Monthly Archives: May 2012

Consider playing the odds

Have you written a book? A self-published one? Think you can pull together $100 and a submission by June 15? The Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards are still accepting submissions.

For those of you who do have a printed, bound copy of your book already, consider your submission options:

The Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards accept submissions in every category from General Fiction to Poetry. The grand prize is $3,000, an endorsement from Writer’s Digest, and plenty of other fancy stuff. I think the better part of the deal is that there will be nine first prize winners, each of whom will win $1,000 and promotion in Writer’s Digest. The odds of being one of nine is, well, nine times greater than the odds of being the one grand prize winner, and the winnings are almost the same.

But wait, there’s more. ALL entrants win something: Honorable mentions will be promoted on, and everyone else will earn a brief commentary from judges and a link on to the entrants’ websites. It might not sound like much, but it’s better than you’d get if you didn’t enter, right?

If you’re like me and won’t have your manuscript postmarked or bound or even completed by June 15, then consider the following contest instead:

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition accepts entrees in January and early February, closing its figurative doors on acceptance after reaching 5,000 entrants in each of two categories — General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction.

Entrees in the Breakthrough Awards can be self-published as long as the author retains full rights to his or her work. The maximum 5,000 entrees in each category will be whittled down to 1,000, then 250.

Third place winners (in the 1,000-entree round) win excerpt reviews from Amazon editors; second place winners (a maximum of 250 per category) win a Publisher’s Weekly review of their manuscript.

The Grand Prize is a publishing contract from Penguin Books and a trip to an awards shindig where the two First Prize winners also will celebrate in style.

So, if you think you can have your book ready for either of these contests, give it a shot. Visit or for more information.


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The man behind me in line at a Martins’ food store tonight backed up to allow me to pay for my purchases at the debit card machine. When I returned my card to my wallet, he commented on the number of credit cards I carry with me.

“You have a boyfriend?” he said, and at first I thought he was making an offer.

“Husband,” I said. He didn’t hear the “Even better” through his chortles.

“He must be treatin’ you pretty well,” the man said.

I was outside before I realized that he must not have considered me much of a bread-winner. My husband and I currently take home exactly the same amount in salary (after insurance) — and yes, he treats me well — but now I’m wondering, was it his $36.23 or mine that paid for that grocery store purchase? Considering it all filters into the same checking account, I’d say the contribution was 50/50.

In 2012 it might seem like an unnecessary devotion of time to cheer for moments of equality between men and women, but the man at Martins’ words only reiturated for me that a lot still hasn’t changed in the last thirty years.

I tend to go on movie kicks — watching the same movie over and over and over again if, for some reason, the plot/setting/characters resonate with me. Lately I’ve been binging on the 1987 film Baby Boom.

It’s not like I’ve never seen it before — I own it on VHS — but there’s something about it that sticks with you. I realized on the second consecutive viewing last week what it was doing — what J.C. Wyatt was doing — to me.

A titan in her corporate world of Manhattan, J.C. is emotionally ambushed when a distant cousin dies, willing her his baby.  J.C. keeps the baby instead of putting her up for adoption, a detriment to her romantic relationship and her career. At the movie’s midpoint, she finds herself with nothing tying her to the city anymore, so she and the baby move to Vermont.

In truth, by my fourth viewing in a week, I was fast forwarding through large portions of the movie, but I always stopped at one spot — the montage of apples rolling down conveyor belts, of shipping boxes closing over packed jars of baby apple sauce, of envelopes cascading through the sky over a map of the mid-western states like so many letters to Santa Claus, and of newspaper articles flashing one after another across the screen relaying news of J.C.’s success in building her baby food business — an even greater and more meaningful success than she has in the movie’s first few scenes, when her boss offers her a partnership in the marketing firm.

Every time I watch that scene, I can’t help it. I think of the book I’m working on — my book, which I finally started editing again this week after weeks of procrastinating and self-defeating thoughts. Baby Boom renewed my motivation. I know it’s just a movie; it’s a fictional plotline about a woman on an unrealistically fast track to success alongside a baby who doesn’t seem to age at all over the course of a year and a half, but I watch it and I think anything is possible.

