Friday, February 21, 2014

ABNA 2014 (all the cool things are called by their acronyms)

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

IBM, International Business Machines.

FUBAR, Fu**ed Up Beyond All Recognition.

Let's face it, acronyms are cool.

American Telephone and Telegraph sounds like a topic in history class. AT&T empowers you with snapchat and instagram. See how that works? Same company, different name, much cooler thanks to the power of the acronym. What does that have to do with my creative writing blog? I answer that question with an acronym, ABNA.

ABNA stands for Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. It is an annual contest that allows unpublished and self published novel writers a chance to be discovered. Winners get publishing contracts with Amazon. Losers get the chance to be really depressed for a little while, then encourage themselves into competing again. This involves reviewing your notes and manuscript, determining that you know exactly what you need to change, then forgetting about it for, say, six months, and finally getting around to writing again, barely finishing in time for the next ABNA.

In 2011, I was big into trying to hone my writing skills by entering numerous flash fiction contests. For those who don't know, flash fiction is usually a 1,000 word or less piece of writing that is a complete story. Because of it's brevity, being concise is important, as it relying on commonly accepted generalizations which, when incorporated into the writing, bring a greater understanding than the mere 1,000 words allows.

Back then, (I say to make it sound important) Entangled Publishing was hosting a flash fiction contest. The winner received a query critique. At the time I had a 40,000 word science fiction novella (high class name for a story that's too weak to be called a novel) that I was hoping to land with an agent. I figured a solid query (what writers use to introduce their work to publishers and agents) would help, making winning the flash fiction contest invaluable.

A photo was provided that was to be the basis of the writing. I was still trying to get back into the level of creative fiction writing I had in college, so not everything I was turning out contained the freedom and confidence I desired. I really put a lot of thought into this contest and hammered out what I considered to be a solid expression of the picture and a story explaining the image while leaving the reader wanting more. I submitted my entry and hoped for the best. Ten days later I got an email explaining the contest was postponed due to a publishing convention. As far as I know, the contest was never re-run.

Sad that I didn't get my chance, at least I still had my 1,000 words which I liked. Real at the beginning, supernatural at the end, it was fun to write and read. Then I heard about ABNA. With the entry period eight months away, I considered entering my science fiction novella. There was a problem, however. It was only 40,000 words long and the contest required 50,000 as a minimum. Add to that my displeasure with how it turned out and a computer glitch that left half of it corrupted, I decided against it and went back to writing picture book manuscripts.

The more days that went by, however, the more I got to thinking about novel writing, ABNA, and the flash fiction piece I wrote. I had about a half a year to take the 1,000 words and bump it to 50,000 words if I wanted to enter in 2012. I decided to give it a try. Along the way, I attended writing conferences with SCBWI (acronym, right? Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), became better versed with the publishing industry, and expanded my flash fiction piece into a full length novel.

I shouted for the sky, whatever that means. I had written something not as crappy as the something I'd written before, and that was worth celebrating by itself. I entered it, in the 2012 ABNA, along with the 'pitch' that was a 300 word or less description of the work and crossed my fingers. It was hard work, just writing that many words. My proofreading was minimal and I never wanted to read it again. What did that dedication get me? Pretty far, surprisingly.

There it is, my novel Vanity, in the quarter finals, between Seventeen going on Dead, and Sade on the wall. As you can see, titles can be very informative. Oprah, Please Adopt Me (near the bottom), sounds wonderful. Fenicus Flint and the Dragons of Berathor (near the top), not my cup of tea. My pitch got me into such esteemed company in the semi-finals, then my first 3,000 words got me into the quarter finals. Not too shabby.

As happy as I was, there were problems ahead, namely the fact that the last 40,000 words of my novel were crap. Had I bothered to re-read what I'd written, I might have known it as well as the next ABNA reviewer did, who soundly killed me with her words. Back to the picture books, I told myself.

Eventually in the second half of 2012, I would return to my novel with the hopes of entering ABNA 2013. I put the work in that I needed to, re-reading what I'd written, organizing a mostly different story with thorough chapter outline, and massive revisions. I was not done by the time the entry period opened but instead of just shitting out the rest of the pages, I took my time and applied what I'd learned toward turning out a good product. Before I could complete the manuscript, the entries topped 10,000 and the submission period closed.Vanity got set aside.

Query led to query, and in 2013, while vacationing in Paris no less, I received an email from an agent requesting a full copy of a children's picture book series I'd written.There is no feeling in the world like that and I'm pretty sure it was God giving it to me so I wouldn't give up on writing. That interaction didn't lead to anything, but I continued writing, leaving Vanity be. Subsequently, our son Peter inspired me to write a 30,000 word middle grade novel about Ninja's with Allergies called Chiisai Kushami, a little sneeze, which actually got four agents to request complete manuscripts. 2013 was a great year. I still didn't have an agent or publisher, but things were happening. Vanity called to me and I answered.

I resumed writing and revising the outline as I went, with my sights set on ABNA 2014. I changed character names with the help of my wife and revised character traits as well. For instance, the ditzy sister became as smart as her main character twin but sarcastic and dark. My tragic female became super manipulative instead of the nice and sweet girl dealing with time shifts. And my older man became a bit of a dick. Awesome. All that was left was a new title, Dead Bitch. Oh, I still get goosebumps when I read it. At 110,000 words, I'm pretty proud of my time traveling, teen aged death and sex, young adult novel.

And speaking of reading it, I have over and over, every time revising, editing, smoothing, and perfecting it. EB White once said, writing is rewriting. He got that right. Never be satisfied with your first draft. Writing a novel is like living life. Start one way, then go back and see what else could be, then go back and read it again and search for a different ending. I left college heading for radio. I went into civil engineering. Now I'm looking at writing. I must say, I like where my novel is going.

ABNA 2014 might be the step I've been waiting to take, to become a published author. I'm entered and hope in the future to have good news to share. We'll see.

(this blog post is 1,295 words, in case you didn't know, so it must not be flash fiction but rather a hopeful prediction)