America's Next Top Novelist.


Why has nobody thought of this before?


If there was just a way to make a writing competition both telegenic and twisted enough to attract sponsors and score decent ratings, nothing would stand in the way of exploiting the amazing fact that more people think they can write than think they can sing.


These days you don't have to know grammar from a Grammy to be a published author. Thanks to the internet, even the most average writer and casual researcher can boast an impressive body of work posted to his or her website or blog to be shared with a strangely appreciative world-wide audience.


Imagine thousands of wannabe authors lining up in places like Portland, Seattle and Boise, their chairs still warm at their favorite WiFi-equipped coffeehouses, waiting for their chance to show off their composing chops in front of expert judges chosen from among the best agents and editors and publishers. One by one the hopefuls would be escorted to a state of the art laptop where they'd be given ten or fifteen minutes to expound on a given topic, keyboard clacking away while friends and family members were interviewed on tape about the talent and tribulations of the fledgling Dan Browns or
John Grishams or J.K. Rowlings.


The judges would groan and giggle respectively as the finished work was read aloud by a smooth and smarmy host, his well modulated voice lingering over examples of mixed metaphors, stilted dialogue
 or incoherent commentary. The head judge -- let's call him
Simon Shooster -- would use a large red pen to mark up
the sample for the television viewers at home to see.


"Rubbish," he'd say, appropriately enough, crossing through another hackneyed phrase with a bold, bloody stroke.


Thousands of would-be wordsmiths, fresh from four straight years of 'winning' NaNoWriMo, would wait their turn to be taunted in front of a less-than-literate American audience. Prolific purveyors of erotic fanfiction and promiscuous bloggers would rub shoulders with over-educated English majors, ready to choke out convoluted compound sentences centering on cliched characters and to puke paragraphs full of dangling participles, derivative plots and purple prose.


Bad science fiction. Bad fantasy. Bad vampire stories.


One in every ten or 15 contestants would manage to compose something with enough clarity or creativity to impress the judges, who would look knowingly at one another as they listened to the carefully constructed composition, nodding their heads, maybe asking for another line or two of well-chosen words. Then Simon would cock an impressive eyebrow at the nervous novice and announce:


"Congratulations. You're going to New York City!"


The ultimate winner would be rewarded with an aggressive agent, a full-time editor and a guaranteed spot on Oprah's Book Club list.


Instant success. Move over Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken. (Oh, you already have.)


Next stop: Scribbling With the Stars.



(Hey, get your hand off my ass!)

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