In-Home Residency

The residency for my MFA is this July, and this time it’s remote. Which is kind of weird, but what isn’t weird right now? So, no nervously flying over mountains for me this summer.

This residency is for my fourth and final semester. I do have to go to one more residency to attend to officially graduate, but this is the last semester I have to do work. And I’m lucky because all I have to do this semester is finalize my thesis critical piece and creative piece, both of which are already in late-stage drafts. This will be nice because I’m considering applying for a PhD, so I will have time to work on preparing that application this coming semester and easily be ready for the spring deadline. (It’s quite involved to apply.)

This residency I am teaching a workshop where I’m covering all of kidlit. I had to create a video lecture (75 slides, 38 minutes of video, many hours of actual work), pick several readings, create discussion questions, and come up with an idea for a live discussion. It turned into way more work than a normal residency workshop would be. But I did everything and it should go well. Fingers crossed. I’m hoping nobody is overly bored by it. I know some people aren’t big fans of writing for kids. The readings I gave them were all super-short except I added the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book (as a middle grade example) and the first chapter of The Hunger Games (as the YA example). The discussion we’re going to have will cover a bit on all the readings (I’m going to see what people say in the discussion) and be mostly focused on what people remember reading as kids and/or what they remember of reading to their own kids.

Other than preparing for residency, I’ve been kind of taking it easy lately. I even started learning watercolor painting. I’ll probably post something about that next time, unless something suddenly changes and I have book news.

Shakespeare… Or Not

So I was supposed to write a review this week, but I didn’t finish the book I’m reading, so it will have to wait until next week. Instead, I’m going to share with you something interesting I ran across on Goodreads. Goodreads has this feature called Similar authors. If you go to my author page, you can find the link Similar authors under my books. I was curious what they would say.

Apparently I am most similar to William Shakespeare.

Under him are a bunch of authors, including several award-winning ones.

Somehow, I feel like their conclusion is a bit questionable. What it probably means, most likely, is that Shakespeare’s works are the most commonly read among all my readers—so I guess my readers are a bit more highbrow than I am.

Wend f'rth and seeth what thee findeth.

Wrapping Up the 3rd Semester

My third semester is wrapping up, with just a couple things remaining to be done. Then all I have left for the degree is the thesis—both the critical and creative parts. Both are in decent shape, though I have opened back up the first half of the creative portion because of  something I’m writing further along the timeline, which necessitates changes all through what’s already written. But I should have that done before the fourth semester starts.

Now I’ve decided to pursue something even more: a PhD in creative writing. There is only one (maybe two) in the world that I can apply to. The US does not have any that are specific to creative writing—you can do a significant creative portion of your thesis in some English PhD programs, but none of these are low-residency/distance. But Bath Spa University in England (near Bath) has one and importantly, they are open to young adult writing (there’s another in England that is low-residency but specifically not open to any writing for children). So I’m going to apply to that. Applications are not due until next May, so I’ve got plenty of time (though the application isn’t easy, either). The dissertation (actually called a thesis in the UK (weirdly, they call the Master’s-level equivalent a dissertation)) is part creative and part critical, like for the MFA. The creative part is book-length (about 80,000 words or 300-350 pages), and the critical is 20,000 words, so about 80 pages. One difference from the MFA is that the critical part has to contextualize the creative portion. I’m not 100% sure what that means, but I’ll have to figure it out in the next year.

There’s not much news in the Finding Frances world. I’m still not seeing many purchases and I’m still having trouble getting reviews. At this point, I’m especially in need of reviews, more than purchases, honestly. I do have a list of book blogs that I am going to send review requests to. I’m also planning to try to get it reviewed in some Oklahoma newspapers (this was my dad’s idea, actually).

Finally, if you want to see a little interview with me, check out last Thursday’s post on The Wild Rose Press blog.

Notes from Lockdown

Story Genius book coverThis won’t be a very exciting post. Not a lot to report. Like everyone else, I’m stuck in lockdown, going stir crazy. I usually do most of my writing at Starbucks, so it’s been a challenge to learn to work at home. Especially when I’m working from home for my day job, too. I just sit in the same chair from 7 am to 8 or 9 pm, swapping out computers at about 3:30. One nice thing that is helping me not go crazy is that some of my writing friends and I meet on Zoom every day and chat and do writing sprints. It helps to talk to other people.

What I’m most busy with is my thesis (specifically the 15-20 page paper about a craft element in novels). I had to totally rewrite (well, reorganize) it this weekend. It’s due a week from Friday so I’ve only got one weekend after this one to finish it. It isn’t the final final version, since I can still work on it during next semester, but I don’t want to have too much to do on it.

