Youngblood Blog

Writing weblog, local, topical, personal, spiritual

Protecting the Past from our own Future Mistakes

FIRST WEDNESDAY CORNER FOR INSECURE WRITERS …and Others
Presidents—and IWSGers—Act when Time is Short

Precious offshore rocks saved as outgoing President adds acreage to National Monument status

Precious offshore rocks saved as outgoing President adds acreage to National Monument status

With his December 28th Executive order, outgoing president Obama established Bears Ears National Monument, protecting from oil and mineral development 1.35 million acres of land in southeastern Utah. It surrounds well-preserved Native American ancestral sites, dating back 3,500 years. A commission of five American Indian tribes will help manage the lands. This is the first time a president has used the powers granted under the 1906 Antiquities Act to honor a tribal request to protect sites sacred to Native Americans.

President Obama has an impressive environmental legacy, invoking the Antiquities Act twenty-nine times. The Act allows the president to designate national monuments without the approval of Congress, and to add 553 million acres of land and (in Obama’s case, mostly waters) to the American national system of land conservation.

National monuments are managed under plans developed by federal managers with local communities and reflect local priorities. Unlike national parks, some monuments allow grazing, hunting—and dogs.

Protection in Perpetuity
Pressure in California is mounting for the President to complete a trio of additions to the existing California Coastal National Monument, before his term ends January 20th, 2017.
The original monument proposed by former President Bill Clinton in 2000 did not include onshore lands until 2014, when President Obama expanded it to include coastal lands, along with previous rocks and islands off the California coast.

Lighthouse on Trinidad Head guards indigenous Tsurai coastal territories

Lighthouse on Trinidad Head guards indigenous Tsurai coastal territories

Last September a rare statewide collaboration calling for the expansion of the California Coastal National Monument succeeded in pitting talents of North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman, Senator Barbara Boxer and Representatives Anna Eshoo and Lois Capps with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to discuss the proposed expansion of the California Coastal National Monument. This would include Lighthouse Ranch in Loleta, thirteen acres of Trinidad Head, and the Lost Coast Headlands. They are guided by non-profit Trinidad Coastal Land Trust, who, according to administrator Ben Morehead,

Provide the community with a non-government means whereby land and water resources and places of historical, community or regional significance can be protected in perpetuity
Ben Morehead,TCLT

My fellow Insecure Writers and our revered leader Alex would no doubt agree with the principle of protection in perpetuity. Would that we writers could come up with such goodies as the outgoing U.S. President. Our deadlines—today being one of them—lol Alex—are usually a little more rushed, a lot less pressurized than presidential vacating of the White House.

But we get the picture. We appreciate the work being done.
First foot forward for a New Year.
©2017 Marian Youngblood

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January 4, 2017 Posted by | art, authors, blogging, culture, environment, history, nature, sacred sites, traditions, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Journey Out and In

Monthly IWSG Corner

SHASTA: CRITICAL MASS, soon to be released through All Things That Matter Press, a Maine publisher

I’ve always been one to push it: the over-achiever in me likes to be in control. But sometimes it just doesn’t work.

We all know when the Muse is directing operations, it’s better if we just go along with her, with the tide, and allow her full rein. It’s important to give her loads of room to stir up the subconscious, and then wait and see what little miracles she has planned for us.

At other times, when the outer world directs—like editors, publishers, book-signings; that whole exciting round of putting oneself out there—it sometimes takes us by storm and we need to follow that flow, too.

But our Muse doesn’t like it; does she? Even when we tell her she needs to rest occasionally. Like her human charges, all work and no play… you know.

I wish it were as easy as it sounds: deciding when to write, and when not to. But, especially in the writing-publishing world, it’s never that simple. We writers aren’t totally in charge.

To be honest, we probably never were. We may think—especially during edit-mania—that the left hemisphere of our brain is running the show. But, even then, the direction is more likely to be coming from the reading public, what our publisher expects, what the market wants; what subjects are current darlings of the book-club circuit.

