Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Picky Picky Picky Contest Guidelines

So this morning I mailed off my entry to a literary writing contest and I’m still reeling.

Contests like those sponsored by the Pretty Nervous Writing Aardvarks, or PNWA, are a valuable way for unpublished writers to get noticed, but I must say that the submission guidelines give a whole new meaning to the phrase “barriers to entry.”

First of all, I’m convinced that the guidelines are a product of years, if not decades, of pet peeves developed by literary writing contest judges, because let me tell you, they are not written with the writer in mind. And yes, I realize that these august personages are donating their time and expertise and any little thing we can do to smooth the path is in our own best interests.

And actually, I suspect that literary writing contests like convoluted rules and submission processes. First of all, they provide a wonderful excuse to reject obviously scrabbled-together, last-minute entries rife with spelling and grammar mistakes. (“Ah, I note this writer did NOT put his category number on the outside of the envelope! Out of the pool!”) Secondly, such guidelines weed out the mediocrities and through natural selection produce the most astute and sophisticated of contestants, those freaky brainiacs who never consider submitting a 5.24-inch by 8-inch SASE envelope when obviously only a 4.125-inch by 9.5-inch envelope is called for. Finally, such guidelines only increase the prestige of the writing contest, implying that due to the enormous volume of submissions, requiring tiny little boxes packed with information on each upper right-hand corner is the only way to preserve the honored judges’ sanity.

It is in this spirit that I offer my own Literary Writing Contest Guidelines. I myself am not sponsoring a literary writing contest (oh heavens no), but it’s fun to assemble those hoops. So I offer this template for any individuals or organizations eager to discover desperate, unpublished writers while garnering a little prestige for themselves, but unsure how to go about it.


CONGRATULATIONS for choosing to participate in the Picky Picky Picky Literary Writing Contest. We are thrilled to offer this opportunity for fabulous prizes to American authors. Unfortunately due to shipping schedules, we are unable to accept submissions from states that begin and end with the same letter, but we look forward to seeing our Ohioan friends’ work in next months Less Picky Picky Picky contest.

Participants may submit in one of 47 categories. Unproperly categorized submissions will be discarded. Once you choose your category number, put it on everything: your pages, your big envelope, your postcard, your SAS #10 envelope, your check, tattoo it on your forehead. Own your category.

Your submission must be 4 pages, no more, no less. Double-spaced. Writers submitting single-spaced copy will be shot. The Synopsis is page one. The outline is page two. The author’s bio is page three. The table of contents should take up at least half of page four. Of course that means only a half-page is left for your story, but for our expert judges, 125 words is more than enough.

All submissions must be received by Feb. 29, 2013. Submissions mailed after that date will only be accepted through the Space-Time Continuum and received on Feb. 29, 2013. We will not sign for submissions. REPEAT, we will not sign for submission. We are busy people and have no time to sign for submissions. Teach your envelopes to be self-reliant.

Questions? Comments? We do not welcome them. Sink or swim — that’s the literary world today.


Picky Picky Picky Literary Writing Contest Luminaries

Monday, February 18, 2013

We're going to Europe this summer

Yup, you read that right, we're going to Europe this summer, from June 4 to 18. I can't believe we're actually taking this trip, but it must be true, because I just paid the credit card bill for the plane tickets. I spent January checking travel sites, dithering between flight destinations (London, Paris or Prague?) and flipping out over the prices. Flying from California to Europe is not cheap.

Finally I sat down at the dining room table with my laptop, determined to make this work. I even briefly considered flying into Dublin —  its lack of heavy airport fees makes it just about the cheapest place to fly into Europe — and then taking RyanAir to London. If this was a longer trip, that's what I'd do. But time is precious on a two-week trip, so I found us a San Francisco-to-London, Paris-to-San Francisco trip, nonstops to and from London each way. Travelocity said there were no nonstops, but they lie, so I hopped over to British Airways, and there were the nonstops, big as life.

I plugged all our information in, goggled at the total price, hyperventilated just a tiny bit, and clicked "Book." Then, devastation. Our credit card rejected the transaction. Whaaat? I tried our Virgin card. Nada. So I called up our credit union, sitting on hold, trying not to doubt that my call was very important to them, constantly refreshing my British Airways page so they wouldn't erase all my information. "Oh yes," the credit union lady said. "We always do that with large amounts in France." Apparently if American families make a sudden cross-continent purchase, the terrorists win or something.

So I got the credit union on board with our plans, looked at the total, hyperventilated again (we hadn't put this much on the card since our cat's intestinal surgery) and clicked "Book." The site asked me to read some sort of LSD-laced squiggle, which I failed twice, but then reluctantly allowed me to book the flight. Yay! We now have flight reservations, and I even coughed up an extra $100 to reserve three seats on the SFO-Heathrow flight, so Ron, Benny and I have our own private row.  Ron was at work that day, but he knew our plans immediately, because Virgin called him up, asking if he knew his wife was plotting a European jaunt. Ron, to his credit, resisted the urge to cry, "What? She's leaving me for that French masseur, isn't she!" and merely said yes.

With flight reservations in hand, it was time to consider the passport situation. Ron's was fine, but mine expired in April and Benny didn't have one. So one Saturday Benny and I played tourist, taking the train down to the Financial District and stopping by a passport/visa/shipping/notary public kind of place to get his picture taken. Then we walked over to Union Square and ate hot dogs for lunch, watching the tourist double-deckers rumble by. It was a beautiful sunny day and I'd promised Benny a ride on one of those big red buses when we first came to San Francisco. Well, a mere five years later, today was the day!

Not a lot of tourists in February.
The tour bus lady let Benny on free and me half-price because we were local and we snuggled under blankets and rolled through the Tenderloin, Civic Center, Fisherman's Wharf and the Financial District before getting off at the Ferry Building. We found a bookstore and I bought a stack of European travel books and Benny bought a comic book version of "The Iliad," which had Achilles, Agamemnon and their pals all looking like superheroes of the "Fantastic Four."

TransAmerica Pyramid
Benny had Feb. 11 off (Lunar New Year Observance), but the government was still open, so Ron and Benny met me at work downtown so we could apply for Benny's passport. Apparently a couple hundred San Francisco parents had the same idea, so the place was mobbed and we spent a long two hours in line at the one post office that didn't require an appointment.

So now we've booked our flights and Benny's applied for his passport, so it's time for the next obsession: reserving accommodations in London and Paris. But we'll save that excitement for another time. So for now au revoir!