INSECURE WRITERS CORNER
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you
~ Ray Bradbury
It’s no surprise to anyone reading this blog — and coincidentally involved with Alex J Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers’ Group — that November is a heads-down month for writers, authors, part-time-bloggers and scribes of every description. This covers those aspiring authors who blog in the bath, motived teenagers desperate to show they can break away from their school curriculum, to seasoned veterans like the icon quoted above (which, after February’s launch of his second book, CassaFire, will include our host, Alex). Hope he doesn’t mind being called a veteran, but I’m sure he won’t mind being thrown in with Ray Bradbury, 90!
This means that I, newbie NaNo-er only three years in, will make this particular blog shorter than my usual efforts — more inkeeping with my prolific (and self-disciplined) blogging buddies who seem capable of blogging day and night seven days a week for 365 days at a stretch. My headscarf is doffed to them, but I am the first to admit I usually only write when the Muse directs and, under normal circumstances — unless I’m NaNo-ing — I tend to wait for her signal.
This is probably naïve of me. But I admit to being naïve. There’s no point in pretending — particularly when it comes to writing and allowing the word to flow through the mind, down the arms, via hands and fingertips on to the blank page.
I am first to admit I still find the process miraculous. Almost like subconsciously intending to bathe, and five minutes later finding oneself soaking deep in the luxurious warm waters, without any recollection of having undressed, lit candles, found towel, shampoo and soap and turned on the taps to fill the bath. But I digress.
The same goes for knowing how to describe what I write. Naïve. On Twitter — which, as you know, requires a brief description in fewer than 140 characters to describe oneself and one’s tweets — I say I write New Age fiction. But, as far as I know, that isn’t a genuine genre. This was brought succinctly home to me when preparing my new profile and studying the genres suggested in this year’s NaNo — which, as you probably know, has put together a whole new user-friendly novel-conducive webpage, just to get us all fired up to CREATE for the next 30 days.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the genres in question — which have to be mentioned in query letters, and are important concerns to agents and publishers, the serious dramatis personae of the Publishing Industry — are not exactly well-defined. You are supposed to know. And sometimes trial and error is not an option open to you. If you have been writing query letters for the last six years and you’ve been describing your work as Sci-Fi and somebody *in the know* says they like your ‘Fantasy’ work, you swallow hard and start all over — with the knowledge that you’ve probably wasted a lot of time that could have been salvaged if you’d done your homework. Problem is, however much homework you do, it is still difficult to know the difference between ‘magical realism’ and ‘paranormal romance’. Well, maybe some of you experienced authors do know the difference. But, as I said at the beginning, I’m naïve. And it takes time — and loads of errors — to get it right.
So what do you think?
The genres which NaNo lists as ‘standard’ in this year’s contest are:
Adventure, Chicklit, Erotic Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror & Supernatural, Literary Fiction, Mainstream Fiction, Mystery Thriller & Suspense, Religious Spiritual & New Age, Romance, Satire Humor & Parody, Sci-Fi, Young Adult & Youth, and Other.
No Magical Realism, you’ll note.
When I first started out submitting queries, I was paralyzed by my inability to decide which genre my MS fit into. Being a Brit, it was, for me, even more daunting to read young American beginner writers (on Facebook and elsewhere) bandying about their knowledge of genres with fluent ease — as if I ought to KNOW. It has taken me a decade or two to calm down and use a couple of standards when querying.This quandary is purely self-inflicted, because I wrote historical non-fiction for years, before finding my voice in novels. Since the switch I have written not only historical romance, (Phantom’s Child, pictured below right) but also am blessed that my supernatural novella, Cockatrice is to be published early in 2012 by NetBound Publishing; and my New Age tome, SHASTA: Critical Mass, (sidebar-2, right, and pictured above) has been picked up by AllThingsthatMatterPress, also for publication in 2012. Two of my recent NaNo novels in the Green Turtle Cay series fall under the banner of fantasy, although they are borderline Sci-Fi.
