Monthly Archives: September 2010

The End

Day Three written September 21

Waiting more than two days to write this entry, I’m afraid it’ll be short with regard to the continuing education classes.

Plus my appointment with Steve Laube started at 10am, so my mind was mostly focused on that. My expectations were low as far as he asking to represent me. Mostly I wanted his perspective on my first chapter.

When I first sat down, I introduced myself and he asked, “So what do you have for me?”

“It’s science fiction,” where he gave me a look that said, “Oh.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, “I chose a hard sell.”

Steve nodded.

“Actually, I queried you a few years ago, but you rejected my story. You said that while the premise was good, the writing was a B. Since then, I had a few editors look it over and, “I held up my name tag that showed my Finalist ribbon, “since I finaled in the Genesis contest –”

“Congratulations,” Steve said.

“Thank you. Anyway, I was hoping you’d be willing to give it a second look.”

“Sure. Do you have a synopsis?”

As I handed it and my first chapter over I thought, “I was afraid you’d ask for it.”

Based on what I learned Friday and Saturday, my one-sheet was not that great.

As he read it we somehow got on the subject of the Kindle, which he had sitting on the table. He picked it up and said, “Check it out.” So I played with his kindle while he read my first chapter.

I looked over to see what page he was on and I said, “Oh, man!”

“What.”

I reached over and pointed at the end of a paragraph on the second page. “I forgot a period right there.”

He gave me a sideways glance and said, “You shouldn’t have said anything. I was already passed that part and I didn’t even notice it. Now it’s this glaring empty spot driving us both nuts.” He took out his pen and placed a period. “There, now we’re both happy and can move on.”

Steve read all seven pages in less that two minutes. Quite the speed reader. He said the first part where I’m in the mind of a character who dies doesn’t have enough punch.

“I want you to terrify me,” Steve said. “This doesn’t terrify me. I want you to make the reader feel like he’s drowning like the character. You can also move it to a prologue, because even if a reader skips over that part, it’s okay. When you switched into the mind of the assassin, that’s where I felt the story really began.”

He gave me a few other pointers that I know will make the story really pop and hopefully grab the reader from word one.

All in all, a very positive interview even if he didn’t offer to represent me. He gave me excellent advice, and that’s more than worth the 15 minutes.

The next class I took was taught by Jeff Gerke, the publisher of Marcher Lord Press and the editor I met with on Saturday. His was entitled “The Last Show and Tell Class You’ll Ever Need.”

In short, because this entry is getting long, writers need to think in terms of cinematography. If a camera can’t see it (interior monologue excluded), then it’s telling. Backstory is telling, as is exposition and explanation of character motives. There are times when it’s necessary, but it’s making sure to add it at the moment the reader needs the information, and not before or after.

Description is not telling, because the camera can see it.

He was fun, because he required lots of audience participation. As tired as I was, his energy was contagious. I know, telling, but this is my blog and I can do whatever I want. So there.

I took two other workshops (tired yet), on how to keep track of details in the book such as the passage of time, character description, and weather, especially when it comes to historicals. Invariably, if a writer talks about the full moon on May 25, 1956, a reader will write to complain that it was actually a half-moon. Makes me glad I write futuristic fiction!

The last class was on author law and what to look for in publisher and agent contracts.

The last workshop ended at 5pm which gave us one and a half hours to prepare for the annual awards banquet. The Genesis awards were only part of the ceremony. There was also a life-time achievement award, and the Carol Awards. The Carol award is for the book of the year in multiple genres.

I spent the first hour reading, knowing I needed only a few minutes to get ready. Once dressed I felt compelled to practice my speech once again. I wrote it down from memory of previous practices a week ago and used my stopwatch to make sure it was under 30 seconds. Three minor rewrites later, I got it down to 29 seconds.

Supper came first where I chatted with those at my table. The ceremony began about an hour later, and another hour later the speculative fiction category came up.

When Camy Tang said my name as the winner, I mouthed, “Oh my God.” The entire room seemed to disappear, and all the voices and other sounds turned into pure white noise. Odd sensation.

I stood with speech in hand and weeded my way around all the tables to the stage. Whispered “Congratulations,” followed me all the way up. The entire time I kept saying to myself, “Don’t cry. Don’t cry.’

The speech went well. 30 seconds isn’t enough time to make a total fool of myself. The audience even laughed at the right time.

I was given a plaque with my name and the title of my book, and a lapel pin. With tears under control, and elated beyond description, I weeded my way back to my table. Whispered congratulations followed me back.

