Back to Real Life

The rest of the MFA residency was really good. It was a bit of a shock to the system to return to Seattle. I got home after 10pm and to work the next day at 7:30am. Apparently I needed some kind of break because I was dragging until I took a day off Thursday.

While I was at the residency, I finalized my semester plan and the list of 20 books I’m supposed to read this semester. As far as craft goes, I’m focusing on plot and structure, which is good because I struggle with that. I also decided to do a pedagogy elective so I’ll be learning to teach composition (a retirement plan). I’ll share the book list with you in case you’re curious:

  • Chekhov, Anton, Pevear, Richard, translator, and Volokhonsky, Larissa, translator. Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov (2000).
  • Gaitskill, Mary. Bad Behavior: Stories (1988).
  • Munro, Alice. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose (1978).
  • Paley, Grace. The Collected Stories (1994).
  • Fitch, Janet. White Oleander (1999).
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day (1989).
  • Angel, Ann, editor. Things I’ll Never Say (2015).
  • Bauman, Beth Ann. Jersey Angel (2012).
  • Blume, Judy. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (1970).
  • Blume, Judy. Forever… (1975).
  • Blume, Judy. Tiger Eyes (1981).
  • Dessen, Sarah. Just Listen (2008).
  • Downham, Jenny. You Against Me (2011).
  • Green, John. Looking for Alaska (2006).
  • Hoffmann, Kerry Cohen. Easy (2007).
  • Lockhart, E. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (2009).
  • Lockhart, E. Dramarama (2007).
  • Niven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places (2015).
  • O’Neill, Louise. The Surface Breaks: a reimagining of The Little Mermaid (2018).
  • Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park (2013).

About half of them I’ve already read, though I’ll still have to reread those to get some thoughts on craft out of them. I’ve already reread Eleanor & Park because it’s awesome and it had to be the one I went to first. I wrote my first short paper on the first scene of that book, discussing how it works as a strong opening. Now I just need to come up with a topic for the second one…

Fall 2018 books
Precariously balanced…

This is going to be a long 2.5 years for me. But it will be good, I’m sure of it. The only thing is I’m worried I may not be able to keep up the weekly blog posts. So if it gets a little quieter here, you’ll know why.

The MFA Begins

We’ve now finished Day 3 of the MFA residency and the first thing I have to mention is that it is hot here. I wasn’t wrong to expect that. However, I appear to be lucky in that it’s relatively mild right now—only in the low 90s.

The first event on Day 1 was a short one—the director made several announcements and introduced the faculty. Then each of the faculty gave a short talk on the topic of “How to write when you can’t.” They all gave good advice and I was especially happy to hear (from my mentor, though they all agreed) that the whole idea that you have to write every single day to be a writer is bunk. They acknowledged that there are many ways to be a writer and it’s an art so you can’t necessarily force it. I do think that sometimes it is worth making yourself do something because sometimes you’re stuck and if you just force your way past this one thing, you’ll find yourself smoothly moving along again. I’ve had to force my way through scenes to get to the next, easier one (even though what I’ve written is crap—but that’s what editing is for).

Yesterday was all informational sessions. We learned about the various type of “annotations” we have to do. These are basically analysis papers that look at a specific aspect of the writing craft as it relates to a book or two. We have to write 45 short ones (2 pages) in the first three semesters, 1 medium-length (3-5 pages) in each of the first two semesters, and one long one (15-20 pages) that goes into the thesis so it has to be done in the third semester. Plus every month we have to write 10-30 pages, which doesn’t sound bad to me. But I’m going to be working on my short story collection for the degree, so it may be more difficult than to come up with pages from a novel. More brand new material. I finished a draft of the first short story in the collection, which precedes the story that’s posted on this site. The draft is almost 40 pages, so I’m good for a couple months. I’ll probably have to work on the next story for the November submission.

The craft sessions started today. We had one that explored tone and voice. This involves things like diction and word choice (for instance, think of the difference between the words “childish” and ”childlike,” which mean the same thing but have different connotations). We did some interesting and entertaining exercises where we had to change a sentence so that the tone was totally different.

