Category Archives: Writers Conference

Eureka?

I like that word mostly because of its history. It comes from ancient Greek meaning “I found it.”

From Wikipedia: “The exclamation ‘Eureka!’ is attributed to the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes. He reportedly proclaimed “Eureka! Eureka!” after he had stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose, whereupon he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. “

I had a bit of a Eureka moment whilst taking a shower this morning. I think I figured out a better prologue for my novel (the one that failed so miserably in the contest).

I rewrote the first chapter already from a different point of view, but I’m not sure I like how it turned out. The first iteration contained a lot of information necessary to the rest of the book, but I couldn’t include it in the rewrite, because the new point of view character doesn’t have that information. Yet it won’t fit anywhere else. At least not yet. I did ask a few people to read the prologue and first three chapters to see what they think, so we’ll see how that goes. Maybe it does work, and I’m being overly critical.

Perhaps I’ll have another Eureka moment whilst in the shower tomorrow, or at least by the end of June. I intend to present this novel to an agent at a writers conference in July.

Also, I signed up to write more devotionals for my church. The focus is on the minor Old Testament prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah and Nahum. Each day is a separate chapter of each book (except Obadiah since it’s only one chapter), so the series will encompass a month.

So far I signed up to write six devotionals. I wanted to sign up for more, but I thought that might be too greedy.

I look forward to writing them, especially the ones in Hosea. It’s about how God not only punishes his people (Israel), but about his relentless pursuit of drawing Israel back to him in spite of her sins. It’s a love story in many ways. Plus, as a writer, I can appreciate the beauty of the prose, and the parallels it draws between God and Israel, and Hosea and his wife and children.

Hmm. Maybe I should study Hosea as a writer, and see how I can apply those techniques to my own writing. Something to think about anyway.

Ups And Downs

Often when I experience a series of good things, I soon find myself standing in the equivalent of a dark valley. Or at least a shadowed one.

Since it happens so often, you’d think I’d expect it, or be used to it. Try neither, but I’ve at least convinced myself to endure it – hopefully with a smidgen of grace.

The highs came from placing 2nd in the Writer’s Digest contest and the agent asking for the first three chapters of my novels during the conference.

The low I’m in now is partially due to coming down with a cold (yay), and giving one of my manuscripts to a fellow writer. She likes the story, and her edits so far are quite accurate and will only make me a better writer – which is why I asked for her critique in the first place. I’m far too close to my writing, it’s sometimes near impossible to look at it objectively. That’s why critiques are so important.

Those infuriating voices, however, those ones we’re all familiar with that try to convince us how awful we are, and that we should give up writing. They won’t leave me alone.

A few weeks ago someone asked how others fight off the uncertainties of being a writer. This is how I responded:

Realize those thoughts do not come from God. And since they don’t come from God, who do they come from?

I have those thoughts myself, all the time, and it usually happens right before a breakthrough. Time to put on the armor of God, my friend, because only with Jesus can you fight the enemy. You’re in my prayers.

I don’t always take the above advice. Sometimes I prefer to wallow in self-pity.

Speaking of self-pity . . .

But first off, a warning and apology to my gentlemen readers: I will mention a certain female function you might want to skip over.

It seemed every time we went camping or on a long trip this year, it happened during that time. Attending the writer’s conference was not an exception.

In fact, I was pissed at God that he would allow it. Why? Because it happened two weeks later than normal, to the point I wondered if I was either pregnant or officially entering menopause. Almost the entire four days, I came close to cursing God for cursing me. Especially during a time when I needed to focus on the conference. Instead, I worried about whether or not I would end up having to take an emergency bathroom break.

I mentioned the conference to fellow writers during a get-together we have once a month last weekend. We talked about how not knowing anyone else there, we end up standing on the fringes. One of the ladies in the group mentioned how since every writer likes to talk about themselves, it’s important to ask other writers about who they are and what they write instead of talking about ourselves all the time.

I realized then how much my attitude affected the way I treated other writers. I stood on the fringes along with other writers who didn’t know anyone. Since I felt gross, sad and frustrated, I didn’t want to talk about myself or my writing. I instead approached others standing by themselves and asked them questions. Unless someone asked, I avoided talking about myself.

Turns out, I ended up talking to mostly first-time attendees who I’m sure felt out of sorts – much like I do every time I attend a conference, first time attendee or not.

If I didn’t have my – issues – I kind of doubt I would have been as interested and accommodating as I was. Until I talked about it last weekend with the writers group, I didn’t consider that perhaps God intended my attitude to be subdued to help other attendees – especially first-timers – and not necessarily myself. If that’s the case, I kinda like how God chose me to do that. If nothing else, I’m not cursing him anymore, because something positive came from it.

