How to describe this experience called Writers of the Future?
Here's how it works: you write the best story you can and submit it to the contest which is judged by such luminaries as Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Tim Powers, Mike Resnick, Dave Wolverton, Kevin J. Anderson, Eric Flint . . . the list goes on. If you don't win, you write a better story and submit it the next quarter. It costs you nothing. Wash, learn to write better, repeat.
The winners are treated to a week that I can only describe as boot camp, finishing school and pledging a fraternity all rolled into one. We listened to judges hold forth on the process as well as the business of being a professional writer. We asked them questions until the wee hours of the morning, wrote a story in 24 hours and critiqued them, gathered around our mentors like chicks around mother hens in the hotel lounge. I even built a lego robot with Nina Kiriki Hoffman on our tour of the Challenger Center.
All that is incredible enough, but the really moving part of this whole experience was the fact that these professional (superstar) writers were there to pay it forward, to give us budding writers a leg up on this horse. And it's not just the superstar writers, it's the past winners (many of whom are judges now) who are working hard and succeeding at this business, who come to point the way, to make introductions, to herd the cats when we're late to a meeting, to give us tips and cautionary tales.
After the gala, the speeches, the music and dance, we signed books. And those superstars paid us the ultimate compliment, asking us to autograph our stories and giving us the biggest pat on the back I've ever experienced.
I think I can do it now. It might be the first time in my life I really feel confident in my writing. I hope I have the chance to do for new writers what these pros have done for me and my newly found friends. Pay it forward.