I’m actually not British but rather a total colonial mutt. However, my roots on my mother’s side do go back that way, so perhaps that’s why I’m not screaming at the top of my lungs: “I’m the SFContario 3 Idol!” Okay, there, I said it.
I have a new respect for those daring people who perform for American Idol, willing to stand there and accept the verdict of caustic judges while attempting to look like they aren’t being humiliated for our entertainment. I at least had the benefit of anonymity, and even then I’ve never been so terrified in my life, and between working on high-steel bridges as a teenager and visiting war torn countries…hey, maybe I can brag, just not about my writing!
The judges for our competition sat at the front of an overcrowded and hot room, while a con organizer, in this case Debra Yeung, read the entries, each one only the first 250 words of an author’s manuscript. Since no one knew who the authors were, we contestants didn’t have to admit to being the recipients of ridicule as the judges panned one story after another. Debra simply began reading an entry and kept going until three of the five judges gonged the story, usually after a paragraph. The judges would then each explain why they didn’t like the story, what kicked them out, and if there was hope, they’d make a suggestion as to where it could be approved.
I had submitted the opening for Generation Apocalypse, curious to see how it would be received. But when Debra started reading, I became very aware of my heart beat. Amusingly, the judges had earlier warned writers not to use cliches like, “his heart beat faster,” to illustrate how a protagonist felt. But what can I say? I’m a marathoner (hey, this bragging is easy!) and I’m very aware of my heart beat, and this was a slow heavy thump. I swear I could feel it pushing against my rib cage in waves. I waited for that first judge to gong, which usually caused a cascade of gongs from the other judges.
But it didn’t come. The room went silent, and Debra read far past the 250 words allowed. I next expected them to gong because I had submitted too much, nearly 900 words to get to the end of the first prologue. Still Debra continued to read, and the silence in the room deepened. No one shifted, coughed or flipped through their program book. That’s when my hope rose, tempered with disbelief. Did I have them? I had them! Debra reached the end of the prologue and one of the judges said, “go on!” To which Debra replied, “that’s all there is.” The audience burst into spontaneous applause, and I joined in an effort to stay anonymous. Why? I was embarrassed at the praise. It must have been those diluted British genes making themselves known.
But one of the judges, Author Douglas Smith, asked if the writer would be willing to reveal themselves. Now I couldn’t stand there and pretend I wasn’t the guy. After a pregnant pause to gather my nerve, I put up one hand. The audience gave me another round of applause. I was overwhelmed.
But I’m also a lousy marketer. Doug did his best to save me from my humble self. He asked me if this was from a novel. Yes. He asked if it was available for sale, again, embarrassed at the attention, I just said, “yes, as an ebook.” I failed to tell the audience the title, or that it was on Amazon, or anything else that would be helpful if they wanted to buy the book. As soon as the contest was over I simply fled the room and rushed out to the street to call my wife.
I should have been shouting about this all week, but the British genes held me back. Oh well. Maybe I’ll get better at bragging. This blog post is a start. I’m an SFContario3 Idol! Will it make me rich and famous? No. But I cherish the memory of the five minutes of captivated quiet in that room.