Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Win an Inn! (if you can handle the stress)

Today is all about research...Making sure you do it, that is.

Oh, I know you are all absolutely brimming with good intentions. Those of you who write historical fiction have stacks eight books high about the era in which you've planted your words. Those who create entirely fictional worlds have read thirteen articles about world-building this morning and created three playlists for each district in the fictional world beside. Anyone who writes non-fiction gets the entire hat-tip because people can fact-check you. People can get on your case over the smallest thing. You must be perfectly accurate. You are very well-intentioned and successful and probably a better man than I, Charlie Brown.

I know all this. I've done my research. Wasn't that the whole reason Scotch'd the Snakes has been at a stalemate? Because of (lack of time and) a glitch with the murder weapon? I want to be sure that when I write a mystery, it is accurate, plausible, and realistic. So if it can't be accurate, plausible, and realistic I sometimes pause until I have worked it out. But there's this thing about life. Sometimes you think you've learned a lesson and you really have not learned it at all. Or at least, the corner you've learned is just the start of the rind of a large slice of watermelon and you are a tiny ant at your first picnic. Research. And we thought they just meant for your books. Turns out there's a lot more than that to the subject such as...

not entering contests till you research the publication into which it will go.


not sending your manuscript to an agent till you are sure what kind of books they represent.


not trying to pitch your YA book to a publisher who deals almost exclusively in women's fiction.

There are about eight-hundred-and-five ways to make oneself look stupid. You don't want to look stupid. Believe me. It isn't such a big deal to the person to whom you look stupid. I mean, it's a fair guess that they have seen plenty of writers make the same mistake. But it really feels low to get a reaction from your action and think, "Wow. Could have totally avoided that collision if I'd googled the weight of worms in Paraguay." Life will hand you certain tight situations that were unavoidable. It happens and you can't sit there and beat yourself up over it. But there are plenty of cases where a little circumspection warns you in advance of awkward situations to come, allowing you to be on the offense or, gasp, discard former plans and humbly retreat.
I'm the type of writer who is extremely enthusiastic about new projects. One of the reasons I love writing flash-fiction is that it allows me to take an idea and give it a moment in the spot-light without any commitment. I promise I am not this way in relationships. I could not star on The Bachelorette or anything, tossing out this week's boyfriend for next week's because he bought me pink lilies and I like them better than yellow roses.
Back on topic: flash-fiction and contest pieces allow me a chance to win laurels over being unfocused. That's my confession. Entering contests is a lot of fun. There's usually minimal work involved, I am allowed to do my best with very few rules, and I never have to hear about it again if I do not win. A 1500-word essay is a completely different creature than a novel you've committed to and can't find an agent to take. So I enjoy entering contests. Prize money is always welcome. Publication too. Can't argue with that, and it looks good on the resume. But I'm learning. I really am slowly learning to take into account all the factors and not go sailing off entering contests I don't expect to win only to find myself left with the consequences if I do. There's a contest running around to win the 210 year old Center Lovell Inn in Maine. The only requirements are that you write a 200 word, grammatically-correct essay with the prompt, "Why I want to own and operate a country inn," and send your entry with a fee of $125 to the judges before they choose the winner on May 21st.

The inn in question...

Other conditions include keeping it painted white with green or black trim, and operating it as an inn for at least one year after inheritance. Oh, and there's a nice $20,000 thrown in there to help jump-start your ownership and all the antique furniture and equipment, plus twelve acres of land. On first glance, I'm all in. Why wouldn't I want to win an historical inn in Maine valued at $900,000? I mean, I'll never know if I'm good at innkeeping till I try, and honestly, I could actually see myself running a quaint bed and breakfast. So I was tempted to write my two-hundred word essay and see what came of the thing. My brain immediately took off with the millions of story ideas such a year would provide. And even if I didn't win, I could certainly spin a novella out of "If I had won," right? Well, yes.

Having been recently burned by a lack-of-research experience, I decided I would not enter this contest unless I'd really thought it through and done my research. I talked with friends, with my mother, and found an article written a year after the current owner (Janice Sage) won the inn in an essay contest herself. Janice, who is selling the inn after running it for twenty-two years, "inherited" the place from its former owner in a similar contest. The man had run it for nineteen years and was, quite frankly, entirely over it which is why he decided to host his contest. In this 1995 article, Janice (then, Cox) and her husband Richard had run the inn for a year...eighteen hours a day, seven days a week...and gotten a total of three days off that entire time. She's selling it now because she is sixty-eight years old and weary of 17-hour days. The inn itself is a prestigious place, featured in Martha Stewart, the Boston Globe to name but a few of its fans. Not only is it a charming B&B, but the Center Lovell Inn also operates as a restaurant open to the public. Oh. A restaurant. A gourmet restaurant. With a full and licensed bar and wine-cellar.

Janice Sage and her husband had worked in the restaurant business for years and years before winning the inn. Since her last name changed and poor Richard is no longer in the picture, he either died and she remarried, or they got a divorce. Either way, I bet stress did it. And they were trained for this business.

I'm a nanny for heaven's sake.

Though I'd love the inn to happen to me, I don't think the inn would be ready for me to happen to it. And honestly, the most tempting part of it for me is getting to live in the inn...which I could achieve with a heck of a lot less trouble by saving up and road-tripping to Maine at the end of the summer. The 1995 article also mentioned burst pipes, temperatures plummeting to forty-five below, and a 1400-pound moose visiting the front porch. I quickly came to the decision that I had better not enter this contest. I have the most beastly good luck winning things and it would be just like me to accidentally win an inn and have to scramble together a business brain I do not have and chump it up to Maine to fulfill a year-long promise to a retiring innkeeper. I mean, my MERCY. I want the adventure. I'm jealous of the person who will get the stories and the characters and the perfect plot-setting for literally anything to happen. But I'm not the right fit for the inn. The inn needs a person who can raise it to even higher heights, not waddle it through a year and hope it isn't sunk six months in.

The moral of the story is this: do your research. It is only fair to the people you are pestering, whether agent, publisher, contest-judges, or otherwise, that you are prepared to see it all the way through to the end. If you aren't aware of the thing for which you're applying, you'd sure as sugar better be ready to face the embarrassment of being stuck with an inn in Maine and no business sense. And really, who needs that kind of negativity in their life?


Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Well...I think I will add that inn to my imaginary list of places-to-visit-in-New-England. Visit as a guest, that is.

Honestly, the terms of that contest sound like the plot of a book—you know, the chick-lit novels with the pretty pastel covers that always seem to be set in Nantucket or Maine. I can definitely see you making something entertaining out of that plot, whether in real life or on the page. :) But I wholly agree about looking before you leap (or submit an entry). I sheered off from entering an awards contest once because, on the off-chance I actually won, I foresaw having to make a cross-country trip to accept the award which just wasn't practical at the time.

Anonymous said...

Keeping up that inn does seem like a ton of work! I think research is very important to do before entering a contest, but I think that there is such a thing as doing so much research that you talk yourself out of entering a contest. At some points you have to restrain yourself, and at other points you just have to take the leap and go for it.

Miss Dashwood said...

I think you're wise to not enter this particular contest... but I would love to read a novella about a nanny with no managing experience who DID win an inn and had to try and keep it afloat for a year or something. That would be a smashing good story.

Kassie said...

Just dropped my entry into the mail box at the corner. I almost didn't because the essay seemed too good. It just might happen for real. It's like buying a complicated $125 raffle ticket...and then wondering how you'll break it to your husband that you just won a money sucking pig that's 1100 miles away and fabulous!
Wish me luck...I think?