I’m also working on planning out the final-to-be-written Sarah story, which will be the second-to-last in the collection. I’m using a method outlined in the book Story Genius (pictured here), but I signed up for the Story Genius Workshop, which is a self-paced online class that walks you through everything step-by-step. There are videos explaining everything, and then long worksheets to fill out. They also have the option to pay extra for a coach, someone who will give you feedback on every step. I applied for that and am waiting to hear how much it costs. We’ll see if I do it. One interesting thing about this process is that it is going to require me to change some things in the earlier story, especially the long first one.

I’ve also got Ugly out with a bunch of agents, though nobody’s biting. I keep getting form letter rejections. The gatekeepers hate me.

Postponement!

This post was supposed to be about my book launch party, a month and a half after actual release, which was supposed to be yesterday. I sent an eVite and had about 30 people planning to come. However, because COVID-19 is really bad in Seattle, I felt obligated (and selfish enough worrying about attendance) to postpone it indefinitely (because who the heck knows when this mess is going to be resolved). In that vein, here is a hilarious (and sort of depressing) cartoon I found, which I was going to share in my report about the party, but will instead share in the face of cancellation.

Maria Scrivan cartoon "book signing: a portion of proceeds go to the author"

Sad but true, really.

In a way, this might be a blessing because I am so overwhelmed by my thesis right now that getting most of a day back is helpful. I have until April 24th to finish the second draft of my extended annotation, a 15-20 page paper. The first draft is due March 27th. And I am scrambling (already). Here is a stack of all the books I’m looking at for this paper (another book and numerous articles I’ve read electronically not shown).

Stack of books for MFA thesis

Please feel sorry for me.

That is all for now.

Not Quite Ready for March

Not a lot has happened since the release of Finding Frances, but the official release party is coming up in less than three weeks, so I’m planning for that. It should be interesting and I have no idea how many people are going to show up. I’ve picked a couple of very short readings to do and need to practice them, but it shouldn’t be difficult. I also need to write my little history of the book story and my thank yous out so I don’t forget anyone. I’m supposed to be sending out the invites today, and I haven’t even written them yet. Something for this evening…

This is going to be a busy month in general. There’s the release party, and I have to write the first draft of my 15-20 page thesis paper. My biggest concern is that I’m not actually sure that my premise is true; if it isn’t, it will be a problem if I can’t figure out something else to write about quickly. I also am going to be teaching a one-hour class on the role of relationships in character development at the end of the month. There is a lot of preparation to do on that one.

Yesterday I spent most of the day updating Ugly with some cleanup edits (instead of working on my March activities like I should have) and resent it to an agent that had requested a full and then left that agency before getting back to me on it. I’m hoping she will like it. It would be so nice to finally get through that stupid barrier. Still, I need to start sending it out in earnest again. I’ll send some queries out some evening this week.

Lastly, regarding Finding Frances, according to Amazon, only about 8 copies have been purchased. So it would be great if you’re reading this if you might consider buying it, if you haven’t already. 🙂 And if you have read it, it would be so helpful to me if you'd leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

First Post-Release Post

I feel like I should write a post for today since Finding Frances finally came out this week, on Monday. But in some ways it’s been a little anti-climactic. Nothing has really changed from my perspective. I know people have bought it, but I have no way of knowing how many, and I don’t have any reviews yet, so it’s all invisible. I think I can get a rough estimate of the number of books sold on Amazon with a week delay or so, so maybe I’ll get my first clue next week.

Still, it is kind of cool to no longer be a ”pre-published” author. All that work finally paid off. And man, was it a lot of work… Now I’m planning for the release party on March 21st.

Outside of regularly remembering I’m a published author now, I’m focused on the MFA and Ugly. One of the things I’m doing is a professional writing minor, and through that I’m getting some feedback on my Ugly query and the first two chapters. My instructor told me that the two chapters were maybe a little slow and that they didn’t hint at what the book is really about, instead making it seem like the main character just has normal teen problems. So I wrote a new short scene to start the book off, to be put at the beginning of Chapter 1. I’m waiting on feedback on that, but if she likes it, I will start querying again. Right now I have no queries out and only four few partials/fulls (sent in November). But I just figured out that one of the agents who had requested a full changed agencies after requesting it but before responding to it. So now I have to do some followup work on that one. I emailed the original agency, but I’ll probably have to requery the original agent at her new agency. I also followed up with another full I sent in November. So hopefully I’ll hear something soon on both of those.

The other minor I’m doing on the MFA is pedagogy. So I’m going to be observing a class in March and then teaching a one-hour workshop on the use of relationships in character-building. Both are with a former instructor who’s really nice, so I hope it goes well. I’m still developing the workshop, though I have the exercises ready. Now I just have to score books to find good examples…

Busy, busy.