So, because I have been working flat-out—over the last month, at least—to try to get through final edits on my apocalyptic/end-times New Age novel, SHASTA: CRITICAL MASS, forthcoming from lovely Maine publisher, All Things That Matter Press, I have to say upfront I have probably let down my blogging/authorly friends in Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group. I know how good it feels to hear a word of encouragement from others in the same position—writers and bloggers and authors beginning to make a name for themselves out there—so I apologize if I haven’t had a chance to make the usual rounds of IWSG authors’ pages in the last few weeks. I promise I’ll try to make up for it, when the current push subsides.

Maine publisher of spiritual, self-help, authorly fiction and non-fiction for new ‘voices’

On the other hand, there may be quite a few IWSG-ers whose work is ideally suited to the ATTM ethos, so I’ll explain. They are a small press who like to introduce to the world of readers those authors who have a message—predominantly spiritual—to relay, a distinctive “self”, which they’d like to share. In these times where the ‘Big Five’ often have little patience with first-time authors or new discoveries, their approach is refreshing. Run by husband-and-wife team, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Phil and Deb Harris, the system operates smoothly, and the cogs are well-oiled and kept rolling by a team of editors, including the superb Marvin Wilson, himself a blogger and author of several books, including the Avatar-Award-winning novel, Owen Fiddler (2009). I couldn’t be in better hands.

For IWSG-ers, it may be of interest to point out that Marvin is also a mentor who delights in assisting writers, bloggers, other authors in the art of good writing.

That said, my Muse is feeling a little restless. She doesn’t like taking a back seat. Edits and reworked points-of-view (POV) are not what she thrives on. But I have told her that she, like me, should take a break from time to time. We all need to make the Journey Out and In. Besides, I’ve had a couple of chapter rewrites where she seemed delighted to pitch in again and throw her weight around!

And, if all goes well, she will be allowed to stretch her wings fully once more next month, when the annual NaNoWriMo marathon starts up again for all of us fledgelings to soar, unencumbered, to dizzy heights.

Until then, I hope she will a-Muse herself—sorry :(—and I have reminded her that we have even greater (Muse-ical) avatars who paced this path before us:

Gazing past the Planets
Looking for total view
I’ve been lying here for hours
Got to make the Journey Out and In

Thank you ©Moody Blues.
And thank you, Alex.
©2012 Marian Youngblood

October 3, 2012 Posted by | authors, blogging, fiction, Muse, novel, publishing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Deadline versus the Muse

A-musing, but not funny...

When my Muse is on vacation, any convenient distraction will do. But, as an ex-journalist, I find that doesn’t make filing by the deadline any easier, especially when one has committed to joining an inspiring writer and author like Alex J Cavanaugh and his ‘bloghop’ team of dedicated bloggers/authors/workaholics to write a monthly contribution.

To remind the aspiring writer who may be reading this and who might contemplate joining his awesome throng, Alex suggests we (*bloggers, or *authors-in-waiting) jot down a few thoughts every first Wednesday of the month and share our experiences, worries, troubles, elations and errors in the publishing world with upwards of 170 other bloggers/authors subscribed to his Insecure Writers Support Group [IWSG]. That isn’t counting the thousands of other bloghopper readers, not encumbered by a deadline, as well as possible wannabees who are casing the joint before making a commitment to join in themselves.

Alex suggests that on the first Wednesday of the month we can let our hair down and spill.

This is okay because all the other hoppers out there have had similar experiences. We are among friends. It is all right to express our innermost fears, our weirdest conflict, our secretest doubt, our silliest blunder. Because he is right out front there expressing these things too. If you aren’t totally comfortable with verbalizing the negative (like stage superstition covered by the ‘break-a-leg’ greeting, i.e. don’t tempt fate), you may cheerfully add your good news, your recent success, your final breakthrough into authordom…

What is clever about the support provided by his hopping bloggers is that, not only do we get to share something we may never have admitted to ourselves before, but we suddenly have a built-in audience.

