Monday, October 27, 2014

Workshop Me and I'll Workshop You

I am quite embarrassed that I have not posted on this, my writers blog, in over three months. Well that nonsense stops here and now.

I started this blog to bring blog followers along for the road trip as I learned new things in the creative writing program at The University Of Illinois Champaign, but then I actually started classes at UIUC and my whole world got turned on its wide arse. Unaware of what a "workshop" entailed at the college level generally, at the creative writing level specifically, I enrolled in three of them, plus an American Novel class which required large amounts of get this...essay writing AND novel reading! Imagine my surprise. Class room time plus commuting time plus homework time plus full time farm business time almost did me in.

Now though in our 9th week of classes, I have a very slight handle on what is required of me time wise (compared to having no handle on any of it at all those first weeks) which brings me back here to ground zero, blogging about the process of writing.

For those of you new to the above topic as I was, workshoping is the process of writing text, be it poetry, short fiction or creative nonfiction and then distributing copies of your work to your peers, who then read it, analyze it, critique it, mark it, use it for hot pads (I only did that once) and make suggestions for improvement. They also, if you are as blessed as I have been, will give you positive feedback.

All of my current class peers are 3 or more decades younger than I am and I worried, really worried that I could write anything they might be able to relate to and I will admit, arrogant quinquagenarian that I am, that I wondered what they could write about that would interest me.

Turns out...plenty...from both sides.

Here is how it works for my Intro to Narrative Writing class. Our instructor spent weeks teaching us the basics and assigning great example stories to read. Then we were set loose. Our first short story was to be 15-20 pages. We turned them in, she copied them and we took them home. Three stories at a time to read and be ready to discuss in our next class. We must annotate or write on the story pages themselves and then write a one page summary letter. On the day the stories are  discussed, each student tells what worked well for them in the text and what did not while the story's author listens and takes notes. When everyone has spoken the author is allowed to ask questions or answer some of the reviewers questions and then everyone hands in their letters and the annotated story to the writer. Our instructor also gets a copy of the peer review letter.

Although it can be daunting to think about that many people judging your work all at one time, the process is extremely, let me say that again, extremely beneficial. For example, if 5 of them mention that your character development of the younger brother in your story is weak, then it probably was. If 7 of them say your imagery was fabulous then you might be on the right track with that technique.
The process is very civilized and a huge bang for your educational buck in my opinion. The best part though is that YOU, the author decides what advice to keep and what to toss. You maintain the control but generally a well run workshop where positives and negatives are balanced in intent and approach, will motivate you to revise your story and make it the best it can be.

This of course means more writing, which would explain why we call ourselves writers. Yup, my peers said the same thing. I have a real talent for stating the obvious.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dazed and Bemused, I am Ready for School.

Bad Photo, good book. Just one of the many required
 textbooks I found at

I have about 30 days left.

Then with the grace of God, a full Partridge Family backpack, a compass, a slate board and some chalk plus a few coins to call home in case I get lost...I go back to school. I am ready, really, really ready. Except that I am having a difficult time remembering to exhale after I inhale I am THAT excited.

After years of talking but not walking I am finally entering the Creative Writing program at the University Of Illinois, Champaign, a major within the English department, which is a part of the Liberal Arts and Sciences College.

I'm not telling you all that to impress you, rather it is more of a pneumonic device for this quinquagenarian so I don't show up at Butts Road Primary school instead. Hey, don't blame me for the schools name. Talk to the state of Virginia.

None of this back to school stuff seems quite real. Especially when any U of I notices I receive in the mail are snuggled up next to the AARP brochures demanding I join now or they will revoke my senior discount at Dennys.

Like I would ever let THAT happen.

But even though it's not all sunk in yet I am indeed looking forward to academia. I was actually giddy last week picking out notebooks for my five courses, a different color for each subject, I mean class, I mean course, when it dawned on me that college students may not take even take pen/paper notes anymore. They probably just put those notes right on their laptop, or I-pad or padtop or I-lap.

Wait! What if the teachers, I mean instructors, I mean professors, don't allow pen and paper in the classroom? What if they require all the notes to be entered on electronic devices only? What if I am supposed to have some micro-recording device in the heel of my shoe that will automatically turn on the second I sit down and relieve the pressure of middle age spread from the heel of my orthopedic-velcro-secured-Easy Spirit oxfords?

What if I fart in my chair?

Oh please, it could happen. My sphincters are not the rock stars they were in the 70's. It's just that the possibilities for total embarrassment loom large. I am in fact one undergrad in a sea of  32,000. How could I not stand out?

