Monday, October 31, 2005

In Editing

My novel has officially entered the Editing Phase! You may have noticed that today's date is 10/31, so probably my book won't make its target publication date of "October 2005." :) Well, things happen. In this case, it was a category three thing called Wilma. If you've ever been through a storm with hurricane-force winds, you probably understand why my editor didn't get to editing my book on time. Seeing as how he lives in the Wilma's path, he was probably too busy boarding up his windows, stocking up on water and canned goods, and so forth to worry about whether the first sentence of the second paragraph on page 152 should have a period or a semicolon.
But now Wilma's gone, and life is going on. And my manuscript is being edited by a professional editor at a publishing house.
And my publisher and I talked about my pseudonym. Actually, we emailed each other about it, but whatever. I'm using K.C. May. K is for Karen, C is for Collins, my grandma's maiden name. My two grannies are among the women who've inspired me most, so I wanted to pay tribute.
Of course, the title, 'She Whom I Most Admire' goes to my dearest mom. She's awesome!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Day 5 & The Journey Home

Friday came too soon. After an intense but enjoyable week, I'm not sure any of us were really ready to leave. We started the day with a lecture by Steve on Writers' Mental Health, and the ways we need to take care of ourselves. Too often, writers and other creative people get lured by drugs and/or alcohol, or even cigarettes & caffeine to help tap into their "muse" or inner beast, then find they can't create without them. The trick is to never start.

The other way we need to take care of ourselves is by refusing to let the negative reviews get to us. Sometimes even seeing how prolific other writers are can dampen a writer's enthusiasm because, frankly, sometimes the words don't come as freely as at other times. And sometimes they don't come at all. One piece of advice all the instructors gave repeatedly on this subject: Never EVER respond to a negative review. Even if all you want to do is to correct an error of fact ("there were no cats in my story"), it can come off as snarky. Let your fans correct the error for you. ;o)

Next, Patrick gave a lecture on the state of the industry -- really interesting. He started with a history of the genre and mass-market paperbacks, and wrapped up with a few encouraging tidbits about book-buying in general: the national literacy rate is higher than ever, people buy more books than ever despite the higher cost and the fact that about 30% of the population does not go to bookstores), and the genre is alive and well.

After dinner, we talked and said our goodbyes and ambled off to prepare for our departure.

Saturday morning, we settled our hotel bill and I got some pics of my two roommies, Pat and Kate. Pat and I said our goodbyes to Kate and got a ride to the airport from one of the "not staff." We caught the same plane to Providence in the little 10-seat (including the pilot) plane. The weather was pretty nasty, and so our landing was quite rough. Pat and I had a 2-hour layover before our next flights, so we had lunch and talked for a while, then said our goodbyes. I went on to Dulles airport, and after a short layover and a long wait inside the plane, we took off for Phoenix. The movie was Batman Begins. Despite leaving about an hour late, we were almost on-time at the arrival gate, only my luggage went to LAX instead of Phoenix. Grrr.

I'm tired through to my bones! Sunday will be spent reading, relaxing, doing laundry and relaxing. And reminiscing about one of the best weeks I've spent in a long time.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Day 4

We had the last of the crit groups today, thank goodness! The stories were all so great, but trying to read them all by 9am was hard, plus we had to get our writing assignments done. I went to bed around 1am the night before, so I was starting to feel the tiredness catching up to me. After critique group session, Debra gave a lecture on research, which was really helpful. Writers must do research, whether they’re writing about a real world or one they make up, because even the made up stuff has to be plausible and grounded in reality. We have to understand culture, religion, monetary systems, textile industry (clothing, weaving, etc), and so forth. Debra gave us the method she learned in grad school when starting to research subjects we have absolutely no knowledge of. The biggest tip: start with children’s nonfiction to get a high-level discussion with pictures.

After lunch, we broke into small groups to read aloud the stories we were assigned to write on Monday. Mine was a humorous tale based on the assignment "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Iceberg," which, of course, was an assignment to write a funny story about the Titanic. Afterward, we regrouped for the colloquium, which was an open discussion about all aspects of writing – whatever students wanted to know. The one thing that all of the instructors emphasized was that if you write a good story, it will get published. In fact, they could not emphasize that enough. Another thing they said more than once was that every student in the room would be in the top 5% of the slush pile.