Many of us took on the blogosphere with trepidation a couple of years back, plunged in naïvely, hoping against hope that we were going about things the right way, blind leading the blind, ‘building our platform’, braving the unknown waters of HTML. We scanned site stats on a daily basis, counting our hits… grateful for traffic and every new comment.

The IWSG sorts all that out with one blow: built-in support group, others’ sharing what we had not dared say out loud, and the miraculous sudden ‘following’ of a dozen comments in the feedback section we never expected in our wildest dreams. Who can resist?

...nice to have one's ego stroked occasionally...

It’s a very nice means of having one’s ego stroked. But it’s way helpful, too.

Some of us secretly longed to become recognized in our lifetime for our — Muse-directed — passion: that we have a Voice that sounds like no other; that the novel we wrote on an Olivetti portable before you had to keep changing the ribbons might finally be unearthed and shared with millions. Others see rôle models in e-book epiphanous Amanda (Hocking) or OBE-Jo, (Rowling): imagining ourselves next to hit the New York Times Bestseller List. Still others find solace simply in reading, creating and looking fondly at the written word every day in life.

I am one of the latter. I have no option. I have always written. I doubt if I shall stop now.

This only partially explains why I write New Age fantasy and historical fiction, laced with a little Sci-Fi, for mainstream publication [i.e. hard copy]; while my blogs are hardcore non-fiction, laced with an occasional crop circle!

C’est la vie.

Alex writes this month of a guilty feeling he holds next to his heart: that he did not always want to be an author; that he writes as an outlet for his creativity and it morphed into publishing success. He should not feel guilty about this.

New Age guru and Abraham-channel, Esther Hicks, says in order for us to be successful at what we dream, it’s not the long hard struggle that counts, it’s the ability to allow effortless creation to emerge through joy in doing what we do best. It may sound like a tall order. In shorthand, Esther says if we catch the dream, encapsulate the feeling it gives us and follow through with expectation, all things will come; or, more Abraham-like:

“Once you align with your desire, the Energy that creates worlds will flow through you…which means enthusiasm and passion and triumph. That is your destiny.”
Abraham-Hicks

and

“The feeling is the manifestation.” Abraham

Part of the lifelong occupation of a writer is renewing oneself, finding fresh material that inspires, and sometimes doing little exercises in writing differently. After all, if you’ve been hitting the keys for a couple of decades, you worry about getting stale.

And, if your Muse is taking a break, there’s no harm in pounding the keyboard until she gets back.

Recently I have found myself contemplating suitably short sharp bursts of chatter on Twitter, where one may only submit a total of 140 characters or fewer — to fit in the tweet-box. It is certainly an exercise in brevity. It’s also excellent practice in self-editing. There is always the (future vision/) opportunity to tweet the publisher’s link to your book when launch date arrives!

Another technique practised by those of free-associative or poetic bent, is writing to a ‘spark’ word; or making an idea into a poem. There are Flash Fiction addicts — writing a blog or telling a story in no more than one thousand words, including all dialogue, build-up and plot. There is fun in writing a snappy caption for a random pic.

And then there is the Drabble.

Part way between the tweet and the flash, a Drabble is a story — a bullet, an idea, a character outline, a work of fiction — that is exactly 100 words long: no more, no less. I assure you it is more difficult than it sounds.

I was asked last fall to contribute to a really fun drabble-thon where each person’s 100-word story followed on from the writer before. Its theme was ‘Pay it Forward‘. The result was a flight of fancy into realms of superspace and back that no one could have foreseen. If you would like to read these brave drabblers, check out The Burrow.

I append another little Drabble which I wrote for last year’s December Drabble contest also at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash. This was a sort of picture caption and drabble combined. I am the first to admit drabbling is not for the faint-hearted. It takes a lot more editing and self-control than your average flash.

NOLA HOLA

She’d worked hard — her beads sparkled in December sunshine. Farmers market always busy on weekends, the tomato and squash guy in the next stall said, selling his pumpkins for pennies. Marking ’em down low was his recipe for getting home early.

