Yesterday was the biggest cut, the deepest cut in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. The contest started with 5,000 novels and has been slowly been chopping away for about four months. Yesterday readers from Publisher’s Weekly cut from 250 down to 50 novels and my novel (Six Summers in Paris) made it. It will be another month before the final three are notified, but I will not be stressing too much about that because I am going to bask in the glory of making it this far.
My novel is a strange wandering journey through Paris in the years 1923-1929, and my writing journey has been equally as strange and wandering. It started when I opened an Atlantic Magazine about seven years ago and read an article about art fraud. Next to the article was a little picture of a baseball signed by Vermeer. I thought that was pretty funny. That little picture sparked an idea and a much longer journey than I ever intended on taking. My mind decided that an even more humorous picture would have been a baseball covered with signatures from the artists living in Paris after WWI.
I thought a funny short story about artists and writers playing baseball would be a good use of my time, little did I realize the size of the rabbit hole I was about to climb into. Sometimes the journey length is better off as a mystery, had I known how long it would take me to get to this point, I probably would have taken up Karate and earned three black belts by now. Instead I began reading books on Paris, and then more books, and then more books until I had become the foremost expert on reading books about Paris.
I then did the dumbest thing ever, I bought some blank calendars and began writing down all the events from 1923-1929 that took place in Paris. What I began to see was a novel, and I foolishly began typing one word at a time into my computer. It took me about six months to get a first draft done. My wife let me celebrate by using all of our air miles for a ticket to Paris. I spent about two weeks wandering around the city looking at locations and thinking.
Once I wasn’t completely embarrassed with my work (at this point I should have been embarrassed) I asked a friend (Barb Batchelor) to read through the novel for me. Barb was kind, supportive and helpful with her advice. I am certain that she really didn’t enjoy reading through it as much as she said she had, but that’s why she is a friend.
I then took a class at the Port Townsend Writer’s Conference with Peter Orner. Peter really helped me make another step forward with my manuscript. I did another draft, had more people read the book (Barb, Wayne, Shawn, Eve, Peter, Rob and Joe) and then took their comments into another rewrite. By this time I was feeling better about my novel, but when you write it is hard to really know what will happen next.
This past summer I went to the Writer’s Conference again and took a class with Pam Houston. She was great and if you haven’t read her latest novel you should: Contents May Have Shifted. Pam was the perfect teacher: critical, funny, insightful and direct. I did another semi-edit and then Brian Berg read through my book and gave me one last idea.
The novel, as it stands now, is drastically different and better than the one that Barb had to slog through and pretend to like. So when I made the cut yesterday I was pretty happy, but I know it has been a team effort and I still have a distance to go.
Writing is a wondrous thing. I sit here at my desk plunking away at my keyboard and those words drift out into the world to be read by others, people I know and don’t know. It is a strange tradition that we humans have created. What I really would like though, is to someday walk into a bookstore and see my novel on a shelf, now that would be super cool.
May 24th or 26th is the final cut.