ABNA contest pushes novelist to perfect the pitch

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The “Loop Dee Doo” trio’s travels include a stop at Bobby’s Fish Camp on the Tombigbee River.

Towboats can be a help or a hazard to the recreational boaters running the Heartland Rivers.

Towboats can be a help or a hazard to the recreational boaters running the Heartland Rivers.

“Toot Toot!” That’s my own horn sounding in the aftermath of the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest’s Second Round Selections earlier this month.

Here’s the pitch that moved my novel “Loop Dee Doo,” newly retitled “More Than You Think You Know,” into the next round of judging, one of 400 entrants in the General Fiction category:

Hailey’s lawyer hung himself just when she needed him most. On probation for drunken driving, guilty of other conduct unbecoming a 49-year-old, she’s at the mercy of her boorish husband Derek, whose abusive mood swings surpass the monkey meanderings of her own menopausal mind. Her son is a jailbird; her daughter has divorced her. A quartet of extramarital affairs offered brief escape; now she’s seeking the kind of release that doesn’t make her squirm with shame.

Hailey steals a sailboat, ditching Derek at a Lake Michigan marina. She abandons ship in Chicago, teaming up with fellow Hot Flash Club member Robin, the beer-guzzling, recently divorced captain of the motor yacht Blackout. Riding the Heartland Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico they meet Trish, a hairdresser and hooker ready to switch up the Sugar Daddies for a true-blue Prince Charming. Think “The Women’s Room” meets “The First Wives Club” meets “Cross Creek.” Think Holly Hunter, Jodie Foster and Elizabeth Berkley: Louise, Louise and Thelma.

The earthy women’s literary fiction novel “More Than You Think You Know” covers the trio’s six-week journey from Chicago to Mobile Bay. It is 84,000 words complete. In addition to examining a universal female desire to be taken away by something more permanent than Calgon, themes explored include lupus; alcoholism; menopause; incarceration; domestic abuse; rape; infidelity; celibacy and “gaslighting,” a psychological term coined from the 1944 Cukor film classic in which the husband tries to make the wife think she’s crazy.

“More Than You Think You Know ” has a nautical spine tracing the migratory path down the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, Tombigbee and Mobile rivers that Canada Geese, White Pelicans and hundreds of boaters known as “Snowbirds” and “Loopers” follow each autumn.

I’m grateful to Literary Agent Carly Watters for bringing the contest to my attention through her helpful blog (http://agentcarlywatters.wordpress.com/) and Twitter posts. Undisciplined on-line surfing robs us of valuable writing time, but it does pay to allocate a slot in your day for finding and following simpatico members of the worldwide writing community. I found Ms. Watters via Writer’s Digest (http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/new-literary-agent-alert-carly-watters-of-p-s-literary-agency), another useful site that I peruse weekly.

I encourage novelists who didn’t enter this year to learn more about the contest and be ready to go with a pitch, 5,000-word excerpt and full-length manuscript in January 2014. There is no entry fee. All you need is a free CreateSpace account (https://www.createspace.com/abna).

In addition to info from the official ABNA website and various discussion threads, you’ll find past winners, cover art and other material from current and past competitors on the ABNA Pinterest Board posted by my new writing friend Pamela Wright, a second-round selection in the science fiction category (http://pinterest.com/splotpublishing/amazon-breakthrough-novel-awards-abna/).

Here’s a toast to all the second-rounders: Clink! I hope that you’re savoring this moment rather than agonizing over the third-round outcome. I hope that like me you’ve already started on the next novel.

Update: Amazon & CreateSpace discontinued this competition as of 2015. I’m grateful I was able to use it as a sounding board during its existence, eventually netting a publishing contract with Beating Windward Press for “More Than You Think You Know.”

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