The Third Novella: a horror story about writing a Horror story

Writing a book is a solitary sport. Publishing a book is anything but solitary. You need a lot of people to help you. Even when you are lucky to have diligent people helping you, everything takes time, which means you will wait through various periods for them to do their work before you can get the thing published.

About 18 months ago, while I was waiting for some beta readers to go through A Housefly in Autumn, I decided that starting a new book would be more productive of my time than twiddling my thumbs.

I envisioned a book consisting of three novellas of a genre very different from A Housefly in Autumn. These stories would be contemporary and not suited to young adults. They are my nightmares, the ground where parenthood meets horror.

Though not horror in a gory sense, they are dark enough to put them into a genre in which I have not written since high school. Back then, I was completing creative writing assignments, not contemplating an eventual published book.

I finished the first two novellas in accordance with the vague plan in my head. The third came third because it was less well-developed in my mind, so I let it marinate while I finished drafts of the other two. When the third’s turn came, I had sat on it long enough to know that it would not develop further until I started to write it.

As I waited to get the cover art for Housefly, I began the third novella. Little by little, it picked its way through the forest of words until it found its trail of plot. It began to come together, the story itself inspiring new elements to fill in its missing pieces.

The ending still floated on the mist, but as I got closer, I began to see outlines of solid shapes in that mist. I was fitting it all together in my mind.

Then I got some really fantastic artwork for Housefly. It was time to start laying out the actual book that had always just been a manuscript. The new project got pushed to the back burner. When you have three little boys at home and a full-time day job, the back burner is off.

The third novella stopped cold. What time I could muster was applied to getting Housefly through the next steps.

I don’t outline. This works for me, except when it doesn’t.

Waiting for help on the last proofing of Housefly, I went back to that third novella. After six months, I didn’t recall which i was undotted and which t uncrossed.

I’d have to go back and read it. I didn’t like to because I prefer to get through the first draft before I read, and I was afraid of what I would find in my first mature attempt to write horror, even watered-down horror.

So far, I’ve read through about one-third of it. It’s not as bad as I feared. Now if I can only re-figure out how it ends, I might actually start to like it. Horror doesn’t scare me so much anymore.

the third novella

The Third Novella. That could be the title of a horror story. Anyway, this third novella is waiting to be finished.

Nothing lasts forever – even when it’s sponsored by Amazon.com

I discovered today that the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) competition has been discontinued. This is disappointing, but judging from the comments in the ABNA forum, I’m not as heartbroken over it as some other would-be contestants are.

I have participated in ABNA since its inaugural year, which I believe was 2008. It was an annual event, allowing 10,000 novelists from around the world to compete for a healthy royalty advance and a publishing contract from Amazon, with all the marketing advantages that we 10,000 imagined that entailed. Based on the quiet death of the event, perhaps we were imagining too much.

I experienced varying degrees of success in my seven attempts at ABNA. I never won, but I never expected to. It was a great opportunity to get feedback from total strangers who were avid readers and reviewers. That was enough to make it worthwhile, especially since it was free to enter.

Sure, it was exciting to scan the list of entries moving ahead to the next round. It felt good to advance, and it was always deflating to be booted from the competition. Some took it hard, but most recovered fairly quickly. Just as for Cubs fans, there was always next year.

Except there is no next year now, because there’s no this year now. The announcement came just as people were expecting the new submission period to be announced. The unfortunate timing left many sorely disappointed.

Bad news coming

“What’s that? You’ve discontinued the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award? How delightful!”

My disappointment is mild by comparison. Over the years, the ABNA highs got less high and the lows not as low for me. It became more of a yearly routine than a special event. It was a nice routine, like a free lottery ticket, and I’d take it when offered, but I had my chances so I can’t complain.

I do feel for the folks who discovered ABNA in the last year or two – those who learned from the experiences of their rookie seasons and were ready to come back at it with renewed vigor – those who toiled to rework their manuscripts specifically for this chance, only to discover at the final hour that the chance was no more. I wish they had time to come to see ABNA as just one of many opportunities before it got yanked away from them.

Amazon has replaced ABNA with its Kindle Scout program. I haven’t read many details about Scout because it only accepts three genres, in which I have no manuscripts ready. From the little I have read, it seems like a social media popularity contest more than anything else. I admit, there is some value in knowing which authors can rock social media, but it doesn’t seem to account for the quality of their work very much.

Bad news here

“And you’ve replaced it with a program that relies on social media? I’m absolutely giddy over it!”

Scout may turn out to be a good program. I don’t know enough about it, and it hasn’t had time to prove itself. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I bid a fond farewell to ABNA. I won’t cry, but right around this time every year, I will miss you, if only just a little bit.