Ok, so I make a spectacle of myself. So what? At 55 dying of embarrassment is not nearly the tragedy it is at age 13. I've already made a mix tape of the music to be played at my funeral. Basically anything I do to bring shame to myself on Monday will be forgotten by later that same day anyway.  It's interesting how my attitude is so very different now than it was in Carters time. Back then I was too cool to attend any orientation sessions, whereas now I've gone to three.

I probably didn't need to attend the orientation for the new university groundskeepers but I am totally into zero turn mowers so I thought what the heck?

Back then I did not bother to find my classes before the semester started but I did draw a map of all the fraternity locations on the bottom of my feet. You know, for those moments when you just have to lay down and rest...on the Quad...for two whole days.

Now, I know 5 weeks ahead of time, each of the buildings my classes are in and next week I'll drive the 60 minutes to campus and actually walk to all the rooms. The week after that I will most likely time myself walking from the hall, into the room, to my seat of choice so I know exactly how long it takes to get from classroom to classroom AIS. (For those of you not schooled by the Sisters of Perpetual Critiscism as I was, AIS means ass in seat)

Back then, I attended class willy nilly. I did not attend my botany, speech, algebra, composition or biology classes. Willy Nilly required no papers, no tests, no finals. I loved that class. Imagine my shock (without awe) when called into my counselors office to be told Bye Bye. Seems a negative GPA was frowned upon. They took off additional points for the protest tables I had set up outside the classroom. I was very opposed to snail racing at the time.

Now, I plan to attend every course every day and maybe even skip lunch and sit in on the class again later that same afternoon. I plan to sit up front instead of sitting in the back writing love letters to David Bowie. I plan to take notes on my rotary phone, copy them onto my I-lap and save up all my Green Stamps so I can buy the 17 year old genius tutor I'm sure to need by week three.

I am planning to go back to school.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dream Beta Reader

I am freakish in that I enjoy feedback on my writing.  Not the usual, "Oh my, are you sure you're not Harper Lee's daughter?" malarkey when I just read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time this past week (an appalling admission I know) but rather the honest, hard hitting, and valuable type of feedback that is a rare but treasured gift.

I was recently the recipient of such a review and I'm still giddy over it's generosity.

A few months ago I distributed the first three chapters of my novel The Child Clare to several select individuals. They were "select" in that they did not roll their eyes or cough nervously when I asked for their input.  Some were friends and a couple were relatives. One, a valued blog buddy in Ireland, did an excellent job of helping me see how a non-American audience might view my work.

 All of my readers returned comments and suggestions but surprisingly, the individual who knew me least, or so I thought at the time, returned the most extensive and useful review/critique. In fact, her input was spread over several detailed pages. One page of comments and suggestions for every page of text for just my first chapter. She continues to work on chapters two and three.

Before I go any father let me make one thing absolutely Dingle Crystal clear. I will not, under any circumstances, threats of harm or promises of cash share the name of my Dream Beta Reader. She is mine and mine alone and you may not have her and to further protect her anonymity she will from this sentence forward be known only as Scarlet.

Because Scarlet is one groovy name, that's why.

Now Scarlet and I go way back. We were good friends in high school, we swooned over many a Neil Diamond record, yes...I said record. Then we grew up and lost touch. About a year ago we connected again on Facebook and the rest is Dream Beta Reader (DBR) history.

I will admit when I first peaked inside the package she sent and viewed my first chapter slashed up in crimson, I thought there had been a serious vegetable cutting incident in her kitchen. But when I realized the red blotches actually spelled words...I calmed myself.

I put the document away for a few days, not unlike a present you receive wrapped in gold paper and a cream velvet ribbon, too striking to ruin by opening. I wanted to have plenty of time to really absorb it's contents. Finally, I took that time and a cold beer and settled in to read her comments.

I was not disappointed. Scarlet was tuned in and serious about my characters from page one. She held me accountable for actions I promised or even implied a character would take and did not let up until I followed through. She was akin to a hog with a scone.

An example: In the very beginning, my protagonist reminds herself to touch up her lipstick before meeting her escort, and yet it was several pages before I returned to that detail. Scarlet picked up on that right away. Did my character forget the lipstick? Why had she not yet applied the lipstick? Did I forget the lipstick? WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LIPSTICK?!

It was this intense concentration, this demand for detail and follow-through that makes Scarlet shine as a DBR. She maintained this level of involved scrutiny throughout chapter one and made me quickly realize, she would not suffer fools and I best up my game.

