Writer’s Digest would like to congratulate the winners of the 13th Annual Popular Fiction Awards. Each year, writers submit their very best short stories in one of six categories: crime, horror, romance, science fiction, thriller, and young adult. The winners of this year’s awards were chosen from over 875 entries and represent the very best in genre fiction. Please join us in congratulating our winners!
For complete coverage of the awards, see the May/June 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest. To see a complete list of winners and read the first-place winners in each genre, click here. For a selection of advice and inspiration from the winners, click here.
Ami Cameron is a writer living in Vancouver, Canada with her husband, four small kids, and two playful kittens. She did the responsible thing and got a degree in criminology and has worked in group homes, transition houses, and social work. These experiences bleed into everything she writes. Her first novel, Hard Love, is the story of three foster teens that run away from their group home to find the truth about their pasts, and the families that left them behind. This is the first competition she’s entered, and the first award she’s won. Visit her at amicameron.com.
Can you write a one-sentence summary of your story, describing it for someone who hasn’t read it yet?
During a Christmas visit to her Grandmother’s, a young girl helps cover up the shooting of her aunt’s abusive husband.
What do you think are the biggest benefits and challenges of writing a successful short story?
Writing a successful short story … it’s a feeling of completion—of instant gratification—to get that story out, start to finish. The challenge is to make the inciting incident strong enough and sharp enough to create drama and interest, and yet be resolvable in a few pages.
What do you think are the biggest benefits and challenges of writing a successful crime story? How does the short form affect that?
I’m fascinated by criminal motivations, especially when you start with a law-abiding citizen and they turn. A successful crime story for me is going to draw a line in the sand, take the character to a moral decision (no matter how their moral compass reads) of, “This is wrong, this is why, and this is how to make it right.” A form of justice has to be there, and for a moment, the reader understands, and maybe even agrees with, the characters actions.
Writing the short form, you have to build your characters, from the very start, in a way that the reader knows them, knows (or at least can guess) where that line in the sand is, and why. And of course, the conflict and motivation must make sense … and always, always, be believable.
Describe your writing process for this story.
I grew up with a large extended family, and we would meet back “home” every few years for Christmas. My memories of that time are so vivid. I originally set out to write a creative non-fiction piece in honor of my amazing and crazy family.
However, this story had a mind of its own, and evolved into a fictional story of domestic abuse and murder. Once I understood where it was going, it tumbled out pretty quickly.
How did you choose the title of this story? What do you think makes for an effective story title?
I love story titles, and you know when you’ve hit the right one. It has to be powerful, catchy, and intriguing. I hate to admit it, but I pick books based on their titles, and even the fonts! The title for “Snow. Blood. Love.” came a few weeks after the story was complete. I couldn’t figure out what to call it, but I looked at the bones, and there it was.
How long have you been writing? How did you start? Do you write full time?
I’ve been writing since I could string letters together. My first story was called, “Ami’s Terrible Horrible Very Bad Day.” Even at age 6, I was a more interested in the macabre. No happy endings for me! In seventh grade my teacher read one of my stories to the class. I realized I had a bit of talent, and decided I was gonna be a writer.
Balancing life/work/family is tricky, but I write as much as I can. I do schedule my writing time and that helps. It’s all about priorities.
Who has inspired you as a writer?
D.H. Lawrence and Shirley Jackson have written short stories that still haunt me. They’re insanely good! Zsuzsi Gartner has really unique ideas. For my novel writing, I’m inspired by Agatha Christie, L.M. Montgomery, and Dodie Smith … Among the living: Kim Edwards, Mette Jacobsen, Lisa Jewell, and Ann-Marie MacDonald. I study authors who combine strong writing, a unique story, and great pacing.
Which genres do you write in? Do you generally just stick to short stories?
I am finishing revisions on my first novel, Hard Love. It will probably be plugged into YA, but I’d love it if it could crossover, or just be Adult Fiction, because I put my characters into some pretty adult situations. But I just love writing from the perspective of a younger character. There’s so much to discover and process through a younger character’s eyes.
For my short stories, I’m all over the place. What I write is as eclectic as what I read, but I’m passionate about examining psychosocial issues and their trickle-down effect.
Describe your typical writing routine.
My writing time is limited. I try to write in the evenings if I have enough energy. This type of writing usually involves a glass of wine and popcorn.
Then once a week I have a sitter so that I can work undistracted. That’s when I get most of my work done. I grab a coffee, my writing sweater, and get serious.
How would you describe your writing style?
I’m a pantser.
For my short stories, I rely a lot on the initial story spark to take me where it wants to go.
For my novels, I loosely outline via chapter headings, and I’ll do some brief character sketches. I spend a lot of time daydreaming though. The Notes on my phone are full of things I don’t want to forget to put in.
What are the keys to a successful short story?
Everything has to move the plot forward. The inciting incident has to be set up and occur at the right time. The hook needs to be unique. The arc needs to complete and be satisfying.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without in your writing life?
My writing sweater! I have to be warm while I work. A hot drink is also necessary. I just can’t think when I’m cold.
Where do you get ideas for your writing?
Music stirs my creative juices. A lot of ideas come from song lyrics. Art begets art and all that. Just one great line of imagery in a song can stir a whole slew of story ideas. I’m an avid people watcher, and (like every other writer) I’m a shameless eavesdropper. I also spend much of my thought life wondering, “What if…?”
What do you feel are your strengths as a writer? How have you developed these qualities?
There’s nothing new under the sun. I do my best to stay away from clichés, and try to write in a way that’s unique and fresh. I like twists, I like the unexpected. As a writer, the challenge is to find a distinctive voice, a new angle, a compelling perspective that makes the story worth telling again.
Being a strong writer takes practice, it takes getting people to read your work, and being willing to take feedback. It takes a lot of reading, and learning from other writers. And, it takes instinct. It’s a lifelong journey I think, and I’m just beginning.
What are some aspects of writing you’ve struggled with? How have you worked to strengthen yourself in these areas?
Definitely procrastination and discipline. Writing is hard work. I have to make it a priority, and that can be hard. Life is so full of distractions.
Being in a writing community certainly creates accountability to get your butt in the chair. That’s been the most important thing for me. If you have someone else waiting to read something new from you on Monday, you better show up ready.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Trust your audience! We can all picture how mountains look at sunset. You don’t need to write in every. bloody. detail. Your readers have imaginations too. Trust them. That’s part of the joy of reading.
Also, join a writing group/community. It doesn’t have to be a big group (you want to feel safe enough to share), but get connected somehow. When I began meeting with other writers, my writing hit fast forward.
What’s your proudest moment as a writer?
My proudest moment so far, was when Larry Brooks (author of Story Engineering, Story Physics, etc.) read the first chapter of my novel, sat back in his chair, and said, “Wow … I’m flustered.” Yeah, that was pretty cool.
What are your goals as a writer?
My immediate goal is to find a home for Hard Love. After that, I have three more novels that are waiting patiently to be written. I’ll keep writing short stories too. I love them too much. Maybe I can get those into a collection one day. My goal is to just keep writing, keep getting better, and to always be proud of what I’ve written, whether it gets accolades or not.
Any final thoughts or advice?
Don’t wait for someone else to care about your dreams as much as you do. No one else ever will. Believe in yourself. Be willing to fail. The writing friends I admire most are the ones that have a stack of rejection letters, because they’ve put themselves out there. You’re a writer, and you can only get published if you submit.