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AWARD PUTS WRITER ON CLOUD 9 - BRIEFLY

Millions of Americans imagine they have a book inside them that they'll get around to writing someday. Personally, I have an adventure novel running around inside my head that's dying to get out.

So I went to the Southwest Writer's Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico with 650 other hopeful writers, hoping to learn a thing or two about how to get a book published.I met a woman named Rebecca from Albuquerque who won an honorable mention in the science fiction/fantasy novel category of the organization's contest. She was on cloud nine when she told me about winning and could hardly contain her excitement. She'd been writing for five or six years on her book, and she could scarcely believe her good fortune at having placed in the contest.

Her excitement was short-lived.

As luck would have it, I was with her when she met the senior editor from Del Rey Books who judged her entry. Rebecca introduced herself and told the editor the name of her entry.

The editor winced. "Oh, that book," she said, "I hate the character's name. I can't believe you put it in the title. It's terrible."

Rebecca's smile was beginning to wane, but she hung in there. I mean, it's not every day you win an honorable mention in a renowned writing contest. Things couldn't be that bad.

"Your book was totally unremarkable," the editor continued, and at that point, Rebecca began to look ill. In a moment of compassion, the editor recanted. "But that's not bad," she said. "Sometimes it's good to be unremarkable."

But she wasn't finished. "You also might try to resist drawing so much attention to the mineral wealth in your story," she said. "I mean, you could say `dark green surface' or something instead of screaming `Emerald!' every time you describe the setting."

Rebecca was looking a little green herself, so the editor added diplomatically, "But you have a great sense of color. I mean, look at what you're wearing. I would never put those colors together."

Rebecca looked in dismay at her peach-colored suit with purple accessories. Somehow she managed not to cry.

With an air of dismissal, the editor handed Rebecca a critique sheet which we rushed off to read. Under REMARKS it read: "You are writing at (or almost at) a professional level, but I don't see this project as being particularly strong. Good luck."

I guess the most important lesson I learned from this is that if you want to get a book published, you'd better stick to wearing boring clothes.