So, you can see my dilemma. It might seem I have not yet honed myself — as any sensible person might — to fit one genre. It certainly makes for intrigue and change of pace. And it keeps me on my toes. But the question remains. How does one decide on one label, when so many strands and possibilities exist within a single manuscript which might make it more suitable under another?
In order to maintain my sanity — and because NaNo calls, which means I shall have to wind this up 🙂 — I blame the system that insists on labels. Bureaucracy in the microcosm. I may not like having to live with it, but live with it I must, if I wish to continue to write and be published.
Your opinions and personal experiences in this thorny field, dear Reader, are most welcome because, at this stage, I suspect I am not alone in this duel with the Publishing Powers-that-Be. Thanks for listening. And thank you, Alex, for allowing me another shot at these insecure blues…
©2011 Marian Youngblood
November 2, 2011 Posted by siderealview | authors, blogging, culture, novel, popular, publishing, writing | Alex J Cavanaugh, AllThingsthatMatterPress, bath, blank page, Cockatrice, fantasy, fiction, genre, Green Turtle Cay, historical fiction, magical realism, Mount Shasta, Muse, naïve, NaNoWriMo, NetBound Publishing, non-fiction, novella, Phantom's Child, Ray Bradbury, Shasta: Critical Mass, subconscious, writing | 9 Comments
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?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.”
“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.
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.’
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 siderealview | authors, blogging, culture, fiction, Muse, publishing, writing | Abraham-Hicks, art of allowing, blogs, book, Burrow, Cavanaugh, deadline, drabble, fiction, flash fiction, hits, IWSG, Muse, non-fiction, novel, Olivetti, procrastinating, publishing, quotes, site stats, traffic, tweet, Twitter, writing support | 3 Comments
I am hooked every year: I go through the unbeliever stage in early April, when it’s a question of ‘will they–won’t they appear?’ and then when midsummer comes [this year, 2011, the main season was unimaginably late and huge doubt attended any crop appearance], I’m a convert all over again.
In winter the mind wanders to what seasonal miracles appeared and what might have been.
I wrote a whole crop circle-cum-crystal novel for a writing contest in the month of January 2010 and have yet to polish and rework, re-edit and improve it for final submission. So, it is still a work-in-progress, my current WIP. But, because we’re in mid-crop circle season right now, I am daring to share just a taste of its flavor: hope you enjoy. This is one of the middle chapters for
THE FUTURE IS CRYSTAL.
THE FUTURE IS CRYSTAL by Marian Youngblood Chapter TWENTY–ONE
Just as Mark said it would, the trail led towards the main section: the astrolabe, he called it. On the ground you couldn’t tell, but Megan had overheard Colin and Mark discussing over Mark’s laptop, the intricate way the crop circle had been laid out, complete with its new tail formation that had happened in a flash of light last night. The whole thing was beyond amazing. This time the light orbs, the crop circle creators or whatever you wanted to call them, had done something truly out of this world. And, even more miraculous, Mark had managed to capture them on film with his special Kirlian camera.
Even more miraculous, Megan had managed to get some real cool footage on her own camera. It was just a regular state-of-the-art video, but when Colin persuaded Mark to upload the results, she was thrilled to see she had actually got light orbs on screen. How cool was that.
Megan followed close behind with the others trailing a little. She paced slowly past neatly-folded wheat stalks lying exactly parallel one with the other as if a medieval monk had come and gently laid each bundle of stems in neat rows like a rush mat leading to a temple. Colin heard Megan’s breathing –- gentle and rhythmical -– measure for measure placing her footsteps where he put his. Neither of them wanted to disturb the pattern, lying so lovingly in a prearranged layout, willing them on through a series of ever larger ‘moons’ to where the orbits connected to the central solar system axis. From there, Colin was determined, from what he’d seen on Mark’s screen, that the pattern opened out and they would find a space to set down all their equipment and really get a feel for the place.
There was definitely a sensation in the air and it wasn’t only his sensing like a dowser: he could feel it: a tangible electrical charge.
‘These stems are bent at the node ever so gently, but the stem isn’t bruised or broken in any way. It’s amazing.’ Megan was right behind him.