I think we need stories like this that inspire change in ourselves — change for the better. Sure J.C. pursues her baby food business out of desperation to get back to New York and away from the 52-acre Vermont money pit she buys in a moment of weakness. Along the way she seems to lose everything — her significant other, her career, her money, even her pride. But then something amazing happens; she falls in love with her new life and fights to regain everything she lost — tenfold. She builds a business that’s all her own and which accommodates her life, not like the one that squeezed the life out of her.

The person J.C. is in the beginning isn’t so bad; but it does take an emotional punch in the gut and the ensuing recovery for J.C. to realize that she can have so much more than she’d thought. In the beginning, she strives for ideals that others pitch to her as “perfection.” In the end, she realizes her own perfection.

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Obstacles of course

It was at the office of my 401K manager the other day that I read the following quote on a day calendar: “Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off his goal” — E. Joseph Crossman.

For someone who complains an awful lot about how many obstacles in her life unnecessarily keep her from completing most if not all of her goals, I took those words to heart, pondering them as I drove the rest of my commute to work. In considering his words I imagined a person traveling by foot along a pathway lined with large boulders but who easily avoided each one by never allowing her focus to fall away from the large landmark ahead. What kind of superpower would this person have to have to avoid obstacles she could not see simply because she knew her destination?

When I used to drive an hour to work from where my husband and I lived before we found our house, I had a very real landmark like that, which every day announced the culmination of my journey — Signal Knob in Strasburg, Virginia, a mountain peak that I could see from forty miles away in Pine Grove on Route 7. Each day from my journey’s start, I could see where I needed to go.

The only problem is, once you descend that mountain from Loudoun County into Clarke, you can’t see Signal Knob anymore — not for another thirty miles. Keeping my eyes on the goal only works for so long; at some point, I need to watch the road I’m on — how else am I supposed to avoid those obstacles that would trip me up if I had my eyes on the sun or the stars or a GPS or whatever else might guide me toward Signal Knob without a road?

Crossman’s quote initially seemed like a straight-forward statement of positivity: No obstacle is too great to uproot a goal firmly planted in one’s determination to succeed. Compared to the great mountain of a goal in the distance, any puny obstacle seems even less of a problem, as long as the traveler maintains that objectivity.

But Crossman’s quote might have another meaning: How can you reach your goal if you don’t pay attention to how you’re going to get there? Traveling from Round Hill southeast to Signal Knob, I first have to go east on 7 before I can go south on I-81, but Crossman’s literal translation would have me take a straight-shot through the Shenandoah River, over fields, through the woods, over Route 50, through a state forest, across Route 66, and over more farmland to arrive at Signal Knob a day and a half later, weather beaten and ragged from a journey that would have been much more practical if I’d payed more attention to those obstacles he so easily dismisses as unnessary to one’s consideration.

And after all, if obstacles are so easily avoided by keeping one’s eyes on the goal, then can we really call them obstacles?

But, of course, Crossman was speaking metaphorically when he talked of obstacles. Challenges like day jobs and family obligations and personal tragedies and questions of one’s self-worth are more the sort of problems that distract people from their real goals in life, and these obstacles are not as grounded as a boulder on a mountain pathway or a river to be traversed. Having a definitive goal makes the sort of obstacles that crop up in life much easier to manage, and not having a goal makes combating life’s challenges the one and only goal. How many of us live day to day simply trying to make it through all of our difficulties, with no greater purpose, with no hope that tomorrow will be any different or better than today was?

So make that goal, if only so that you have something to shoot for each day. Seeing Signal Knob from the beginning of my drive each day was one of my favorite parts of that drive because I felt like it was my connection from start to finish. I had the end in sight; all I needed was to make it there. But a goal isn’t enough; having a goal won’t get you there because the goal isn’t always in sight. You still need a step-by-step plan, a route, a pickax for crashing through those obstacles that will crop up along your journey, so that when the goal isn’t so clear, you still can make it through. And anyway, how worthwhile would a journey be without obstacles?


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