Freezing, only her second time, she gotta stay to cover costs. Don’t come back without a Franklin, or I break your arm, he’d said.

That weirdo, watching from a doorway since lunchtime, came over, handed her a 1000 dollar bill.
‘Cleveland cover it?’ he asked, picking up the jewel case.
Passport outta Dodge, she thought.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’

©2010 Marian Youngblood
photo ‘Colourful beads’ by Natasha Ramarathnam
December Drabble Theme at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash

So, sorry, Alex. I cheated this month. I’m not sharing an inner woe and I’m not admitting to a fear worse than death.

Unless it’s that my Muse has abandoned me forever…

Well, blame it on my Muse. She’s on vacation, and I’m having a hard time remembering when she’s due to get back!
©2011 Marian Youngblood

October 5, 2011 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, fiction, Muse, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nobody’s Perfect — ESPECIALLY Me

GUESTBLOG FEATURE: Stacy Gail, Author

When I first asked STACY GAIL to write a guest blog, I thought she would throw a triple Salchow or a double lutz (she coaches skaters for a living) and say she was wa-a-ay too busy. She is, when all is said and done, a prolific writer: one of the hugely motivated, daily disciplined and Muse-directed kind I so often describe here …and try to be… when Rite R. Bloch isn’t handcuffing me to the desk. While Stacy has been writing on envelopes, sketch pads, diaries and looseleaf notebooks since childhood, she has remarkably only recently joined the e-brigade, the FB-peeps, the tweet-twitterers. That in itself is astounding, given her background (and by that I don’t mean hours on the ice). Though that probably contributed. 😛

Ancestor Zane Grey (1872-1939) with his horse, Juan Carlos

She is the massively talented descendant of author/screenwriter Harold Bell Wright — who in turn is descended from the Wright Brothers. Bell Wright (1872-1944) was famous not only for his Americana, but for becoming — in hard times — the first American novelist to make $1million, purely from writing fiction. Stacy, who started writing full-length novels and novellas at age 14, also has the ultimate best-seller king, Zane Grey (1872-1939), in her ancestral genetic strain. So I do believe it won’t be long before EVERYbody will have read Stacy’s best-sellers, and her name will be on everyone’s lips. She has, to boot, a massively funny turn-of-phrase and her blog posts are the ones I turn to when I need to start my day with a laugh!

One of her delights in describing her efforts at establishing territory in the daunting world of publishing is:

“Too bad this isn’t the animal kingdom. If it were, all I’d have to do is pee in a corner or two and that would be that. We humans, though, are a bit more complicated (not to mention, hygienic), so that means it’s time to put on my big-girl pants and be aggressive in getting my name out there. Name-recognition is an absolute MUST”
Stacy Gail, Author

She has recently been signed by Samhain Publishing and I do believe this is only the start of bigger things. But I’ll let her tell you, herself.

Nobody’s Perfect – ESPECIALLY Me

Stacy in her corner: waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting literary world

Thank you Marian, for allowing me to guest blog, and hello to all of Marian’s fabulous readers!

When Marian suggested I share what a brand-spanking-new author goes through on the way to publishing their very first book, I had to laugh (and yes, I said spanking. I’ll be saying a lot of things you might not approve of; sorry). While I had been planning something like a “blooper post” for my own blog, I figured no one would believe my many, many, MANY screw-ups. But since she asked…

First off, I’d like to point out I DID get some things right. *throws confetti*

For instance, before I dug up a plot bunny to write about, I got on the internet to see what small presses I could submit to without too much agony. Two fabulous resources no writer should be without -– Preditors and Editors and Absolute Write. They’re the closest thing I know of to the Publishing Police. If there’s a bad-guy publisher out there wanting to have their wicked way with some naïve n00b, these two sites are on them like white on rice.

