Friday, September 18, 2009

Bellwether and Novel Ideas


The Bellwether Prize committee will begin accepting submissions on September 1, 2009, through the deadline of October 2, 2009, for next year’s award. The literary prize, established by Barbara Kingsolver, has been awarded in even-numbered years for the past decade.

“My hope is that the Bellwether prize will encourage serious writers, who are early in their careers, to use the craft as a tool for examining the social and political realities of our time,” said Kingsolver, whose thirteen books of fiction and non-fiction include The Bean Trees,The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable and Miracle. “I also hope it may offer incentive to publishers to increase their commitment to politically engaged literature.”

The Bellwether Prize supports the writing and publication of serious literary fiction addressing issues of social justice in culture and human relations, underlining the political power of literature. No other North American endowment or prize specifically supports a literature of social responsibility.

“Fiction has a unique capacity to bring difficult issues to a broad readership on a personal level, creating empathy in a reader’s heart for the theoretical stranger,” said Kingsolver. “Artists can be the bellwethers of social and moral progress. Think of Nadine Gordimer writing about race and power in South Africa, or Pablo Neruda writing with sarcastic, visionary wit about corporate imperialism in Chile. So many important novelists have written beautifully constructed social critique. We have that tradition in the U.S. as well, with John Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath or Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. These are literary novels that argue eloquently for greater consciousness of human justice, and are also spectacular, enduring literature. But in the modern era, writers with this kind of vision do not find a lot of advocacy in our publishing industry.”

In addition to the $25,000 cash prize, the award guarantees publication of the winning novel by a major U.S. publishing house. The participating publisher maintains an editorial position on the panel of judges and, after the winner is chosen, will enter with the author into a separate contract for royalty payment and publication rights. The publishing partner for the 2009-2010 prize cycle is Algonquin.

The values of the Bellwether Prize are evident in the published first novels of five previous winners:
Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth by Donna Gershten; The Book of Dead Birds by Gayle Brandeis; Correcting the Landscape by Marjorie Kowalski Kole; Mudbound by Hillary Jordan; and most recently, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. All have generated warm reader response and have launched their authors’ careers. Jordan’s novel Mudbound, the 2006 prizewinner, has 100,000 copies in print and was called by Publisher’s Weekly a “superbly rendered depiction of the fury and terror wrought by racism.” Algonquin editor Kathy Pories said, “Being able to publish a manuscript that was a prize winner, before publication, gave us a leg-up. The Bellwether Prize really encouraged booksellers, reviewers and readers to pay attention to Mudbound. And we’ve seen the significance of the prize in the amount of buzz that is already happening with the next Bellwether winner.” Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky will be published by Algonquin this February.

“We always hope for a winner that perfectly embodies the standards and hopes of this endeavor, The Bellwether Novel: strong writing, a compelling voice, and clear moral vision,” said Kingsolver. “And with each cycle of the prize, we find that. By putting out a call to writers of conscience, we hope to find some of the best new authors of our time, waiting to break the surface.”

Writers submitting original, unpublished novel manuscripts for consideration must have some previous publication record (articles or short fiction) but not a book that has been widely reviewed or sold more than 10,000 copies, as the prize is intended to help launch writers at the beginning of their careers. For an application form, visit or send a SASE to National Writers Union, Bellwether Prize, 113 University Place, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10003-4527.

Manuscripts are judged blind (without authors’ names) by a panel of distinguished literary authors whose work exemplifies the category of fiction endorsed by the Bellwether Prize. Previous judges include Russell Banks, Maxine Hong Kinston, Ursula K. Le Guin, Barry Lopez, Toni Morrison, Grace Paley, Anna Quindlen, Ernest Hebert and John Nichols. The identity of judges for each prize cycle remain confidential until after the winner is announced.

The winning manuscript and author will be announced May 2010.

Katharine Walton Represents
Katharine Walton 919.563.1353 or 919.357.4400

Continuing with writing about writing (see Myths, Fairy Tales and Other Lies About Writing in an earlier Bloga post), here are some suggestions for books whose time has come. Aspiring writers take note – these ideas are begging for development. Go for it – and you are welcome.

