Q & A With Our Judges

JudgementGood morning TWA people! With the success of J.R. Frontera’s Q&A we decided that we would give this another shot.

Before we get started, don’t forget to check out our current battle. It’s all about pirates!

For many, many months, we have had Rich Alix and Donald Jacob Uitvlugt judge our contests. Their wisdom has guided us through dozens of rounds in the arena and we are grateful for their criticism. Despite this, our readers know very little about these two judges.

Now is your chance to gain some insight into the mind of our judges. Drop your questions in the comments below and be sure to stop by later. They’ll answer over the course of the day.

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  1. Have you ever taken a bribe? I hear that Albert has deep pockets for arena wins.

    In all seriousness, what was the hardest decision you’ve had to make in the arena?

    • How dare you! I have never taken a bribe! Of course, one has never been offered either so.

      Hardest decision, hmmmm. While it may come as a surprise there have been very few weeks that were an easy choice. The quality of stories here impresses me constantly. The week that sticks out to me though is “The End of the Universe”. I think it was week 6 or 7. That was the week I had to vote against one of my favorite stories from the arena ever: Joseph Devon’s “The Pedestal” was beautifully written and I loved it. I could not for the life of me, however, see what it had to do with the prompt and so I could not vote for it.

      • The pedestal was defining where the edge of the universe is!!

        Yeah that story was seriously pushing the prompt…I went back and forth over that one a lot.

        • I got the idea it was more of defining the edge of his world, and that’s part of what I loved about that story. He used it’s unwavering location to hold up the rest of his world. I just couldn’t make the jump to universe.

          I love when authors push the prompts or re-interpret them (Albert) but it just doesn’t always work out. There are always bonus points for creativity in my mind at least.

    • Yes, Albert’s just rolling in that Walmart money…

      Each week brings its own challenges. As Rich has said, there’s rarely been a runaway winner in any of the contests. (And even if I were to feel there was, Rich would probably vote for the other story!)

      Looking back on the history of the Arena, the ones I remember as being particularly difficult for me were Week 7: Long Lost Love and Week 29: Would You Like to Build a Snowman. But ask me again tomorrow and I may answer differently…

  2. You both talk a lot of times about voting for the story with the most emotional impact for you.

    Does that mean the one that simply moves you the most? Or are some emotions favored over others? Like what if I wrote something so disgusting that you were nauseous. Would that win me points in getting that much of a reaction from you?

    • Emotional impact is important but it’s not everything. Assuming the story fits the prompt (see above) I find myself most often voting for the story that sticks with me. This is sometimes because of a positive emotional response but it could also be because of a clever idea or a fresh approach.

      All that being said, if you wrote something that made me physically nauseous I would be impressed. I couldn’t guarantee a win but it would be a plus.

    • Joseph’s question forces me into a very Humpty Dumpty response. (“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. The question is which is to be master — that’s all.”)

      By emotional impact, I mean which story causes me to care about it the most. That usually means which story has the character that I empathize the most with, though sometimes it also means which story has the most panache. The story whose style and images linger better in my memory.

      I might argue that nausea is not an emotion but a physiological reaction. But yes, disturbing emotions can count, as long as the story would meet the prompt and have a character I care about.

  3. Jon Jones @DVWhat

    I’m sorry I can’t think up a question at the moment. But what I really want to leave as a comment is just to say that I really love you guys.

  4. The problem I run into when writing reviews is that I know the… emotional impact (is maybe the right word?) criticism can have on writers. Do you ever find yourselves re-writing your judgment pieces over and over trying to be gentle with your criticism?

    • Good question. This is something I thought about when I first agreed to become a judge here.

      What I have found that seems to work for me is to be specific. In most cases there are parts of the story that I like and I share those as much as the parts I didn’t like. I also keep my comments simple; this works, this doesn’t, this was great, this seemed forced. I avoid hyperbole and try hard to speak only about the story and not the person who wrote it. So far I have only toed the line of insult once (I think).

      To me, the verdicts that we write are as much to help the writers as they are to determine a winner. I want the authors to take the comments and the judges opinions and be able to apply them to things they write after their time in the arena. It may be a lofty goal but I can dream!

    • I would agree with Rich that specific is good, though one would have to ask the competitors I’ve judged how they feel about my critiques.

      I do try to always make it clear that I am simply responding to the *story*. This is not an opinion on the writer one way or the other. Simply the thoughts of one reader. I also try never to criticize rough spots without stressing what I like about a story (a skill I learned as a member of the online SpecFic critique group Critters).

      I like to think my evaluations are pretty even-keeled, but again, you’d have to ask the competitors. Anyone want to weigh in?

      • We all hate both of you and have dreams where we’re pushing your faces into pudding.

        No, the judges are usually freakishly spot-on when it comes to critiquing things that I sort of knew weren’t my best moments or things that needed more work. Y’all elevate this place into something really unique.

        • Oh I agree (second part, not first). And I’ve never thought any of the judgments I’ve read were insulting in any way. It’s just something that freezes me up sometimes.

      • The Judges critiques are one of my favourite parts of the Arena, and the times they’ve been levelled at my work I’ve come away from the experience a little wiser.

        What’s impressed me is that I’ve been able to read a critique of my work, then go back and read what I’d written, and immediately been able to see what the judge was saying. That leads to being able to fix the issue, or at least to go away thinking about how to build more atmosphere, or pace something better, or present a character differently. I might be alone in this, but that adds to the fun of having written in the first place.

  5. I have a question for Donald. Rumor has it that you selected me to go up against in the round we’re currently writing, calling me out so to speak. Care to share the thought process behind that?

    • Perhaps it might have something to do with

      –“We all hate both of you and have dreams where we’re pushing your faces into pudding.”–


    • I don’t know where such rumors start… *drums his fingertips together like Mr. Burns*

      More seriously, I’m looking forward to matching my story against yours, Joseph, for many reasons. Why not challenge oneself against someone who’s so excellent at what he does? Any time you compete it’s always a close contest. I know I’m going to have to bring my A game.

      I admire each of the Arena regulars for different reasons. You always manage to bring a thoughtful, character-rich story to the ring. I strive to write similar stories, stories that slow one down and hopefully make one feel something one hasn’t felt before. Or feel in a new way.

      It may be possible that, having judged so many of these contests, I have an advantage competing a second time. I don’t know. But I do know it’s going to be fun!

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