The grant that wasn’t, then was

In her final post our September featured author, Ann Chandonnet discusses the opportunities that tempt and elude the writer.

One of many odd experiences in my writing life: The grant that wasn’t and then was.

Female writers resident in western North Carolina can apply to a small organization that will remain nameless for scholarships to writing workshops, scholarships in amounts up to $150. I wanted to attend “Foodways in the 18th Century: Bringing Virginia’s Bounty to the Royal Governor’s Table,” at Colonial Williamsburg, Nov. 8-10. The scholarships are available monthly, so I applied.

Subsequently I had a phone call from a friendly woman who said I had not been awarded the scholarship because the Foodways symposium was not a writers’ workshop. I didn’t want to argue with the woman, who said I should be sure to apply again —when I met their criteria.

A couple of weeks later I received a letter notifying me that I had been awarded the scholarship. Fine. So I accepted it by return mail.

Soon I received a check with a second letter saying they had contradicted themselves, but wanted to honor their notification letter.

As a nonfiction writer who often needs to know more about a topic before addressing it, I consider any workshop a “writers’ workshop” because I’m probably going to utilize it in my writing in some way. I specialized in Alaska/Pacific Northwest topics for three decades, but now I’m in North Carolina and a member of CHoW (Culinary Historians of Washington, D.C.), I figure I should know more about Atlantic food history.

When I told my husband about these turns of events, his reaction was, “Send the check back.”

“No, I’m not going to,” I said. “It’s only $150, and they should get their act together. The left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing.”

For the record, the cost of the Foodways conference is $295, and I’ll have to pay not only for gasoline to drive six hours to and from Colonial Williamsburg, but also for three nights in a hotel, meals and a pewter candlestick (or whatever souvenir strikes my fancy).

Because I’ve been turned down most of the time I’ve applied, I shy away from grant applications. “Proving” myself is not a favorite activity, reminding me of all those uncomfortable job interviews I’ve attended where it’s obvious the firm had no intention of hiring me.

But I do urge writers to keep up with grant opportunities. There are some good ones out there, some rare niches, and maybe you’ll get lucky. I’m fortunate to have a writer friend in Anchorage who emails me publication and grant opportunities when he comes across them. I pass them on to other writers when it’s relevant. 49 Writers circulates such things, too, and I think that’s great. There is too much minutia in the world that will distract us from writing if we allow it to.

A final note: Shortly after writing my second blog for 49 Writers, I read in The New York Times that James Patterson had signed a contract for 17 new novels. Certainly one person could not produce 17 works of fiction equal in quality to the first in the series. It sounds to me as if the novelist had re-invented himself as a workshop. It reminds me of Italian painters who had apprentices completing their canvases and murals, and of Michener and his band of merry researchers/writers.

Patterson, 62, had had 33 hard cover novels reach #1 on The New York Times bestseller list, and according to his website, one out of every 15 hard cover novels sold in the U.S. in 2007 was a Patterson book. The contract includes new entries in the Alex Cross series as well as several juvenile titles. Patterson, who acknowledges that he uses helpers, plans to complete this contract by the end of 2012.

This is certainly unfair competition for us singletons. And I think the quality of the sequels is likely to be unfair to readers who enjoyed the initial works in the series. But perhaps not. Perhaps Patterson and his co-authors can pull this off and continue to delight readers.

I’m not going to hold my breath. I’m just going to continue writing what I choose and hoping for the occasional compliment.

Unless one operates in Patterson’s rarified circles, the twists and turns of one’s career are hard to predict. If someone had told me five years ago that I’d write a book about the Civil War, I would have said he had a screw loose.

Cheers to you all.

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