Heading Home

Time for a somewhat rambly post.

Yesterday my third MFA residency wrapped up. It was a good ten days, but now I’m sitting at the Oklahoma City airport waiting on my already-delayed flight. And there’s three more hours for it to be delayed even more. It’s likely snowing in Seattle so I’m really hoping that I get in and home okay. I can’t wait to see my kitties.

On the writing front, it seems like everything is focused on promotion for Finding Frances right now. One of the classes I’m taking this semester is “Professional Writing,” which is going to basically be the instructor helping me figure out how to promote Finding Frances and how to sell Ugly. I’m supposed to be figuring out possible venues for my release party. I was hoping to have it at Barnes and Noble in Issaquah, but I’m not sure they’ll work with my publisher. So I’ve got to find some backup locations. And I’m also trying to find ways to get reviews. In other promotion efforts, I signed up for a blog tour starting release day and running for four weeks (a “book blast” where they’ll put info on my book on several blogs). I also signed up for a review tour, also four weeks, where I’m supposed to get reviews. I have no idea if these will really give me a return on the money I put in, but I have to try something.

The other extra class I’m taking this semester is in pedagogy of creative writing. I am supposed to observe a class and also teach one before the end of the semester. So I have to figure out what to teach on. I’m a little nervous about this—it should be on some element of craft, but the field is wide open. I did ponder doing one on outlining at various stages of the writing process. I’m not sure if that would count.

Besides that, my faculty mentor is looking at the writing I’m planning to use for my thesis (I don’t have to produce any new creative writing this semester since I’ve done it all already) and I have to write five short papers and one big one, 15-20 pages.

That’s what I’m looking forward to this semester. I’ll be busy, but it should be good.

Release Date

Finding Frances Book CoverSo, I finally got my release date for Finding Frances (!). It is:

Monday, February 3, 2020

I’d hoped it would come out before the end of this year so I could enter it in a contest through PNWA, but this is fine (I’ll have to wait until 2021 to enter it).

Other than that, there’s not much news. I’ve got my MFA residency coming up in January, and I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be my third semester.

I’m working on finishing up the Now Would Be Good collection about my character Sarah, which I’ve now decided is going to be a novel in parts rather than a short story collection. Each part will just have its own arc, in addition to the whole book having one.

My critique partner is almost through Sadie Speaks, so I may pick that one back up and revise it.

I’m still shopping Ugly around, without much luck. I’m a little irritated about that one—I’m not getting as many bites as I think I should. They all say they want something different (which this story is) but it seems like they really just want the same thing as always. Frustrating.

A Release Date Is Coming

I made the last edits I’ll make on Finding Frances and my editor sent it off for formatting. Once I get that back, I’ll approve it and then I think I’ll finally get a release date.

One of my critique partners did a full read of Ugly and gave me a few recommendations. I’ve implemented two of the three I plan to deal with before submitting to the agents and editors who requested it at PNWA and ECWC. Just need to do the last one…

Another critique partner is working her way through Sadie Speaks a few chapters at a time. That book needs quite a bit of revising, but she’s giving me some good guidelines for doing it.

I’m still working on the “Now Would Be Good” story collection that I’m going to submit for my MFA thesis. My critique group is going through the last story I’ve written. I need to plan out the next (last) story, or maybe the last two if necessary—I can’t decide.

That’s pretty much what’s going on right now.

Ugly Updates

I don’t have much of an update right now, except I found out that Ugly is a semifinalist in the BookLife Prize. This is a contest for self-published and unpublished manuscripts. You can see the public entries (you don't have to display your book/review) at the contest listing page. The funny thing is that all the others have book covers and mine’s just a gray box. I keep wondering if I should put something up there, but I don’t know what that would be. I’m not going to pay someone to make a cover.

I’ve also got a friend doing another read of Ugly to see if I need some “light moments” (as an agent suggested I might), and to help me find good spots for them if so. Once it’s ready, I’ll send it to the agents who asked for it at PNWA.

I’m looking forward to starting the third semester of the MFA in January, but other than that, my writing world is quiet because all my time is going to the statistics class I’m taking (or more specifically, suffering greatly from).

How Not to Be a Writing Contest Judge

I got feedback from the PNWA literary contest I entered early this year. I entered four categories this year (young adult, romance, short story, and short nonfiction). It was interesting. For the most part the feedback was generally positive (and in some cases like one judge for Ugly, really positive). But one of my judges for Ugly was atrocious. Bad enough that I’m going to share what they said to show what you should never do as a writing contest judge. Fortunately I have pretty thick skin when it comes to critiques of my writing. And for context, what they judged was a one-page double-spaced synopsis of the overall story and the first 27 pages of the book.