‘I know; I was noticing that. It’s so carefully contrived.’
Colin couldn’t help himself. He was quick to launch into the scientific explanation, given any excuse. He continued to pace slowly forward, but spoke quietly over his shoulder to her.
‘You know, It’s been scientifically documented that soil samples taken from inside crop circles show changes in crystalline structure and mineral composition. Expert analysis concludes that heat of 1500ºC would be needed to create such a change.’ Megan gasped, but kept her feet on the path in front of her.
‘So the orbs we saw last night were capable of that kind of heat?’
‘Unbelievable.’ They both continued pacing, aware that the other two were gradually catching up with them.
Mark gave a hoot, like a bird. He too must have noticed the bent nodes on the unbruised plants.
‘There’s a big one up ahead,’ Colin called out, knowing Megan was so close behind him she probably couldn’t see, but to give the others a brief guide. Even though these new generation wheat crops were agriculturally developed to grow roughly no higher than knee height, it was still pretty difficult to get any kind of vista; Colin could see a widening area, with a lot of tufted decorative clumps surrounding it like cherries on a Christmas cake. It had to be the joining of phases one and two and the start of phase three.
He decided to continue his little lecture, since Megan was probably new to the whole thing and might be interested. He’d always been quick to spot a new convert.
‘Did you know crop circles also show evidence of ultrasound? you know, the kind of frequencies that are known to hover at ancient sites like Avebury, stone circles and such like?’
‘No, I didn’t.’ She sounded interested. So he went on.
‘And like all ancient sacred sites, crop circles appear at the intersecting points of the Earth’s magnetic pathways of energy; the nodes. Therefore the size and shape of a crop circle is typically determined by the area and position of these node points at the time of their appearance.’
‘Sorry, you lost me there. I don’t quite get that. Say again.’
‘Well, this electric and magnetic energy, it’s quite common here round Avebury. The whole of Wiltshire, in fact; the Salisbury plain…’
‘Yes, I know about Stonehenge.’ She was still following devotedly, both his argument and his footsteps. He liked that.
‘Thing is, it usually happens in chalk; not so common elsewhere. There are areas where they have similar electromagnetism, parts of Oxfordshire have deep underground waterways, aquifers — and Northumbria. Northeast Scotland is pretty heavily imbued with it. But there the aquifers are in granite. It’s something they think may even have protected the ancient sites -– here especially -– from being broken up; something about it that can interact with human brainwave patterns, and because the human body is itself electromagnetic, crop circles are known to affect people’s biorhythms. Consequently, it’s not unusual for people to experience heightened states of awareness and spontaneous healings in crop circles –- a situation also common to sacred sites and holy places. That effect alone could have protected them from desecration.’
‘So, you’ve noticed?’
‘Yes. For instance, back there, in that first little circle, I didn’t want to leave.’
‘I have to say you’re not alone in this. It’s been talked about a lot in recent years. The crowd that gathers at crop circles is usually very placid, peaceful. No rowdy demonstrations like a street crowd after a football match.’ He thought that was a pretty good analogy.
‘I wouldn’t expect that anyway. Must attract a different group, these formations.’
‘ So what were you saying about ultrasound? I thought lights were making the circles. Are you saying both sound and light?’
‘There’s no evidence to suggest…’ he stopped and looked back at her. ‘…until what your camera picked up last night. Now we’ll have to start all over.’ He laughed.
‘Well, what about the scientific evidence? You said…’
‘Yes. scientifically speaking, the plants are subjected to a short and intense burst of heat which softens the stems to bend 90º at the plant node just above the ground. They seem to re-harden into their new position without damage. They keep on growing. Research and lab tests suggest that ultrasound is capable of producing that kind of effect.’
‘But short bursts of intense LIGHT could do it, too, right?’
‘Well, with what you just provided the scientific establishment –- I mean, your great video footage -– might send them all back to the drawing board.’ He looked over his shoulder and gave her a congratulatory smile.
