Monday, March 31, 2008

Dinner for one

Almost 10 years ago, I went through a phase where I started to learn some new recipes. I cook. While I'm not nearly as versed as some of my new food writer colleagues over at the paper, I do okay. I'm good with party food, can bake and know a couple of handy poor man recipes. Back in the days when I was living off a weekly grocery budget of $10, I learned and elaborated on a bunch of recipes involving rice. I also became a lot smarter at shopping, but that's a different story.

I cooked a lot and when I had money, I would cook for my friends. I'd bake and bring in cakes to the office. I bought an ice cream maker and started screwing with the basic recipes, then started screwing with the recipes out of the Ben and Jerry cookbook. Here's a hint: the cherry Garcia recipe? Add Cinnamon. It totally changes it and it rocks.

At the zenith of my cooking mania, which also coincided with a substantial period of personal darkness, a local furniture store hosted a cooking contest. It wasn't all that elaborate. You submitted a recipe to their judges, they looked at and decided if you made the cut. If they picked your recipe, you made a version of it, dropped it off at the store where it was graded by judges.

There were some cool prizes. Most of it was furniture, but as I lived in an apartment without much in the way of furniture, it all sounded pretty good. There was a little bit of money, but it wasn't really the point. Winning was about bragging rights.

You could submit up to five recipes. I put up my five best and bragged about what I was going to do with all the prizes. It wasn't just some idle boasting, I completely bought into it.

I was a little disappointed when they only called me back on one. Disappointed, but not distraught. The one they did pick for the contest was probably my best. It was a kind of Steak turnover. I was ready to accept my crown.

But... I didn't win. I didn't come close. My greasy knock- off of a family sized hot pocket served on a bright red plastic platter was no match for the hordes of grandmas out there who came with, I kid you not, meatloaf decorated with sparklers and Mexican dip ensembles served on a real Mexican hat.

I got out of the contest with a green apron -everyone got an apron. It was the dreaded "participation" ribbon. I was humbled, humiliated and I took a little ribbing for my ego. I've stayed out of most contests of any kind since.

The West Virginia Writers have a writing competition, open to members of the group or West Virginia residents. I was encouraged, to the point where an entry form was brought to my desk, and so... here we go again. I have this novel and there is a category for novels. You submit something like 7500 words and a one page synopsis. You give them some money, not a lot of money, and then... well, something.

So, I've sent all of that stuff in. I'm officially in the race.

A friend of mine who has submitted in the past, is involved with the Wv Writers and encouraged me to give it a shot didn't exactly say I had a fantastic shot at placing in the thing, only that the novel category might be on the sparse side. It also might be a little unfair, he thinks. You don't actually have to have a completed manuscript. All you need is the synopsis and the required excerpt.

So going in, it might be I'm competing on a small field of challengers, some of whom may have a cool idea and some great first pages, but who will never actually finish their book. That sort of sucks. Placing third among four wouldn't exactly be much of victory (I'm sure it isn't that bad. Surely, there are plenty of hopefuls out there).

And let's be perfectly honest about this... My book opens with a suicide attempt, a bunch of foul language and moves directly into some snarky comments about an old lady and her cats then introduces a weird love triangle involving a library employee, his conniving wife and a black, gay security guard.

While I can't say I've ever read any of the things that have won or placed in the competition, I've got an itching suspicion about what does well. Coming of age stories seem popular with local books and so do stories about coal mining. My book isn't even set in West Virginia.

These are not exactly encouraging considerations, but I'm doing it anyway. I don't need to win. I don't need to place. I'll be okay with the crappy apron this time around. It's enough just to get to play and when I fail, when I see my name on the "contributed" list, but not the winner's list, it will give me my first taste of what I'm in for after the book is polished as well as it's ever going to be. It's going to hurt.

But it doesn't matter.

However it turns out, before it's over and probably after, I'll dine on taking the chance for weeks. Even if it's only dinner for one, it's still a meal.


moneytastesbad said...

Best of luck to ya.

I would vote for a suicidal black, gay security guard involved in a love triangle with a librarian, an old lady and her cats who have a potty mouth over a story of a coal miner coming of age in West Virginia any day.

primalscreamx said...

The gay, former college football star turned mall security guard isn't really the main focus, but hell... maybe if this works, I should consider a spin-off. Those work. Look at the Jeffersons.