Sunday, May 04, 2008

Work and Workshops.

This has been a very busy week for me.

I recieved an honorable mention for a blog contest. Yay! My entry was in the Romantic Suspense category, and I was thrilled. I've won and placed in other writing contests but for some reason this meant so much more. Maybe because it was being judged by agents who are well known in the industry for being straight shooters? Who knows? Anyway, I love those people, the SS's of the world. Why candy-coat something? This business is hard enough to break into without someone leading you on that your work is good when it totally sucks. I'm all for "just give me the facts, ma'am." I can deal with that. Tell me the truth and I'll learn how to correct, how to make it better.

Anyway, the very next day, after riding the crest of the wave that somebody "got" my work, I had a rejection from the editor in NY for another manuscript. Sigh. I was tossed back onto the hard sandy beach. I'd held out hopes for this one because they'd read the first 100 pages and then asked for the full manuscript. But, truth be told, I knew my chances were slim to none. After coming home from conference, I'd rushed the ending just in case they asked for the complete manuscript. Not a good idea. Never a good idea. The editor had liked my style saying it was easy-to-read, liked my characters, but thought overall, the writing just wasn't strong enough to make this a big book.

I scratched my head. Big book? Hell, I didn't want a big book, just give me a foot in the door with a little book and I'll work my way up. Grin. So I emailed a multi-pubbed author who I've met on several occasions (and won't name here because I don't think she wants to be flooded with critique requests) and asked her, "How does one go about making their writing stronger? What is it voice, word choice, changing the weird way I string my sentences together? Should I take college courses, go to a retreat?" She said, send me a chapter and I'll critique it.

I shook in my boots, literally, except I think I was in P.J.'s at the time and the boots were slippers. Anyway, she critiqued the chapter and wrote back something very interesting: I was strangling my voice. My characters were dying on the page. I wasn't letting them breathe and I wasn't letting my true voice shine through. She told me to stop manipulating the characters to do what I wanted them to do, and to trust myself, and to stay in the story now. Forget the past. Forget the history. Then she gave me examples and showed me how--by deleting sections where I'd info dumped or thought I was threading through valuable information that the reader needed to know--my story would become more interesting.

What I saw was an entirely different story. A vibrant story that made me want to turn the pages. Pages of my own story. Can you believe that? Ha ha. And she'd done this without harshness and without the sugar-coating. I got it. I understood her words and her directions immediately. I saw from her example what my work could become. This morning I got up and using my author friends editing advice, reworked the manuscript. Yay! I cannot believe the difference. I owe her at least seventy-five dinners, I think. But on the other hand I'm pissed because she kept talking about letting things breathe and I got this bug in my ear of the lyrics to Faith Hill's song, Breathe. Yeah, I picked up the CD, Faith Hill The Hits, at Circuit City and I played it all day. No wonder the dog stayed outside.

I went to the LARA annual workshop, in Los Angeles, yesterday. The guest speaker was multi-pubbed, NY times best seller of Regency novels, Julia Quinn. What a sweet and funny lady. Her humor is infectious and she doesn't take herself terribly seriously. She spoke about dialogue and quirky punctuation, but the best thing was she opened her entire day to questions. None of this saving until the end and then forgetting what it was you intended to ask. Of course that meant for an unwieldy format with many digressions, but it was the thing I personally liked best about the day. You have to be a really good writer, know your craft inside out and upside down to be able to be thrown off track like that and switch hats and come up with the right and meaningful answers. Anyone can stand in front of an audience and give a dry lecture. But to be open like that, and vulnerable to whatever is thrown your way, that takes an expert.

So all in all, a busy week, a rollercoaster of emotion, but I'm still here, kicking, fighting back and forging ahead. It's not all bad.

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