‘Wow. I like that. But it doesn’t explain how some of the crop lies in one direction and right next to it there it is lying at right angles; sometimes you get four different directions going in one space.’
‘True. I don’t know how they DO it. I just know that the process has been isolated to make it possible.’
‘Ah. So you don’t really know either. We’re all still guessing when it comes to the magical quality and the designs they come up with, right?’
‘Right.’ Colin thought he’d need a whole lot more time back at the drawing board to convince this new audience. He changed the subject. ‘Clearing coming up.’
‘OK.’ Megan glanced back. The other two had caught up and were right behind her. ‘Could you see anything as you came along? I’ve been a little in the shadow of the expert, here. Dogging his footsteps.’ She burst out laughing and Jane joined in.
‘Yes. He CAN get to be a little pedantic.’ Colin did not react. He’d apparently heard it all before. He stepped into the new space, stopped and laid his bags down gently on the matted ground.
The others joined him and paused to survey their new surroundings.
The vista was breathtaking. It did have a magical feel and it spread out in a swirling pattern that looked phenomenal. Like all the smaller circles, growing in size as they progressed round the curve, as well as the padded path by which they entered, the whole quadrant they stood in was matted at a level less than an inch above the ground and folded criss–cross over and back like a woven blanket. Only where the pattern reached the circle’s central point, did the direction and flow of the lay change, going the opposite way. They were standing in an ellipse, rather than a pure circle; more the shape of a facial oval. There were four quadrants each with a separate directional lay. This gave the pattern a three – dimensional effect, foreshortening the optical distance, so the far edge of the ellipse seemed closer that it actually was. From their perspective, the complete formation must have stretched as much as thirty feet across and forty feet from side to side. They’d come in on a lateral arm of what appeared to be a graphical rendition of the sun, round which the planets with their little moons –- the spaces they’d walked through were Jupiter’s moons –- clung on one arm.
‘See how those two sides are like an ellipse stretched into points of a compass. Two points: left and straight across, forming a geometric outline. That leads to the sextant instrument, I’m sure of it. It’s acting like a compass needle for the astrolabe itself.’ The other three were silent, in awe of the formation. They let Colin speak. A third arm, to their right didn’t actually project, but led the eye all the way down the field, stretching to where they had parked the car. It had to be fully 800 feet long. Mark immediately dug out the laptop from his bag and dropped everything else on the ground.
‘I want to see how it compares: now that we have a kind of aerial shot, thanks to Megan and her camera last night, we can see exactly how it connects from here. The ground falls away from us to where the car is parked. Can you see?’ He pointed to nobody in particular. He was joined immediately by the two girls.
Colin started setting up his dowsing rods next to where he’d dropped his baggage on the forgiving wheat. He turned to Jane, who was starting to gesture if she should help.
‘No, you go ahead. It’s a great video. You should really see what it’s like, so you get an idea of our position here -– makes sense. Super idea, Mark.’ He left them in full chatter, and got back to hooking up his equipment.
Mark was already revving up. He had a rapt audience. He started pointing and gesticulating, fully absorbed.
‘See. We’re in the oval here, sort of the ‘face’ of the Sun and from here the full extent of all three phases are visible: not as brilliantly as Megan’s shots, but…’ He keyed up the passage in the footage where the final tail was completely formed, connecting the other two phases, but before it started standing on its tail like a 3D mirage. ‘Now, watch this.’ He went back a couple of minutes to where the orbs were actually forming the tail with its elusive coded symbols. ‘See how they do it? You’ve got the pattern with its teardrop-shaped center – that’s us here… then there’s the configuration of four connected circles on one side and five more circles of increasing diameters on arcs tethered back to the teardrop center. This is the one we came in on. That’s the bit these light guys’ buddies made last week. Phase one the astrolabe; phase two the planets in orbital arcs. The orbits, the little moons we walked through -– they’re just that bit more complex than the first. They happened overnight, too. Then five days later Megan and I get to see a third addition. And see…’ He traced with his finger on the screen the path the orbs had made. ‘See how they just etch and move, etch another line and move. It appears in seconds.’
