Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why Rejection is Good and Zola

In November, 2011, after three and a half years, including research and writing time, I finally ‘finished’ my historical novel, Ragtown. I wrote an amazing query letter and an equally awesome synopsis and began the process of querying agents. By the summer of 2012, after approximately forty rejections (and I’m sure I’m underestimating that), I realized something was definitely wrong.

It’s not that it was a ‘bad’ novel-not at all. It was well written, rich in historical detail, a great story of one man’s struggle to overcome his own past while working in the diversion tunnels of the Hoover dam, a treacherous environment, during one of the worst economic disasters in American history. It’s timely. It has a wide audience appeal. It’s American-like baseball and apple pie. But no-one was interested.

So maybe it wasn’t that great?

Rejections are hard to take. Especially when they seem to be coming at a rate of two a week. However, I’ve never been one to assume that when it comes to writing, I am always right and all those that don’t like my work ‘just don’t understand the story (or the concept, or the structure, or the blah, blah,blah)’. No, not at all. The people that were rejecting me have been in this business a lot longer than me, so obviously, they were seeing something that I wasn’t.

Yes, I kind of ate a rock for Ragtown research
So last summer, I pulled out all of those rejections and looked for common concerns. As new rejections came to my email, I started asking questions, specifics-what wasn’t working?  The majority of the concerns seemed to be in the first fifty pages. That’s where I started.

In October, I began a complete revision that included cutting almost 20K words, most from the first one hundred pages. I changed POV’s, I even gave one character a badly needed libido. I sent it through three editors and an additional twelve readers.

Last month, I again finished Ragtown.

And yesterday, I was notified that Ragtown is a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Zola Award for Historical Fiction.

Rejection is hard. It’s too easy to say to yourself, “they are right, I am not very good at this” and give up. It’s too easy to be hard headed about what professionals say about your work and claim that they “just don’t get it.” But my goal is to have Ragtown published, and in order to do that, I had to put my ego aside and listen. Rejections may be hard to swallow, but they are also a good way for a writer to see what others find difficult about your work. And by taking heed, you might make that wonderful novel sellable.

Ragtown, a historical novel
Finalist for the Zola Award
Represented by Svetlana Pironko

Saturday, May 25, 2013

When Words Count Retreat

Nestled among mountains of green outside of Rochester, Vermont is the When Words Count Retreat. My good friend and writing buddy Beth Garland and I had the pleasure of spending four days and three nights there last week.

Beth and I eating pure sin at the local soda fountain

I could spend this entire post restating what is on their website, but, I won’t do that. Click here to read the details, and I will say that the beauty of the place is understated on their website.   What I want to tell you about are the things that aren’t on the website, the things that I personally found very special.

The Mark Twain room
I live in the desert. Being surrounded by fifty different shades of green instead of the usual brown of my environment was a novelty. I can only imagine how beautiful the area is in the Fall and Winter. On the drive to the retreat, both sides of the road were graced with creeks and brooks and waterfalls! Yes, waterfalls! I drove with the windows down just so I could listen to the sound of water. One particular waterfall outside of Granville, Vermont was so breathtaking that Beth and I had to stop and stand before it.  Granville is about ten miles from the retreat, and well worth the drive.
I live in the city. Walking through the town of Rochester, as well as several of the surrounding communities, is like taking a step back in time. Antique cash registers. Small book and antique stores.  A soda fountain with homemade brownies and bread pudding.  I watched several children play in the Rochester town square and wondered if they knew how lucky they were. I also wondered if the residents even felt the need to lock their doors.

I love animals. Although I have unique wildlife in my part of the country, I made it a point to search for the local animals. Taking the two mile walk around the block at the retreat, I passed farms that had cows, baby goats and alpaca. I also saw a red fox, what a cute little guy, ducks on the pond and geese taking their morning walk down the road. I missed the coyotes I was told live nearby and the bears and beaver weren’t willing to show their paws. For those that don’t know me well, I’ve been trying to see a moose for three years. I finally saw one.  That was a big score. At night, the sound of the many peepers were a melodic addition to the rain.

What a view
I love people!  First, I have to say that the staff and owners of the retreat are wonderful. Diana aims to please, Chef Paul aims to make you gain weight, and Jon and Steve offer great writing advice, encouragement and interesting conversation.  Second, there are other writers there, new friends from different places. I’ve always loved meeting other writers, hearing their words, listening to their stories. This trip was no exception. I made new friends.
So who cares about all that, right? Writers care. Getting out of your element is an opportunity to see things differently and gain inspiration. It was relaxing, fun and definitely a chance to write. In fact, I came back with a new project idea that I have been working on for the past week.