Another thing I did right — I researched the publishing houses I liked. As a romance writer, I’ve been knocking on Harlequin’s door until my hand resembles a bloody stump. So I wised up, readjusted my sights and went shopping for a smaller, reputable publishing house that was still big enough to do both ebooks and print. Once I found that -– Samhain Publishing, Ltd — I wanted to see if what they said about themselves was true, and that I could find their imprint in the big chain stores of Borders, Barnes and Noble and Books a Million. Sure enough, there they were, right next to NYT best-selling authors Jaci Burton and Ilona Andrews. Come to find out, Jaci Burton started out at Samhain, and Ilona Andrews just published a short story with them a few weeks ago. Cool.

Secure in the knowledge Samhain was what all the websites were saying it was, I finally looked at Samhain’s website itself.

That’s when things began to go a little weird.

One of Stacy's protegées-on-ice: national figure skater Cathy Janssen. If you were a publisher, wouldn't you want this world in your cover art?

Don’t get me wrong – Samhain is AWESOME. I’m the one who began to get a terminal case of the stupids. On October 1st of last year, I read their submission guidelines for the first time. I had never seen an electronic submission before, nor had I ever attached anything via email (don’t judge me, I’m a figure skating coach who does split jumps and flying camels for a living! I may be in great shape but I’m a total babe-in-the-woods when it comes to Teh Interwebs :P). I was getting a little panicky as I read what seemed like incomprehensible techno-babble when I saw something called “Special Call –- Just Romance Springtime Anthology.”

What could this be?

From time to time Samhain puts forth a special submissions call that has a specific theme (in this case a “sweet” romance placed in a springtime background. Oh, and if you’re wondering, a sweet romance is one with the emphasis on the magic of romance and no sex).

When I read that special call, a plot bunny immediately bounded to the fore. It hopped, it danced, it frolicked its fuzzy little cottontail off, and for a moment I thought, “Oh, YEAH! I can do this!” Then I looked at the deadline. November 1st. The special call had been posted for four months. People had been working at their special call submissions for four months, polishing them up and making them perfect. It would be a waste of time to try and pull something together at that late date.

But the stupid plot bunny wouldn’t shut up. I dithered for another SEVEN DAYS (and in the interim found another Samhain special call for a cyberpunk story, which I also wanted to do… I’ll get to that). Ultimately, there was only one way to “kill the wabbit” –- I had to write the story. Now, please take note, gentle reader: it didn’t have to be this hard. True, I found the special call submission on October 1st, which was cutting it close. But no. I apparently wanted to make things SOOOO much harder, that I waited until October 8th to write the first word of a novella that was eventually entitled BEST MAN, WORST MAN.

I can honestly say I don’t remember much of that time, except for my back going out, thanks to being hunched over my laptop for hours on end. For all I know, magical manuscript elves trundled out under the cover of night while I drooled on my keyboard and finished the thing. But it DID get finished. By my brother’s birthday, October 28th, I submitted a 30K novella, BEST MAN, WORST MAN, to Samhain.

Or at least I tried.

This is where it gets embarrassing. Remember how I said I was interested in another special call for a cyberpunk novella? Well, did you know each special call is handled by a different editor? Makes sense, right? Of course it does. I, uh, first sent my submission to the wrong editor. I recognized my goof (approximately two full seconds AFTER I hit the Send button), and had to send a follow-up email to please disregard this unfortunate bout of idiocy. Then, taking a calming breath, I sent the correct email to the correct editor.

Without the attached manuscript.

At this point, I’m beyond embarrassed. I’m at the death-by-cringing stage, and for the most part I have blocked the remainder of that terrible day forever from my memory. I do remember re-re-sending it WITH the attachments, all the while giving up any hope of Samhain taking me seriously. The only thing I could console myself with was that throughout this maddening process, at least I had figured out how to turn a .docx file into a .doc file, so it wasn’t a complete waste of my time. Yay.

Then a weird thing happened. The editor in charge of the Springtime anthology project DIDN’T offer to publish my work in the anthology itself (I just found out this past week it was WAY too steamy for the “sweet” category. Who knew that having-everything-but-actual-sex in the story put it in another category??? O_o). What this editor was offering was a chance for this novella to be published as a stand-alone work.