The Dreaded “What Ifs”

During the awards gala last night, a certain realization hit me.

What if . . .

The agent I pitched to not only wants to see my first three chapters, but asks for the full manuscript, and terror of all terrors, agrees to represent me.

You’d think I’d be excited. After all, isn’t this one step closer to what I’ve been pursuing since I wrote my first novel back in 2001?

The problem with dreaming is it never take into consideration the work involved to not only make the dream come true, but what happens after.

In this case, while I wrote (and wrote. And wrote) the only expectations I had to meet were my own. Once an agent decides to represent me, I not only have to meet her expectations, but the expectations of whichever publisher decides to buy my manuscript, and my readers.

What if . . .

I fail to meet those expectations? And it’s not only the quality of the story, but the quality of the writing, and everything I can (and need) to do to promote my book.

What if . . .

I have no more books in me left to write, or I can’t write them in a timely manner?

And those are the big what ifs. There are many minor ones too, such as what if I don’t get along with my editors, and/or my agent and I have irreconcilable differences.

Do I really want to take those chances? Am I unwilling to take the chance that any or all of those things happen?

How important is fulfilling my dream?

Is it even about me?

Or is it about my stories, and not me at all?

Truth is, I don’t have a choice. When I set my “fleece before the Lord” about pursuing publication in 2010, he told me under no uncertain terms that I should. This is what he wants from me (and for me). To fear moving forward means I don’t trust him enough to know that he’s got this. I’m not saying that all of the above won’t happen. It all still could. All that means is I would have to work harder, trust more, and at worst, start over. That’s not going to kill me, and it won’t kill my dream — at least not if I don’t let it.

Sharpen Your Trigger

I am currently in Nashville, TN attending the ACFW Writers Conference. It is over half over, but my brain has tried to absorb so much information, it feels like tapioca pudding. That’s a good thing, because I’m learning a lot. I’ve discovered I don’t suck as a writer – at least not completely. In the two classes I took so far, I do more things right than I do wrong.

I still have to go through at least one manuscript (the first few chapters anyway, but more on that later) to make several modifications, but luckily not too many. I could have those done tonight – if I’m motivated enough, that is. It’s a bit iffy considering my tapioca brain.

Because I didn’t want to chance missing an entire day of the conference due to delayed or cancelled fights, I decided to arrive a day earlier than most. Just in case everything went well, I signed up for an early bird session with Donald Maass, the literary agent and author of “Writing the Breakout Novel.”

This seminar was titled “Writing in the 21st Century”, which is also based on his newest book of the same title.

Did you know that literary fiction paperback novels remain on best seller lists for nearly ten times or more longer than any other genres, including hard cover and non-fiction? Donald was a bit surprised by that, and read the top books to look for what those books had that others didn’t.

Literary fiction does have a bit of a misconception surrounding it, namely that they’re slow and detail versus plot oriented, when in truth, that’s not always the case. What literary fiction strives for is to make every paragraph, every page make an emotional connection to the reader. It’s intent is to draw the reader in, to immerse him or her into the author’s world.

Me writing science fiction and fantasy, that’s also what I long to achieve. As I’ve said before, I’m not detail/description oriented. I prefer action, and my greatest strength is dialog. When it comes to detail, I groan and moan, and have to almost tie myself to the computer to force me to put it in.

What Donald revealed, however, is it’s not the detail and description that’s important. Description is by definition objective, and even cold. It is another form of telling. The trick is turning that detail and description into an experience. We don’t just see the sunset. There’s an emotional reaction to that sunset, that mountain scape where three people died in an avalanche, and that dark room that your parents always told you to stay out of.

Donald may have converted me into writing more literary fiction. Is there such a thing as literary science fiction and literary fantasy? At the very least, because of everything Donald shared (and I shared with you not even a half a page of the eight pages of notes I took), my readers will have a better, more fulfilling experience.

Today I attended a workshop called “How To Think Like Your Editor.”

During the first part, the presenter, Erin Healy, told us to read our first chapter, not as an editor, but as a reader. She told us to write down our emotional reactions as we read. I was intrigued by the prologue, but when I started on the first chapter, I felt a bit of boredom and frustration. I knew instantly why. I had added a few chunks of description for the sake of description. It was like reading a school book on architecture. While some of the description is necessary, I have to write in such a way to make it an experience.

