Tag Archives: literary contest

PNWA, take two

I hopped on the bus, a sudden expert at the King County 560 route to Bellevue via Seatac. I don’t even know what half of that means. But it was the same driver, same bunch of drones heading to the office, and it kept occurring to me that I wasn’t seeing as many coffee thermoses as I’d thought I would. Maybe they all had stashes of coffee tucked away in their bags. Maybe I was in a parallel universe where coffee so perfectly absorbed light beams that it was invisible to the naked eye. Maybe coffee is illegal on public transportation in Seattle. But that would be too weird.

The bus ride went smoothly and I had plenty of time to grab my own cup of joe at the hotel before the workshops started, but then it all changed. I was at the courtesy vehicle ramp at the airport waiting for the hotel van. Waiting. For the vehicle marked Godot, apparently. More than half an hour ticked by, and finally he rolled by, stopping to pick me up. This wasn’t actually his choice, as I’d pretty much stood in front of him and blocked his path.

Now with six minutes to go until the editor’s panel, I had just enough time to grab some watermelon chunks, a muffin, and the proverbial coffee. Good thing I was there to network my six minutes, while stuffing food in my face before I fell over from low blood sugar. It was a great way to make a positive first impression, of course. The editor’s panel was interesting; I’ve posted it at the end of today’s blog. It’s good and somewhat dejecting to see how many kinds of editors, publishing houses, and distribution channels there are in this business. In my mind, trying to get that first book published looks like a daunting Venn Diagram: Agents in one circle, Editors in the second, Publishing Routes in the third.

Getting a book on the market is like playing pin the tail on the donkey, hoping you land in the sweet spot of the middle of the overlapping circles. In other words, it’s the dream of an ass.

And I’m all fine with that. I can ass around with the best of them. Especially while crunching my way through a few watermelon chunk seeds.

I went to a panel titled something like, “Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies, Oh My!” and I appreciated the tip of the hat to The Wizard of Oz. It was great to hear what’s selling in that market right now—hint, it involves urban fantasy—and what is about to be done with, at least for a while. So I’ll have to shelve that book idea for the teen vampire romance, and here I thought I was being all original. I do actually have a book project going on right now that isn’t done enough to pitch, but I hope to lay out the concept and see if they think it’s marketable. These poor agents can barely stand in line to use the rest room without getting accosted, so I try really hard not to be “that guy” who doesn’t know when to shut the hell up. And by try really hard, I mean I don’t stop agents from urinating. Unless of course, my ideas during the pitch session are so bad that they spontaneously evacuate their bladders. That kind of effect I just can’t help. But when someone says, “Wow, I really need to go to the bathroom,” it’s only proper that you let her go, even though you know in your heart of hearts that if she just listened to The Incredible Idea she’d never have to pee again. That’s her loss.

I networked, I talked to other writers, a couple of editors, who are really my kind of people. I know what they do up close. I’ve done it, albeit for much drier material than this. But I get who they are as people, so I feel comfortable with editors. Agents just make me want to throw up with nervous energy. I have to dedicate a portion of my consciousness to slowing down when I speak with them so I don’t rattle off words like a machine gun.

I saw that my pitch session—which is a 10-minute block of time writers get at this conference with an agent one-on-one—was at the tail end of a workshop I wanted to attend. Its focus was on humor. I like humor. I walked in, looking for a chair near the door, but it was in a very small conference room, because hey, who gives a crap about humor? Note to PNWA conference coordinators, give a bigger room to humor next year. We nearly had to velcro attendees to the ceiling to fit us all in there.

I walked up to the presenter, Gordon Kirkland, who is Canada’s answer to Dave Barry. As if Dave Barry required answering. I apologized, saying I had to leave the session early and I didn’t want to be rude.

“Well, you’re going to be rude, but thanks for telling me about it in advance,” said the presenter. This was going to be a good workshop.

Kirkland had, legend tells it, basically locked himself in a room with a couple other writers in Edmonton, Alberta, to write a book in 72 hours. Fortunately we Americans don’t have to convert the time—it’s the same here as in Canada. But Kirkland brought this story up in his workshop, saying that nobody comes out of Edmonton except alcoholics and hockey players. I rolled my eyes, but most of the US folks in the room didn’t know the reference well enough to laugh too hard. Ha ha, they thought, hockey players. Those silly Canadians.