WHEEEEEEEEE!

There was a lot to be done. I needed to get hysterical. I needed to get over being hysterical. I needed to rewrite the entire first chapter, as the editor didn’t like the opening of a car crash/groping scene (I kid you not: that’s how I opened it). And I needed to round up some volunteer beta readers (thank you Facebook, for getting me in touch with Hart Johnson, Maria Korth and Cindy Jones-Shoeman, the best beta readers around).

Oh, and one other teeny little thing. I needed to get on that cyberpunk plot bunny I’d been ignoring ever since I screwed up my original Samhain submission. You see, when I had bungled things so badly on my first submission, I had given up the idea of ever showing my face at Samhain again. This experience proved to me that editors really don’t care about you getting things absolutely, positively PERFECT the first time out of the gate.

They care about the writing.

I just wish I had realized that before I had let so many weeks go by without working on that cyberpunk special call. By the time I heard back from the editor who was interested in working with me, there was only six weeks left before the cyberpunk special call came to a close. Now that I had to rewrite the first chapter of BEST MAN, WORST MAN, I had made the unforgivable mistake of not keeping my nose to the grindstone and making sure those submissions kept flowing. Bad Stacy. Bad, bad, bad.

Eventually I did get BEST MAN, WORST MAN published with Samhain (due out Oct 25th… ironically about the same time I had a hysterical breakdown over it the year before, now that I think about it). I also submitted a project for the cyberpunk special call, and it too was accepted. This time I DID make it into the anthology, which strangely enough means this second project, ZERO FACTOR, will be published FIRST (please don’t ask me to explain how this happened. If you’ve made it this far, you now know I get confused easily). ZERO FACTOR will have an ebook release August 30th, 2011 and will have a print release some time in 2012 (I wonder if I should know that date? Hmmm…)

I’m still learning how this is supposed to go, and I’m already a nervous wreck over my release days. But with each mistake comes a lesson I’m happy to learn, just as long as I can keep writing about my plot bunnies.
©2011 Stacy Gail

June 7, 2011 Posted by | authors, culture, fiction, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

ABNA Minefield after NaNo Haven?

2010 ABNA winner in YA fiction category: Amy Ackley's 'Sign Language'

I, along with several of my writerly-and-blogging friends, entered ABNA 2011 last week. The two-week entry period for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, sponsored by Penguin Group USA and presented by Amazon.com, with Publisher’s Weekly as Review Sponsor, closed last weekend.

The contest’s aim is to ‘publish and promote a manuscript by an unknown or unpublished author’, the winner being awarded a publishing contract with PenguinUSA, including a $15,000 advance.

That’s the carrot.

There are, however, several sticks that drive this donkey forward.

They’ve devised some unexpected hoops for us ‘unknown’ authors to leap through. And to brave those fiery hurdles, you need an iron-clad constitution, or at least the ability to meditate yourself out of those stress-filled moments of Angst before and after the contest’s several stages. It also helps if, in addition to your flair for putting pen to paper, you have a background in agenting, query letters, publicity and self-PR.

Which a lot of writers don’t.

Some of my writerly friends have been so psyched up –nerve-endings shattered, normal life relegated to broom closet– that we ended up sharing some inside information which may be of use to someone thinking of entering future writing and publishing contests. Though, the way I feel right now, I could be wrong.

If I write these lines BEFORE the judges read the ABNA entries and eliminate (most of) us from Round One (announcement due February 24th), then my comments can’t be seen as ‘sour grapes’, either by my writing friends or the judges.

As I see it, compared with the safe haven of NaNoWriMo, the annual creative writing competition which has run every year since 1999, ABNA is a minefield. It’s not difficult to see why. It’s not being run by writers or authors, but by the ‘Industry’.

"Off with her head" -- Disney Queen or ABNA reviewer?