Writers learn about the slush pile – that huge stack of manuscripts waiting to be read, which came "over the transom" (unsolicited). Interns are often hired to read them and weed out the "slush" from the good writing. The two editors, Teresa and Patrick, said you cannot believe the kind of stuff that people send – and most of these writers have some chemical imbalance or altered mental state of some kind. Good writers do stand out. Unfortunately, very little writing from the slush pile ever gets published, but if you’re in the top 1-2%, your chances are excellent of at least getting read by an editor.

We had supper, then played a few rounds of Thing and Mafia. Those two games are so enjoyable, and they give the group a chance to bond and friendships to form. We laugh, we tease, the ice breaks, and it’s just plain fun.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Day 3

The crit groups started the day, like the others, after which Teresa Nielsen Hayden gave a lecture on exposition. A most wonderful lecture, I might add. I’ll type up a few tidbits from that when I have more time. Again, we broke for lunch, then I met with Laura for an hour one-on-one, and she gave me her thoughts on my story as well. Unlike everyone else, she loved the story, including the [tragic] ending, but she would also like to see me implement Steve’s suggestion.

After that, I was free for the rest of the day/evening, but I still had my short story to write, plus critique two stories for tomorrow morning. And I have one more left, so I’d better get to it!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Day 2

There’s so much going on, it’s been impossible to find time to write it down. We had critique groups in the morning for an hour and a half (and that time really flies), followed by a lecture. Today’s lecture was from author Laura J. Mixon. Not only is she a great teacher, she’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. She talked about the feeding and caring of the inner beast – the wordless entity that resides in all of us which helps us express ourselves. Some people call it the muse, but the beast may be a better term for it because it can be a bit wild.

After lunch, we got together for a colloquium, where something happened, but I forgot what. Then we had one-on-one sessions with an instructor for an hour. My hour was with author Steve Gould. He took a good portion of that time critiquing my story, telling me what worked and why, and what didn’t work and why, and some thoughts on how to fix it. We discussed some of the other ideas brought up in my group critique, and talked about writing in general. The most significant piece of advice he gave me on my story was about the ending, and not letting the bad guy get off scott free.

I had a couple hours after that to read for Wednesday’s critique session, check email and such, before supper, after which I did some critiquing and went to bed just before midnight.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Day 1

We met Monday morning at 9am and broke into critique groups. I met with six other students and two of the instructors, Jim Macdonald and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. The students went first, giving me their feedback on the story I wrote, Sole Sacrifice. As the critiquee I was not permitted to say anything, just to listen (and take copious notes). A few students thought the pacing was too slow, some thought it was just right and they ripped through the story. Some thought the story was too long for what went on, but the psychological aspects of the character’s transformation were important. Then, Teresa had her say, and she had a lot to say! She started out by saying she didn’t hate it. I guess that’s a good thing! When she was done, Jim added his comments, many seconding what Teresa said, but adding some other observations, too. He was the only one who commented on who the real villain of the story is and why. He also, in a round about way, pointed out that the coolest parts of the story (the woman captain and the sea snakes) could have been cut.

What struck me about the instructors’ feedback was how deep it was. Teresa went into detail about the social and religious foundations of my story and what didn’t work and why. She pointed out so many plot and structure (societal) holes, I was astounded. In a good way – if I had this kind of feedback about all my writing, I’d be in heaven!

Next, I sat and listened to everyone critique a fellow student’s story. I’d misunderstood the instructions and so I didn’t read it, so I needed to read later and get with her to give her my comments. Jim and Teresa, again, gave a ton of detailed, deep comments about the story’s weaknesses and holes. Jim’s an EMT in his community, and told us some interesting things, such as that the skin stretches a lot after death. For instance, a man who dies in his easy chair and is found a month later will have his jaw in his lap, and his fingers stretched so far that his fingertips reach the floor. Anyway, comments like that showed how some scenes wouldn’t work because of the physics or what have you. All in all, I thought the feedback was immeasurably helpful, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

We all met again in the main meeting room for a lecture by Jim on plotting. He used the chess metaphor, which I dearly love, but I’m still not 100% certain how to translate it into writing a story. I get the gist of it, the point about dominating the center squares and putting your main pieces into motion early in the game, but what threw me was that the minor characters are the pawns, and the major characters are the back rank pieces.