‘Awesome.’ Both girls spoke together. ‘Kinda like Maya symbols or something from the early Mid–East –- scripts: you know, cuneiform.’
‘Wow. You’re right, Megan. Hear that, Colin? Megan says like Sumerian cuneiform or Egyptian hieratic. It is, you know.’
‘Problem is deciphering.’ Colin didn’t raise his head. He was preoccupied with his rods.
‘Has to be over eight hundred feet in length from the tip of that compass point back there to the other end of the tail, don’t you think, Colin?’
‘Yeah, one thousand feet, easily.’ He was still fixing rods together.
Megan had perceived something else. She was also pointing first to the laptop screen and then out into space over the field.
‘Each of the tail lines of code or whatever they are come up and attach to the ends of each orbit arc. Do you see that, Jane? sort of like a balance like the way you hold your crystal when you’re dowsing.’
Jane peered over her shoulder with a knowing look and then out at the field.
‘You’re right. The damn thing is telling us dowsing code. Did you get that, Colin?’ she called.
But this time Colin was up and away, totally engrossed in his own world, following his rods where they led him, outward from the middle of the ellipse toward a point where the solar system took off into the imaginary world of dreams: the tale of tails, the stuff of fantasy.
‘I think you’re right there, Megan. Better get my crystals into action.’ And Jane dug her quartz out of her pocket and held it up in front of her face. The pale transparent beauty hung completely motionless for a moment, dangling in sympathy with the still air and glinting in the sunshine at the end of its slender thread. Then, as they watched, imperceptibly at first and then with more momentum, it began a clockwise spin.
Mark went back to studying the laptop images, but Megan couldn’t. She was completely mesmerized by the gleaming orb.
@2010-2011 Marian Youngblood ‘The Future is Crystal’ Interestingly, in 2011, when the season started to get busy — from summer solstice on — a series of ‘orb/orbit’ crop circle images have appeared — at Kings Somborne, Hampshire and near the Barge Inn at Honey Street, Wiltshire. The Barge Inn is famous for its ‘croppie’ clientele and, without fail, the fields in its vicinity get adorned every year at this time. Last year it was the 08/08 Honey Street fractal; this year there have already been three formations: two on July 4th and the spinning space object (photo, top, June 26th, 2011).
There has been much speculation and discussion about incoming intruders from space. Least of these was the June 27th Antarctic special, a non-starter, asteroid 2011-MD, so-called asteroid-doc, which passed earth at 1700UT with 7000 miles to spare. Others include varying reports on the threat posed by comet 2010-X1 Elenin, expected to cross Earth orbit in September. All seem to feature in the rash of orbiting bodies pictured in the 2011 crop circles.
This year’s season, having started late, may still surprise us. If you like, you can take this excerpt of my novel, The Future is Crystal, as a little taster of croppie things to come.
postscriptum: when I posted the above ‘flash fiction’ excerpt from one of my chapters, I wasn’t expecting corroboration… but the Honey Street #3 crop circle which appeared a.m. July 4th is indeed a version of cuneiform [like 1991 Milk Hill coded script] mentioned in my text. Woo-hoo! MY
June 27, 2011 Posted by siderealview | authors, crop circles, crystalline, energy, fiction, novel, publishing, sacred sites, stone circles, writing | 2009 crop glyph, 2011 Cropcircle season, Alton Barnes, Antarctic, asteroid-doc, astrolabe, code, coded tail, comet, crop circle season, crop circles, crystal, cuneiform, electromagnetic, fiction, flash fiction, football pitches, Honey St. cuneiform, Honey Street, Jupiter, Kirlian photography, Knave of Swords crop circle, light orbs, Lucy Pringle, Mayan symbolism, Milk Hill, novel, orbit, phase 3, phase one, phase two, radials, script, solar system, Sumerian, ultrasound, Wiltshire, WIP, writing | 1 Comment
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’.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.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 scribe–friends 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 siderealview | authors, culture, fiction, novel, publishing, writing | ABNA, agents, Amazon, apples and pears, competition, contest, deadline, editors, fantasy, fiction, genre, manuscript, MS, Muse, NaNoWriMo, novel, Office of Letters and Light, passionate, PenguinUSA, pitch, PR, publishing industry, reader, self-publish, sharks, voodoo, writing, YA fiction | 2 Comments
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already a writer. So the appended list is intended as a little tongue-in-cheek, because those in the field who haven’t yet plunged have miles to go before they sleep….There is one great role model still out there, however, and he gave a rare interview on British television (to Channel 4 News’s Jon Snow, thank you) on September 13th. In his eightieth year, David Cornwell — no you don’t know him by that name, but read on — will publish his 22nd book this week on September 16th.
