On an upcoming edition of my book talk show, Just Readi It, author Karl Marlantes reveals the struggle he faced to publish the first of his two best-selling novels, Matterhorn. A young man newly returned from the Vietnam War, he was determined to recapture his experience as a soldier. The public needed to know about the war and, perhaps, he wanted to make sense of it to himself.
Marlantes wrote and rewrote his book over the years but no publisher would touch it. A collective amnesia had descended upon the country for a war that had ended in defeat and for the soldiers who’d given their lives, limbs, and sanity to fight it.
But, Marlantes refused to forget. He continued to submit his work despite the rising pyramid of rejections. Then, one day, his wife had an idea. Why not submit the manuscript to a contest?
A road not taken, the writer tossed his novel into an envelope and sent it off. Weeks later, word arrived. Matterhorn had won first prize–the launch pad from which it rose to become a national bestseller. Deep River, his second novel was also a success. Marlantes’ career was established. A third novel is on the horizon. If anyone cares, I consider him to be among the country’s best-living writers.
The author didn’t say whether or not he paid a fee to enter his contest. In the past, competitions with fees were considered bogus–an operation that raised its prize money from aspirants rather than sponsors. In a 2010 blog, I wrote against literary scams like those and provided a list of guardian angels who devoted themselves to exposing such sand traps. A few of those angels are still around.
One of my favorites is Victoria Strauss, a woman who sometimes is threatened and sued for her courageous dedication to artists. One of her recent communications exposes another contest worthy of suspicion.
Nonetheless, times change and contests with admission fees are as common as sand fleas on the beach. Distinguishing between legitimate operations and those intended to create mailing lists to sell to advertisers is difficult. Fake contests, fake people, fake money, fake news, and AI fake novelists cavort with actual ones when the line between the virtual and real world blurs. I begin to wonder if the difference matters.
A woman who knows her way around the writing world complimented me with a suggestion that I submit my memoir, Getting Lost to Find Home to two contests she thought I might have a chance of winning. The first suggestion I discounted as it required travel. I’m an 87-year-old woman who doesn’t fly. The second suggestion seemed doable, though it has a hefty fee. I’m thinking about it.
The positive attention critics have given my new release satisfies me at the moment. Last week, the long-standing book blog Silversolara put the memoir in its Spotlight.