Two minutes later I received an email from a friend expressing her congratulations. “What?” I thought. “She’s not even here.” Then I realized the banquet was live-streaming over the internet. Ten minutes later I received another congratulations via facebook email. So much for keeping it a secret.

The other awards were given with lots of applause laugher and tears. Thoroughly enjoyable, but I was glad when it ended. I was beyond exhausted. After I called Dave to tell him I won, I went straight to bed and hoped to sleep in. There was nothing planned for Monday except an informal breakfast that consisted of fruit and pastries. Since my flight didn’t leave until 3:45, I hung out in the lobby and talked to others about the conference and exchanged business cards. Over the next few days, I’ll be spending time sending emails to everyone I met. It’ll include sending thank you cards to both Jeff Gerke and Steve Laube for their time and advice.

After that, I have some writing to do.

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.

First Day

NOTE: I wasn’t willing to pay $10/day for internet at the hotel, so I wrote my entries in a word processor to be uploaded later. This is what I wrote Friday, September 17:

Airplanes more often than not offer an opportunity to meet new people. It’s especially nice when the person you end up sitting with is in the mood to chat.

My seat-mate was a young lady named Kathleen. She’s one of the directors for the new sister college to Bismarck’s University of Mary being set up in Rome. She’s taking Rome’s directors (a priest and two nuns) on a tour, first of North Dakota and Washington D.C.

She also gave me the opportunity to pitch my novel. I was able to describe it in a few sentences, and she seemed pretty excited about it. Even though science fiction is not her chosen genre. Kathleen did, however, express interest in buying my book once it’s published so she could give it as a gift to her mom who loves science fiction.

Did I just make my first sale? Either way, I gave her my card. I hope she emails me, because her story is an interesting one. Come September 28th of this year she’ll be living in Rome most of the year to set up the new college. It’d be nice to “see” Rome through someone else’s eyes since I doubt I’ll ever see it myself.

Her brother is also a writer, although his chosen genre is historical fiction, specifically North and South Dakota history. He and their father are putting together a documentary about the politics of global warming, how it’s driving most of the fear and “need to go green,” and not necessarily hard scientific facts. It should be out next summer, so I’m going to keep an eye out for it. They plan on submitting it to the yearly Fargo Independent Film festival.

Talking to her made the flight – pardon the pun – fly by. The hour and 15 minute flight seemed more like 15 minutes.

The best part is when she promised to pray for me at the conference. Wasn’t that sweet? I will also do the same, because she has a lot of work ahead of her. She and the other directors are the pioneers in setting up a new school in a foreign country, so they can only guess at the obstacles awaiting them. But it’s also exciting, and I’m sure it will be quite rewarding.

The flight to Indianapolis ended up a stark contrast to the first plane. No one sat next to me. In fact it was the only empty seat on the plane. As my husband surmised, my deodorant had given out by then.

Finding the bus stop was a simple matter, but what should have been a quick fifteen minute ride ended up almost an hour. The first driver stopped not one block from the hotel and waited for her relief driver. He never showed, so ten minutes later we continued on. After a few more blocks and another stop the other driver took over. Again we went around and around, this time because he was new and didn’t know his way around. Three others who also are attending the conference and I decided about two blocks from the hotel to be dropped off right there.

Heck, we might still be on that bus if we hadn’t said something.

Because the bus ride took so long, we ended up missing the first timer’s orientation. Oh well, the amount of information given in our packets was enough for me. And most conferences are similar, so I knew what to expect over all.

I grabbed my packet which included a nice shoulder bag, conference brochure and name tag with two ribbons, that say “First Timer” and “Finalist” (for the Genesis contest). I then went to a different table to find out which editor and agent I will meet with along with the time for each. Turns out, I got both my first choices! Woohoo!

Next came the opening session where we were given more information. There was also worship where the song leader kept us standing way too long through six songs. I kept thinking, “come on, most people here are older and can’t stand for too long. Give us a break.”

As much as I love to sing and worship, I was glad when it was over.

Author Tim Downs gave the keynote address where he talked about how much of the Old Testament is in story form. And in the New Testament, Jesus preached by way of parables – he told stories.

Tim’s overall point (when we weren’t laughing ourselves to tears with some of the stories he told), was that people respond better to a story – fiction – than a lecture. Our responsibilities as writers is not only to entertain, but to encourage people to think and draw them closer to Christ.

When supper time rolled around I said, “God, you choose the chair for me to sit at.” When I felt the draw to a particular seat in an empty table, I promptly sat my patootie down. After a few minutes when people kept passing my table by, I wondered if my deodorant indeed died on me.