Before I get to the steps to mastery of this mysterious gift — writing — I want to say that Jon Snow did a magnificent job: not only did he subsume his role as producer/director and questioning acolyte into the greater picture which his interviewee painted, but he seemed to enjoy every moment of it. His follow-up Snowblog had a telltale air of enthusiasm and excitement about it, as if his trip to Cornwall to see Cornwell had actually inspired him.
His opening line: ‘The night sleeper drew exhaustedly into Penzance station’ was a creative scene-setter. Well done Jon.
The octogenarian-to-be certainly inspired me. David Cornwell is, of course, in case you hadn’t guessed, the all-Brit deeply researched (by personal experience) spy thriller writer John Le Carré. He has lived in his clifftop home overlooking the wild Atlantic Ocean for nearly forty years. That kind of rootedness — plus his earlier career in the British Foreign Office — leads to writerly focus and concentration. And those, as we know, are the main ingredients in pulling off a masterpiece, the following 18 steps notwithstanding!Step One: Decide you’re going to write a story.
Step Two: Decide it’s going to be brilliant. Imagine the response of your [teacher, classmates, reading group, agent] and how it will completely change the way they look at you.
Step Three: Open up Scrivener for Macs or Microsoft Word or, if you are really doing this for the VERY FIRST time, unpack the old portable typewriter and put a fresh sheet of paper in the roller and snap to. (I’m not the only one who remembers what that feels like).
Step Four: Stare at the blank white screen stretching on into infinity until your eyes begin to water and your brain hurts from the sheer emptiness of it all.
Step Five: Check your e-mail. If writing a novel, research agents for a couple of hours.
Step Six: Stare at the blank Scrivener/Word document again.
Step Seven: Realize you need music. Spend the next hour finding the perfect “mood” music for what you want to write.
Step Eight: Inspired by [insert perfect music here], click back over to Scrivener/Word document.
Step Nine: Change Facebook status to: [Your name here] is WRITING!!! Realize you aren’t on Twitter, and that anyone who is anyone is networking/wasting time on Twitter. Sign up for an account and spend the next two hours figuring out how it works and what the hell # means.
Step Ten: Stare at blank Scrivener/ Word document. Decide you need a title. Brainstorm for the next hour.Step Eleven: Come up with a GENIUS title. Proudly type “The Scent of Green Papayas” at the top of the document, followed by your name. Happily consider how easily a story will come now that you have such an amazing, literary title.
Step Twelve: Take a four-hour break for snacks and naptime.
Step Thirteen: Refreshed, sit down and toy around with pen names for a while.
Step Fourteen: Realize to your horror that your genius title is actually the name of a Vietnamese foreign film you saw seven years ago.
Step Fifteen: Erase the title, pressing Backspace much harder than necessary.
Step Sixteen: Stare at the blank Scrivener/Word document until your eyes bleed.
Step Seventeen: Check Facebook. See that fourteen people have commented on your status, asking what you are writing. Feel both guilty and annoyed.
Step Eighteen: Slam your laptop shut and go to the movies. Tomorrow’s a better day for writing, anyhow.
See? You never knew writing was so easy!