When we enter a building we’ve never been in before, sure we notice the sights, but what else do we notice? We take in the smells, the feel of the air, and even its mood – often created by our own expectations of what that room should feel like. Sometimes the room meets our expectations, sometimes it doesn’t. The writer’s job is to show that experience.

Here’s the rub.

I met with a literary agent, and I showed her my one-sheets. She asked for my pitch and I said, “I too easily get tongue-tied, so can I read it to you instead?”

She told me to go ahead. She liked it, and when I mentioned the other two I brought with me, she was open to hearing my other two. She seemed impressed at my “world building,” and the fact I had three complete manuscripts. She asked me to send the first three chapters of all three.

Two are ready. The third (the one with the icky, boring detail), needs a bit of tweaking. Thankfully not a lot, so I bet I could tackle it tonight, let it sit until I get home, go through the first three chapters again, and send them off. While she’s perusing them, I’ll go through the rest and hopefully elevate my writing, and make it more literary.

I’m sure you’re dying to know why I chose “Sharpen Your Trigger,” as my title. It doesn’t make sense, since it’s an obvious mix of metaphors. It’s one Donald Maass used during his talk (which he noticed right away), and I liked it so much, I had to use it.

If A Bug Crawled In, I Wouldn’t Have Noticed

Back in May, I decided to submit a short story to the 85th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Even with the $25 entry fee, it’s not much to lose if I don’t win. I didn’t think my chances were good, because every year they receive well over ten thousand entries. Even taking the different categories into consideration, I would still be competing with thousands of entries. I wasn’t even interested in the prize money; I was looking for bragging rights.

I submitted my story a day before the deadline, and of course, I took one more look at the story after I submitted it and found one spelling error. I knew that one typo would toss me out of the running, because considering the number of competitors, the judges would look for even the tiniest reason to toss the entry aside.

A few weeks after I entered the contest, I signed up for the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) annual conference. Part of what gains a prospective agent and/or publisher is writing credits which include any writing contests. Unfortunately, win or lose, I wouldn’t find out how I fared in the contest until long after the conference.

Imagine my total surprise when I received the following email this afternoon:

Hi Andra,

Congratulations! Your story, “Ashella’s Heart,” was awarded Second Place in the Genre category for the 85th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. You’ve won $500 and $100 off a purchase from the Writer’s Digest Shop; more information regarding this will be sent from the competitions department in the next few weeks.

I’ve attached a few forms that will need to be completed and returned so we can get you your prize!

Now you know the meaning of my title. My mouth fell open when I read the email, and I don’t think I closed it until after I read it three times.

The best part, again isn’t the money — although I’m certainly not going to turn it down — is I now have bragging rights, and a mere one week before I leave for the conference.

No Control And A Smidgeon of Faith

Dang. I haven’t written an entry in almost a month? Where did the time go?

I’d like to say I’ve been busy. I suppose in many ways I have, but I’ve also wasted a lot of time, too.

Mostly I haven’t written an entry, because my mind has been focused on polishing three manuscripts, and preparing “one-sheets” (basically a back-cover blurb of a manuscript with an author’s bio and other information). To my surprise, I’m done with them all. Not that I expected not to finish, but that I would finish with more than a week to spare before I head to the ACFW conference in Nashville. As good as I am at procrastinating, I shouldn’t be done this early. Now I don’t know what to do with myself.

I know what I should do: Write a few short stories and see if there are magazines that will take them. That’ll take research, and a lot of reading. Not a bad way to spend my time versus getting all anxious for the conference.

I have an appointment with a publisher and a literary agent to pitch my novels to. On the one hand, I’m hopeful, but on the other, I’m not. I’ve pitched before with no results, so if history is my guide, my chances of making a positive impression are low. I’m trying to convince myself that I’m going for the comradery of other writers — struggling in many of the same ways I am — and to attend classes to learn more about writing, marketing, etc. Plus I get to spend five days in an upscale hotel built next to the Country Music Hall of Fame (not a huge fan of country music, but I’ll still find it interesting if I have the time to see it). If I gain interest in my novels, all the better. I’ve gone to other conferences with the hope of a sale as my main reason of going, and ended up a few tears short of devastation. I’m not going to do that to myself again.

The last time I went to a conference (back in 2010), I wrote an entry at the end of every day to keep everyone updated, and so I won’t forget. I am, after all, getting a bit up there in age. I don’t remember things as well as I used to. I may do the same again.

My biggest worry is taking the plane. It’s not that I fear flying. I actually enjoy it (although I hate going through security), but my biggest pet-peeve is being late. For anything. Few things get me angry, but being late is near the top of the list. I am placing my trust in an airline and two planes to get me to the conference on time (I am going a day early, just in case, but one still never knows). I don’t like having to relinquish control like that. But I either fly, or drive cross-country for two days one way by myself. My flight is also with Delta, and in case you don’t know, they had severe flight issues last week that resulted in hundreds of delays and cancellations. That it’ll happen again next week worries me some.

