Interview with Gary Dreslinski, creator of LJ Idol

As I’ve mentioned previously, my novel, Adrift, started as a couple of screenplays in LJ Idol. That was back in season 7, in 2011. The biggest thing I got from it was positive feedback about the idea I had, so I knew I had something I might be able to market. I’d not really had much of an audience for my creative works prior to entry in the competition, but of course, making friends who I trusted to give me constructive feedback also helped me grow as a writer.

Today I’m interviewing Gary Dreslinski, the creator of the competition, to raise some awareness and hopefully find some new recruits as he prepares to launch the 9th and final season.

For those unfamiliar with the madness known as LJ Idol, what can you tell newcomers about what they might expect from the game?
Put a group of a couple of hundred writers into a container, lift it into the air, shake it around for a couple of hours and then release them back into the wild with the knowledge that only one of them can ultimately survive. If you do that, then you might have a taste of what Idol is like! 😀

Seriously though, you get to hang out with and read new entries from talented people every week, and get to click on a poll to vote for your favorites on a weekly basis! There are buttons to click! On the internet! Does it get any better than that????

What would you say are the most common things people say they get out of the competition, whether they’re participating as writers, or readers/voters?
Putting on my serious hat for the moment, the most common comment that I hear from people is “Idol changed my life”. If you come in with an open attitude, and are willing to learn from the people around you, there really isn’t much chance that you wouldn’t walk away at the end of it changed.

You learn by being around a diverse group of intelligent and creative people, and Idol most definitely has that.

What are some of the biggest accomplishments achieved by former competitors, as a direct or indirect result of their being part of the game?
Writing wise? A number of former contestants have ended up published. I lost count quite some time ago at the number. But it’s a pretty good stat. We’ve had a few in the most recent seasons become fairly well known in blogging circles.

Heck, we’ve had a few start small press publishing companies as a direct result of their time in Idol!

From a personal standpoint? Completely change their life. Embark on new careers. Have babies. Find love. Make friends. You know, the standard stuff you expect out of an online writing competition.

If someone should be interested in signing up for the final season of LJ Idol, what are some of the most important rules they should be aware of?
Be kind to each other and listen to what I say. The first should go without saying. Being kind to each other is something that is good to do in life, and that translate into the game as well.

“Listen to what I say” comes off as cocky. While that is indeed the persona of “the guy who runs Idol”, it’s also good advice. If I say “post your entries in this thread by such and such a time”, you should probably do that if you want to stay in the game! 😀 I also tend to give clues about things that are up-coming that you can pick up on if you are paying attention!

I’ll post a FAQ on the site with more detailed information, but really, those are probably the two best tips that I have for newbies and veterans alike.

In the past there have been discussions about different forms of writing/LJ posts that are considered “safe,” “acceptable,” and “Idol suicide.” What can you tell people about this, in terms of what you like to see, and how those views have evolved over the seasons?
*chuckles* Yeah, those debates have been going on since Season 1, and I doubt they will end anytime soon. With each new group, there is a new dynamic. You look back at Season 3 and there is a love a non-fiction and deeply personal stories. Fiction didn’t tend to do well. You jump to Season 7 and people love fiction and the non-fiction tends to not do well.

Poetry used to be a complete “no”. Now it’s generally accepted. The same with “meta entries”.

There is some debate about how much group dynamics come into play, but personally, my impression has always been that things start doing better when the writers are putting more of themselves onto the page. When you make a connection with your reader, format doesn’t matter, genre doesn’t matter, the only thing they will be paying attention to is what you are saying in your piece.

What have been some of the biggest surprises you’ve seen from competitors over the years?
Good surprises or bad? 😉 I’ll go with the good angle. I’ve seen huge turnarounds from writers. A couple people immediately jump to mind that I read in their first season and just thought “Wow… ummm….” I hesitate to call anything “bad”, but it definitely wasn’t great. Seeing them continue to work at it though, and interact with other writers, picking things up. They were able to take that potential that their work had and find a way to make it work for them. That’s really rewarding to see.

How do you deal with trolls or other destructive types in the community, if they show up?
Trolls? On the internet? Where??? 😉

There’s a huge difference between trolls and people disagreeing, which I feel that I need to address before talking about anything else in this question. Because when you get any group of strong-minded creative people into one place, you are going to get disagreements and friction.

For the most part, my policy is that everyone is an adult and they can handle things as adults. If it gets out of hand, then I have to step in and be “The Moderator” and get everyone back in their respective corners. Idol has been going since 2006, and I’m happy to say that the times when I’ve actually had to do that aren’t very many. For the most part, people have been able to work out their differences, or realize that they just aren’t going to agree and walk away from each other, concentrating on the people and things that they *do* like. From what I’ve seen, you are probably going to find three people you like for each one you can’t stand.

As for actual trolls, I have a “ban” file. If people show up just to cause trouble and not add anything to the group, I’ll use it. That said, I’m happy to report that it’s not a very big “ban file”! I’ve found you can usually reason these things out.

What are you looking forward to most with season 9?
It’s the FINAL full season. What I have mapped out should be a lot of fun. But what I am looking forward to the *most* is the people. Who will show up to play for the last time? Who will show up to play for THE FIRST time? I get the most excited when I start seeing people sign up and the first couple of weeks as you start meeting everyone. It’s like the first day of school, full of possibilities.

Where can people go to find books written or produced by former Idol contestants?
I have set up an Amazon Affiliate store that I try to keep updated. I love the idea of people being able to go out and support Idol contestants. Find that here.

Is there anything else you think people should know?
Stay away from the guacamole. It’s started to go brown.

One of the publishing companies Gary referred to is Solarwyrm Press, which I run with Jax Goss, another former Idoler. We met through the competition, and will both soon be releasing an anthology each. If you want a preview copy of one or both of them, you can find information about that on our web site. There will be a few different former Idolers published across the two anthologies, along with a number of other writers.

Meanwhile, season 9 of LJ Idol officially starts on March 3rd, but you can start heading over there now and interact with others in the “lobby” posts Gary puts up. These socialising posts will become the “Green Room” once the season actually gets underway. I’m hoping to be a part of the final season myself, so why not head over there to check it out, and maybe join me in the game when it starts?

You can also support the game and Gary himself through a fundraiser he has set up.

If you have any questions about the game, or LiveJournal, because you haven’t used the web site before, feel free to ask. If I can’t answer a question about the game myself, I’ll bring Gary back to answer it for you.

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