Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thesis Redux

I have been going over my thesis novel, The General's Son. Again. For the elevendyhundreth time.

Now, mind you, as a thesis, it did its job. I am now the proud recepient of a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, my long ago undergraduate alma mater.

I have just printed the entire thing out and I am going over the entire story page-by-page.
You see, I have been away from the story for two months and it is giving me a whole new perspective. Phrases have been changed, typos found, etc. I was so close to it after looking at it for three years, that I could not see the tree OR the forest. All I saw was the need to get the thing done on time with the recommended corrections.

So now I am doing this for ME.

The next project will be Book Two of the series . I want to have all the changed to the first two books done before I go to Europe in November. If there are corrections after that it will vecause I found new information while visiting Florence.

I am writing a third book, only marginally related to the first two. I want to have that done by the spring.

Wish me luck.

Screaming Yellow Zonkers, Batman!

That is the color of my kitchen walls. Actually it is a pretty color-- a shade of yellow chosen by the National Trust for their Historic homes. However, I am not sure it is right for my new kitchen. Hmmm... will Paul want to murder me if I ask him to change it? I would not blame him if he did.

He finished the floor in the pantry this weekend. And primed and painted the kitchen, spackled, and cut some wood for trim. My husband is awesome.

Me? I repainted the mesh lid for our outdoor fireplace and weeded the front yard. I have been so bad this year about yard work. Well you don't get a Master's Degree every year either!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Writing Contests--OR-- I paid for this?

Conventional wisdom for writers says a new writer should enter contests in order to get unprejudiced feedback for your manuscript. That is, an opinion of someone who is not a friend relative or your regular critique partner who might have an emotional investment in your work. In other words, someone who does not want to hurt your feelings. Or better yet, someone who doesn't know you and doesn't CARE if they hurt your feelings.

OK, so conventional wisdom can be wrong. Maybe it is a mistake to send a section of your ms. to a contest. After all, it is just part of the fabulous great American novel that you have been slaving over for the last 3 or 5 or 15 years. Who can make a judgement based on a sliver of your masterful tome?

Contest judges, that is who.

I have entered five contests in the past few months. Some are sponsored by RWA chapters, some are not. The ms. I have been submitting is a "Historical Fiction with Romantic Elements" aka: "Mainstream".

Now, you don't have to be a historian (a "history geek" as one of my student's recently called me) to enjoy a historical novel. Think The Other Boleyn Girl, Outlander, Emilie's Voice, or any of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels. They are all popular books, most, if not all, have graced the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists.

I have received responses from three of the five contests. The critiques are amazingly varied. The problem I am seeing is that sometimes the judges just do not "get" your story.

Here is a comment that really sent me into a tailspin of despair-- not over the critique on my ms., but over the lack of background the woman had in history.

She wrote: My biggest problem is the main characters ages. I don’t think that any girl at age thirteen should be worrying about being married to an old wrinkled man. I would like it better if they were older. Even if this is for young adults, I think an older girl would be better suited. Other that that, it was well written. But I’m afraid I would see our heroine was 13 and I would read any further.

Gotta love it! Obviously she has never read her history-- or even Shakespeare. Juliet was 13 and was being betrothed to a Count who was much older than her. OY! And I am writing abour a REAL person using real ages, dates and settings.

Anyway the comments from the various judges from the various contests range from the fabulous (obviously discerning readers) and to a few others who have no clue about anything having to do with the past.


Well, I did get some great comments. I choose to ignore the ones who did not understand the premise or the period.

Hazard yet forward.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Submission -- in every sense

Being a writer is an interesting job, even if you only do it part time. It allows you to spill your guts on a page and then offer it up to the pantheon of writing gods and goddesses (editors and agents) and hope they respond, granting your fondest wish-- that is, to be a published writer.

For the last year I have been studying the publishing industry-- aka: Mount Olympus-- where the aforementioned deities reside. I have been submitting my work, in hopes they feel it is good enough to 1) read, 2) represent and 3) publish. So far, I have some people to read my work, but no luck with the later two. I keep hoping. And revising. And writing more.

Having two completed manuscripts and part of a third, plus a MA in creative writing gives me a legitimacy that might not be possessed by others. However, all the degrees and manuscripts in the universe are no guarantee. This is a business. Like any other business it comes down to the bottom line. The bottom line is the bottom line.

In my vast experience as a writer (* insert smiley face here *) I have noticed one thing in particular. When I realized this, I figured I had made a mistake, but last night my crit partner, Rich, made the same observation. So, there are two of us now. Be forewarned.

