Tale contest takes winners to ‘unexpected, interesting places’

Saturday, February 18, 2012
By Ben Beagle bbeagle@batavianews.com

Hillary Jordan talked about story ideas she was considering for a sequel to “Mudbound,” the 2011 selection for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project. The year before, Garth Stein shared a very different ending — one that would have totally changed the tone — of his best-selling novel “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”

The Tale authors made those revelations, not during well-attended book talks and signings in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, but to a intimate lunch-time gathering of a half-dozen readers who had won an annual book review contest.

Jordan, recalled contest winner Jacquie Billings Barlow of Perry, “indicated that she was not prepared to release that information to the masses, so I felt as though I had the inside scoop!”

Frances McNulty likened winning the contest to “having a back stage pass.”

“By writing a review and winning the contest an individual can enjoy an opportunity to know the author in a personal level in a social setting,” she said.

The contest, sponsored by The Daily News, is continuing this year with Yannick Murphy’s novel “The Call.” An entry form can be found today on page B-3. The novel explores a family’s struggle to maintain stability after its eldest son is seriously injured in a hunting accident. Her novel is presented in the form of a log that reveals the work and thoughts of the main character as he tries to understand what is happening to his family.

While still called a review contest, the format for the past three years has asked readers to give specific questions about the book to consider. The change was made to encourage writers to focus on their opinions or emotional responses to the book, rahter than summarize whether the book was good or bad.

This year readers are asked to consider: “How did the journal format affect your response to the story?” or “What is the meaning of the spacecraft in the novel?”

Your written response — in 150 words or less — could win you a spot at the table for a lunch-time discussion with Murphy on March 23. Entries are due at The Daily News by Feb. 25, and must be submitted with an original entry form. Up to six winners will be chosen for the lunch. Some reviews or excerpts will be published on the Tale for Three Counties website.

“Too often as readers we rush from one book to the next without digesting what we’ve read,” said Leslie DeLooze, the community services librarian at Richmond Memorial Library, Batavia, responsible for starting Tale. “The great thing about the review contest is that it forces us to slow down and to think about our reading.”

A similar contest for students at Genesee Community College also continues this year. The guidelines are different for each contest, though students are not prohibited from entering both contests.

“I like the structure of an essay contest to guide my thinking and writing about the book,” Billings Barlow said. “It is a nice break from the thinking and writing that make up the rest of the year.”

Meghan Hauser of Perry is an avid reader — she maintains a list of prospective titles for future reading — who has won the contest several times. She said the lunch is “a rare opportunity to complete the circle of reading.”

“Not only do I get to enjoy a great adventure through reading the book, I can then ask my questions and bounce my theories off the primary source, the inventor of the characters and the plot,” she said. “I would never let that chance pass by.”

The contest began with author Howard Frank Mosher in 2004, the second year of the Tale project. It was one more element for a program that encourages readers in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties to pick up the same book, discuss it and then meet the author in a series of visits each spring. Murphy is scheduled to stop March 22 to 24.

By keeping the word limit low, organizers hope readers see the contest not as “homework” but a chance to share a few thoughts on the book.

“It makes me more closesly involved in this community reading project,” McNulty said. “I must make an effort to think more deeply about the book, and by creating a critique, whether favorable or not, provides a more personal involvement. I actually enjoy writing a review — and like the challenge it offers.”

The talks and booksignings provide an opportunity for readers to meet the author and steal a moment or two to chat. The lunch provides a casual, more personal setting for authors to talk about their books and writing. Often they share personal stories that don’t make the formal programs.

“While the author is definitely working during the luncheon, being able to have a conversation in an informal atmosphere is a special experience,” said Ann Burlingham of Perry, a past winner. “Breaking bread with someone is a congenial way to come togehter, and often the conversations go unexpected, but always interesting places.”

‘Tale’ writing contest tips

The deadline for this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” writing contest is Feb. 25. As you consider your submission, the librarians who judge the contest offer these tips:

* WHEN WRITING THE REVIEW, concentrate entirely on your reaction to the question without reiterating plot points. Judges already know the plot; they are interested in what your thoughts are on the story. With a 150-word limit this has to be very focused. Give your opinion, and then convince the judges with your argument.
* START OUT STRONG with a firm statement or opinion about the question you have chosen to respond to. Then, use several specific examples or quotations to support that opinion.
* BEFORE SUBMITTING YOUR ENTRY, give it a final read. While the entries are not strictly grade like your junior-high English assignment spelling and grammer do count. In a competitive contest, making sure your argument is clear can make the difference.
* WHEN REFERENCING THE BOOK, double check so that your details are accurate. Errors hurt even the most well-written entry.

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Courtesy of Batvia Newspapers Corporation

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