America's Next Top Writer

I just love America's Next Top Model--the crying, the backstabbing, the tension, and, oh, yeah, the photo shoots. I like Tyra Banks. She's offering herself as a mentor in a field in which she is a superstar.

I think there should be an America's Next Top Writer. Thousands of writers would compete for a $500,000 contract with a big name publisher, a profile in a magazine, and a free website. Big Name Writer would head up the panel, and writers like Sue Miller, Anne Tyler, Kate DiCamillo, Sara Zarr, Laura Lippman, John Sandford, Ann B. Martin and others would rotate on the panel.

Panel members cull the first thirty-six finalists from more than 45,000 queries. "You don't know how bad I want this," we cry into the camera upon hearing our names called. "I'll make my characters do anything." After this first cut, we're made to write outside of our comfort zone. The literary types have to write romance. Children's writers have to write gritty crime fiction. Crime writers have to write literary, and two of us must write in rhyme for adults. We lose sixteen writers as a result of this challenge; the rest of us are flown to the house in New York!

Cuts come rapidly after that. "Not enough personality," the panel tells us. "Too much chin. You keep using the chin." We're not allowed to smoke. Some of us don't smoke anyway, and we're secretly glad that our competitors are burdened with trying to quit while trying to win. We talk about each other, "She says she writes MG, but her characters are TOO OLD for MG!" And sometimes we help each other out, "You should use the cookbook to connect the past to the present." But we all hope to win.

During the flash contest, we're given twenty minutes--TWENTY MINUTES!--to come up with a flash fiction, five hundred words or less, that hooks the panel and makes them believe. Some of us don't make it; we've barely drafted a rough idea before time's up. Some of us have completed our assignment, and some of us feel like we've done it well. Then the panel reads what they say is the most brilliant piece produced during the session. As Big Name reads it, we look around at each other. Who wrote it? We shrug our shoulders. I don't know. Not me. Big Name reads the author's name. What? It's the writer we all hate! The pretentious one who insists upon wearing those black reading glasses she claims are prescription but one of us tried them on and they're just glass! No! This can't be happening! The world is so unfair.

Right before our meltdowns begin, Big Name peers over the top of the manuscript and stares at the writer in question. "Well-written," she says. "But you had an advantage over the other writers, didn't you?"

Our eyes lock onto the writer, her pale, unlipsticked mouth quivering. We turn like wolves on a wounded cow.

"No, no," she says, jerking her head erratically. "I . . . what are you talking about?"

"You wrote 'a lot'," Big Name says, "as one word."

The writer's mouth falls open. Her eye clear with realization. "No! NO!" She drops to the floor, a weeping heap of writer, and she's clutching the manuscript with which she'd hoped to win the 500k contract. With her tears blemishing the manuscript (she'll have to print a new one to send out now), she claws out a red pen from behind her ear. "I can edit it!" She sniffles. We like her now. We feel sorry for her. "Please!" she entreats them.

Big Name turns to the panel. With tight lips, panel member shake their heads. Big Name turns back. "Five hundred and one words. You failed to stay within word count." She lowers her voice to a dramatic timbre. "You must now return to the house, gather your belongings, and leave."

The writer doesn't get up, so grammar police grab her and escort her out. "I coulda been a contender!" she shouts as they push her forever out.

We snicker amongst ourselves. A cliche! Never use a cliche in front of the panel!

There's a feeling of relief at the house tonight. We've survived the first two challenges. Some are content enough with that and they flop onto their beds and fall asleep. The rest of the house is dark, illuminated only by laptop screens and the faces that reflect the light in front of them. We hear one writer ask another, "Is my participle dangling?"


LindaBudz said...

I was totally cool with the Writing in a Different Genre challenge. I stunk at the Flash Fiction challenge (thank goodness for Miss 501 Words!). I hope the next one is to take the same scene and write it from various points of view. That would be fun.

Good luck, Danette! I hope you ... er ... come in second!

Stephen Parrish said...

This is superb satire, Danette. Thanks for a big grin.

Danette Haworth said...

Thanks, Stephen!

Ha! Linda!