Some banter, as one can imagine, ensued. We talked about writing about our families, how humor works, etc., and then it was time for me to start practicing my pitch before my session. I stood up and started making my way through the throng to the door.

“And where do you think you’re going,” Kirkland called out to me.

“I’m going to my pitch session,” I said, “and by the way, my wife is from Edmonton!”

The room erupted in laughter.

Later, a writer to whom I had just told this story informed me I had left out a line in my response to him.

“You should have said, ‘my wife is from Edmonton, and she’s a hell of a hockey player!”

And that, right there, is why I love this conference.

I sat out in the hallway, and pulled up my pitch on my iPad. I read it something like 40 times in 10 minutes, not necessarily trying to memorize it, but so that I could hit every point in the synopsis/pitch. Gotta keep “edge of burnout,” gotta mention the bad hair dye job, gotta bring up the social networking profile for my cat. Once our time drew nigh we were to sit in chairs outside the ballroom doors and wait to be led in. This did nothing to lower anyone’s anxiety about the moment. Then a volunteer poked his head out and motioned for us to enter the inner sanctum. I drew my +3 Vorpal Blade.

Wait. Wrong story.

We walked down a hallway and then we saw the room of agents, each sitting behind their own table, each with a beverage at some point of fullness/emptyness. I had to walk by the agent with whom I’ve been corresponding. I nodded hello to her and she wished me good luck tomorrow, meaning the awards ceremony, for whom I’m a finalist (give a little yay! here). I found my agent and sat down. He was much smaller than I’d realized when I saw him sitting at the agent’s forum earlier in the day. He was actually a pocket person.

“I’m nervous,” I said. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, shut up! Just give the pitch, you dumb ass!

“That’s okay,” he said. “We can just talk.”

Suddenly this exchange had the tone of a teenage boy going to see his first prostitute. I figured I should just get up and walk away. Exploiting prostitutes isn’t right.

I told him I was going to pitch him a memoir. He sat back a little, waiting.

I said, “As Henry Miller supposedly said, the way to get over a woman is to turn her into fine literature. But that’s not why I wrote this memoir.”

Of course he wasn’t following me yet, because he didn’t know the Huge Transgender Topic of the memoir. But he didn’t look disinterested, per se. I told him the title, which is a giveaway on the whole book concept.

He looked straight at my chest. What a cute little pocket person agent. Thank God I usually query in letters. We talked for a bit, me giving the synopsis and then talking about my other writing, the speculative fiction stuff and the pop culture critique stuff.

“What other books are on the market like this,” he asked. I told him I’d made a book proposal with a full market analysis section, and he said, “oh good.” Quite the terse fellow, this one.

He never seemed really interested and I couldn’t get a feel for how I was coming across. I think perhaps future conferences should have a drop button so the writer can just fall through the floor onto a landscape of pillows. At least you’ll know their sentiment. He slid his card to me as the time for the session expired, asking for my book proposal. And then it struck me.

It was pity sex, this card. But I’d follow up and send it out to him. It wasn’t going to show him much in the way of voice, but it would show him that people buy books like this.

Next up was the dinner. This was a fiasco, as we stood in line for the buffet for half an hour, the hotel running out of food in the first 10 minutes and needing loads more time to restock. I was not pleased. When I sat down, other people had come to the table, not realizing folks were already seated there. I tried to turn it into another get to know new people thing. The keynote speaker was funny, but done way early for her time slot.

Several science fiction writers and I made our way down to the bar in the lobby, and decompressed from our day. It was a good day. I was glad my pitch session was over. Partway through my first 7&7 my friend who’s been hosting me arrived and he joined us. I could tell just in the car ride that I was going to crash once my head hit the pillow. And I did.

Day three starts in a few hours.

By the way, I lied, I’ll put the editor’s forum notes in another post.

Things I have won

I am a fan of the contest. I just plain like the concept that for the trouble of sponsoring my own entry into it, I have earned the privilege of getting X chance in millions of winning whatever thing it is that I covet. It’s a tiny taste of exhilaration, made all the smaller by my intellectual understanding that I’m probably not going to win bupkus. But in the years of me entering contests, I have walked away victorious a few times. It’s like a siren’s song, drawing me back, distracted by whatever bauble or accolade is dangled in front of my head.