O, skeptical veteran author who has ploughed her way through the mire set with explosive devices designed by agents and publishers to restrict the floodgates of queries and unsolicited MSS to a manageable flow, a readable number: you need read no farther. I commend you, but am not addressing you in this blog.

My thoughts are instead directed to the unsuspecting budding ‘unknown’, author of a work which may have been written in an ecstatic rush during last November’s NaNo, or one which took years to write, hours of editing, polishing and resubmitting; even a work you’ve already self-published, because nobody else seemed interested. These words are for the novelist who at best isn’t sure s/he has written something good, at worst wants to burn the MS; but in her heart –and in hazy days and insomniac nights at the keyboard– believes it will be the next world bestseller.

I’m comparing and contrasting. But I know I’m also talking apples and pears.

After the NaNo experience, you emerge feeling glued to the keyboard

NaNo was conceived 12 years ago by a non-profit group, the stellar Office of Letters and Light in San Francisco. Run by and for writers, NaNo loves its contestants, encourages them with profile pages which fellow participants can access, community posts that share tips and hints, and it stirs them up with frequent email encouragement. It even persuades volunteer group leaders –MLs (stands for Municipal Liaison, but means Motivation Leader)– to keep writers in geographical groups hard at it during the month of November. In essence, it succeeds in inspiring a large majority of its 200,000 participants (2010 figure, a phenomenal number) to write a novel of at least 50k words in thirty days. Those that make it –writing an average of 1667 words per day– are declared winners.

You emerge from the NaNo experience feeling your fingers are permanently glued to the keyboard.

Even if your family and friends have deserted you and you have forgotten how to cook, clean, or sleep, when you’ve written a NaNo novel, you feel you’ve accomplished something. You suspect you might just conceivably –with a little tweaking, triple edits and a couple of final rewritten chapters– throw your baby into the shark-infested waters of the real world of publishing.

ABNA –now in its third year– comes along conveniently in January (humanity in northern hemisphere at a low ebb, dreams in hibernation). It offers a brief window of opportunity for entry into its two fiction categories, young adult and adult, and you, the revved up, rewarded and real-world-rookie writer go for it. After all, you’ve got a new novel in your pocket (or hard drive), so why not?

If that describes your feeling of euphoria, beware: there are pitfalls.

There are several holes in the 2011 competition –not least the fact that 5000 adult fiction authors and nearly-5000 YA fiction contestants have now entered ABNA and been left hanging. No profile page like the friendly NaNo interface, no sharing. Not even a taste of comparing one’s entry with the other 4999 contestants in the same genre, no personal touch, no encouraging emails. All right. It’s a competition to promote professionalism in writers and project two of them to stardom. The contest homepage suggests you join numerous discussion boards and help groups if you need to know more. And the entry format is simple: an upload page for submitting your MS, its description (which goes on Amazon.com if you win), a 5000-word excerpt along with your author Bio, contact details and the pitch. That’s it.

Ah, there’s the rub. The pitch.

A pitch (as in ‘sales pitch’) is a series of short paragraphs which grab the reader/reviewer/listener and give a punchy version of your plot outline: not necessarily in any chronological order, so long as it ‘grabs’.

Round One, which closes February 24th, eliminating 4000 of those aspiring entrants in each category, is being judged solely on the pitch. A group of editors chosen by Amazon will select 1000 pitches they judge most likely to reveal an exciting new concept in the novel beneath. Not the excerpt, not the description, certainly not the author’s past achievements. A 300-word pitch.

And, as we all know, novelists are traditionally lousy at writing their own PR.

Most of the feedback I’ve heard is from (accomplished and innovative) writers who are placing little voodoo dolls of themselves on the desk next to their laptops and sticking pins in them.

‘My pitch sucks,’ ‘I can’t write a pitch for love or money’, ‘I’m going to fail Round One because I don’t know how to pitch my story’ are a few of the comments I’ve read. Sixteen pages of commentary and shared suggestions exist on the NaNo web community helping 2010 NaNo novelists to overcome lack of faith in their 2011 ABNA pitch. These are not first-time writers, not amateurs tossing a ball in the air to see where it lands. These are dedicated, passionate authors throwing themselves and their lovingly-crafted characters (MC, protagonist and supporting cast) to the wolves, oops, sharks.

