Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013, Quarter-Finals: Stupid Questions

The 500 quarter-finalists for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award were announced today, and for the first time since entering in 2011, I didn’t make the cut. I’m actually surprised because I thought I had a better chance at making quarter-finals than I did at making the second round; usually my writing is stronger than my pitching skills. But even though my reviews were not particularly negative, I’m guessing either my reviewers graded me harder than their reviews indicated OR I just had a lot of excellent competition.

My critique partner and friend J.C. Fann did make the quarter-finals and I’m very proud to have been involved in helping prepare the book for the contest, so if you’re interested in downloading and reading/rating/reviewing the excerpt, here is a link to The Queenschair!

And if you’d like to see my reviews and analysis of the comments:

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Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013, Second Round: Stupid Questions

Stupid Questions advanced to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition.  I am one of the 2,000 left of the original 10,000 entrants.

Now my first chapter goes on to be read by two Amazon judges.  I’ll get rated and reviewed.  If I pass, I will be one of 500 left to be named quarter-finalists.

This year I was sleeping when the results came in and a friend who is also in the contest had to tell me I made it. Haha. (We both got in. It’s going to be disappointing when either of us gets cut, but I think it will be really sad and weird if one of us gets cut before the other.)

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013, Entering: Stupid Questions

I decided to enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition for the third year in a row, but I am doing so with my newest novel: Stupid Questions.

This contest’s a little weird because if you win you have to sign their contract with full knowledge that it can’t be negotiated. Once when I heard agents talk about their clients entering it, one of them said “I wish her all the best but I hope she doesn’t win.” There’s still a lot of good stuff to be had in the experience of entering, but yeah, that “you have to sign the contract no matter what” thing does give me pause. Oh well. I entered.

This book is the shortest one I’ve written, and it’s in one of the adult categories—science fiction—instead of the YA category like the last two years I’ve entered. I don’t know how well I’ll do here, since I have a suspicion that my story arc could be interpreted as a navel-gazer of a romance rather than a book with a plot, but we’ll see if I make it through to the second round.

The contest has changed this year in that it no longer offers a chance to win a publishing contract with Penguin.  It is now a traditional publishing contract through Amazon’s publishing group itself (not the same one that handles self-publishing, though), and there will be FIVE winners—one in each category—with one of those five winning a larger advance. The international Amazon contest stops taking entrants once it hits 10,000 people.  Each of us has to send in a pitch statement, a bio, an excerpt, and a full manuscript.

The second round will involve the 10,000 entrants being cut down to 2,000 Second Round competitors based entirely on our pitch.

This is my pitch statement:

Camera guy Nick Harris lives in a rational world—or so he thought. He’s no longer sure what’s real when the enigmatic Summer Astley appears on his news show displaying genuine telekinetic powers . . . and a charming smile. As mutual attraction brings them together, Summer reluctantly trusts Nick with her secret doubts and heartbreaking loneliness, leaving him puzzling over how to chase a down-to-earth romance with a girl who can fly.

But Summer isn’t the only one with unusual abilities. Nick’s got a knack for understanding other people—sometimes to the point that he accurately guesses their thoughts. Summer, eager to connect with someone like herself, presses Nick to accept that his “good people skills” are far from ordinary, but Nick isn’t buying it. And he certainly doesn’t want it to be true. After all, being too perceptive creeps girls out and gets guys dumped.

As a strained long-distance relationship develops between them, Summer and Nick face shared challenges and personal demons. Summer struggles to balance her supergirl public image with her love life, and she fears getting attached in the wake of a recent loss. And Nick feels disconnected communicating across state lines without the subtle cues he’s used to—not to mention he may be unable to handle the occupational hazards of dating a super-powered celebrity. As they learn what it will take to keep their unsteady partnership alive, these exceptional people find themselves asking as many questions as they answer.

With a refreshing lack of superhero hijinks, Stupid Questions presents an everyday romance between extraordinary people. Combining science fiction elements and an original male perspective, the story breathes new life into the classic “boy-meets-girl” scenario. Readers who prefer romance without a side of fluff will appreciate this authentic character-driven tale of outsiders yearning for connection.

Editing, tweaking, clipping, fixing

Editing of the new book (Stupid Questions) is going well with the help of my massive test audience. (Okay, maybe not so massive. Twenty-two people volunteered and confirmed. Exactly half of them have given me comments.)

It’s interesting how consistent the comments are. Nearly everyone who is commenting on which lines they like best identifies the same lines. Nearly everyone who didn’t like a certain scene in the third chapter had the same reason. Nearly everyone has said something about the dialogue that was at least somewhat in the ballpark with what everyone else was saying. And most of the readers seem to really like my characters and concept.

There are always a couple I don’t know what to do with, though, and so far I think it’s just two:

One person says a guy character needs to be presented as less layered and multifaceted and whatnot because guys aren’t very complex. (The reader clarified when I disagreed, but I still disagreed after the clarification, and so far the other male readers who have commented on that issue explicitly appreciate the choices I made supporting him NOT being the stereotypical straightforward disconnected guy.)

And another person has noticed that this story includes people with psychic abilities, and is indicating in the commentary that he’s looking forward to finding out the “explanation” for it. I wonder how many people get disappointed at the very small percentage of these kinds of stories that don’t have an “explanation” and don’t happen to be about why or how? (Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever written a story about such things that DID include an “explanation.” Maybe I’m weird.)

I’m not criticizing my critics, though—I’m grateful for input. Just kinda rambling here and pointing out that sometimes the comments or criticism I get confuse me. 🙂

Character doodle for Stupid Questions

I have this problem when I write first person . . . I tend not to know what my protagonist looks like until or unless someone else comments on it, unless it’s significant. So in order to figure out what people look like, sometimes I have to draw them.