“How stupid do you have to be to not understand that?”

vs.

“Just how far do you think your looks will get you?”

The next workshop was on flash fiction, where we talked about the various types (and concluded that all other subtypes really are just flash fiction, which can be up to around 1000 words) and looked at some good examples. He also had us do an exercise where we wrote our own. I of course failed miserably at that because I 1. suck at writing on command, and 2. can’t write anything short to save my life.

Then we had a workshop on time control, which is a more complicated topic than I thought. I mean, most of what I write is in what’s called “classic time,” which is time that is relatively brief and is expressed in one continuous flow (a day, a month, a year). I haven’t written anything that spans decades or longer, which is called long time. And then there are more weird ones that I won’t go into because at least at this point, they don’t really interest me.

Finally, we had the faculty reading tonight, where the various faculty read from their books/poems. It was really good, even if it did make me feel a bit like a fraud. Oh well, maybe I’ll get better.

Anyway, that’s the update from here.

Quiet

I feel like it’s the calm before the storm. Things are ramping up to my MFA residency, in less than three weeks. There’s reading to do for the workshops, critiquing for the small critique group, and picking which excerpt I’m going to do at the reading (we have to read for 5 or 6 minutes in front of the other students). I’ve gotten most of the workshop readings done, finished critiquing today, and already picked out what to read. I also booked my hotel for the first night.

I’m pretty much ready. This is probably a good thing because it’s going to be intense, I imagine.

I did get my partial request on Finding Frances back this week. It was a no, but they did say my writing was “smooth and polished,” which was nice. That was my last outstanding query. And I guess I lied about not sending it out to more agents, because I already sent it to one. This one only takes exclusive queries, but they respond quickly (if interested, that is). I might look for some other ones that prefer exclusive queries after this one comes back before sending out a slew again.

I did repost the short story I wrote, “Now Would Be Good,” in case you’re interested in checking that out.

The only other notable thing is that I developed this weird inner ear problem that caused me to fall over from extreme dizziness, resulting in a day and a half of unplanned vacation, during which I read like crazy. Which was awesome.

Finally Done with Stuff

The past couple weeks have been about finishing things. My floor is finally done and I have the furniture back in place. It looks great. I’ve been able to start sitting downstairs at my table working again. It’s not hot enough yet for me to need to migrate to my Summer Room (the one with the portable AC). So I’ve been able to work on judging all my PNWA contest entries at the table, where I can spread out.

New floor with furniture

And I finished them, thank god. I finished writing up the critiques for all 12 of the 28-page entries, scored each section, and then went back and read over all the comments to make sure they weren’t mean. The batch I got this year was much harder to judge than last year’s batch. Some of them just weren’t very good. I did have some that were pretty good, though, which helped. But man, I haven’t gotten anything done this month except judging.

I’m so excited to get back to everything else. I got a beta read back on Ugly, so I want to work on implementing the needed changes. I’m going to apply for a mentorship program offered by the Western Washington SCBWI chapter. If I get selected, I’ll work one-on-one with a published author for six months. It’s $650, though they’re offering a scholarship for diverse applicants and I’m going to apply for that. I think gender nonconforming should count. They can decide if it doesn’t.

One other good thing that happened this past week is that I had a partial request (fifty pages) on Finding Frances. I have queries out with only three agents right now and I’m literally done submitting it. I’m not holding my breath, but it was still nice to get a request.

Distraction

So, right now, I’m in the middle of having my entire ground floor tiled at my house. Every day, I come home to find my refrigerator in a new place. Friday I got home from work to discover it in the official refrigerator spot, even though the kitchen is only half-tiled (and not the half under the fridge). My cats are living in my bedroom now. This is all a huge distraction. Yeah, I’m going to go with that. That’s why I’m having trouble writing.

tiling in process

Uh-huh.

I’ve been working on the short story collection, specifically on the first story. This is the only one that comes before the one I previously posted on the site, “Now Would Be Good.” And it’s pretty much dragging. I’m about halfway through it. I had it all planned out, but now I’ve decided to remove one of the sources of conflict (because it told the wrong story), so I’ve got to make sure that there’s enough conflict in the new version.

I mentioned earlier that I revisited Ugly a few weeks ago to generate a new solid draft. But one that naturally still needs a lot of work. However, I gave it to a friend for a beta read and I’m hoping to get that back next Sunday since she’d already read about half of it by last Sunday. The feedback she casually gave me is already going to be helpful, so I have high hopes for the final feedback.

In strange news: in a couple weeks, I’m going to have portraits done for my websites. I need a better photo than the silly selfie I put up on my about me page. But this is going to be pure torture because I hate having my picture taken. I know “everybody” says that, but they don’t mean it. I actually, truly, genuinely, positively hate it. I almost always manage to look pissed off in pictures because I am pissed off. Since I’m doing something I hate. For your amusement, I’m including the picture off my work badge where I look… you guessed it.

work badge picture

Not enthused for a new job at all. I do wish I’d at least tried to smile or something. Anyway, my photographer has no idea of the challenge ahead.

Other than that, I’m in the middle of judging mainstream entries for the PNWA contest (a lot of work) and looking forward to the MFA residency, which is only two months away. I’m trying not to think about the fact that it will be July in Oklahoma and I’m going to immediately melt.

The Writing Life

It’s becoming clearer every day that the writing life is not one for the faint of heart. Finding Frances is out with 10 agents, probably all rejections I’ll never explicitly get. I think I’m done sending it out. It will just be a bonus for whatever agent picks up one of my other books. I just went through Ugly again for a nice solid draft. But it’s truly just a draft. I know there are problems with it. It needs more emotional depth. The subplots and aspects of the main character’s life need more development. And the problem is that I don’t really know how to do these things.

I’m also struggling to keep up with my reading schedule. I try to read two books a week—because you have to read widely in your genres or you can’t be a real writer, in my view. This is tough with a full-time job.

But still, it can be rewarding. Even though my draft of Ugly isn’t great, it’s good and that was nice to see. And I’ve written 6 books (just 3 YA), which is an accomplishment, even if they’re not all polished.

When I was in my 20s, I wrote a lot and even submitted my work to magazines. I once got a rejection where the editor said, “The author isn’t as funny as he thinks he is.” Ignoring the wrong pronoun, that still stung. It actually made me stop writing. I intended to start again at some point, but I thought I must just need more life experience. I knew I had the basic ability to write, but what I didn’t know was that that wasn’t enough. More life experience wouldn’t cut it. Writing is a craft. You have to constantly work on developing your skills. I’m sure there are writers who don’t really need more development—Stephen King, for instance—but most of us always have stuff to learn.

When I did decide to seriously write again, my motivation and plan seem hilarious now. I was very unhappy in my job and thought, “I’ll just write a novel for NaNoWriMo, spend some time polishing it, get it published and then in a couple years I’ll be able to quit my job.” Ha. That’s so not how things work. Many successful writers have to have other jobs (a lot supplement by teaching writing), and many work full-time jobs. So I don’t envision ever quitting my job. Which is okay because I finally got what is basically my dream job, when I transferred to a new department in December.

Anyway. I’ve got to work on one of the non-YA books, while I let Ugly steep a bit more. So I should get back to it.

Stasis

My writing life hasn’t been so rewarding lately. I’ve sent Finding Frances queries off to five more agents, but I have very little hope. This is largely because I entered the manuscript into several RWA (Romance Writers of America) contests. While the book isn’t really a romance, there is an important romance in there (the definition of the genre is a little fuzzy in YA). But I’ve gotten feedback from one the contests and they didn’t like it. And the thing is, I understood their criticisms. Some of the weaknesses they pointed out are things I’ve since learned about the craft. Basically, I need to rewrite it from scratch again and pay attention to word choice as well as dig deeper into the main character’s emotions. I’m going to hold off on this, however. I’ve already burned through almost all the agents out there so there’s no one left to query. Instead, I’ll just revisit it once one of my other books gets picked up.

I’ve made a little more progress on Ugly recently, but not as much as I should have. I’ve also worked on the short story collection. And I’ve been working on my other manuscripts a bit, too. Plodding along. I did also enter Ugly in a grant competition. I had to supply the first 10 pages and a 250-word synopsis. Man, was that synopsis frickin’ hard to write. Easily the hardest of all my books so far. Ugly’s not really about the plot, but all the little details of life, and that’s not stuff you put in a synopsis.

I have been taking a new writing class called The Art of the Personal Essay. I thought it might be good to learn a bit more about it so I can write more than reviews and boring writing updates on this blog. It’s been interesting and fun. I’ve written a couple of short pieces that were well-received. I’ll likely start posting things like that here periodically.

I’m getting closer to starting the MFA, which I’m pretty excited about. A little over three months and I’ll be in the Oklahoma City heat for the 10-day residency. The heat part—oh, joy. The rest should be great.

Shiny New Idea

I’m supposed to be working on my new YA book Ugly (plus the other one that’s under a pen name), but ask me if I’m doing either of these things.

Nope, I’m not. I mentioned being stuck a few weeks ago, and I sort of still am. But I replotted the pen name book and just need to get back to Ugly, but instead I’m working on some short stories. It’s the Shiny New Idea.

As I’ve mentioned, I wrote one called “Now Would Be Good” that’s about a girl in her junior year of high school. But now I want to do a whole series about her and I spent most of last Sunday at Starbucks with a friend plotting five other stories out. One’s about her in ninth grade and the others follow her from junior year through right before she goes to college. I’m pretty excited about these stories because I really like the premise of each of them. And they will naturally tie together.

I’m going to self-publish the collection. No one will buy it, but once I have a book published traditionally, there will already be another book for people who liked that one to buy. That’s the plan, anyway.

Speaking of traditional publishing, I haven’t had any more movement on Finding Frances. I do have several people at work reading it, which is a little weird. Hopefully they don’t hate it. Since they wanted to read it electronically, I designed a cover to go with it:

 

Finding Frances cover

So many people have read this book. I look at the acknowledgments section of other novels, and authors thank their one critique group and a handful of beta readers (if that many). I’ll never be able to thank everyone who’s helped along the way.

Sadie Speaks is still idle at the moment, too. I just don’t know what to do with that one. It’s difficult.

A couple weeks ago, I submitted “Now Would Be Good” to Cicada magazine. I recently found out that they’re going electronic only. I still prefer paper, but I don’t know any other markets for YA short fiction. So now that story’s out for a contest and a magazine. We’ll see what happens.

Stuck

I’ve been trying to write lately with very little success. I went to a writing workshop with Mary Buckham last Saturday, which was great, but I haven’t done any real writing. I’m not sure what the problem is, but I have distracted myself with other work, namely painting my kitchen cabinets. They do look good, though I did have a tiny bit of trouble rehanging them with the new hinges I got. I have to make a few adjustments with my recently-purchased Dremel and a sanding block. I forgot to take before pictures, but I found an old one from when I moved in.

Kitchen Cabinets Before
Before
Kitchen Cabinets After
After

Much better, eh?

Anyway, it’s not helping me get any writing done. I’m (theoretically) working on two books right now: my third YA, entitled Ugly, and one other I’m writing under a pen name. I’m stuck on both. My writing group met yesterday morning and gave me feedback on Chapter 4 of Ugly, so that’s progress, but I should actually be going through my complete draft for my second pass because I’ve replotted some things and need to add a lot of details. The other book has also been significantly replotted and there is quite a bit to do on it (even more replotting, too).

I have sent Finding Frances out to a few more agents, but I haven’t heard anything back except a No or two. Sometimes it’s hard to know if I should take the hint or keep trying. But I guess I’ll keep submitting because otherwise I would probably get depressed. It’s strange that the constant refrain of “No” doesn’t depress me, but I suppose I have the illusion of eventual success.

I haven’t even looked at Sadie Speaks in months. I’m still not sure what to do with that one. It’s like my group said yesterday as we wallowed in self-pity—writing is hard.

Writing Update

It’s been a little while since I bored you with an update about what’s going on with my writing.

I’m working away on the third book, whose working title is Ugly. This is the 80,000-word novel I wrote in 28 days in November for NaNoWriMo. I’m taking it through my writing group chapter by chapter and met with them yesterday to go over Chapter 3. I like it and feel like it’s going to end up being a pretty solid book, though it’s going to take a lot of work. The first draft is pretty rough, though there is definitely some good stuff in there.

Sadie Speaks is still currently being neglected as I don’t know what to do with it. It needs major work, but it feels like I need somebody else to tell me what to do with it. A couple of freelance editors have seen it, but they didn’t quite share my editorial vision so I didn’t really agree with their suggestions. So I’m going to have to figure it out on my own.

Finding Frances is still getting nowhere with agents and editors. It’s currently with one of each, but I pinged them both Monday because they’ve had it for 3 months. The editor got back to me to say she had received it and would only contact me if she was interested in more. The agent never responded. So I’m not exactly holding my breath on either of those. I’m pretty worn out with querying it and am not sure I’m going to summon the energy to try again.

In related news, I decided to do an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). I got accepted to both of the ones I applied to, but I decided to go with Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA and its concentration in Young Adult Fiction. I’m pretty excited about this. It starts in July. It’s a low-residency model, which means twice a year I have to go there for an intensive 10-day residency, where there are craft talks, I’ll meet with my faculty mentor for the semester, and I can mingle with other students. Then for the rest of the semester, I’ll send packets of writing in to my mentor, who will send back feedback. I also have to read a lot of books, as some of the writing is critical annotations of genre books or responses to craft books. I have to attend a residency before each of my four semesters and then go to the one immediately after my last semester to wrap things up.

Finally, in unrelated news, I started a new job at work. I’m no longer a software developer and am now a data scientist (my actual job title is Analytics Analyst, which is hilarious, and not deeply meaningful). I will leave you with a picture of my favorite parking space at work:

Parking space blocked by post

A Conversation with E. Lockhart and Deb Caletti

A couple weeks before it happened, I was lucky enough to find out about a little event at a library near Seattle billed as a ”conversation” between E. Lockhart and Deb Caletti. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but as I’d read and very much enjoyed a YA book by each of them, it seemed worth going to. Then, I ended up reading the whole Ruby Oliver series (Lockhart’s) right before the event. If you saw my review for them a couple weeks ago, you’ll know I liked them. 

The event basically was a conversation between the two authors. They sat in front of the audience in two big, comfy library chairs and chatted with each other. Occasionally, the event organizer asked a question, which would get them going back and forth and sometimes down shallow rabbit holes. It was fun. 

Deb Caletti and E. Lockhart

They talked a bit about themes that repeatedly come up in their novels, and decided that the predominant one has to do with the reinvention of self. Teenagers are finally at a point where they have enough power that they can reinvent themselves to some degree. This was a bit of a revelation for me, because I’ve long wondered what appeals to me so much about YA. The coming-of-age aspect didn’t make a lot of sense, since that wasn’t a good time for me. But I think the reinvention aspect is it, for the very reason that I hated my teenage years and have forever believed that I would be a happier person if had I lived them somewhere less conservative than Oklahoma. Even today, I wish I could have a big do-over for much of my life. 

While talking about this theme, it emerged that both Lockhart and Caletti have always had a secret plan for what to do when they need to go on the lam (what color to dye their hair, what to bring, where to go, etc.). They were both amazed and asked the audience if they too had such a plan. We were all cracking up about that. Lockhart said that reading and writing are sort of like running away without changing your hair color. 

They also talked about who their characters are really based on, and admitted that while they often start off thinking that their main characters are totally different from them, in the end they usually realize they’re writing themselves to a significant degree. 

Lockhart also ended up talking a bit about the true self, and how it doesn’t really exist because who a person is is always relative to the situation they’re in and the people they’re with. This was pretty interesting, but also intuitively true when you give it some thought. It’s code switching, basically. 

Then they talked a little about topics in YA versus adult fiction, pointing out that sometimes themes can be explored a little more deeply in adult for a couple reasons: adult readers have a tad more patience; and, they’ve seen more so need more depth for the ideas to be novel. YA readers aren’t yet as jaded simply because they haven’t had enough time to “read all the things.” Additionally, Lockhart pointed out that often teen readers are facing a topic or idea for the first time with the book they’re reading, and it’s important to present that authentically. 

It was an interesting event and I bought several of their books and had them signed. 🙂 I was glad I went out even though it was in the middle of NaNo. 

NaNo 2017 Update

NaNo is wrapping up and I’m pleased to say that I “won” Monday, though I technically hit the 50,000-word mark on Sunday the 19th. I’m not quite sure how I did it that fast, but I’m trying to finish the whole book by the end of the month. I’m projecting 80,000 words at this point. I think maybe the reason it went so fast is that it’s a semi-autobiographical story, so a lot of it was just telling what happened instead of having to figure out how things would go. Right now I’m in the middle of writing a visit to Glasgow, Scotland, which is really fun because I’m reliving the time I spent there (which was awesome).

Here’s my status as of this afternoon:

NaNo 2017 bar graph
NaNo progress

It’s really crazy. I should be at 43,333 by the end of today, but I’m currently at 70,855 and am not done for the day. 🙂

That’s all for now. I’m busy.

NaNoWriMo 2017

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual challenge where you attempt to write a whole “novel” in November. 50,000 words. That requires an average of 1667 (actually 1666.666…) words (5-6 pages) a day for 30 days. Then, at the end, you have a rough draft of a book.

Now, to be sure, that draft is pure rubbish. And probably too short, unless you’re writing middle grade. Even YA is usually 60,000+ words. So it has to be heavily revised and greatly expanded upon. But the main point is that you have something substantial to work on. It can be regarded as a very long synopsis with some actual scene writing. Most writers need that first draft to start the hard part of writing. Recognition of the value of that draft is clear in that it even has a nickname: “shitty first draft.”

Anyway, NaNo’s really hard. Each year tens of thousands sign up (in 2010 it topped 200,000 and last year there were 384,126 participants). And each year a small fraction of those people actually “win” (i.e. write at least 50,000 words). Last year it was less than 9%. The website allows you to track your word count and interact with other participants on forums. It even helps people coordinate to interact in real life (such as in “write-ins” where people get together to write).

But I’ve found NaNo both helpful and fun. I never participate on the forums, but it’s fun to watch my friends’ word counts go up. I’ve done it four years in row now (winning each time) and am about to start my fifth one. I used to have trouble getting myself to actually write. NaNo sort of trained me to write every day. Outside of November, I don’t write quite so much, but I do spend at least a couple hours doing writing-related work almost every day, with more on weekends. NaNo’s also good to break the habit most amateur writers have of constantly going back to the beginning to fix what they’ve realized needs to be changed—thus never making it past the first third of the book or so… You have to just forge ahead, no matter what you realize you’ll have to go back and change (after you get to the end of that first draft).

I’m scrambling to get ready, tweaking my 40-page synopsis (really, a scene-by-scene breakdown) after some feedback from my critique group. It’s going to be another YA novel, though I’m also trying to get a draft of a different novel ready for a beta reader since I won’t have time in November and she’s ready to read. And on top of that, I have two blogs that I post weekly to, so I’m trying to get some reviews ready for those (which means I’m trying to read a bunch, too). Just a few days left to get it all ready. I’m excited to start the new YA novel, which is going to be somewhat autobiographical, but also nervous because some of it’s going to be hard to write. However, people say writing about unpleasant memories can be therapeutic, so we’ll see.

PNWA Conference

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d be attending the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s Annual Conference. It’s a regional conference, but it’s also well-organized and respected across the country. Many editors and agents based in New York and other places come out for it. It went really well this year. And it was nice to see all my writing friends, too. 🙂

Writers JourneyOn Thursday I did a master class with Christopher Vogler, who interpreted Joseph Campbell’s anthropological studies of mythology and stories into a pseudo-formula for writers many years ago. It eventually came out as a book called The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, which provides a solid structure framework called the Hero’s Journey, which writers can use to construct a satisfying story. There’s some controversy about the true universality of this story structure (some feminists claim it only applies to men’s stories, for instance). My opinion is that while it is not the only possible good story structure, it can be a useful guide for almost any story. But there are definitely other story structures out there. Regardless, his class was good—Vogler’s a good speaker and he’s very emotionally involved in stories and his work with them, which really draws in the audience.