The observation is:
No matter what an agent's website or profile says, they are not necessarily looking for all the genres they list.

A HA! Eureka! A major discovery. I have actually made an Excel spreadsheet of agents and editors looking for historical fiction and romance. Guess what? A lot of people may SAY they are looking for these on Agent Query or Publishers Marketplace, but they are not. Which is not to say these agents are evil or bad, they just don't feel comfortable with these genres, or don't have contacts or whatever. Or maybe they are "full up" in the genre. Or their boss is changing the agency's focus. How do I know this? I have a number of rejection letters saying so.

It would be nice if the information would be updated periodically, but who can say it is not. Maybe they don't want to miss the next Harry Potter or The Other Boleyn Girl. It would make it easier on us writers to be able to send it to exactly the right person, but perhaps someone who would not usually take your genre LOVES your manuscript and signs you on the spot.
It works both ways.

And so now I return to my altar to sacrifice to the publishing deities once again... and hope someone will look kindly upon my submissive stance and my offering, er, manuscript.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Thelma and Louise do the Pennsic War

I am finally home from the Pennsic War. For those of you not involved in the SCA (Society for Creative anachronism) this is the annual event where you are given the opportunity to live in a field in Pennsylvania in the middle of August, dress up in funny clothes, and live with 12,000 of your closest friends. No A/C, with no electricity, a long walk to the porta castles (porta johns) and then freeze in the solar showers, meet bugs in your bedding and eat in the "foodcourt" rather than cook.

This is called fun. Really.

I have been doing this for the last 20 years. OK-- I missed 2 years. Some people never learn.

So this year, because my darling husband could not get off from his job, I went to Pennsic with my friend Sheila. Think: "Thelma and Louise do the Pennsic War."

We drove from my house on Long Island to the site in Slippery Rock, PA. on Saturday. It takes 8 hours. She kept me awake and we got there in one piece. The best part of this Pennsic was staying at a local Comfort Inn. We had A/C, hot showers, electric lights and no bugs. Best time I have had at Pennsic in 20 years. Ah, comfort.

The down side of being a "daytripper" at Pennsic (aka: not camping) is the parking. It gives new meaning to the word hike. From the center of the camp it has to be a mile and a half to the parking lot. From there it is anyone's guess where you can find a parking space.

On the first day, Sunday, we left the car in our traditional campsite, and walked to our meetings. We left site for a while and came back, but it was no big deal. They would start towing cars the next day.

On the second day, Monday, we parked in our Row 2 of the parking lot only to spot the sign declaring we were in the handicapped parking. So we moved the car. To Row 21 and parked. People looked like ants from where we were sitting and the car was perched at a 45 degree angle. I set the parking break and we headed out. Or down, since we were parked almost at the crest of the hill.

We visited friends, I gave my class on Cosimo and Eleonora and generally had a nice time. I even picked up my new Coronet. (WOW-- gorgeous!) It was a comedy of errors getting the equipment for my class (projector, screen and laptop-- lets hear it for PowerPoint) to the site and safe but we did it. The class was successful and I think people enjoyed it.

So there we were, after the class, with the equipment locked in a safe place so we wouldn't have to lug the stuff up the hill. In the dark. Trying to find the road UP the hill. Two idiots-- with 40 years (combined) of going to Pennsic-- not able to get up the hill to find the car. The big light in the parking lot showed us the direction, but not the way. (Walk toward the light.) Finally we asked for directions, found the road and we trudged up the hill.

Remember the car was at a 45 degree angle? It still was. But in the daylight it is easier to navigate . Backing up, in the pitch dark, and trying to avoid big trucks parked right behind the car was more of a challenge. So Shelia got out and directed. I would still be there if not for her. I thought I would hit the car in back of me, but more to the point I was afraid I would hit the car in front of me, thereby setting off a chain reaction and landing on top or a pile of twisted metal and glass which would be every car parked in front of me.

The next day we parked in Row 28, but it was it the crest of the hill and flat. We did not care about walking the extra distance. I made a vow: daytripping= leaving site in the daylight.

The following day, Tuesday, was the Arts and Sciences Display. I started that 11 years ago at the behest of the Pennsic autocrat (person in charge of the event) Duchess Sedalia MacNair. It grew from 35 exhibits to about 200. It is an opportunity for SCA artisans to show their work without the competition that goes into a contest with prizes or points. It is amazing what people do-- everything from painting to calligraphy to beadwork. There was even a medieval lathe working away in the corner. Amazing work!

On Wednesday we finally left Pennsic behind until next year. We will probably camp for 2 weeks with our husbands.

Some people never learn.