I interrupt my blogging hiatus to bring word that Tailwinds Past Florence has been selected as a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s annual Literary Contest. But wait, there’s more! This is but only a fragment of the exciting (and slightly disappointing) news I want to share with you today. So read on for a proper update about how work on my novel — and this headfirst dive into reinventing my writing career — is progressing.
PNWA Contest – Mainstream Finalist
My phone, as it so often does in the Faraday cage I call home, went straight to voicemail without ringing. This despite me sitting beside it, willing it to ring, despite carrying it with me on my morning run up Mt. Si (one of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks) and despite even taking it into the shower with me two hours earlier. I knew the contest organizers would be notifying the finalists by phone over the weekend. It was a 425 area code, local. I took a deep breath and played the message. I was one of them; one of the eight finalists in the Literary/Mainstream category.
I don’t care if I win.
No, that’s not true. At all. Of course, I hope I win. It’s the prize money I don’t care about.
The finalists in each category will now be passed along to an agent or editor attending this summer’s PNWA conference in Seattle. She (or he, but probably she) will read through the entries and determine the top three who, for several seconds during dinner, will be the envy of a room full of their peers.
The real prize comes earlier. Finalists attend the conference with a name badge marking them so. This presumably comes in handy while mingling throughout the conference and, more importantly, when pitching agents and editors during your pitch session, of which I’m signed up for two. There’s also a special cocktail reception after the dinner for agents, editors, and contest finalists. Many writers are introverts and struggle in these settings. I do not. (Correction: the reception is only for the top 3 prize winners in each category, not all 8 finalists).
Of course, this has also created extra work for me. I now must add an extra sentence to the beginning of my query letter. Insert winking emoji here.
I recently sent chapters four through seven out to my pre-beta readers, the next sixty pages that has achieved the coveted green status (i.e. fourth draft) in my color-coded progress scheme. Earlier last month I received my first three chapters back from a literary consultant, care of the critique I won from an auction held by Fuse Literary. These earlier chapters had already gone through multiple revisions and achieved “blue” status. Now they’ve been revised again.
Her general comments were positive. Flattering, actually. Words like “very impressed” and “eager to read more” were used. She made two general comments in the email, then referred me to the marked-up attachment in which she did her line-editing.
Having never received line-edits from a professional literary consultant before, I was taken aback. There was just so much… ink. It seemed wrong.
I skimmed the pages quickly, feeling the wind fall from my sails. I closed my laptop and did something else. And then even more other things.
Several days later I came back to her line-edits with fresh eyes, free of the defensiveness I felt creeping into me on that initial glance. I saw that many of her suggestions were quite good. I had a tendency to slip in a touch too much description in the middle of an otherwise suspenseful moment. So I trimmed the fat. And then I trimmed some more. I also realized some of her suggestions were based on incomplete data. She’d only seen the first fifty pages. Info that may have seemed extraneous to her was really foreshadowing. But how could she know? Nobody could.
The best thing of all, however, was a comment she made about the second sentence. I had been on the fence, debating with myself whether or not to cut it. She striked it and left a footnote saying, effectively, that the opening sentence was so strong, she didn’t know why I’d want to soften it with the brief follow-up. My thoughts exactly.
Listen to those gut instincts people.
A Real Writer Now
I received my first rejection letter while I was on vacation with friends in Florida. It was in response to the fifty pages that were requested based on a Twitter pitch I had done in April. While she “loved the concept” she didn’t fall in love with the execution. And that can be for any number of reasons beyond the quality of my writing (it could also be precisely due to the quality of my writing). For example, she largely represents romance novels. The overwhelming majority of romance novels have female protagonists. Tailwinds does not. Nor is it a romance novel.
That’s fine. This entire process is so highly subjective. Finding the right agent with the right needs at the right time is harder than finding a semicolon in a Dr. Seuss book.
And that’s what has me feeling happy about the contest. Though I believed in the quality of my entry, there’s no guarantee that two people will independently judge it worthy. And all contest entries were read and scored by two people, anonymously.
A New Cover Sets Sail
I attended the monthly PNWA seminar the other night, presented by the fantastic Gerri Russell. Gerri will be giving several presentations at the conference this summer and, for one of them, she needed volunteers. Volunteers who were interested in getting a new, free, redesigned book cover.
I knocked over four tables and an old man in a walker in my effort to reach the sign-up sheet first.
The cover for One Lousy Pirate was a strict DIY effort. The chance to get a free professionally-designed cover was too good to pass up. So I filled out Gerri’s design questionnaire about what I’m looking for and her designer is going to get back to me with a couple of mock-ups. We’ll fine-tune from there. My one rule: no pirate symbolism.
The only downside to all of this is that Gerri’s presentation on the importance of cover design takes place during my pitch session. Fortunately they sell recordings of the presentations at the conference.