But no, I just needed to be a little patient. The table filled up, and we all introduced ourselves. Guess who ended up at my table? Steve Laube, the agent I wanted to, and will be meeting with.

I didn’t tell him that, though. I played silent (mostly) sponge and listened to him give advice on how to pitch our stories to agents/editors.

That’s not to say I’ll walk away with a contract or even any interest by the time it’s all said and done. I learned a lot in that one hour, and that’s what counts. Perhaps I won’t be nearly as nervous once I meet with him.

Will keep you apprised.

Right now, I’m sleepy. I’ve been up since 4:15am and it’s time for bed. Tomorrow will be another busy day.

All packed except for my phone

And that’s because it’s doubling as my alarm clock.

My plane leaves tomorrow morning at 6:45am, which means I have to be at the airport around 5:45am. Good thing I’m a morning person, but I’m still going to fill up on a cup of coffee or two before I leave the house. My alarm is set for 4:15, which means I should not stay up past 10:00pm.

Oops. it’s 10:07. I best get to bed!

I’ll be super busy at the conference, but like I’ve done previous years, I’ve written entries every night. It helped to relax my brain as well as spill out stuff I’ve learned and experienced but don’t want to forget.

Later!

Until the Last Minute

Growing up, I spent little time studying. I absolutely hated it. It required patience I didn’t have, and I would rather do other things. Funner things. During especially my junior high and highschool years, I made an art out of procrastination. I consistently wrote essays the night before they were due.

I became many a teacher’s pet to learn what they expected their students to learn and what they would concentrate on for their tests. My studying consisted of — again the night before the test — spending maybe an hour or two going over what I figured would be on the test.

I developed a photographic memory.

As I get older, my memory isn’t near what it once was. My art of procrastination, however, hasn’t rusted.

A few weeks ago, all the Genesis Contest finalists were informed that if they won they would have to give a 30 second speech.

Gulp.

Now with five days until the banquet when they announce the winners, I finally wrote my speech. At least I didn’t wait until Friday night, so I guess I’m improving some. It took some internal debating, but I convinced myself that I needed to write it soon and spend a few days of practice reading it out loud and making any modifications for clarification or to shorten it.

My first reading took less than 30 seconds, so I’m good there. I’ll read it again tomorrow, because a fresh eye and ear always helps. I can’t trust my mind completely at 11pm when it’s more interested in sleep than perfecting a speech.

I also need to re-edit my so-called “One-sheet,” and print out a few copied of that and the first chapter of “Traitors.” That won’t take long. I could have all that done tomorrow. However, along with the speech (which a part of me doesn’t want to give and hopes I don’t win), I need to practice my novel pitch as well as refresh my memory of the editors and agents I want to meet with as far as where they work, and the types of novels they’re looking for. I need to assemble a list of questions to ask in case they’re not interested in my story, so the 15 minute appointment won’t be a total waste.

And I only have three days to get it all done.

Dang procrastination.

Making our job harder still

I just read this article where Dove World Outreach Center plans on burning a Koran on 9/11 to commemorate the 9th anniversary (See the article HERE). I can only shake my head in frustration. As a Christian who longs to share who Jesus is, I find Dove’s actions almost as offensive as the Muslims do (although I won’t go so far to burn an American Flag or call for the death of anyone).

Jesus was not afraid of those who disagreed. In fact he sought them out. Burning a Koran, or any other book that contradicts the Bible is saying it has power over us. It’s saying we don’t have enough faith in the Word or in God to persuade others. Dove World (based on their actions, they are horribly misnamed) is spewing the kind of hate Jesus preached against.

Beyond that, in a cynical world who sees Christians as nothing but hypocrites, this adds one more piece of evidence that they are right.

If we are to bring Jesus to a despairing world, we must meet everyone on their terms. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees differently than the fisherman. Paul used different arguments for the Greeks than for the Jews and Romans.

How does burning one religion’s holy book help to convince them that perhaps their way isn’t the right one? Is that something Jesus would have done? With a sense of irony, the people of Dove would probably answer in the affirmative. I’d even wager that they would use the scripture where Jesus overturned the money-exchanging tables in the Temple as their reasoning. Convincing them otherwise might take more effort than trying to convert a rock to Christ.

Perhaps that’s a harsh judgment on my part, and puts me on the same level as Dove World. Call me a cynic when I say they’ll have to change their ways to prove me otherwise. I just get so angry when professed Christians act in a way contrary to Jesus’ teaching. It only makes my job that much more difficult.