16 January 2017

Lessons in Vulnerability

In preparing for a reading I'm giving next weekend, I came across a piece I wrote in 2012 for a creative nonfiction class. It's probably the most honest thing I've ever written, and therefore the most frightening thing I've ever written. I'm choosing to share it here because I think some of you will be able to relate.

Lessons in Vulnerability

I’ve been looking forward to this class for months. Looking forward to the opportunity to be safe, to be vulnerable, to establish a regular writing practice, to have a reason to write. But on the first day I close up, wall myself off. I’m not even aware of it until a classmate tries to start a conversation with me during break. She is only showing interest in me as a person, asking questions about my life and background. But I watch myself as I sit back in my chair with my arms crossed tightly over my chest and give short, unrevealing answers. I watch myself play defensive guardian of my heart and can do nothing to stop it. Don’t know how to stop it.

And it is too late anyway; I already love them all. In the way that bell hooks defines love: as an act, as a commitment to mutual physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. I already love them all. My fear is that they won’t love me back.

30 September 2016

The Work Conference 2017

On Oct. 1, the submission window opens for The Work Conference, a boutique writers' conference in New York City that's suited to hardworking, unagented authors of YA or adult literary or upmarket fiction who are serious about publishing traditionally. I had the extreme good fortune to attend the inaugural, 2016 conference as a faculty member, and although I won't be there in 2017, I highly recommend that you check it out.

It's a boutique conference, which means that everything from the agents and editors who comprise the faculty down to the food you'll eat and the types of pens in the free pen buffet are hand-picked by my friend and editing colleague Becca Heyman, whose attention to detail is astonishing. Example: the name tags were magnetized so that you didn't have to poke holes in your clothing. (Who thinks of that?! Becca, that's who.)

Even the conference attendees are hand-picked: one must apply to be admitted to this conference. While that may sound like a strange idea to some, there's great reason behind it: Becca is looking for authors who share a similar level of writing ability as well as dedication to their writing careers. Most - if not all - attendees may have day jobs, but every attendee of The Work is serious about their writing. This creates a wonderfully rich, mutually supportive environment in which to learn about craft and the business side of authorship. And the small number of attendees (30 max.) results in everyone getting to know one other by the end of the very first day. The closest I can come to describing the dynamic is a small summer camp for lit geeks. HEAVEN.

12 September 2016

Preparing for October #P2P16

Pitch to Publication October 2016 has been announced! *mad squealing and running around with arms in the air*  =*D I had so much fun last time and could not be more thrilled to participate in this Twitter contest again. *more squealing*

Whether you're just hearing about this contest for the first time or have done it before, this post is meant to help you decide whether you'll be ready to submit in October and, if so, what you should do to prepare.

Are you ready to submit in October?

08 September 2016

Your first 50 pages

This post is the latest in a series of posts inspired by my participation in Pitch to Publication. Having looked at a lot of authors' pages back in March (and having had the incredibly good fortune of getting to work with several of those people since then), I began to notice some patterns in what grabs me and where manuscripts fall down. So far I've talked about the first 5 pages, the Darkest Moment, the word count, the #p2p16 query letter, chapters (length, breaks, headings, etc.), and the novel's overall structure. Today I'm tackling your novel's first 50 pages, what I referred to in the structure post as Act I.

What should your first 50 pages accomplish? They should hook readers and set up expectations for the journey we're going to be on: the novel's tone and pacing, the setting (world-building), who the story is about, what this story is going to be about thematically, and what the primary external conflict involves.

07 September 2016

Your novel's structure

My current thinking about structure - which I use both for my own novels and for working with clients' books - is influenced primarily by the three-act structure as explained to me by my friend Diane Gilman, who wrote screenplays for many years, and by Viki King's description of the nine plot points in her book How to Write a Movie in 21 Days. Influenced being the operative word; what I offer here is not a straight mash-up of those two approaches. I'm not convinced that my philosophy is complete yet, but it's a start, and I think it's worth sharing at this point.

Act I: The Beginning
This is The Beginning of your story, starting on on page 1. It introduces the novel's setting, tone, characters, and theme(s) and includes two inciting incidents: the one that happens within the first five or six pages, and the one that heralds the end of Act I, around page 50.

Yes, that's right: Act I is only 50 pages long. If that.