After lunch, we met for some fun writing exercises, and got our first real assignment: a 5000 word short story due Thursday. Some students met for one-on-ones with an instructor. Mine will be Tuesday and Wednesday with Laura Mixon and Steve Gould.

After dinner (turkey and dressing), I have two stories to read and critique for Tuesday, plus start on my short story.

Day 0

Sunday, I went with Bill to pick up one of my fellow students, and we stopped at the grocery store on the way back to the hotel room. I picked up eggs, sausage, cheese and butter for breakfast burritos (I brought large tortillas with me), milk, sweetener for tea, and the shower cap I’d forgotten to bring with me. Back at the hotel, I was eating my sloppily made burrito when my roommate Kate arrived. She’s a very nice lady, who had just graduated from college, making me wish I’d done something like this workshop back then. What a head start she’s getting on her writing! A bit later, our other roomie, Pat, arrived. Pat’s a clinical psychologist from Alabama, who happened to know of my dad’s work in the field of Social Work. Woot! Anyway, the three of us get along just great, and at 4:30 we bravely descended to the meeting rooms where our first workshop event would be held. Unfortunately, the event didn’t start until 6pm, so we had to come back later.

We formally met all the instructors and ate supper of burgers and salad and the best potato salad I’d ever had. YUM!! Then we played two rounds of a game called Mafia. The first round, I was the commendant. If you don’t know how to play, it goes like this… OK, never mind. I'll find a link to it online. That’s easier. :o)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Off to Paradise

Today's the day!

The airport shuttle picked me up just shy of 4:00am Saturday and I was through security and at the gate by 4:45 for a 6am flight. The obvious thing to do while I wait is read… or write. I brought along The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells to read. Somehow, I couldn’t relax enough; I’m going to my first writer’s workshop! First in-person workshop, that is.

I lucked into a first-class upgrade on the longest leg of the journey (Phx to Pittsburgh) for a mere $150, and I was glad I did. It was nice. Really nice. I connected in Pitts to Providence, RI, where I ate lunch and waited 3 hours for my flight to the island. There were only seven passengers and one captain in a tiny propeller plane that seated ten. I really enjoyed that part – but we were only in the air for 20 minutes. One of the VP staffers, Carol met me at the airport, and she and her husband, Bill, drove me to the Island Inn. It was already starting to get dark, so I didn’t get to see a lot, so I look forward to doing a little exploring tomorrow.

It turns out that one of the students had to cancel because her son had a terrible weight-lifting accident that tore his femoral artery! So her roommate, Kate, was without a roommate, and seeing as how my two roommates were both men, Carol asked if I’d be interested in rooming with Kate and perhaps another lady, Pat, who would like to share if someone needed a roomie. So the three of us are piling into a townhouse unit. It took a while to get ahold of Dick and Leo to find out if they were cool with splitting the condo two ways rather than 3, but it all works out great.

The rooms are charming. The townhouse has a bedroom upstairs with a king-sized bed, and a bedroom downstairs with two twin beds, plus a queen sofa sleeper. I don’t mind sharing a bedroom, and neither does Pat, so Kate will probably get the upstairs bedroom. My knees don’t like those stairs. No siree.

Kate – a different Kate, of VP Staff fame – kindly invited me to join the instructors and staff for a meal in the staff room, seeing as how I arrived early and didn’t get a chance to get to the store for food. I, being shy when outnumbered by strangers, was happy to observe from the shadows and get a feel for the incredibly quick minds and creativity of the people I’ll be spending the next week with. Jim Macdonald, aka Yog, is as friendly as he is helpful, with a nice, firm handshake. Teresa Nielsen Hayden is an amazing person, so witty and sharp, and with a personality you can’t help but like. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about everyone as I get to know them, but so far, I’m overwhelmed and excited and deeply thrilled to be here.