Surrey Notes…

Trying to encapsulate the highlights, off the top of my head here:

SiWC Idol Workshop: Jack Whyte read the first pages of writer’s who were brave enough to put their work before the panel. (I was not – instead I had my own red pen and scribbled through most of my first chapter). Janet Reid, Rachel Vater, Cricket Freeman, Jenoyne Adams , Sorcha Fairbanks,Anica Mrose Rissi (editor) made up the judging panel.

Jack read very few entries past the first three sentences before the agents raised their hands, asking him to stop. Too much description, not enough action. Whether to have dialogue at the start received mixed reactions. A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was nixed after the first three sentences (too much description of the red paint on the gym floor). Two or three lucky writer’s did receive Ms. Reid’s business cards…I believe two were YA. The openings were spunky, with tight dialogue.

The Mystery of History: Gabaldon, Humphreys, Winspear, Perry and Whyte –
Good basics in not getting bogged down in research. Details and accuracy is important but the author is a storyteller. Storyteller first, historical details second. Several panelists commented on how they chose their particular time period for setting their stories…each had a passion for a particular era. Jack Whyte had a particularly compelling story about researching the name “Excalibur.” Humphreys — working out at the gym and making a correlation between his neck and Anne Boleyn’s. 🙂

How to Survive Writing Historical Fiction with Andrea MacPherson: Another good workshop with the same message – storytelling is first, historical details second. MacPherson discussed good resources (archivists!) and primary source documents to use. Make sure you understand and portray all the details of the time period (lighting, clothing, customs, political-religious issues of the day, etc.)

Writing Extremely Weird Non-fiction for Kids – Sarah Lovett: A fun workshop brainstorming extremely weird ideas for non-fiction…do your research to make sure the topic hasn’t been covered. Or if it has, what is a new angle or new twist you could do?

Fear In Fiction – Donald Maass: This is a workshop I needed. How to make your bad guy three dimensional. How to make him/her/it believable – even though in reality the villain is doing unbelievable things.

Think about his actions — in reality, he would be stopped (Maass used the “nuclear bomb in a suitcase example). The military would stop him, TSA would stop him, satellites that monitor nuclear materials would stop him…so HOW does your bad guy get around all of these obstacles?

Don’t make the bad guy “lurk” and just be bad (I’m guilty of this. Maithghean is a bad lurker). What are his motives? Can you get the reader to understand and even agree with his motives? For example, what is your villain’s daily routine, what kind of coffee does he drink, what does he put in his coffee, how does he treat the barista at Starbucks? What is his/her/it’s reason for doing what he does?

Surrey: What I Learned

Surrey was great! I wish I had gone years ago. Because then I would have known that I wasn’t ready to be sending stuff out – not yet. However, according to the agents there, about half the people who query them are also not ready.

That said, I had a great blue pencil session and attending wonderful, eye-opening, lightbulb-over-the-head moment workshops. Will probably post bits and pieces here, as I digest the information over the next several days.

In the meantime, I have a lot of work to do!

Pick Up Lines

Really, it’s called a pitch. A sentence or two that summarizes 100,00 words. But I think of it as a pick up line for the book. You have 15 minutes to impress an agent, so make it short and catchy!

Check out the sidebar over there for the novel summary…any suggestions?

Premise, Plot and Theme

One of my favorite agent blogs recently posted about plot…how to discern plot from theme from a hook.

I broke out into a cold sweat as I read, memories of AP English returning to haunt me. My mind froze. I was one of those kids who said, “Why can’t we read the story [or poem] for enjoyment? Why do we have to analyze every single detail?” Basically, I just wanted to sit in the back row and read, uninterrupted.

I gritted my teeth at the kids in the front row (you know who you are, Mrs. Blauvelt’s class of ’89) who raised their hands – ooh! ooh! pick me! pick me! I know exactly what Dylan Thomas meant when he wrote In the White Giant’s Thigh. Ooh! Ooh! Pick me! Pick me! I know the answer to symbolism in Tess of the D’Ubervilles.

In the back row, I had finished reading the whole book. Yeah, ok. I needed a little attitude adjustment.

Of course, my novels have a plot. I wasn’t completely zoned out in English class. Beginning, middle, end. Conflict. Rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. They also have characters — strong ones, I might add. So here it is. I will tell you the plot – a short version. Right here. Right now.

As soon as I find a way to write it in a few sentences or less.

Fiery Arrow:

Premise (needs serious work):

Brigid, a gifted druid, must defend Ireland aginst the new Christian religion while facing her past, and her love, for the Christian leader, Patricius.

Plot (short version):

Brigid, a goddess in a past life, reincarnates to become a gifted druid who must fight the new religion of Christianity so the ancient gods of Ireland can survive. Through both lives, she has been in love with Patricius, believing he is the one who will help her save the old gods of Ireland. She struggles to keep her past life and love for Patricius a secret from Maithghean, an evil arch-druid who wants to control her powers.

Themes:
Survival, Love, Social Class

Eh. I should have paid more attention in English class. Is anyone grading this?

Put It Away

Writers, agents and editors frequently advise new writers to put their supposed completed manuscript away for several weeks or even months. Don’t look at it. Don’t touch it. Do something else. Write a new book. Bake cookies. Create a garden.

I thought I had taken that advice. I could put one manuscript down for a few days and work on the other. I’d alternate back and forth. Post a few chapters on the critique site…then let it go.

No, no, no,no.

For various reasons (well, really one major reason) I did not look at either manuscript for six full months. Did not look. Did not touch. Did not post for my critiquers. Six months.

A few weeks ago, I dug them up. Like an archaeologist, I evaluated the context of my computer, my jump drive, and thought “I wonder where those manuscripts could be?” Carefully, I unearthed each section, each folder and file.

Dusty files came to light. I opened each one, slowly, full of trepedation…and breathed a sigh of – what? I actually SENT this first chapter out in a query six months ago??!! Typos had reproduced during their time in hiding. Chapters jumbled themselves up again.

I sat back, shocked that I had once believed these manuscripts were polished, a little embarrassed that I might meet one of these agents at a future conference. Please, please let them forget my name.

I skimmed through the first chapter again. Not bad. Actually pretty good. Typos existed…but the plot, storyline and characters carried me away and I forgot that I was reading my own work.
I sighed in relief. It is time to polish.

For how long did you put your work away?

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