Queen SugarThursday night, the keynote speaker was Natalie Baszile, author of Queen Sugar. I admit I hadn’t heard of this book, though I’ve bought it and intend to read it because it sounds good. Oprah even picked it up and made a TV show out of it, which is apparently quite good. I know a lot of people snootily look down on Oprah, but I think she generally has good taste in books. Anyway, Natalie’s talk was all about her journey to publication, which was… long. She peppered the speech with family stories, some of which were funny (the box of Louisiana delicacies that were shipped every year, only to arrive as a box of rotting meat) and some of which weren’t (her father growing up in Louisiana and experiencing the small-town embedded racism there).

Friday was all about pitching. I pitched a book I’m writing under a pen name to an editor and four agents and had good results. One of the agents had rejected Finding Frances two years ago so I asked if I could resend it and she said yes. On top of that, I had a request for the first 50 pages of Finding Frances from an editor at a large publisher. I’ll send it to the agent soon, but I’m going to wait until I hear back from the editor who’s already got it before sending it to the new editor.

Fearless WritingOn Saturday, I went to several different sessions, mostly about craft. One was on hooks and how important they are, especially at the end of scenes and chapters. I went to a session about writing nonfiction for kids, something I’ve thought about dipping my toes into. I went to another session on writing diversity, which had a bunch of great tips. Sunday I went to a session called Fearless Marketing, with Bill Kenower,  the guy who wrote the recently-released Fearless Writing. He’s a little intimidating because he’s excessively passionate about everything, but the session was good. One final nice thing about the conference is that most of the sessions are recorded, so I bought fifteen of them on CDs. Gives me something to do on the horrible drive to and from work.

Upcoming Conference

Starting this Thursday, I’m going to be at a writers* conference, run by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. It’s 3.5 intense days of talking to writers, learning about writing, and learning about the business of writing. I’ve been the last two years, as well, and this time I’m staying at the hotel, which is expensive but saves me the hassle of the hour on the road every day, a drive which is especially frustrating because said day runs early morning to 9:00 or 10:00 at night.

I managed to get two pitch sessions. At PNWA, the sessions are kind of a mad house, quite different from ones I’ve done at other conferences. Here, you are in a room with 150 other people for an hour. Agents and editors sit behind a line of tables at the back of the room. And you line up in front of the one you want to pitch next, get four minutes with them when it’s your turn, and move on to the next line. Depending on the popularity of the people you want to pitch, you usually get two to four pitches done. It all sounds a little intimidating, but I actually have found it’s not. Most of the agents are nice, even if they say no. Still, it’s helpful to have a pitch semi-memorized so you don’t have to read off something. I’m meeting with a friend this evening to practice.

However, I have a dilemma. I can’t decide what to pitch. I feel like I should wait on feedback from the other people on Finding Frances before querying/pitching anyone else. Maybe I’ll get more feedback. I ended up sending the revised manuscript to the agent who said she’d take a second look. (Though the more time passes, the more I’m thinking I should have figured out more things to change…). I was originally planning to pitch Sadie Speaks, however, I just sent that to a freelance developmental editor and she came back with recommendations that I change almost everything. Now, I’m not going to, but many of her points do require some serious reworking. The other option is to pitch a romance I’m writing under my pen name, but I’m only halfway done with the third draft on that one, and that won’t be the final draft, for sure. One thing that is also different about this pitching is that they don’t have a rule that you have to have the manuscript ready to send—you can wait weeks or months to send it. So I could do either.

So, quandary. I guess I’ll prepare two pitches and practice them with my friend tonight and fly by the seat of my pants on Friday, pitch day.

 

* Okay, I admit I never know if that should be “writers’”, “writers”, or even “writer’s.” It drives me crazy, the not knowing.