Serena Casey said...

Too funny! I can see it now.

Karen L. Alaniz said...

Sign me up. Sign me up! Wouldn't it be a hoot. I did hear somewhere that there is a reality show in the making that involves writers. Who knows if that's true, but if so, I'll be glued to my television. ~Karen

Catherine J Gardner / Phoenix Rendell said...

Fabulous Danette - If only, if only - and remember if Simon Cowell announces he's broadcasting such a show, you got there first...

Charles Gramlich said...

I know I was the first one kicked off but I think the panel was biased toward looks. Only the pretty writers got to go forward.

Ello said...

Very cute! now you know apparently there is a show like this in Canada. Bernita tole me about it! How crazy is that?

Brenda said... have really thought about this, haven't you? grin...

Look out comes Danette...!!!


Sheri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheri said...

That was BRILLIANT! I laughed out loud literally! It was so funny and played so well on the tried and true formula of reality TV. I want in! I want to be the runner-up in America's Next Top Writer! (You know the runner up always gets a better contract).

Charles, your comment made me laugh out loud too!

Love it! Just love it! May I link this posting on my site? I think my readers (all 9 of them - I am new to this blogging world) would really enjoy it.


Danette Haworth said...

Thanks, Serena!

Yes, that would be interesting, especially if it was a behind-the-scenes look at something.

Ah, Cate, but I'll have to give it to him because he's got that beautiful accent.

Some of us tried to form an alliance with you but they blocked us! (We secretly thought they were jealous of you.)

You're the second person to mention this! I must Google it later!

Right down to the outfit I will wear on the runway.

Thank you! Of course you can link this post!

Mary Witzl said...

This is just fantastic, Danette, and I can so easily picture it happening. I remember reading the winning pieces in a flash fiction contest and being incensed to find that one writer had used a lot of hyphenated words. After all, if I'D known you could have gotten away with compound words, I'd have used plenty of hyphens myself and very possibly had a shot at first prize! then I caught myself and I was horrified.

We've all got this in us. We'd like to think we're a cut above Top Models, but I'm betting there are plenty of us who would go at each other tooth and nail with our pens.

Too bad Norman Mailer and Barbara Cartland are no longer with us. I'm picturing the kind of Harlequin he could have come up with, and perhaps some kinky sci-fi from her.

Danette Haworth said...


courtney said...

This entry is all kinds of brilliant! There was a writing idol contest of sorts in Canada, done by the CBC. Wish I could dredge up the links right now, but when I saw it I was like, "Seriously? This is too awesome or too ridiculous for words. I'm thinking AWESOME, though."

Sheri said...

I'm not sure if this is the reality TV show in Canada you are all speaking of, but this is what I found when I researched it...
Here's a little blurb... "Indigo and Book Television teamed up to produce the eight-part program, which follows 12 contestants as they live and write for the annual writing contest in Edmonton’s largest Chapters over the Labour Day long weekend. Kim Clarke Champniss acts as host, while judges Todd Babiak, Minister Faust, and Jenn Farrell run the 12 contestants through challenges such as a spelling bee..."

Are you all familiar with Project Greenlight? It was a screenwriters contest on one of the cable channels. I thought it was good, but it is off the air now.


Sheri said...

OH I just stumbled upon a video clip of the promo for this reality TV's writing contest in Canada. I wish I could link it, but here is the address.

Rebecca said...

Ha! Very funny. I don't know if I could handle being on that show.

Congrats on the book deal! I'll be sure to read it.

♥♥♥ A- Licious ♥♥♥ said...

oh wow (found you via Sheri's blog) that was so funny and very well written - great visionary! I enjoyed!! I am a reality show junkie and that sounded pretty darn good to me....i'd def watch! :o)


Church Lady said...

And only a writer (I think) would find this as hysterical as it really is!! I agree with Stephen--this is superb!

Susan Sandmore said...

I soooo want to take part in this. I want to be the writer everyone else hates (alot). Hee.

Anonymous said...

Is there something like this? Googling "writing competition" comes up with the usual array of national stuff, but something like this could be fun.