Including mine, God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilanates of Montana.
I entered it, although it has already won the 2009 Spur from Western Writers of America, as an experiment. In the first ABNA contest, it didn’t make the first cut. I dropped the “prologue” on the advice of an experienced, published author, and made some more editing changes, none of which materially altered the writing or the story.
This year, with the contest open to self-published books, I thought, what the hell. Let’s see how my literary Western does outside its niche market area.
It made it into the top 50, or 1%.
Not bad, I think. OK, so it is not among the finalists, but I’m pretty surprised at how well it did. It received good reviews from the professional reviewers, and highly enthusiastic reviews from readers, as well as terrific comments from people who did not offer a review. Cool. The review from Publisher’s Weekly was not enthusiastic, in that the reviewer did not love the book, but it was good enough to post on my website, especially the conclusion.
PW said it’s “An excellent western with an intense moral gravity.”
One or two people knew it had already won the Spur, but no one spilled the beans.
Interestingly, when I read the excerpts from the three finalists, I was not impressed. Neither were some of the judges, or so their reviews said. One out of every three reviews of each of the finalists’ excerpts mentioned doing more or less editorial work to make the novels work. Here are samples of judges’ comments:
“no real buildup of complexity or tension, leaving us with a series of semi-connected incidents rather than an overall narrative arc.”
“there’s a tendency to tell rather than show. The dialogue often becomes stilted, and the characters feel two-dimensional, as if they’ve been created to embody various facets of the themes rather than as human beings in their own right.”
“the denouement feels slightly patchy and rushed, and there are a few clumsy moments when the author spells out the nuances of a situation or conversation rather than trusting his own skill to bring them across more subtly.”
“A novel that begins as a character-rich and probing (and genuinely compelling) … takes a razor-sharp turn away from this hot subject”
And this: ” The narrative is seriously lacking in discipline, with no detail spared, no regional ritual excised, no minute element of military-camp protocol truncated. … 150 pages too long. The love affair is preposterously drawn out, and crucial events are anticlimactically telegraphed rather than dramatized. … And yet I am intrigued by the potential here. … I do firmly believe that with a strong editorial hand (it) could be a hugely successful, even revelatory, novel.”
Why did they win, while 47 others did not? I don’t know. What do you think?