Like the final page of Anne Enright's book The Gathering, I was borderline weepy to see Ms. Beta Readers comments come to an end. But I worked through that grief and the next day I began incorporating several of her suggestion in my, dare-I-say-it, sixth revision of The Child Clare. My preferred editing spot is now a damp piece of musky earth under our rural mailbox where I write and wait for DBR's wisdom on chapters two and three to arrive.

Thankfully it is summer here in Central Illinois and our rural mailbox is free of snowdrifts.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Printers Row Lit Fest Chicago. Not to Be Missed.

I attended the Printers Row Lit Festival  for the first time three years ago and was blown away not just by the sheer number of (big surprise) books, at this event (thousands and thousands, old, new, used and abused) but by the multitude of opportunities which bang into you as you round each booth.

Authors, printers, agents, publishers, TV and radio personalities, book store owners, and college representatives all within reach for an attendee to ask questions of, take cards from, inquire about, or just to learn more about how not to end a sentence in a preposition with.

This years 30th Anniversary festival lasts two days, June 7 and 8th, and takes place in several blocks around Dearborn and Polk Streets known as the Publisher Row Neighborhood, the South Loop section of the city once inundated with multiple publishing companies. Seeing the building architecture alone in that area is well worth the trip.

In addition to the plays, live music, poetry reading, book hawkers, food and drink concessions, the festival brings in a large number of celebrity authors who either participate in discussion groups, interviews or their own presentations. The festival itself is free to attend, you can just walk right into the midst of the streets blocked off with hundreds of vendors but some of the author driven sessions require a pre -paid ticket. These tickets go on sale tomorrow May 27 and can be purchased on line.

To sort though some of these events and to purchase tickets just click HERE.

The Printers Row Lit Fest is very family focused with numerous events and entertainment for future writers and publishers of all ages but keep in mind the following:

**The Lit Fest gets PACKED with people. Being an ex-pat of Chicago I have no problems with crowds but if you do I suggest you take your full dose of Ativan on that day.

**Bring cash. Small bills are best and change as some vendors are not set up for plastic. Don't worry about pick pockets as there is good security evident. Just keep your moola close to your body. Well, as long as you have a middle aged multiple child birth body like mine that pick pockets tend to avoid just on principle, keeping it close to your body is as good as carrying a metal safe around your neck.

**Bring your business card to distribute to other authors, possible agents and publishing companies. Do not slap some of your return address stickers on post-its and call it good. Future contacts will call that trash.

**Dress casually, wear real shoes. You'll be walking, going up and down stairs within some of the buildings if you attend any presentations. This week in June is almost always hot in the city and since it's unlikely they will open up the fire hydrants like they used to when I was a kid on north Ashland you should wear hot weather clothing. Funky hats are always popular.

Photo: New England Journal Of Aesthetic Research

**Bring a large tote bag to carry all the books you'd better buy, business cards, water bottle and maps.

**Come early Saturday morning (by 8am) and you will have no trouble parking. The event does not start until ten but before the other crowds arrive you can enjoy the coffee shops and walk the neighborhood scoping out the best vendors as they setup for the day.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Women's Fiction Writers Association

I am a new member of  the  Women's Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) and just learning about this group and all it's benefits. I only joined a couple of weeks ago but the number of woman who have reached out to me via email just for friend requests has been amazing and one day soon...I'll be responding to them.

I do not as a rule join many organizations. I've never been a sorority sister or part of the PTA. I don't do Tupperware or Pampered Chef Parties. I absolutely REFUSE to join AARP even though they've wasted several thousands mailing me all their brochures, and promises of great tote bags.

Like I need another tote bag.

I attend mass but have yet to get involved with the Rosary Club. Mostly because I am unsure if you have to have your own rosary first or do they give you one on joining or perhaps, like most things Catholic, will I have to earn my rosary? Furthermore if, it's OK to bring my own rosary what if it looks different than the other rosaries? Will I be shunned if I bring the red glass bead rosary my Aunt gave me when she visited Rome, because you know, it's too pretentious? Or will I be laughed at if I bring my dainty white necklace with the tiny gold cross from my first communion 1966?

Now, you understand why I don't join too many formal organizations, I am however planning to join the Illinois Rifle Association just as soon as I find out what kind of rifle most of the other members own.

Back to WFWA, the organization I actually belong to. It offers benefits. No, not health or life insurance type benefits but other equally cool benefits, like workshops, mentorship program, critique training and the opportunity to critique others work, contests, discussion forums and many valuable resources.

They even sell sports hoodies with their logo. I'm exercising regularly now so I believe I deserve one. In fact I am turning 55 in just 16 days so save yourself the trouble of last minute shopping and send me one now.

What I like most though about this organization is their commitment to writers of all levels, from the very new beginner to the well published shining stars. The organization is also fairly new, created in 2013 which means they are growing and exploring, rather than static and dull. You know, like those anybody-want-to-win-a-new-melon-baller? organizations.

So what writers organizations do you belong to? Why do you like or dislike them? If you belong to WFWA be sure and tell me how it's working for you. And oh, yeah, I'll take a size large in the hoodie.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Prodical Student Returneth

The Senior Frampton

As if our lives were not busy enough.
As if our days were not short enough.
As if we SAID we were going to slow things down.

What do I go and do?

I apply to the University of Illinois as a full time student.

And what do those misguided folks do? They accept me. Really. What have I done? I start as a Junior this August in the Creative Writing Program. I plan to continue straight though and obtain my Masters in the very same field.

Why not? I'm going to get old and die anyway, I might as well finally learn the correct use of colons and semi-colons.  If I really want to write and be published then I best learn the techniques. Besides, spending the day in a library trying to sort out the poetry of Yeats is a day well spent in my mind. (well it would be better spent at Galway University but I'm still wading through the Study Abroad requirements.)

The desire for this end result has been a very long time coming but ALWAYS in the back of my head, since 1976 when after a disastrous first semester at the same University I was non-ceremoniously expelled for a grade point average lower than the ground I was passed out on back in those days.

Seemed I love attending all those Peter Frampton parties a wee bit more than I actually attended class. Do you do?  Well I did. To say my mother was pissed, sorry there is no better term, when she made that 3 hr RT drive to collect my sorry (not enough) butt, is a gross understatement.

She brought me back into their home and said "You got two weeks Madame Butterfly, to get a job and find a lace to live." She had four other children who needed her and as far as she was concerned I had already flown the too crowded nest. I was 17, part of the problem. I graduated HS after three years and had no more enough maturity for campus life than a new born calf is ready to produce milk.

Two weeks later I was living in a rented trailer and working as a nurse side, which lead me to South Dakota and nursing school and marriage and kids, a divorce, a wonderful remarriage,  36 years in health care and a farmer and BAM! here I am at almost 55 and ready for a big change.

So , you might ponder, how does this fit in with our Poor Farm plans? Very well I hope. At first, until this farm is sold and new house is built it will indeed be insanely busy. But the University is only an hour away and classes can be scheduled for three times a week.  Since I plan to actually ATTEND classes this time it's likely I'll get better grades than oh say 38 years ago.

That will allow me, outside of study and travel time, and I'm a big believer in listening to classes on CD while driving, 4 full days to work with my Keith on our new place, and continue to write free-lance articles as I do now for additional income.

I still believe the only reason they have accepted me this time is that my records were so old they had returned to dust, unable to place blame where it was due. In fact my old immunization records are so ancient (1959) I have to have new measles, mumps and rubella shots, a health requirement of the school.

I just hope I get a nice bottle of something warm and soothing to drink right after, like any good baby would.

Of course being the most brilliant blog followers in the world you might wonder "How is she going to pay for this little venture.?"

I'm not. My parents are.

You see, due to a  limited scholarship which grants full tuition waivers to U of I for the children of war veterans whose parents served either in WW2, Korean Conflict, Vietnam , Southwest Asia Conflict, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I have been blessed with four years of paid tuition. I received notice of this award just two days ago. Here is the link in the event you are interested:

Even though my parents, both veterans of the Korean Conflict, who have been dead many years, who were never able to attend college themselves, never made more than $16,000 a year.

I believe my mother is up in Heaven right now hysterically laughing at the irony of this more than anyone.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How I Write

There is this great regular feature in The Writer  magazine called "How I Write" where they focus on a well known author and his/her writing habits.

They will ask about their writing routine, how they do research, what PC writing programs do they use, who they rely on for sounding boards etc...and although I always read this entire feature every month, I am always left wanting MORE.

I want to know the really important stuff like, do they brush their teeth, feed the cat, start the dishwasher before they start to write? Do they bother to get dressed or do they write in old underwear and their husbands flannel shirt? Do they take breaks every 15 minutes to check EBAY for any new swimsuits available in size fat for this years summer vacation?

Do they sit at a perfectly organized solid oak desk complete with a stunning reproduction bankers light , Lucite files, and brand new laptop or do they create on something that looks like this?

Yes, that is my writing desk. It is crammed into a corner of our guest bedroom upstairs where our granddaughters sleep when they visit. The typewriter on the left is just for show. I have never, not once, taken a typing class in my life. The desk was made for my husband by an uncle of his over 40 years ago. I painted it green over 20 years ago when I put it in this room (then belonging to our son who is now 25 and long gone from the room)
I hate that shade of green.
The memos taped on the shelf above contain a few inspiring quotes from other but mostly remind me to do laundry and buy more of those cool blue writing tablets. Yes, that is a picture of my mother towards the back of my desk, and those are wooden fruit crates on the left propping up more books. One day I'll get a real bookshelf.
So lets go on as if I am the well known author being interviewed by The Writer.
So Ms. O'Shaughnessy what is your writing routine?
"I'm very structured. I write every day between 8-10 am unless there is farm paperwork to be done, then I write every afternoon between 12-3 unless we have piglets to castrate then I write every evening from 10-1am unless I have fallen asleep with my head resting on the keyboard and drool dripping into the letter B. Then I write during the night when I get up to go to the bathroom. I always keep a copy of my manuscript next to the toilet, except when I forget"
What is your revision process?
" I always write an entire chapter before I revise. I think it is imperative to get the entire scene nailed down before you start playing with muse interrupters like grammar and spelling."
I see. How long are your chapters ?
1-2 pages.
Who is your biggest influence?
"That's easy. Mother Teresa, and Joan of Arc. Only real martyrs understand what writers go through.
What are you working on currently?
"Well I started to clean the frig yesterday but when I found the 1/2 onion I put in there last week wasn't all that mushy I thought I might as well dice it up for an omelet since I've been eating way too many carbs lately and my hind end is really showing it..."
I meant WRITING, what writing project are you working on?
"Oh that. Well I am still editing  and revising my first novel, even though I have sent it out to a few agents it could be so much better and I figure the longer I keep playing with it the longer I can put off starting my second novel which is about 4 sisters traveling in Ireland and will most likely tick off my siblings even though its FICTION I will tell them. "
So there it is. My future interview with The Writer magazine. And you didn't even have to pay the subscription price.
"You get what you pay for."
Hey! Who said that?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My First Rejection,

of my writing that is. At 54 I've had many rejections in my life which makes this one quite tolerable to bear. I queried this particular agent just two weeks ago, they did not want any chapters of my book only the query letter which involved just two paragraphs about my novel. I had to leave room in the one page query to talk about my past accomplishments, and the genre of the book as they requested in their submission guidelines. I am very pleased with their rapid turnaround since they said to expect 4-6 weeks before a response.

So you can see for yourself what a real rejection looks like, I've copied the email below removing of course the agents name.

Dear Ms. O'Shaughnessy,

Thank you for querying......................about your book project. We have evaluated your materials and regrettably, your project is not a right fit for our agency. We currently have a very full clientele and must be highly selective about the new projects we pursue.

Thank you again for thinking of us. Please know that we wish you much success in all of your future writing and publishing endeavors.


......................... Literary Associates

So now what? Well I'll continue to do what I've been doing. Constant rewriting and revising and I will send out several more queries this week. If I receive more rejections then I will send out more queries and so on and so on. In my reading I have learned that an agents rejection can be due to multiple variables. They don't see a market for my work, or my book just sounds dull, or perhaps they have all the stories they need that are similar to mine, or they did not feel a connection with me through my query letter.

But I do believe in my book and will continue to polish and improve. I will also be starting my second novel soon so that in the event an agent is interested in my novel The Child Clare, and wants to see more of my work, I will have it ready.

With that said, I did have some fun looking at other famous rejection letters of the past. They were grand to read, at least for me. I'm sure the authors on the other end were not so thrilled to receive them, especially poor Miss Gertrude Stein, bestselling author, when she opened up this little gem in her mailbox.
 With all the right things said you might wonder, how do I really feel?

Well, I am curious. I would love to know the following: did the agent feel anything when she read my letter? Was there the slightest bit of interest? Did she walk down the hall to her colleague and say "what do you think", only to be reminded that they printed a story like mine two years ago and it still isn't selling well? Or did she really, really want to represent me but her schedule was so full and they were representing so many authors she knew she couldn't do my project justice?

Yeah. That one makes me giggle too.

But I will never know. And that is just fine. Really, I am fine.


OK, I feel slightly, just slightly bruised. As if someone ran into my shopping cart at the grocery store causing my apples to fall out of the basket and well...bruised them, But they are not bad apples in their entirety. They are still firm and red and shiny with a couple tender spots that if not cared for right away will turn bad. So, I'm going to take them home, peel them and make a nice pie with a brown sugar topping.

Then I will take a piece up to my desk with a big carafe of black coffee and I will keep writing.

For more great rejections take a side trip to: Famous Rejection Letters

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Genre? What Genre?

Genre Free Cover
When I started writing my first novel I thought it was about a husband and his wife their family and their extended family. Then I believed it to be about a couple and their family. Then I thought it was about the couple and their child. But when it came down to it after several revisions, the story was simply about a woman and her child.

In basic literary terms the genre would be Women's Fiction, a story about  woman written by a woman. (Keep in mind some experts in the field think Women's Fiction can be written by men, but that's a whole 'nother post.)

Seems simple enough. But what type of Women's Fiction? Is it Women's Contempory Fiction?  Women's Historical Fiction? Women's Literary Fiction? Women's PMS Fiction, Women's Commercial Fiction? Or just the fun and sassy Chic Lit?

I know. It gets very confusing.

To complicate it even more, the Women's Fiction genre is just one of approximately 150 fiction genres. I won't even go anywhere near the NON-fiction genres.

Some of the most popular fiction genres are:

Adventure Novel
Children's Literature
Comic Novel
Erotic Fiction
Historical Fiction
Literary Fiction
Political Fiction
Pulp Fiction (I know, I thought that was just a movie too!)
Religious Fiction

And then within those, are subcatagories of fiction.

Under Horror, for example you have: Gothic Horror, Southern Gothic Horror (What is that? Banjo playing Zombies with dark smoky eyes and pierced tongues?" Followed by Supernatural Horror, Cosmic Horror, Body Horror and something called Splatterpunk Horror.

I don't even want to know.

Oh OK, yes I do. Seems Splatterpunk Horror (according to Wikipedia) is —a term coined in 1986 by David J. Schow at the Twelth World Fantasy Convention and refers to horror fiction distinguished by its graphic, gory, depiction of violence. "Hyperintensive horror with no limits"

Yikes. I don't think those authors will have to worry about any competition from me in that arena. After reading Stephen Kings, Pet Sematary almost 30 years ago, I am still unable to sleep all night without at least one nightmare. To make it even more difficult, prospective agents expect authors to have a good idea what genre their book will fit into and whether or not it meets any cross- genre criteria. Say for example, could you call it a Psychological Romance or is it best defined as a good old Legal Thriller?

So where does a new author or inexperienced writer go to learn more about genre? Wikipedia for starters and then a google search for each genre listed. You can also do some old fashioned research. Get your can out of your chair, dust off your library card or GET ONE and go trouble a very well educated librarian.

Tell her you'd like to check out five books in the Ergodic Literature section. You'll have a blast and she/he will feel needed. (See what I did there? No link. You'll have to work a bit to look up that term.)

The point is our job as authors to be able to label our work. We spent weeks working on the setting, years refining our voice and months tweeking the dialog. We developed the characters, their arcs, their flaws and their intentions. I mean really, if we don't know its a Paranormal Lesbian Historical Romance Tragi-Comedy who will?.

To read more about Genre please check out K.M. Weilands guest post on the topic at
Suite T  The Author's Blog of Southern Writers Magazine.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Query Letters Off and Running

It is done.

Earlier today, 1:40 am to be exact, I hit the dreaded "send" button hurling my very first query letter for my novel, The Child Clare, out into the cyber world.

Preparing that query letter was more nerve shattering than preparing for the birth of my first child, which is sadly no comparison at all because at 21 all I could think about was getting the poor dear out. Preparing for anything back in those pre-dawn ages was not in my skillset.

While on the other hand I obsessed about my query letter for weeks. First I had to find the perfect first agent to contact. Then the letter had to be perfect. The delivery...via email as the agent requested, perfect as well. Even though the response itself may not be so perfect, as rejections for this particular agent average more than 100 each week, I felt true excitement as I hit that keyboard firmly with my index finger. Later today I will select the other four agents who will also get a query letter.

But it's funny. After all the work, all the removals of all the commas followed by the reinsertion of all the commas, followed by the checking and rechecking of the agents name, not to mention the hours spent deciding on my genre (is it women's fiction? women's contemporary fiction? women's hysterical fiction?) I expect a rejection.

 I am OK with that.

 You see, I am new at this and have not yet paid all my dues. I have few scars which means no scar tissue and without scar tissue I have no means of protecting my delicate self.

So fine. Hit me. Send me the rejection and maybe even a tidbit or two about what might be needed and I will be happy. Please readers, don't give me the whole "you have to be positive" malarkey. I am positive. Positive that the likelihood of my first query letter for my first novel will result in my first rejection.

The way I see it, each rejection is a brick on which to build this new foundation for the second (or is it third?) career I have initiated. With additional query letters followed by additional revisions to my novel, followed by additional query letters for that book as well as others I have already started...I am building a new life.

A writing life.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Finding my Beta Readers

 My novel is complete, until I again revise it, and I need real, honest, not-afraid-to-hurt-my-feelings-and-maybe-chance-not-getting-a-Christmas-present-feedback. In other words I need Beta Readers.

If you are new to fiction writing you might be unfamiliar with the term. I certainly was until about 6 months ago. A Beat Reader is one who will read all or part of your completed but as yet, unpublished novel and then give you realistic, useable feedback. They will take the time to sit, read and comment.

And when they are done, the writer will hopefully be able to take that input, apply it to their sacred baby and revise to the point of...improvement. So, I had to ask myself what do I specifically need in a Beta Reader?

I need people who love writing their opinion in red pen. No, not green (too organic) and not yellow (too passive) and certainly not pink (too Jr. High) but real Sister Mary Frances Red Ink.

I need people who think incorrect use of a semicolon; is just as criminal as wearing lace trimmed anklet socks with sandals and Capri pants.

I need people who believe one typo on a page is one too many.

I need people who have read more than they eat or at least read WHILE they are eating.

I need people who will publically mock me if I use clich├ęs like "high as a kite'' "right as rain" or "crazy as a loon," anywhere in my novel.

I need people who are not afraid to throw a thesaurus at my head when I use the same word (like "people") over and over.

I need my own Beta Reader(s)

So last week I contacted three nursing friends of mine and asked them to take on the job. Goofy women all said "yes." So three chapters of my novel went out to them complete with SASE for the return of their comments. Because I have traveled to Ireland with these woman, shared drinks and family woes at O'Loclainns Pub with these women, worked long grueling night shifts caring for the most distressing of patients with these women...I trust them to be honest with me.

Next I plan to hit up some near strangers. Specifically those I have never shared an airplane ride or jug of Red Breast with. Maybe my mail lady or a blog follower or that really nice woman in the gift shop in Sibley. (She is always reading a book when I come in)

And then I plan to compare.

If the good buddies and maybe a family member or two and then the strangers all find the same flaws, I'll know where to focus my energies. After that I am considering hiring a professional editor. Now you might ask yourself why would she pay someone to do the same job someone else was willing to do for free?

Well that would be like leaving the dishes undone in the sink before the housekeeper comes. And who would do that?

How about you? Do you have Beta Readers?  How did you find them? How many for each new novel? Do you ask family members for feedback or do you only trust paid professionals? Do you give them just a few chapters or the entire manuscript? Has the experience been beneficial ? Tell me. I'd love to know.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Finding an Agent

Years ago I thought the process went like this; you wrote a book, you mailed the whole manuscript to the most well known publisher you knew, and you waited by the mailbox for that big advance check.

It had to be that simple, how else could there be so many books in the libraries, the bookstores, the magazine stands? Hmmmm?

Turns out the process is slightly more detailed, like a Boeing 747 is "slightly more detailed" than a paper airplane Uncle Gallant folded for you. In fact, I've been told that an author should spend decent time searching for the right agent, comparable to the amount of time spent writing your novel. After all this book is your baby are you really going to leave it with your great aunt Bertha's mailman's daughter?

This is what I've been doing so far to wade through the sea of folks who might represent me.

I piled up all the books I've read in the last two years that are in the same genre as my novel. Then reading the credits I searched for names of agents the authors wished to thank. I cross referenced those names with agent listings in The Writer magazine, in 2104 Writers Market, 2014 Guide to Literary Agents as well as the websites for each agent.

What I discovered is this; agents move around.

So before you send them a query letter, be sure they still exist in the same city on the same street , in the same building as they did when they represented Harper Lee  in 1960, who by the way never published another novel after To Kill a Mockingbird.