Because, unmasked, that is what ABNA is. The publishing industry’s undertaker: the smiling, cravatted, pin-stripe suited facilitator, helping put the last nail in the coffin innocently provided by 8000 novelists. Some of last year entrants were so deflated by the reviews they received from ‘industry expert reviewers’ that they will not enter again this year. Some will never try another contest.

According to personal testimony, a few of this year’s potential entrants were so daunted by the prospect of writing a snappy bullet for their pitch, only to be turned down before a single actual word of their novel was read, that they decided against entering ABNA altogether.

They say only the strong survive.

Round One, above, eliminates 90 percent.

Round Two offers a little ray of hope to those 1000 lucky survivors. That’s when Amazon/Penguin editors and reviewers will get to read the fortunate contestants’ excerpts. Not the MS yet: just the first chapters. ABNA chose this to mean not a random excerpt which to another writer might show individual flair, style and voice, but the first 5000 words, i.e. the opening chapters, of your novel. This, they say, gives an insight into the novelist’s grasp of how to hold a reader from the outset. We’re getting closer to the agent-query process. Round Two will be judged on a scale of one (poor) to five (excellent) on ‘overall strength, prose, style, plot, hook and originality’ of the excerpt. Then on March 13, 2011, 250 novels will be chosen in each category to progress to the Quarter Finals.

Round Three: Publishers Weekly reviewers select 50 entries to move forward to the Semi-Finals. Announced April 25, 2011.

Semi-Finals April 26 – May 23, 2011
At this stage top excerpts in each category will be posted on the ABNA homepage where the public may view and vote for their favorite entry, but also where each contestant will be reviewed by a celebrity panel, ‘each consisting of at least one well-known author, one agent, and one editor’. That rather sums it up. Now the truth will out.

Finals May 24 – June 1, 2011
Three finalists in each category will have their complete MSS read and chosen by this select panel and excerpts of these six novelists’ work will be displayed on the ABNA homepage. The public get to vote for their own chosen winner –one finalist in each category. Panel reviews of the finalists’ work will also be posted.

Amazon celebrates the winners in both categories in an awards ceremony at a venue yet to be named after an announcement on June 13, 2011.

One blogger estimated the chances of being chosen as the publishing industry’s next top author as 0.02%.

It’s not as bad as it sounds. As the final rounds progress, others will be scanning, not just the ABNA website but the weblogs of entrants who made it through some of the hoops. These are themselves agents, editors, publishers representing other institutions, aware that ABNA may be missing out on some unique talents whose gems are slipping through the cracks. That raises the odds to at least 0.06%.

So all is not lost.

I say this vehemently to absolve any and all of my scribefriends who may or may not mention ABNA in their blogs this month. Nobody wants to bite the hand that (potentially) feeds. I take full responsibility for this blog opinion. Their blogs, here, here and here are talented, informative and mostly talk of other things. But IMHO the odds need to be counted, the truth told.

Agents whose blogs share an industry perspective on the current economical difficulties facing publishers are quick to assure us that, if our work is superb, our concept original and our writing has an individual ‘voice’, it will be heard by the right ear and our work will reach readers.

Readers: ah, them. The reader is, first and last, the audience we really write for. If we forget that amid the media hype, the punchy pitch, we forget who is really important. Without the reader, dear Reader, our writing is just tapping electrons into the ether.

NaNoWriMo helped me create something from the bosom of my Muse which surprises and delights me. Even if it needs another three months to develop it into something readable by another, I love it for the stretching effect it had on my psyche. I may be wrong, but the ABNA setup seems geared to do the opposite: to shrink and contract that flow of inspiration that lies within.

I am certain I shall be a NaNo participant next November. I am not so sure I feel like braving another ABNA in 2012.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | authors, culture, fiction, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments