The Write Stuff

Writing News for the Sunshine State & the Solar System (Vol. IX: 11), November 2001


Writers' Festival sets Dec. 1 contest deadline

for novels, Jan. 2 for poetry and stories

The Florida First Coast Writers� Festival contests are accepting entries for poetry, stories, and novels.

POETRY ($5 each entry)--The Festival has two poetry contests: the Douglas Freels Poetry Prize and the Robert Grimes "Good Earth" Poetry Prize. Poetry in the Freels category will focus on the traditional themes of poetry (love, rejection, death, etc.), while the "Good Earth" category will focus on poetry involving ecology, love of nature, etc.

In either poetry category, each entry should be no longer than 30 lines and each entry should be printed on one sheet of paper. One version should have the poet's name, address, phone number, and e-mail address (if available), while no identification should be on the other version. There is no limit on the number of poems that may be submitted, but the contest officials recommend that an entrant select his or her three or four best poems.

SHORT FICTION ($10 each entry)--Each short story should be no longer than 6,000 words. One copy should have the author's name, address, phone number, and any e-mail address; the other copy should only have the text and the title. Again, there is no limit to the number of stories that may be submitted, but the contest officials suggest each entrant submit his or her best entries.

NOVELS ($30 each entry)--Novel entries have no minimum or maximum length, and the writer may leave his or her name on the manuscript. (Why here and not with poems or short stories? Simple, a high percentage of entries will come from outside Northeast Florida. Judges are able to read the works objectively. If one judge knows an entry, it is easy enough to switch that manuscript over to another judge. Besides, the author doesn't need to waste time blotting out his or her name on 400 pages.) The contest wants the entire manuscript.

POSTAGE & RETURN/NON-RETURN OF MANUSCRIPTS: Entries in the poetry and short fiction contests will NOT be returned, so entrants should not submit their only copies. Adequate first-class postage should be included for novels so that these may be returned.

ENTRY FEE CHECKS & MAILING ADDRESS: Checks or money orders for entry fees should be made out to WRITERS and all entries should be mailed to Contests, FCCJ North Campus, Box 21, 4501 Capper Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32218.

PRIZES: In poetry, identical amounts will be given to the winners of the Douglas Freels and Robert Grimes prizes: first prize, a $110; second, $75; third, $60; in short fiction, first prize, $200; second, $100; third, $100; in novels, first prize, $500 combined prize from North Florida Writers and Writers' Festival; second, $200 from WF; third, $100, from WF.

In all categories, entries should be original and unpublished.

For more information, consult the Festival's homepage at

Rookie's name equals zilch


(EDITOR'S NOTE: Scott Nicholson, a resident of the Appalachians of North Carolina, sold his first novel, The Red Church through the slush pile. It will be released as a mass market paperback by Pinnacle Books in June 2002. He is sharing his experiences in hopes that other writers can learn from his triumphs and mistakes, and, of course, to generate interest in the book. Scott's rule number one: build your audience one reader at a time.)

Being a first-time novelist at the lowest levels of the mass market means a couple of things: my name doesn't matter at all, yet, astoundingly, I'm getting a good bit of input on the book package. Apparently, this varies depending upon the publisher, and usually cover control (or at least some influence over it) doesn't come until after an author has proven successful.

Oh, and my novel will undergo no conceptual editing; that is, my editor will pretty much pass the book straight to the copy editor without asking for any significant structural changes. This is not necessarily because I told the story perfectly after the first four or five drafts, though I have done my best. It is more a function of the publisher having a slot to fill less than year from accepting the manuscript. And my experience is different from that of many other authors, because every book and every editorial relationship is unique.

The Red Church is a mass market paperback, a form which is automatically snubbed by literary types and "smart people" in general, those who wouldn't be caught dead holding a paperback with a lurid cover and foil lettering. As an additional incentive for high-brows to avoid my novel, it is being marketed under the "horror" label, which most people associate with Freddie Kreuger slice-and-dice with the occasional evil poltergeist thrown in.

People in the know know better, of course, because genres are nothing but artificial marketing categories invented by Twentieth-Century publishers. So my trick is to make the book look like a literary novel, a romance, a Southern book, and, if at all possible, like the latest Dean Koontz or Stephen King. I am not being deceptive. I feel the novel has something to offer readers with a broad range of tastes.

With that in mind, when my editor asked for cover ideas, I instantly thought that a striking image of a red church would be obvious and evocative. So I forwarded digital images of some old Appalachian churches and thought to myself, "This is great. I can't believe the publishers are so impressed by my work that they are asking my advice on the cover elements."

After I thought about it for a while, I realized the probable truth, which is far more humbling. The cover artist will not read The Red Church. Kensington, my publishing house, releases 500 titles a year. That's about three books every two days. I believe their graphics department consists of two people, and, like everyone else in the world, they are probably overworked and underpaid.

The publishing business at that scale has little room for artistic sacrifice. It is a pipeline, a flow chart, a steady system of product placement and replacement. For the first-time novelist, the name on the cover is the least important part of the product design, because the new author's name is practically meaningless on the racks of America's grocery stores.

Next time you're at a mass market rack, take a moment and study the array of the graphic elements. If the book title is most prominent, then the writer is in many cases replaceable. If the author's name is across the top in large letters, that author has transcended genres and become a "genre of one." Orson Scott Card doesn't write science fiction or fantasy anymore, he writes Card books. Sharyn McCrumb doesn't write Southern Appalachian literary fiction, she writes McCrumb's Ballad novels.

So that's a first-time novelist's goal, to continue writing and publishing as his or her name slowly grows larger on the cover of each subsequent book. You do that through hard work and hard thinking, and a little luck.

With The Red Church being a marketing slot book for the summer of 2002, I have to do things that separate it from the other books, and the other horror books, that it will be competing with. Guess what? My publisher is giving me the chore of seeking cover blurbs, which is a mixed blessing, since I am a nobody. But it also gives me some control, so I am not asking many horror writers for cover blurbs. I am asking Sharyn McCrumb, Orson Scott Card, Kevin J. Anderson, Stewart O'Nan, and Joe R. Lansdale for blurbs.

I may be asked to come up with some jacket copy for the rear cover, something to entice readers into purchasing the novel if they have gone so far as to pluck it off the rack for a closer look. I can write that with my eyes closed, because I rewrote my synopsis many times in the process of sending out query letters to agents and publishers. I can fit the hook into two paragraphs and several sets of hanging ellipses...

Meanwhile, a couple of specialty houses have expressed interest in doing a limited edition hardcover of the novel. Kensington has a basic formula for sublicensing that pretty much is out of the price range of most small presses. That is another downside of being a first-time novelist: Kensington will control all sublicensing print rights until 2009, which means I have absolutely no say in reprints, foreign editions, hardcover, etc., though I do get a slice of the small pie in my royalty checks.

In other words, if Kensington can hustle the book and market a bunch of the rights, they can turn a profit off of me before the book even hits the press. They can do two deals and make more than they are paying me for an advance. Perhaps not likely, since I am a nobody and The Red Church is America-oriented.

Though Kensington will control the print rights, we (my agent and I) still have electronic rights and movie rights. That means I can write the screenplay if I wish, or put out an e-book. I love having those kinds of options, and I have promised myself that all future book deals will not leave me feeling so helpless. Maybe for the next book, I will have to make some sacrifices, but by my third novel, I hope I am selling well enough that I can let my agent handle sublicensing. Of course, it is equally likely that I will have no third book, that my sales record will be so shameful that no publisher will touch me.

I am grateful that my publisher has faith in me, and I hear that Kensington's distribution is excellent. I believe we will be successful, but life, love, and publishing offer no guarantees. I never for a moment forget that I am one of the luckiest guys alive, and that I have a foot on the bottom rung of a very long ladder.

And that next rung is really not so far out of reach.©

(Scott Nicholson has published over thirty stories in seven countries. He won the grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest in 1999. His first story collection Thank You for the Flowers was published in 2000. Nicholson's website contains more articles and writer interviews.)

Quote from a Writer's Quill

Whenever you can shorten a sentence, do. And one always can. The best sentence? The shortest.

--Gustave Flaubert

The Wrong Stuff

Associated Press story on tobacco suit:

The tobacco industry lost an appeal yesterday on the ground rules for about 3,125 fight attendants seeking money for illnesses blamed on cigarette-smoking airline passengers.

W.S. SAYS: Coffee, tea, or a rabbit punch?

Writers born in November

1--Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636), Christopher Brennan (1870), Stephen Crane (1871), Sholem Asch (1880), and David Jones (1895); 2--Jules Amédée Barbey D'Aurevilly (1808); 3--Benvenuto Cellini (1500) and William Cullen Bryan (1794); 4--Conte Aleardo Aleardi (1812), Will Rogers (1879), and Ciro Alegría (1909);

5--John Brown (1715), James Beattie (1735), and Sam Shepard (1943); 6--Colley Cibber (1671) and James Jones (1921); 7--Mark Aleksandrovich Aldanov (1889), Albert Camus (1913); 8--Roger de Beauvoir (EugPne Auguste Roger de Bully) (1806), Margaret Mitchell (1900), and Kazuo Ishiguto (1954); 9--Mark Akenside (1721), James Schyler (1923), Anne Sexton (1928), Carl Sagan (1934), and Roger McGough (1937);

10--Jakob Cats (1577), José Hernádez (1834), Olaf Bull (1883), Vachel Lindsay (1879), and Karl Shapiro (1913); 11--Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821), Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836), Winston Churchill, of U.S. (1871), Howard Fast (1914), Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1922), and Carlos Fuentes (1928); 13--Robert Louis Stevenson (1850); 14--Robert Smythe Hichens (1864) and Jacob Abbott;

15--Marianne Moore (1915), J. G. Ballard (1930), and Ted Berrigan (1934); 16--Chinua Achebe (1930); 17--Sigurd Wesley Christiansen (1891), Shelby Foote (1916); 18--Wyndham Lewis (1882) and Margaret Atwood (1939); 19--Hjalmar Fredrik Elgerus Bergman (1883), Allen Tate (1899), and Sharon Olds (1942);

20--Thomas Chatterton (1752), le doyen Bridel (Philippe Sirice Bridel) (1757), Alistair Cook (1908), Nadine Gordimer (1923), and Don DeLillo (1936); 22--George Eliot (1819), André Gide (1869), Endre Ady (1877), Richard Emil Braun (1934); 24--Dale Carnegie (1888), William F. Buckley Jr. (1925), and Paul Blackburn (1926);

25--John Bigelow (1817); 26--William Cowper (1731), Mihály Babits (1883), EugPne Ionesco (1909), Charles Schultz (1922), and David Poyer (1949); 27--Friedrich Rudolf Ludwig Canitz (1654), Bankim Chandra Chatterji (1838), and James Agee (1909); 28--William Blake (1757), Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (1793), and Dawn Powell (1897); 29--Louisa May Alcott (1832), Ludwig Anzengruber (1839), C. S. Lewis (1898), Madeleine L'Engle (1918), Kahil Gibran (1922), and David Kirby (1944);

30--Jonathan Swift (1667), Mark Twain (1835), and Sir Winston Churchill (1874).

Toons by Joyce Davidson

For writing-related cartoons by Joyce Davidson, go to

"We aspire to create with words."

The Write Staff:

Bob Alexander , NFW President

2348 Herschel Ave. # 4

Jacksonville, FL 32204

(904. 387.3139)

JoAnn Harter Murray, Vice President


Margaret Gloag, Secretary


Howard Denson, Treasurer and Newsletter Editor


Carrol Wolverton and Doris Cass, Membership


PAST PRESIDENTS: Frank Green, Dan Murphy, Howard Denson, Nate Tolar, Joyce Davidson, Margaret Gloag, Richard Levine

NEWSLETTER ADDRESS: THE WRITE STUFF, FCCJ Kent, Box 109, 3939 Roosevelt Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32205.


Submissions to the newsletter should generally be about writing or publishing. If possible, please submit mss. on IBM diskette in either WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, or RFT format. We pay in copies to the contributors, with modest compensation for postage and copying. We pay $5 for pieces of 500-599 words; $6, 600+; $7, 700+ words. For cartoons or art (in our print-version), we pay $5 each. Writers and graphic artists retain all property rights in their work(s).

ISSN No. 1084-6875

Calendar of Events

Meetings of NFW are held on the second Saturday of the month at 2 p.m. on the Kent Campus of Florida Community College of Jacksonville. We generally meet in F128B (auditorium conference room).

Past speakers have included novelists Jack Hunter, David Poyer, Page Edwards, Ruth Coe Chambers, William Kerr, Tom Lashley; poets, William Slaughter, Mary Baron, Mary Sue Koeppel, Dorothy Fletcher, George Gilpatrick; columnists Vic Smith, Tom Ivines, and Robert Blade; editors Buford Brinlee and Nan Ramey; agent Debbie Fine; plus many others.

You may receive feedback from specific individuals by mailing the manuscript and return postage to the above address. Be sure to allow time for the manuscript to reach Kent.

You may also simply bring your ms. to any of these meetings:

Some dates to remember:

Sat., Nov. 10, 2 p.m., F128B, Kent Campus: NFW meeting.

Membership in the NFW

If you are writing a story or poem, you will need some expert feedback--the sort that you will receive at a meeting of the North Florida Writers.

You won't profit from automatic praise that a close friend or relative might give or jealous criticism from others who may feel threatened by your writing.

The NFW specializes in CONSTRUCTIVE feedback that will enable your manuscript to stand on its own two feet and demand that it be accepted by an editor or agent. Hence, you need the NFW.

The North Florida Writers is a writer's best friend because we help members to rid manuscripts of defects and to identify when a work is exciting and captivating.

Membership in the NFW brings several benefits: subscription to a monthly newsletter, $5-a-day discounts to the mid-May workshops of the Florida First Coast Writers' Festival, and free admission to North Campus' Fall Fest for Writers.

Membership is $15 for students, $25 for individuals, and $40 for a family. (Make out checks to WRITERS.)

Is your membership current? To find out, check the mailing label. If it says "0100" next to your last name, your membership expired in that month. You do not have to pay back dues to activate your members, so, if you last paid in 1992, don't worry about the months you were inactive.

Won*t you join today?

The following is an application. Mail your check to WRITERS, Box 109, FCCJ Kent, 3939 Roosevelt Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32205.


St. address_______________________________________

Apt. No. ________________________________________

City ________________State _____ Zip ______________

E-mail address: __________________________________

How Does Critiquing Work?

When you attend a meeting of the North Florida Writers, you eventually discover that NO ONE has ever died while his or her manuscript was being read and critiqued. You may be ready to face the ordeal yourself. . .or, reading this, you may wonder what exactly takes place during a critiquing.

First, you pitch your manuscript into a stack with others' works-in-progress. Then one of the NFW members hands out each piece to volunteer readers, taking care NOT to give you back your own manuscript to read.

Second, as the reading begins, each author is instructed NOT to identify himself or herself and especially NOT to explain or defend the work. The writer may never have heard the piece read aloud by another's voice, so the writer needs to focus on the sound of his or her sentences.

Third, at the finish of each selection, the NFW members try to offer constructive advice about how to make the story better. If a section was confusing or boring, that information may be helpful to the author.

The NFW will listen to 10 pages (double-spaced) of prose (usually a short story or a chapter).

UNHELPFUL FEEDBACK: As you listen to a manuscript, you may be tempted to say, "That's the stupidest piece I've ever heard." Alas, you aren't being CONSTRUCTIVE. If you simply do NOT like any, say, science-fiction, then you may not have anything helpful to say. That is all right. On the other hand, if you think that a piece was going along okay and then fell apart, you can help the author by saying, "I accepted the opening page, but, when the singing buffalo was introduced somewhere on page 2, the piece lost it for me."


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