Other hints include:

     After identifying 5-10 agents you feel might be a good match for you, start flowing their blogs. (Not all agents have these but many do) Then make sincere comments on these blogs. Was their advice helpful? Did you learn something new? If so tell them. But don't just spill out fluff covered compliments in order to get your name in front of their eyes. Agents are smart I've heard. Do the same thing on their Facebook page.

     Attend writers conferences, meet and greet events, book fairs etc... Last year I attended the Printers Row Literary Fest in Chicago and met writers, agents, publishers and bookmark makers. One cool event. I shook hands, handed out my business card, bought bags of books and asked lots of questions.

     After you've attended a workshop, lecture or other event; drop a personal Thank You note in the mail. Do not go on about your upcoming book, instead just mention that you enjoyed meeting them and/or appreciated the advice they may have given you. Emails are effective but cold, whereas a handwritten Thank You says that you care about detail and relationships.

This is what I've done so far. To date I have not secured an agent but I'll let you know when I do. In the meantime, please leave your own comments about this process. I'm sure I've barely scratched the surface.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to Write a Query Letter...A Workshop with Literary Agent Joanna Mackenzie

My life is getting very exciting. Take tonight for example. Leaving the pigs, cows and peacocks and husband behind I trekked up to my old neighborhood in Chicago, Ravenswood, to learn something new.

This old dog needs stimulation if she is to continue remembering the names of her children.

The workshop, sponsored by the Chicago Writers Conference was so worth the moola. For just $50 I was able to meet Joanna Mackenzie, Literary agent with the only literary agency in Chicago, Browne and Miller Literary Associates. Not only did we meet...

Ms. Mackenzie: "Hi"
Me: "Hi"

Yes, I understand the whole idea of networking is to actually work that net so to speak, draw people in, make an impression and all that, but she was just sitting down and the session was starting so I was being respectful of her time.

Who's defensive?

Am not.

Am not.

Do you mind? I have a post to complete. So the session was very good.

They gave us free wine.

Turns out that agents are not as mean as so many of the articles written about them, would have you to believe. In fact, Ms. Mackenzie covered all the basics in a warm and helpful manner. She explained the reasons WHY an author needs an agent, HOW to find and agent and WHEN a query letter should be written. She went into detail about the contents of a query letter and she shared some of the best BAD query letters I have ever seen. 

And they gave us free wine.

She also gave us a serious reality check. Immediately after I asked the question, "Could you please give us a reality check in regards to the number of query letters you receive as compared to books that make it to publication?"

And they gave us free wine.

The breakdown went like this. In a weeks time her agency receives approximately 200 query letters. Seems everyone has the next best seller. Of those 200 her staff will pick out 30 they think are worthy of her time. Of those 30 she might ask 5 authors to send a few chapters. And of those 5...only 1-2 will be selected for possible sale to a publishing company.

Seems a bit daunting does it not? Oh well, at least,

They gave us free wine.

So for those of who are ready to send those first query letters to an agent Ms. Mackenzie advises:

     Do your research. Do not contact an agency that publishes only YA fiction about your fabulous
     new roadkill cookbook.

     Be professional. Instead of "Hiya" Consider, Dear Ms. Mackenzie.

     Tell about your book in a synopsis of one paragraph. Do not send drawings, CDs DVDs or live
     models ready to do a puppet show.

     Do compare your book to other similar types but DO NOT mention that yours is so much

     Do follow the agent specific submission guidelines. Don't send by registered mail if they only
     take email submissions.

     Do wait an appropriate amount of time, such as a couple weeks, before you call to politely
     ask if they received your letter. DO NOT park yourself outside the agents home. This would be
     stalking. Agents don't like stalking

Again, for more information about how to query an agent, go directly to their website.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

From Ignorance to Competence

Four years ago I finally got off my mental arse and started my novel, you know the one I always meant to write.

I had a computer, I had an idea, I had the time.
Unfortunately, I didn't have the skills.

Turns out, writing a book, is hard. At least it was for me. Probably because I did it all wrong.
But I blundered though. It took forever, there was so much to learn about voice and pacing and grammar and character development and scene setting.

Now, finally, my story is complete. Except for a few teeny tiny fixes: like voice, and pacing and grammar and character development and scene setting.

I've learned massive amounts while I've struggled with this huge mess on my desk and in my head and on my pc. I thought maybe I could help some of you newbies out there by sharing my mistakes as well as gifting you with some of my great finds.

Follow along with me as I move towards publication of my first creation. Maybe you'll learn something. I'm sure I will.