I’m going to start with their comments about mechanics:

The author might consider using stronger verbs instead of all the adverbs. Start chapter headings midway down the page. If this is a modern story, phones don’t dial.

Strong verbs don’t have anything to do with mechanics—it’s grammar, industry practices, etc. Second, the industry standard for chapter headings is 1/3 of the way down the page not halfway. And third, talk about picking nits. That’s what editors are for.

In their comments about my synopsis/plot, they said:

Good job of placing main character names in all caps and the title. Just because a girl doesn’t wear make-up doesn’t make her ugly. The author might try a different approach for bullying. Is she a nerd perhaps? Some people are beautiful without make-up. I suggest a better title.

Uh… I was bullied for being ugly and fat. Maybe the reader should tell all teenagers not to be mean about people’s looks? I don’t really know what to say. And in Oklahoma, it would be very hard for a girl to be considered beautiful without makeup. Things may be different in the Pacific Northwest, but that’s not where the book is set.

In the viewpoint section, they just commented that I stayed in the right point of view. Woot.

In the characterization section they said:

The author might try using a character plan to round out their characters before writing the story. They can be found on the internet. The reader doesn’t identify with the protagonist nor cares because the character doesn’t sound realistic.

To tell someone something “can be found on the internet” without pointing them to something specific is actually pretty insulting.

About dialogue/internal narrative, they said:

There isn’t much dialogue and it’s short. The author might try to distinguish characters by habits, certain phrases used, etc. Most of the story is internal narrative which is good, but could use improvement also. If the main character was molested, the author might consider her thoughts on it and how she feels. Is she afraid of boys or men? If she thinks she’s gay the author might have her gaze at other girls in the locker room or wear boy clothes. Something to show the reader what is going on with her.

Is she afraid of boys or men? No. If she thinks she’s gay… have her gaze at other girls (she’s not actually gay, as it turns out) or wear boy clothes (she wears nothing but jeans, unisex t-shirts, and Converse or Vans). If the book has little dialogue and little action (mentioned below) and lots of internal narrative, what is that internal narrative doing other than telling the reader what is going on with her? It’s normal for different readers to contradict each other, but it’s not acceptable for one reader to contradict him- or herself, especially when they’re supposed to be doing a close reading.

On conflict/tension/pacing:

The author talks about tension and conflict, but the reader doesn’t see it. It’s more empty words. The pace is also slow.

I am confused by this comment. Are they saying I stopped the story and wrote, “Hey man, reader, that right there was some tension!” I used the word ”conflict” twice in the entire manuscript (not in the selection they had) and never used “tension.” And “more empty words”? That’s just tacky.

They completely skipped the hooks/transitions and the setting/description sections. Then for voice, they said:

The voice could be stronger for YA and more action.

Generic much? And action has nothing to do with voice.

In the final category, which is meant to be the one section that the reader can be subjective in giving their opinion of the overall appeal of the story to the intended audience, they said:

I don’t believe a YA would find this story interesting. It lacks action and the characters aren’t well-defined.

Nobody in the genre would refer to “a YA”—they’re called teens, last I checked. It’s obvious this person got roped into judging a genre they have no understanding of. Just my great luck to get this one.

Seriously. What a jerk. This was not worth my 35 bucks.

PNWA Conference, 2019 Edition

Last weekend I was at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s annual conference, which is why I didn’t manage a post. It was good—I attended several informative sessions and keynotes. I also pitched some agents and editors and had several requests for Ugly, though one of them asked me a question that had me all flustered. She wanted to know about the plot and I still struggle to talk about that. I know it has one, but explaining it is always so difficult for me—I get stuck in the details and things like theme. And one of them who was really interested in the story asked me if there were light moments, because she said tough stories like that need them. And I realized not really—it’s positive at the end, but it’s fairly depressed (that’s the word one of the judges used in response to my entry in the literary contest, and I think it fits, unfortunately).  So now I think I need to rework it some. Just not sure how much…

This writing thing sure is difficult.

In a possibly bizarre move on my part, I decided to become a sponsor for the PNWA literary contest short story category (YA was taken). This means I cover the prizes in the category and in return get a few perks, including being featured on this page (mine isn’t there yet but should be soon) and getting a free conference admission and the opportunity to mix with the agents and editors in smaller settings at the conference (not sure how much traction I’ll get there with my inferior social skills…).

Also, I have some ideas for improving the contest and based on my experiences as a multi-time entrant AND my new position as a sponsor, I plan to propose them and see what happens.