Would I recommend When Words Count to others? That depends. If you like sitting in front of your computer at your house, doing the same old thing every day and don’t need or want to experience anything new or meet wonderful people, then no.

However, if you are a writer who wants a relaxing place to write, eat good food, engage with others and gain a bit of inspiration, then yes, check them out.  And enjoy the experience.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kelly 5.0-The New and Improved Version

To hear my mother tell, it wasn't an easy birth. Kicking and screaming, fighting my way out of the birth canal---For the writers and readers amongst us, we'll call that a foreshadow. I was never an easy child, nor an uncomplicated adult. But, I've made it to fifty, so I must still be here for a reason.
You know the old saying "There is a lot of water under the bridge?" Yeah, that. Think Atlantic Ocean. Might as well include the other three as well. During a hurricane. And a tsunami.
But I have learned a lot and I think at fifty, you are allowed to share some of that knowledge. So here are a few of the more non-traditional things I've learned along the way; things that will hopefully see me through the next fifty years:

Raising good children is the most satisfying experience on the planet- I'm not talking about birthing them and making sure they live to see adulthood, I'm talking about raising them: teaching them to be compassionate human beings, giving them the tools so they can succeed, loving them even when you feel like strangling them. My children have been my greatest gift in life and I never considered parenting a hobby. It's paid off. I have two wonderful young men that continue to amaze me.

Laugh every day and make someone else laugh everyday-Of course there are documented health benefits to laughter, but the thing is, it just feels good to laugh. Make a point to do it every day, and if you can't get someone else to laugh, at least make them smile.

Strange is okay-My standard response when someone says "You're strange (weird, odd, crazy, etc.)" is "No, I'm unique." And that's a good thing. It reminds me of an old Edie Brickell song: What I am is what I am are you what you are or what?

 The power of the raised eyebrow-This subtle facial expression is very powerful when you use it correctly. If you aren't a natural, you'll have to practice and learn the technique (like I did). But once mastered, you will be able to convey a lot of thoughts without openly offending anyone.

Work to live, don't live to work-Yes, I work a lot. But, I do work to live. A life dedicated to working is not living. It's working.

Bad decisions usually weren't bad decisions at the time-We all spend way too much time looking back and thinking "if only I'd have taken this road instead." But here's the thing: We rarely remember why we chose the path we did. When given options, we all try to chose what is best for us, so at the time I made those decisions that I now consider 'bad', well, they seemed like my best option at the time. And who knows, maybe the other option would have been worse. Stop tripping on it and move on.

Fighting is a good thing-My dad used to say "Don't run up a hill you are not willing to die on." This has become a mantra in my house. Stand up for what you believe, and fight for the things that you are willing to take a punch for.

Weight IS an issue-I have struggled with my weight since I was 5. Yes, at five years old, I was the biggest kid in my class and for most years of my life, have been that big girl. I've tried every diet known to man, I exercise and I eat healthier than most, but it's always there. Even when I'm in one of my 'thin' stages, it's always there (fellow fatties know what I mean by this). When you are chronically overweight, everything you put in your mouth causes a mini guilt trip. Not a day passes when you don't think about it. Those that haven't lived this kind of life can never understand the personal torment that chronically overweight people experience.  It is a horrible way to live.  As I get older, I still work hard to control my weight and it's still an uphill fight. However, here's the big difference: I no longer do it because I want to 'look good', I do it now because I want to be healthier. Weight is a mental health issue, one I'm sure I can never resolve, but it is also a physical health issue---and I'm sure I will be working on that for the rest of my life.

Never underestimate the power of an animal's love-A pet will love you whether you are young, old, big, little, red, white, blue, gay, straight, obnoxious, reserved, overdressed, naked, conservative, liberal, happy or angry. Not a day goes by that my dog or cat doesn't make me smile and I can't imagine not having an animal friend in my home.

"If in doubt, don't" is bad advice-I've missed a lot of opportunities because of my own self doubt. Doubt often comes from fear, and fear you should try to overcome. If in doubt, think about why the doubt is there, re-evalute the situation and see if your reasons for doubt are justified. You may find you are missing a potentially golden opportunity just because you are afraid to fail.

Don't let people tell you 'you can't'-When I was a teenager, I wanted to do two things: write books and build houses. I heard so many times "writing is a hobby, not a job" and "no construction company is going to hire a girl" (It was the 70's, okay?) that I let that negativity infect me and went to nursing school instead. No one is allowed to tell me "you can't" any more. If they dare, I say "watch me." Now, I write. And I will build my own house some day. Watch me.