Friday, March 27, 2009

Imperfect Pitch

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest is now in full swing. There was a problem about non U.S.A. residents not being able to read excerpts but that has now been resolved.

I entered my novel about my French Huguenot ancestors again this year. Last year I was in the semi finals but did not make top 100. I’ve done a lot of editing on my book since then and actually work-shopped it with a university professor instructor on Writer’s On Line. However, last week, we finally got the results and sadly, I didn’t make it through what they call the Pitch portion of the contest. I was disappointed to not make it for such a silly reason. But it does mean “back to the drawing board” because a pitch or query has to be just right before you send it out to a book agent. I have learned a lot in this year reading the posts on the ABNA forum and that is probably even more important than being selected.

A pitch is what you either send in a query letter or deliver in person (usually at a conference) to an agent whom you would like to represent you It really is important to get the pitch right as this is the first thing an agent is going to see in order to form an opinion about both you and your work. If he hates it, you won’t get a foot in his door. Well, even if he thinks it’s not bad, he isn’t likely to take you on. But that’s another story.

In the meantime there are lots of interesting excerpts to read from the quarter finalists and I am happy to do so. I’ve certainly seen several books that look worthy of publication. I like the reviewing process as I find it helps me to learn more about my own writing and the mistakes I make, just as much as I help the person I critique. It seems so much easier to see the “straw” in someone else’s work than the “rafter” in your own. But then, isn’t that true about everything in life.

Nevertheless, I do really wish my story had made it this year. I’d like to be getting some critiques as well as giving them. I also wish I had come sooner to this writing game. It’s a little late in life for this senior citizen but it certainly does keep the “little gray cells” chugging along.

(Next time – back to the world of travel)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chilling Out in Chile

As I shop for groceries during the winter months, I am often reminded of my visit to Chile. Many of the products on display now actually come from that green and fertile land. Our cruise around the tip of South America took us to several ports of call in Chile and I gained a whole different perspective of the country as a whole.

Of course, not all of this long and narrow nation is suitable for agriculture. Between the semi-desert area to the north and the cold, mountainous terrain of Tierra del Fuego to the south lies the beautiful and fruitful central valley. There, in the somewhat Mediterranean climate, grow the grapes to make the fine wines for which Chile is fast becoming famous. We toured some of the wine estates but that is for a later blog.

After travelling north from Ushuaia, Argentina along glacier fed channels, we arrived at our first Chilean port of call; Punta Arenas located on the wind-swept Straits of Magellan. The Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, in the service of the Spanish Crown, sailed into these waters in 1520 discovering an alternate and ostensibly easier-to-navigate route to the Pacific Ocean. To commemorate his discovery, a statue of Ferdinand looking towards the Pacific stands in the main square or xocola of the town. It’s an excellent place to sit and people-watch or just wander around the stalls of souvenirs set up for the tourists.

Pacific generally means calm and untroubled but, at this point so far south of the equator, that is not always the case. The winds that blow north from Antarctica can make this area cold and unfriendly. We were warned to bundle up for our bus trip to see the Magellan penguins in their summer habitant located on the Otway Sound. It was sound advice. After an hour long bus ride, over tundra-like terrain, we still had to walk a mile or so along a board walk to view the penguins. Often we were facing into those chilly 45 mile per hour winds I spoke of.

The penguins are delightful to see. By the time we arrived they were mostly gathered at the beach, gorging themselves on whatever fish they could catch. We could only watch them from an overlook about fifty feet away. This is why I made the statement awhile back that I wish we had gone on the Falkland Island tour where you could actually mingle with them. However, along the walkways, we could get quite close to them and see a few that were in the process of nesting. There’s nothing quite like penguins in the wild. It’s an experience of a lifetime and I highly recommend it. In fact, I think all the sights on the cruise around South America are unforgettable.

(Later this month – Puerto Montt and Valparaiso)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hot and Heavy on the ABNA Forum

Things got a little hot and heavy on the ABNA forum this week and I'm afraid I rather added my "two cents" worth. I probably shouldn't have; after all the years I've lived, I should know better. However, I have found the comradery of that young group of writers so helpful to me over the past year, that I couldn't help myself when I found them being castigated in an unfair manner by some of the newer ones.

All of us who have entered our novels in Amazon's writing contest are a bit nervy at the moment, I believe. In the first part of the contest, we were all to be judged on our pitches. Now what author among us likes writing pitches in the first place? But now our whole entry into the contest depended on a pitch that met their specs. And, even though they spelled it out for us pretty good, it required at lot that had to be said in 300 words. Almost impossible.

The first 2,000 were to be picked on the basis of that pitch, but we wouldn't be told if we were among them or not. The next level will pare the contestants down to 500. That is being done as we speak, or write, as the case is. Amazon top reviewers were given assignments of up to 40 excerpts to read and assess. Those 500 won't be known until March 16th. Is it any wonder we are all on pins and needles and jumping at each other's throats? Even this supposedly sensible senior citizen got caught up in it.

To try and calm people's nerves they have now set up a "joke" thread. I have joke but I won't put it up there because I don't think those young people would think it funny at all. It's more of a senior's type of joke. It will have to do for my blog for this week. Until the 16th of March, I'm not going to be in the mood to write anything of import.

Sort of complementing my last week's blog, it's about India.

Two childhood friends, Billy and Sam, were backpacking through India. One day, they stumbled upon a watering hole, and since neither smelled particularly wonderful, they decided to take a dip.They tossed a ball and splashed around and were having a wonderful time, until Sam heard a terrible rumbling growl. He rubbed his eyes and struggled to focus, and when he could see clearly, his breath caught in his throat. Standing on a near bank was a tiger, pacing back and forth, licking its lips and staring hungrily at the two boys.

"Oh my gosh," Sam said. "Billy, there's a bengal tiger over there."

Billy didn't hesitate at all. He bolted for the shore, scrambled across the ground and starting wrestling into his running shoes."What the heck?" Sam said, his voice cracking. "You... You can't outrun a tiger, ya darn fool!"

Billy smiled back at him. "I don't have to run faster than the dang tiger, Sam. I just have to run faster than you."

Sorry about that. I laughed though. So perhaps that tells you something about me.