Then again!

Back in 2010 I set a “fleece before the Lord,” which means I asked for a specific sign for a specific question I needed an answer to. My son was two at the time, and I was really happy and content with my life. I was writing little with the exception of my blog, and I was okay with that.

I started to wonder if God wanted me to pursue publishing my books, or if I should continue to live my life as it was, writing only as a hobby.

At that time, I had just purchased an annual membership to ACFW, and I received an email describing their Genesis Contest. Contestants submit the first fifteen pages of their manuscript along with a short synopsis. It then goes through a few rounds, and winners are revealed at the annual conference.

I told God that I would submit my novel, and that if I made the finals, I would know he wanted me to continue. As most of you know, I not only made the finals, but I won in my chosen category.

Do I think God is leading me to this conference? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Even so, whatever happens, I need to trust that God is in control. If there are issues with my flights, so be it. If not, even better. Worse case, I’ll have to cancel everything, and hopefully get some of my money back after paying all my late cancellation fees.

Second Day

Day two written Saturday, September 18:

As to be expected, today was the day to be a sponge, to listen, learn and take lots of notes. This will end up sounding choppy, but that’s because I’m exhausted, and I want to get this written as soon as possible before my face hits the pillow. I also don’t want to wait, because it’s still all fresh in my mind.

My first class was the twelve crucial questions to ask of your novel. Questions such as (I won’t list them all):

  1. Why am I writing this story?
  2. What is my main character’s personality type and how does it conflict with the antagonist and/or romantic lead?
  3. Am I sustaining the tension?
  4. Am I letting my good guys off too easily?
  5. Does my vocabulary scream genre (is it a bad thing, I wonder. I say in fantasy or even sci-fi, it’s not. In other genres the opposite is probably true).
  6. What would my lead never do?

Good questions, and they make me want to comb through my manuscript to see if I can answer them all satisfactorily.

The next class was titled “Selling Your Stuff.” The presenters discussed how to write the perfect pitch. I missed most of this, because I had my appointment with Jeff Gerke, the owner and editor for Marcher Lord Press.

Jeff knew me already, because I’ve corresponded with him on a variety of subjects and participate frequently on his Anomaly forum. He was also the judge in the speculative fiction category in the Genesis Contest.

I mentioned this and he asked to see the first chapter. He knew right away which one it was, and asked me to send him the entire manuscript. That was in the first two minutes. So we talked about our kids and I asked him about the books he’s releasing in October. One especially sounds really interesting.

The next workshop was called “Finding Your Voice.” I enjoyed this one a lot. She gave advice on how to refine our voice by forgetting all externals such as market/publisher guidelines and just write. She also asked, “Why did you start writing to begin with?” I won’t answer that here, because it’s too lengthy.

She highlighted a few things that cause the “Death of Voice” (more externals):

  1. Instruction
  2. Correction
  3. Education
  4. Critiques
  5. Contests
  6. Editing
  7. Writing for Publication

I may highlight specifics of each, again later.

One important suggestion is to always read aloud. Where I stumble, I need to rewrite until it flows off the tongue. Although readers may be interested in the story, they are also interested in the storyteller. They want to read a book an not only envision the story, but to envision the author telling it to them.

During the afternoon general session, Tim Downs again spoke. He described how easy it was to bring people to Christ in the 60-70s, but now groups such as Campus Crusaders and Billy Graham Crusade are seeing dwindling numbers.

Why?

Because there is a time to harvest, and a time to plant, water and pull weeds. The 60s and 70s was a harvest season, and today we’re in a sowing season. Because of that we need to change our strategy. We can’t harvest when there’s no crops.

Part of that is telling stories in a way that engages the heart and the mind without the sermon. We must, as Tim put it, “Bury the egg of the message so the reader can hunt for it.” He used the analogy of the Easter hunt for kids. The joy comes in searching for the eggs, not having those who hid them pointed out to us.

The problem with writers (me included) is we don’t trust the power of the story. Christian writers especially feel the need to put those eggs of our message in plain sight. To the reader, however, it takes away the fun, and it can sometimes come across as preaching. As Tim said, “A lecture confronts, a story disarms.”

Lots to think about there.

Okay, I’m done. Tomorrow will be yet another busy and stressful day. I’m meeting with literary agent Steve Laube, and we will find out who won in the Genesis contest.