Saturday, May 30, 2009

The ABNA Awards Event

I don't know what other writing contests are like, but I can't imagine one that could top the ABNA Grand Prize: a publishing contract with Penguin Books. As if that wasn't awesome enough, get a load of the awards event:

Tuesday, May 26:
My wife and I checked into the Crowne Plaza, Times Square, and
were given a room on 33rd floor. We had a beautiful view of Times Square and the Manhattan skyline. We could even see both the East River and the Hudson. Our rep from Amazon greeted us with a bag of goodies--including several books, spending moola, and a Kindle 2! Incredible. That evening, we were taken to a private restaurant in Greenwich Village. After a nice little Happy Hour, the other two finalists -- Brandi Lynn Ryder and Ian Gibson, both extremely friendly, interesting, and talented writers -- and I were interviewed, on video, by a panel of editors from Penguin and Amazon. Watch for the video on sometime next week. We were then treated to a delicious dinner of... I forget. But it was great. Around 10 pm, they got tired of listening to the writers pontificate, so they put us in cabs and sent us back to Times Square.

Wednesday, May 26: After a sleepless night, it was time to head down to Battery Park for the announcement of the winner. We got to experience morning rush hour in Manhattan from the inside of a Kamikaze yellow cab. The restaurant had a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The announcement was to be made at 9am. I was amazed at how slowly the time passed from 8:30, when we arrived, to 9:00. I can't really describe how I felt when they announced me as a winner. I made a short acceptance speech. Somewhere in there I got a laugh, but I'm not sure if it was something I said or the vacant I-can't-believe-this look that was, no doubt, frozen on my face. Later that day, I visited the Penguin offices down on Hudson Street. There, I met "my editors," the publisher, and the publicist. An incredibly friendly group of professionals.

Friday, May 29: Got a free pass to BEA. Spent the day meeting other folks from Penguin and taking in BookExpo America at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center. Another great day.

What can I say? Every aspect of the awards event was handled with complete professionalism. We were treated like kings every step of the way.

And the Grand Prize? Jackpot!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

INCREDIBLE!!!! Thanks for All Your Support!!!

Bill Warrington's Last Chance will be published by Viking in August 2010. To be notified when the book is available, click here.

I'll write more about this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience over the weekend. But in the meantime, thanks to everyone who supported and voted for the book. You've helped make a dream come true!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Countdown to the Final: T-Minus 24 Hours

Off to NYC, at last, for the ABNA awards event. Here's the schedule:
Tonight: "Meet and Greet" event with the editors and publishers. Finalists interviewed.
Tomorrow morning, 9am: Winner announced at breakfast ceremony.
Tomorrow morning, 10am: Huge sigh of relief, no matter what the results, that the contest is over.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pale Writer

Last night, in a vain attempt to distract myself from thinking about ABNA, I watched Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider" on TMC. It was made in the 80s, but I'd never seen it. Yet as I watched, I got the feeling that maybe I had seen it and had forgotten. I started paying close attention to the story's arc -- which wasn't easy, since the movie was interrupted every 90 seconds or so by four or five minutes of commercials.

Anyway, the arc as I see it:

Mysterious stranger rides in. Bullies in town causing trouble. Sexual tension between stranger and good man's wife/intended. Offspring of good man's wife/intended infatuated with stranger, threatening relationship with parent. Violent incident forces mysterious stranger to dust off his six-shooter. Blows away the bad guys. Rides off, with good man's wife/intended's offspring calling after him.

After the final commercial... I mean, credits... rolled, I realized that I had seen the movie before. But it was called "Shane." It starred Alan Ladd. And it was made in 1953.

I'm not criticizing Clint Eastwood. (Hey, I've seen Dirty Harry.. I'm not stupid.) I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. My point is that the movie reinforced for me the challenge of putting new twists into a plot.

Case in point: I groaned out loud when I saw another Eastwood film, Gran Torino. The hero is a Korean war veteran who forms a friendship with a teenager. The hero of my novel, Bill Warrington's Last Chance, which by the way I finished writing well before Gran Torino hit the theaters, is a Korean war veteran who bonds with his teen-aged granddaughter.

We are all pale writers. (No, I could not resist that pun. Sorry.) Our blank pages come alive on the shoulders of myth and archetypes. Our challenge as writers is give them creative twists, to make the old stories new. So that when readers finish our books, we can hear them calling out, "Shane! Come back, Shane!"

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Countdown to the Final: Worried? Who's Worried?

The voting period for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel is now closed. We now enter the waiting period. Final results will be announced on Wednesday, May 27 in New York City.

Some people have asked if I'm nervous or worried about the outcome.

Uh... hell yeah!

In fact, I recently read the excerpt from one of the other finalists: "In Malice, Quite Close," by Brandi Lynn Ryder. In Tristan Mourault, Brandi has created one of the most creepily compelling characters I've read in a long time. And while I have not yet finished the other excerpt, Ian Gibson's "Stuff of Legends," I have no doubt that he has justifiably garnered a lot of votes.

In any event, now that the voting is over, it's out of my hands. No matter what happens, this has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences ever. I have received an incredible amount of support from family and friends, for which I will always be grateful.

Now the trick will be to keep my mind off the contest for the next five days.

Yeah, right.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Countdown to the Final: Last Day to Vote

Thank goodness today is the last day to vote for the ABNA.

If the voting period were any longer, I might be attending the awards ceremony on a shipping dolly, wearing Thomas Harris.

Soon, the real waiting will begin as the votes are tallied...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Countdown to the ABNA Final: Three Voting Days Left

The ABNA contest has been a blessing in so many different ways.

One experience that's been especially wonderful is the incredible support I've received from family and friends. Writing can be a lonely profession. I am in awe at how so many people -- some of whom I haven't seen or spoken with in decades -- have expressed genuine happiness for me and have demonstrated such a willingness to spread the word. Thank you all!