A stuffed snowman. In 1983 I won a stuffed snowman, hand-knit by some other 8th grader’s mother. The real hook for me was the black hat on its head—inside, curled into itself, was a second scarf, in a different color, and you could change them out. Sweet! A snowman you could dress! For a kid who didn’t give a fig about Barbies, this was for some reason extremely appealing. Tim, a big bully of a kid, had bested me earlier in the school year in a campaign for class security guard—I don’t know how he beat my motto, Shoot for the Moon, Vote for Maroon—and had, upon the afternoon of his victory speech, insisted everyone passing him in the hallway should bow to him. Oh, how my fellow classmates rued their collective decision then! Tim saw me buy a raffle ticket for Mr. Snowman and like an arrogant parent, unrolled a loop of raffle tickets like baby pictures out of his wallet. I would never win, he said. Ruffled by his heckling, I capitulated and bought one more ticket. This doubled my chances of winning, I figured. Ah, 8th grade math. When the principal called my ticket number over the loudspeaker, I squealed and ran down the three flights to get my prize. And I’m positive I loved that changeable snowman far superiorly to Tim, would he have won.

Mill Road Camp Camper of the Week. I have no earthly idea how I earned this prize other than the counselors gave it out on a rotating basis and I just hit my number one week. I didn’t even enter or otherwise make my interest known to the day camp staff. I was just wasting my time perfecting my tetherball skills. Mad skillz, I say. But I still have the brick red banner with white lettering.

I have won roughly $200 in bowling league money. That I have bowled in a league at least 6 times reveals my sad-ass bowling skills. Even the last team in most leagues will walk away with something at the end of the season. But it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about having the coolest shoes in the league. Which I have.

A Panasonic stereo and 25 CDs. This was the strangest contest to enter in my personal history with contests. Sponsored by Dodge and Mothers Against Driving Drunk, or whatever it is they’re called, entrants had to guess how many CDs (in their cases) would fit inside the M.A.D.D. Music Mobile, a van that apparently was roaming around my college campus, hunting for drunk drivers, or something. That really sounds like an unsafe practice, but okay. I went upstairs to my dorm room, called 800 information (there was no Web, people!), and got the number for Dodge headquarters in Detroit. After a series of phone calls, I had the cubic dimensions of the van’s interior. I also, at the time, owned 12 CDs. I pulled two away so I would have an even 10, and I measured the cubic area, did some rough math—math keeps being so important! damn math!—and then went back down to the lobby to put in my guess. I’d all but forgotten about the contest when I got a letter in the mail, saying I’d gotten first prize. I’d missed the grand prize, which was oh, a sports car, but what would I do with a sports car in the snowiest place in New York? Crash it into the Music Mobile, probably, or a Delta Delta Delta on her way back from a drunken formal.

Employee of the Year. This award took me a bit by surprise, and without a doubt meant the most to me of all the things I’ve ever had the pleasure of winning. The vice president announcing the award at the annual dinner did the traditional, “let me tell you about this person before I give you the name” thing. I’m fond of that approach, actually, and not just because it reminds me of Sesame Street’s version of This Is Your Life. I had my suspicions that I’d be getting the award, but it was still great to get called up to the podium and accept it. Sometimes I think it’s silly to get so excited about a wood and brass plaque, but well, I worked hard to have that on my office wall.

It’s with this short but fun history that I entered the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association literary contest, submitting my affable memoir last spring. I’d known upon entering that finalists in each genre category would be notified by early June, so when 6/15 rolled around I presumed I was not among them. But opening my email yesterday, I saw an email from PNWA with the subject line, PNWA Literary Contest: Congratulations! My very first thought was, “well, I guess I’ll see who the finalists are, since I must not be one of them.” Imagine my surprise when I read: “Dear Everett, Congratulations!” Say what? Holy memoir, I’m a finalist!

Susanne wanted to know why the blood had all gone out of my face. I told her, rereading the Web site details about the contest, that so far I’d won a “Finalist” ribbon to put on my conference badge when I show up at the event in July. I bet it’s red. I love a nice, red ribbon and I have no idea why. As it stands, there are 8 finalists in each genre category, and a first, second, and third place winner. So I have a 3 in 8 chance of winning something beyond my lovely strip of satin. Whatever happens, I’m excited and thrilled.

Contests are damn fun.

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