The Last Chicano
Josh "Pepe" Ortega, heir to the fabulous canned green chile fortune, yearns for the truth about his heritage and culture, and wonders why he is the only one in the family with blue eyes. He takes a job at Taco Bell, is punched silly by Chuy, the Mexican dishwasher, who eventually becomes his best friend and drug connection, and falls in love with the beautiful but dangerous Chelo - sweetheart of La Charreada de San Eligio. Will Josh uncover the truth about his origins, or slip away forgotten by history? Will he find happiness with voluptuous Chelo, or another güey riding his horse? Is Josh the last Chicano?

Star Trick
Diana "The Huntress" Olvera, tough-as-nails detective first-class in the Interplanetary Cosmic Enforcers (ICE), is dispatched to Kukui, a planet long thought to be dead and deserted, because strange sounds are radiating from the cloud-shrouded orb eternally in the shadow of Mars. The distracting and mind-boggling noise interferes with deep space commerce and tourism. Olvera's partner, Madison "Mad Dog" Obama, the only space cop who can trace his family back to the legendary Barack Obama, founder of ICE (and first black president of the old U.S., a fact often overlooked), warns that it can't be good that Chalino Sánchez's Reto a la Muerte is bouncing off Kukui. "It's got to mean something," Mad Dog screams as the two intrepid astrodicks blast off for their meeting with destiny, death, and desebrada on the "Illegal Planet of the Illegals."

Blood and Sangre
This epic saga tells the multi-generational story of the Montana family: heirs to the throne of Moctezuma, witnesses to every important event in the history of Mexico and the Southwest U.S. from the Conquest to the Alamo to the Zoot Suit Riots to Cheech and Chong. The final chapters deal with Chico Montana, just an average 16-year-old, bicultural, bilingual, honor student, hospital volunteer, high-school football hero trying to survive in tough recessionary times when a guy can't even afford to take a date to Shorty's kegger. Did I mention that the Montanas are a family of chupacabras and that Chico doesn't realize the full magnitude of his goat-sucking powers?

Sweet Bitter River of My Youth
Clarissa wanders lost in the desert until Francisco saves her by giving her water he cut from a cactus. Thus begins a love story for the ages -- the young poet worships the famous bullfighter from afar, yet she is always there to patch his wounds from the latest savage bull; to caress his feverish brow as he recovers from another bout of malaria (contracted in a doomed trek through the Yucatan jungle in search of the mythical Golden Tortilla); to listen to his torment as another Hollywood starlet or Vogue model breaks his heart. Until the day that Tony, Golden Gloves boxer and lead singer for Ricky and his Retro Rockers, arrives on the scene - has the bullfighter finally met the toro that will stop him cold? Will the poet pick a midnight ride on Francisco's jet to Las Vegas and the fabulous MGM Grand, or one more wedding dance where Tony will melt her heart as he croons "Daddy's Home" to a rockabilly beat? The answer is in her tear-stained haiku entitled "What a Choice" -- reprinted in full in the last chapter.

Beisbol Been Good To Me
Based on a true story, Beisbol Been Good To Me reveals the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Emmanuel "Manny" Mascarenas, the first cross-dressing professional baseball player to "come out". Who can forget Manny's sensational grand slam in the All-Star game, followed by his triumphant appearance at the All Star banquet dressed in the latest Carolina Herrera creation - a sharp off-the-shoulder little black thing? Or his unassisted triple play in the World Series while wearing unauthorized culottes? For the first time in paperback, all the glory, grief, and glamor of the man we know and love as "the Bimbo of Baseball."

I think that's enough.



Viva Liz Vega! said...

Your ideas for books begging to be written are hilarious. That can be a book in itself. Pulgares arriba!

Judith Mercado said...

Yes, I'd read that these were ideas for novels to be written, but by the time I read the second one, I was convinced I was reading about an existing book. You drew me in that effectively. Is there a business in creating ideas for a novel? If so, you're a natural.

Manuel Ramos said...

Thank you, Liz and Judith. As I wrote them, I found myself getting sucked into the ideas, blurbs, whatever these strange creatures are. Cracked me up a few times.