Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2011, Second Round: Finding Mulligan

Finding Mulligan 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.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2011, Entering: Finding Mulligan

I decided to enter Finding Mulligan in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition.  It gives me a chance to win a publishing contract with Penguin.  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, a first chapter, 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:

What if you fell in love with someone who might not exist?

Cassandra Howard leads a double life. A smart, sarcastic student by day, Cassie is a different person in her dreams—literally. In dreamland, her alternate reality, Cassie becomes a happy-go-lucky, charismatic girl named Dia, and she prefers to keep her two lives separate. That changes when she falls in love.

Mulligan is the perfect dream guy, and in her nighttime paradise Dia has him all to herself, but in Cassie’s world Mulligan only exists as a mysterious painting.  Feeling left out, Cassie begins to obsess over finding the waking-world version of Mulligan.  Soon enough, Cassie tracks down two people with connections to the painting, leaving her confused as to which one of them is the man she’s looking for.  What if her two selves are in love with two different guys?

Unwilling to live in the shadow of her other life forever, Cassie tries to remake her waking-world self in the image of Dia to attract the “real” Mulligan, but her actions blur the lines between dreamland and the waking world until neither girl is sure who she is.  For Cassie, finding Mulligan—and figuring out whether he exists—might require finding herself first.

Finding Mulligan combines magical realism, identity issues, and a complicated love triangle (or is it a pentagon?), plus a dash of psychological weirdness.  While the concept is unique enough to seem fresh, the struggle for self-definition will be comfortingly familiar to teens.  It will resonate with young adults who appreciate self-aware, realistic characters, and will be enjoyed by those who like their romance without a side of fluff.  Because of its gifted but fractured protagonist, early readers have compared Finding Mulligan to stories like Life of Pi, A Beautiful Mind, and Fight Club.

 

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.

Results of Querying: Finding Mulligan 2010

Finding Mulligan didn’t do any better in 2010.  I’ll be entering Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award competition with it in January, though.

Agents queried: 15.

  • Non-responses: 8
  • Query rejections: 7

One of the rejections said this:

I’m afraid it’s not striking a chord with me– dreams/dream worlds aren’t really something I’m drawn to. Further, your protag is a bit old for YA– college is a hard sell to publishers for a YA novel.

Yeah, I’ve heard that before.  Hm, maybe this will be a thing someday, though?  Who knows.

I also had a phone chat with an agent who seemed kind of interested in my other project, Bad Fairy, but not as much in this book.  We ended up talking on the phone kind of as a fluke.  One of my editing clients asked if I wanted to talk to his agent, and he had the guy call me.  It was a good chat and he said a lot of supportive (and reality-check-oriented) things, but I told him I haven’t started developing Bad Fairy into a trilogy yet, and he never responded to my partial manuscript for this book.  Oh well.

I’m going to leave off querying for this thing until I have some better ideas of what to do, but I’m going to try contests.

On Mary Sues

Mary Sue: a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional. [x]

“Wow, what a Sue!” is thrown around a lot these days in literary criticism.  It’s always insulting.  It always implies that the author did something wrong.  And if it’s applied to an amateur or developing work, it generally means the author needs to do something to reduce the “Sueishness” of the character.

The problem arises when any character who’s exceptional is labeled a Sue.  But wait, don’t we like reading about extraordinary people?  Having a character who’s truly unique in her world can’t be the mark of incompetence, can it?

Recently, in a completely unrelated-to-writing forum, I received a nice message from someone who appreciated one of my articles online, and she added this at the end of the message:

Also, your webcomic rocks. Actual plotlines and character development? Yes please.

After I thanked her, she said a little more about it, mentioning one of my characters in particular:

Too many stories—especially webcomics—are filled with cheap action and universe-spanning prophecies, but the whole thing is ruined by the one-dimensional cardboard cutouts the author pushes around. I’m especially in awe of how you manage to handle Ivy—with all her unbelievably Mary-Sueish characteristics—in a way that makes her realistic and likable. Seriously… how do you manage it?? I try to work with characters that have half her Sueishness and every time they wind up devouring half the story like some sparkly black hole.

So, I thought about it. Hey, how do I manage it?

The character she’s talking about is indeed in the red as far as Mary Sues go. I’ve been well aware of that for a long time. To give you some idea:

  • Author self-insert: When I named the character, she got my nickname, and I didn’t realize it was going to stick to both of us. . . .
  • Exotic and attractive appearance: She’s biracial (half Chinese, half white American mutt) but somehow ended up with features you don’t often see come out of that combination: blonde hair, huge tilty green eyes. Annnnd is randomly missing the pinkies on her hands and feet and has pointy ears for no reason.
  • Has unusual powers that aren’t commonplace for the character’s race: She has an unexplained and unprecedented gigantic case of telekinesis. Why? Got me!

At this point in the webcomic story, my character was a two-year-old, so she’s too young to really do most of the Sueish things people in her situation are prone to doing (e.g., angsting, being sought after by people who are drawn in by curiosity or attraction or greed, making some kind of Epic Plot based around superpowers, etc.). But she’s still got a LOT of the warning signs of Suedom, and yet the compliment above suggests I’ve managed to avoid the pitfalls somehow. Well, what’s up with that?

Here is my somewhat rambly and surely incomplete guide to making your characters not suck, even if they are, by some definitions, Sues:

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Finding Mulligan: Murder Your Darlings

I EDITED AND THE BOOK GOT SHORTER.

This is unprecedented! Hahaha.

Written in my journal December 30, 2007:

“I’m thinking a bunch of it might be cut later. This is a special case and all, but I’m not sure how many people want to watch my character go to the hair salon.”

Verdict from others:

Mom: The hair salon part is BORING. You need two paragraphs about that, tops.
Rob: There was one part I thought was really slow and unnecessary. It’s this part where she goes to the hair salon?

Uh . . . surprise. There are also two other scenes just like this (though neither of them are a whole chapter long, so this was public enemy #1), where I went on for a long time just dilly-dallying over a concept.

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