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November 30 marked the two year birthday of Neutral Zone. It was on that day that I finished the first draft of the novel as part of the 2006 National Novel Writing Month. In July of this year, the third draft came to a close as I’d finally written the story I wanted to tell.

The past few months have been about editing, tightening, polishing and making sure that everything that’s in the manuscript has a purpose. I’m working as much as possible now on Neutral Zone because I want to submit it to the Random House’s Twenty-Sixth Annual Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel. It’s a lofty goal. It’s going to take a sizable amount of work to have the manuscript ready to go within the next month (it has to be postmarked on or before December 31). The Delacorte prize has high standards too: there’s been no prize awarded the past two years.

To borrow and modify a line from title of show: “Hartinger, Sanchez and Moore have done it before you and better than you.” Who you might ask? Brent Hartinger, Alex Sanchez and Perry Moore are responsible for some of my favorite YA books. Each of them are an inspiration for what I’m trying to do in Neutral Zone. I hope I can stand with that trio, and it’s a bit daunting trying to get there.

In the past two week’s I’ve started giving Neutral Zone to some people to read, and that, even more than the idea of submitting to competition, has the vampires raging in my head. (Vampires, for you non title of show folks, are things that fill you with thoughts of self consciousness, feelings of worthlessness and make you second guess everything you’re doing.) While it’s exciting to have the manuscript read by someone other than me, it’s really scary to await the reaction. I know the people reading it intend to provide constructive feedback. Still, it does get the butterflies stirring.

Five people have it: Will, of course, is a valued reader. My frequent writing partner and First Line co-creator David has already given some feedback on the first half. I tapped Roman to read the hockey parts to make sure I captured the game right… his girlfriend Kendall also picked it up, so I get a female point of view as well. Will down in North Carolina is also reading. I’ve read some of his stuff recently and he offered to give me some feedback on this.

Can it all come together in the next 30 days? I’m saying yes. If I fail at getting it into the mail, it will only be because I decide it isn’t ready yet and not from a lack of commitment or the stupid vampires talking me out of it.