BUT... there are still three days left. Please continue to tell your family, friends, and colleagues to vote.

Cringe Factor: The Importance of Proofreading

As some of you may have noticed, I've had "formatting issues" with my excerpt in the ABNA contest. Indents were lost, bullets disappeared, and line breaks didn't break. I'm certain that the fault is mine: I probably did not submit the document in the correct format, and the formatting got lost during the electronic transfer.

But as I read the excerpt, there are some mistakes I can't blame on technology. Like misspellings. Like using the word "taught" when I meant "taut." Like using the wrong name when inside a different character's head. One reader-reviewer rightly expressed amazement that this writer thought the manuscript was ready for prime time.

Well... it's almost ready. I should have done a much better job proofing the document before sending it on its way. When I come across some of those stupid mistakes, I cringe.

It's hard to proof your own writing. But that's no excuse for not carefully proofreading several times before submitting. A few ideas:

1. Start proofing from the end of the document to the beginning. This way, your brain won't automatically fill in missing words or phrases. (I got that idea from my brother Rick, a professor, avid reader, and excellent proofreader.)

2. Always get another set of eyes to read it. Every writer needs an editor/proofreader. Get your spouse, a friend, a trusted colleague to look over your masterpiece before you press "send."

3. If you have time, let the document/manuscript sit for awhile before proofing it yourself. This will give you the "distance" needed for a fresh look.

4. Read it aloud. This is a sure-fire way to identify missing words and awkward constructions.

The more comprehensively you proof, the less you cringe.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Countdown to the Final: Who You Calling "Mature?"

I knew that negative reviews can be painful, but positive ones?

Several comments in the ABNA forums referred, in a nice way, to the "mature" writer, the "older" writer, and the "Boomer" writer.

They couldn't have been talking about the other finalists, Brandi and Ian. They both appear to in their 20's; early 30's, tops. That leaves yours truly. Those comments were insulting and hurtful, don't you agree? What's that? They voted for me?

Call me Boomer.

And if you haven't already done so, please vote!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Countdown to the Final: 5 Days to Vote; 10 to the Announcement

Here's the Penguin website that does a nice job of describing how the ABNA contest works.

This is incredibly exciting. I'm getting emails and phone calls from people I haven't spoken with in decades.

And the support I'm getting from family and friends is absolutely astounding.

Please vote if you haven't already. To do so, click here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Countdown to the Final

Still reeling from the news that I was named one of the top three finalists in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. The Grand Prize winner, which will be determined by reader votes, will be announced on May 27 in NYC.

Click below to vote! Meanwhile, I'm off to a celebratory dinner and a brew or two with my wife and two children.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

BIC Discipline

Every time I travel, which I do fairly frequently for business, I am reminded of how important it is to maintain writing discipline. I am also reminded of how undisciplined a writer I can be.

Theoretically, I should get a lot of writing done while I'm on the road. Most business meetings I attend start after 8am and end before 6pm. If I don't have to have dinner with a client, that leaves plenty of time for writing. But I rarely accomplish as much as I should. Maybe it's the change of venue. Maybe it's that huge television in the hotel room (and push-button access to ESPN) that demands attention.

Whatever. The old saw that the first rule of writing is BIC (Butt In Chair) holds true whether that butt is in its favorite writing space, a cramped airplane seat, or a hotel a continent away from home.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Mother of All Perfect Storms

This morning, while shaving and listening to the local all-news radio station, I was informed by the news anchor that increased Internet usage worldwide is leading to a "perfect storm" of energy failure.


Using a cliche is one thing (usually, the sign of a lazy writer); using it incorrectly only increases the irritation factor. According to Wikipedia, a perfect storm is the "simultaneous occurrence of weather events which, taken individually, would be far less powerful than the storm resulting of their chance combination."

But that's what happens with cliches. People become so accustomed to using them that they get sloppy. So stay alert to those hackneyed words and phrases, and get rid of them from your writing. Business correspondence, in particular, is a haven for the hackneyed.
My nominations for retirement include:
  • The Mother of all...
  • At the end of the day...
  • Think outside the box...
  • The bottom line is...
  • I can get behind that...
The remedy? Simply look for other ways to express that thought or idea. Demonstrate some creativity. Make your writing memorable by making it unique. When your writing stands out, you do, too. Just make sure it's standing out for all the right reasons.

And by the way, I think Sebastian Junger's 1997's book, "The Perfect Storm," is a terrific read.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Susan Boyle is Everywhere

The point I was trying to make on my May 1 posting?

It's made in a much better way here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Reading Voices

I was in a local bookstore recently, a gift card burning a hole in my pocket, trying to decide between a novel, a biography, and a political best seller. To make my decision, I did what I always do when browsing: I opened to the first page and read a few sentences to decide if I like the writer's style -- the writer's "voice," if you will.

A few sentences is all I'm willing to invest before making a decision. I don't think I'm alone among book buyers in that approach.

The lesson for me? Readers aren't going to wait a few pages or even a few paragraphs for me-as-writer to "warm up." I need to establish a strong, likable, readable voice immediately.

The voices that appeal to me vary according to genre. But in all cases, I need to feel that I'm in excellent hands, that the author is an outstanding writer who isn't trying to impress me with his or writing skills, but instead just wants to tell me about something I might find interesting or exciting or life-affirming or... whatever. Just not boring or pompous. In fact, the best writers make me forget I'm reading somebody's writing. I'm just "there" with whomever or whatever the author is writing about, completely immersed, and glad of it.

If you're wondering which book I selected... I didn't. All three openings were so good that I have to go back for more before I choose. Based on how I've handled this situation before, I may end up buying all three.