of her farm full of goats, horses, chickens, and her family. She has no idea how she finds time to write. She currently has stories in Ellery Queen, DreamForge Anvil, and Third Flatiron’s Gotta Wear Eclipse Glasses. You can follow her work and get writing tips and submission hints at http://fawns.ca/.