Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The international Three-Day Novel Contest

John McFetridge

About ten years ago I was working on various movie sets in Toronto, usually in the ‘locations department’ which means getting there before anyone else and prepping things – putting out garbage cans, setting up signs to direct people to ‘extras holding’ – and then staying after everyone else has gone and taking down all the signs, emptying the garbage cans and trying to get everything back to the same condition it was before the crew arrived.

I was writing screenplays at the time, how cliche is that? I was also trying to write short stories but mostly I was quitting writing. I quit writing the way people give up smoking, I’d stop for a while and tell everyone I’d stopped and be a pain in the ass and then I’d start up again. Like a lot of people who quit smoking I was very successful at quitting writing – I did it many, many times.

This time when I quit I was about halfway through a short story that was set on a movie set. I told people I was quitting writing and one of the other crew members, Scott Albert, (he was either a driver or a PA at the time) asked to see my short story in progress.

Then Scott had an idea. There’s this thing called The International Three-Day Novel Competition every Labour Day weekend and he asked if I’d be interested in entering. I said yes, thinking it would be my three-day binge to say farewell to writing.

The rules say novels can be prepped before Labour Day (it’s really an honour system) so Scott and I made up a movie shoot, Life and Death in Little Italy, and scheduled it like a real movie, named the director and the movie stars and put in the ‘big events’ like the day the director gets fired, the day the movie star doesn’t show up and so on, and then over the Labour Day week-end we each wrote short stories about “below the line” crew members working on the movie. (a movie’s budget is divided into “above the line” expenses which are producers, director and movie stars and “below the line” expenses which are equipment rental, studios, locations and the rest of the crew.)

We called the book Below the Line, wrote it in the three days and submitted it to the contest.

We didn’t win, but we did have a first draft which is really the point of the contest. So then we followed the usual route, we sent query letters and sample chapters to a bunch of publishers and a few wanted to see the whole manuscript and then one, Signature Editions, wanted to publish the book. It came out in 2003 and it may be available as an e-book by the end of this year. Right now it's only available as a paperback.

The experience of having that book published was so good, I decided to try and write another novel and that became Dirty Sweet. And I’ve only quit writing three or four times since then.

So, Labour Day is coming up in a few weeks and there’s still time to register for The International Three-Day Novel Contest.

I have been kicking around the idea of a "Three-Day Crime Novel Contest," and I wondwr if there would be any interest in that?


angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I think it would be a big success especially if it were international, maybe a novella. Three days is so short to knock out a novel.

Dana King said...

I rarely have good things to say about gimmick contests like Three Day Novel or NaNoWriMo, but if this one helped to create BELOW THE LINE, then I may have to reconsider. I read it last year and it was a LOT of fun. The scene leading up to and attending the hockey game was worth the price of the book all by itself.

pattinase (abbott) said...

If you decide on a Three-Day Crime Short Story contest, I might be able to pull that off.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, I think most of the winning novels have been pretty short. We could certainly have a contest for shorter-than-novel length, stuff like Tom Piccerilli's, "Every Shallow Cut," which I think he calls 'noirellas.' And which is very good, by the way.

Hey, if it was published as an e-book it could include a winner and a couple of runner-ups.

And thanks, Dana, not many people have read that book. I did get news yhis week that it may be out as an e-book by the end of the year.