This little provocative bullet was provided by Chuck Sambuchino in the Literary Agents Editor’s Blog.
it is far more relevant to hear from Le Carré directly: while the Channel 4 Snowblog does go into detail on the points of the Snow interview, as a ‘news’ interview, it concentrates on the spy stuff, its relevance in our 21st Century world. What stay with me, on the other hand, are Cornwell’s clear and lucid words on solitude and being touched by the Muse. His years of experience in handling spies and other British Foreign Office delicacies (when Britain was still called Britain) are merely a hook for the content of his books on espionage. What he said in this rare and insightful interview (probably his last; he said so himself) is far more important for budding — and successful — storytellers.
‘Popular writers have usually got one flag they can always wave. And it haunts them. It haunts me. Can I ever write another Spy Who Came in from the Cold? The answer is no, I can’t. But I can do other stuff.’ His latest title Our Kind of Traitor, will more than satisfy readers hungry for an exposé on current (London-centered) compromised politicians and a banking system’s feigned ignorance of money-laundered Russian cash acquired via offensive (and illegal) means.
For Le Carré the writing life, he says, is the only life he has. His imaginary characters are his friends. He admits that his walks around his home take the form of a reconnection with childhood. ‘I populate these hills with the characters of my imagination.’ His supportive and ever-present wife Jane does the donkey work — the typescripts — after David has used the dining room table as a storyboard: chopped pieces of edited MS scotchtaped, paperclipped and scribbled on, folded together or pried apart when a paragraph doesn’t work. [So he’s no advertising guru for Scrivener]. His mind, like his dining table, is a cohesion of scattered bits.
‘It’s all I know now. It’s that and my family. We have very little social life’, he admits gleefully.
‘I don’t make plots in advance. I don’t make great march routes. I actually try to throw people into a messy life and see how they’ll sort it out — while I’m writing. So the whole adventure is one I share with the reader.’
To me, however, one of his most precious gems, dropped when the blogger-presenter and cameraman weren’t paying attention, was on the role of focus, solitude and attention given by the writer to his Muse. He used the ‘flag-flying’ of authors as a springboard, but his personal insight seemed to come as an afterthought, as if its relevance might not be understood by the current generation of writers influenced by ‘spin’, the ‘pitch’, that whole marketing morasse which a writer can drown in. It was a key thought behind his declaration that this might be the last interview he would give.
Talking about what one has achieved is very addictive, he says. ‘I’ve seen the best minds be wooed by the camera. It is exciting. I’ve been there myself. But it deprives one of one’s essence’. He describes his final interview as ‘most candid and honest’; says only through solitude, in allowing the fusion between the word and the mind to coalasce, to filter through from that place of inspiration to typeface on the printed page, does true connection — and joy — emerge.
That’s the gift. And talking about it disperses and fragments it.
So, in maintaining forty years of silence (on camera) but by allowing his words to flow in print, Cornwell has not only been true to his Muse, but to his reader.
That, in my humble opinion, is true dedication to the art.
©2010 Marian Youngblood
It seems right that soon-to-be-octogenarian David Cornwell (b. October 19, 1931) should feature before a series of talented author/writer friends are showcased here over the next weeks on this blog. Each one is dedicated to the artform. Each has a tale to tell. I hope you enjoy. And if you are perched on that branch, uncertain if you should dive in, go ahead. The medium’s lovely. And the water’s warm.
September 15, 2010 Posted by siderealview | authors, culture, Muse, novel, publishing, writing | agents, almost-octogenarian, British, camera, Channel 4 News, characters, Cornwall, crime fiction, David Cornwell, energy source, espionage, fiction, Foreign Office, gift, John Le Carré, marketing, Muse, octogenarian, Our Kind of Traitor, power, solitude, spin, spy, Spy Who Came in from the Cold, writing | 6 Comments
Lots of writers use a nom de plume to distinguish between their personae – it’s the way publishing works. Blogs, too. What choice, what abundance: we can be guided by all our Muses and still retain our integrity (who doubts it?)if we are prone to take one persona more seriously than another. For this blog I become this particular blogger because the material is time-sensitive; the research is all coming together now and our way forward is mapped. That said, it’s up to us whether we take the information and run with it.
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