In celebration of completing my book yesterday, I completed this doodle of the main characters. It came out pretty cute. And now I know what my protagonist looks like (though I already knew what the girl looked like since, you know, he likes her and he mentally comments on/observes her a lot).

They’re texting each other because the story is mostly about a long-distance relationship. 🙂

I might try drawing something in color sometime, but this was my first crack at drawing them and I like the way it looks in black and white.

Completed New Novel: Stupid Questions

Finished writing the novel version of Stupid Questions!

Genre: Science fiction romance

Length: 25 chapters/350 pages/~95,000 words.

Tag line: “How do you have a down-to-earth romance with a girl who can fly?”

Keywords: SCIENCE FICTION: speculative fiction, romance, ESP, telekinesis, modern, relationships.

Protagonist: Nick Harris.

POV: First person, past tense.

About:

Nick Harris, news station cameraman, gets the shock of a lifetime when a guest on his show nonchalantly demonstrates apparently superhuman abilities. Intrigued by the enigmatic Summer Astley, he finds himself stumbling into asking her out after the show, and though her telekinetic powers are amazing, he’s quite a lot more interested in who she is under the mask.

After a weird couple of dates, Summer and Nick begin a long-distance relationship and try to figure each other out, but Nick is still struggling with baggage from his last relationship and Summer has no social skills due to growing up in isolation. Summer also believes that Nick has an uncanny ability of his own and is borderline obsessed with making him explore the possibility, but Nick insists that his unusual perceptiveness is just an offshoot of his observational skills. As these two rather unique people try to figure out how to fit into each other’s lives, they find themselves answering as many questions as they ask.

Next up: Lots of editing! The following people have volunteered for the test audience:

Victor, Mommy, Jessie, Cara, Mike Lee, Jay, Kim, Corinne, Shelby, Becky, Clare, Ryan, Alasdair, Robert, Elise, Fred, Alicorn, David, Stas, Amanda, Reeny, and Sandy.  We’ll see how many actually read it.

 

New Novel: Stupid Questions

I decided it’s time to take my novella Stupid Questions and redevelop it into a novel.

There were some issues with my protagonist’s past and environment not really seeming fleshed out enough, and since it was a romance but I was trying to keep it short it seemed like everything in the whole story was just about a guy and a girl trying to get together. They didn’t think about or talk about much else.  So I’m going to fix that in the novel version and try to give it more complexity.

No rush on this because I’m also editing and fiddling with so many other things.

This is a story about a guy named Nick who tries to develop a romance with a girl named Summer who has superpowers.  Naturally.

“Stupid Questions”: Story Fallout

Yep, I’m gonna turn this one into a book.

Last week I finished my last short story and overall I think the biggest complaint from my readers who have finished it is that there is a certain flatness to the characters. Obviously because I know the “whole” characters they don’t seem flat to me, but it absolutely indisputable that they are WRITTEN in a flat way. I know exactly why this is, too.

In novels, I am used to having a whole book’s worth of space to do my usual navel-gazing. I was under the impression that people were getting sick of my navel-gazing and characters doing their internal sulking, pondering, and fantasizing. It goes double that you can’t do this too much in a short story. As a result, I just kinda didn’t give any undercurrent to these characters’ mental lives, leaving them represented largely by their actions in the name of having a low word count.

Having “flat” characters is a bit of a surprise, ’cause after all, I’m supposed to be Ms. Kickass Characters. But maybe if I were to take this and let my story spread out and relax, I’ll get more well-rounded characters.

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Completed New Short Story: “Stupid Questions”

Finished a new short story called “Stupid Questions.”  It’s actually not very short (surprise!)—more of a novella, I guess.  It weighed in at about 35,000 words.  Adult science fiction/romance.  Way too long to place anywhere, but too short to be a novel.

It’s about Nick, a cameraman and romantic at heart who gets a crush on an enigmatic girl named Summer who has superpowers.

The characters suffer from lack of well-roundedness, so maybe if I make it a novel instead it’ll be better.

I’ll do that one day.

New Short Story: Nicknamed “Summertime”

I couldn’t “hold it” anymore, so to speak, so yesterday when I got home I took a nap, got up, and started typing my new short story.  (I nicknamed it “Summertime” because the protagonist’s love interest is named Summer, but that’s not going to be its title.)

So far, approximately 5,700 words. As expected, it’s going to be a bit long. Probably comparable to “Wind” in length. Actually, it reminds me of “Wind” quite a lot. Maybe like “Wind” meets the Ivy stories.

And I don’t know WHAT it is about male main characters lately, but the last FOUR times I’ve written a short story, my protagonist was a guy.

I envision either two or three more parts, depending on whether the middle two parts are brief enough to squeeze into one. A lot depends on the characters. Not all writers write like this, but for me, I don’t really know quite what directions things will go in when I start writing, especially when all I do is throw two characters together and let them start talking.

Yesterday I had all these swirling ideas about the story that were bludgeoning my brain trying to get out. Most of them were just conversations and reactions between Nick—my protagonist—and his opposite, a girl named Summer. Nick is very easy to write. Summer is harder. I’m not sure about her yet. Her way of talking is so measured. I don’t know all the reasons why yet, but her diction is usually almost forced-sounding. Almost like it’s not really her talking. It makes me curious. Good thing I have Nick there to ask the right questions. (Or the wrong ones, maybe.)

Even though the first scene was the one I had thought about the LEAST, with most of my ideas belonging to scenes further into the story, it seems to have really calmed down now. It’s like the story was a live thing that wanted to make sure it irritated me enough to get itself written, and now that I’ve committed to doing so it’s decided to relax.

I don’t really have time to write this thing so I do want to get it over with as soon as possible.