Okay, I’ve got the go ahead from my editor (Oh my gawd. My editor) to make an announcement.
HEAR YE, HEAR YE . . . okay, so that’s a bit much. It’s my first sale. I’m a little excited.
Seriously, though. Thanks to The Weekend Novelist I sold a 20,000 world apocalyptic fantasy novella to e-pub Samhain Publishing, Ltd. This is not only my first sale, but the first time I submitted this particular manuscript to anyone. It looks like I’ll be published as a single title electronically in November of this year, then again in print as part of the End of Days anthology to be released in Fall of 2012.
My mom gave me her copy of the first Weekend Novelist many a moon ago along with her electric typewriter when I was nineteen, silly, and distracted by boys. I never went to college (by choice) so other than dear old mum I’ve been largely self taught. I’ve come a long way since then, and that poor book looks as though it’s been through the wars. I have since purchased the latest edition.
Without TWN it would have been a lot longer before I’d honed my craft enough to make my first sale, let alone on the very first try for a manuscript. Granted, it’s a themed anthology that I focused this manuscript on, and I knew it was the best work I’d done to date. I expected to get a reject with feedback or an invitation to try again, a reject I would have been more than happy with, knowing I was on the right track. I didn’t expect a sale.
Thank you for all the work you’ve done in deconstructing the art and craft of fiction writing. I’m happy to tell everyone I know how I did it, and, more importantly, how I will continue to do it.
Heather (in Florida)
Real-live, no-foolin’, soon-to-be published writer. At large.
From a Writer using BandJ’s BlogWork with his Writing Group:
October 19, 2010
Went well. I printed out the blurbs from your blog and we went through them. I think it was very good for D to see that this is the structure she needs to consider. She’s gonna put together a story arc for our next session. R also got a lot out of the scene check list and is pulling things together as well. I got caught up in some details that I’d overlooked in going through the print-outs and this returned my attention to a couple of scenes in my thriller. I’m sending D a copy of how I laid out the 3 acts of the thriller.
D really has a good story in her head. The elements are solid and exciting but she’s struggling with how to give it birth. As she laid out how she wants to unfold it, it really struck me how this could be a good novel if she has the patience to work through the exercises and come away with the structure to hold it.
By the same token, I was a bit concerned with what R was going to get out of this but I was heartened at how she picked up on the elements of scene structure and began to see how she could create a framework into which she can develop her story. Her approach to kids’ writing is so different from mine that I’ve avoided giving her any more than the mildest feedback. Now, I think she’s seeing for the first time the bigger picture of the sequence of story, structure, style that we’re committed to. It’s hard to push someone close to you in the direction you think they should go but now, I think she has the beginnings. How it plays out down the road is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile I keep chipping, hacking, cutting, grinding and polishing. All in all, the blog has been a godsend so far. I’ll keep you posted but I’m definitely encouraged that this writing group will prosper.
Writing Before I Knew Jack
© 2010 Susan Canavarro
Long before reading Jack and Bob’s Writing Blog, I began a memoir writing project in 1998. I wrote over 350 pages. I had read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and her words resonated with me, but when it came down to writing, I flew on my own short wings.
At the Fort Bragg coffee shop I wrote for four hours solid. When I got home I wrote again. I wrote for so long a time, my hand ached and fingers screamed Stop. I wondered if I’d be able to pick up a pen again. This was not exactly Goldberg’s idea of “doing writing practice every day,” but it was free writing sans my internal editor. Garbage out! It was cathartic. I had upchucked hatred and anger for my mother. My mother, negative and discouraging, was a rock I stumbled over, not one that provided a stable foundation of support and encouragement, but one who relished pounding and smashing me to bits with her words, leaving me as beach tidbits for seagulls to devour after a storm.
After a number of rewrites I sent the book to a free-lance editor. She wrote back that I was not an ‘exceptional” writer, but I had some good material. You have written three books, she said. You will never get published because you are not famous, nor was your father or mother famous. I had no foot in the door to success, so it would have to be exceptional writing that opened that door. And I had failed at that.
Her criticism stung. She was correct about the three books, three subjects: my mother, my father, me, three stories. A change of strategy for getting my book noticed was in order. I tried several options, one of which included doing an illustration for each chapter. No good, too many stories in one chapter. Which one would I illustrate?
I naturally associated my memories with each house we lived in. I saw that I had already developed a natural structure for the book, as well as metaphor – the house being the vessel which holds all life’s memories; the body and mind, our unique house. The house is an overused metaphor, but I didn’t care. I developed my newest version with a chapter for each house, from physical to body to mind, and within it, a page for each story and each illustration. I had it! Excited. It knew it was perfect for my purpose.
Giving myself permission to shut off the inner drawing and writing critic, I scribbled childlike cartoons and wrote simply and as straight-forward as possible. I wasn’t concerned about creative writing or poetry or winning a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. Just wanted to tell the story and had only one page to do it in. I slashed and burned to make each story fit on one page of a 6 x 9 book format and the drawing on the opposite page.
With passion and drive, I felt guided by an invisible force. Obsessed. Possessed. I stopped painting. I couldn’t stop writing and working on my book. I had purpose. It felt like I was “riding the universe” as Goldberg wrote. I got lost in it. It was challenging, but a fun journey.
I wish back then that I knew more about writing, that I had taken it seriously and used Goldberg’s Writing Practice techniques. Reading Jack and Bob’s Writing Blog today, I am aware of how much I ignored and gave up just for a quick little story. I am also reminded that, instinctively, I did some things right.
Before I knew Jack, I used his colored font system to locate and easily recognize the sections in my 350-page tome. It helped me organize for the shorter book.
Before Jack and Bob, I tried to use specific nouns, action verbs and details, but failed miserably. Didn’t understand action verbs and the passive voice. I remember reading in Bob’s writings about the narrator Nick Caraway in The Great Gatsby and how his use of the passive voice helped to develop his character’s psychology as a blameless victim… And I thought, That’s me! I’m passive. Damn! What a rude awakening! Before Jack and Bob, I didn’t know you could use that passive voice intentionally, in a constructive way – to develop a character in a story.
Before Jack, I understood the importance of writing with rhythm. I read my work aloud, disturbed my neighbors, got all choked up by some of my stories, and laughed at others. And got a swollen head. Reading aloud I stumbled on words and sentences that were awkward and hard to say, and needed to be fixed. What if someone asked if I would read aloud from my book and I couldn’t get the words tumbling around like marbles out of my mouth? The audience would disappear, that’s what. Jack and Bob tell us to read out loud. Join a writing group for feedback and to hear your writing read aloud.
Jack Remick and Robert Ray are teachers sharing their extensive knowledge of writing with us. Subscribing to their new blog will make your good writing better. They discuss sentence structure and cadence; nouns, the differences between abstract and specific; passive and action verbs; how to slice through armored prose; story, plot, subplots, backstory; writing memoir moments; use of ritual in writing. They provide concrete examples: brief lists of concrete and specific vs. abstract nouns; of generic vs action verbs. It’s a refreshing visual feast. Suddenly it all makes sense. Equate anything with food and it makes sense to me.
They will also tell you: the more you write, the more you remember. Before I knew Jack, I discovered this astonishing truth myself. Many times I returned to a story for editing and more fleshy details startled my mind. Even ideas for new stories. I don’t know where they were before, but in the writing process, they floated up to the surface like luminescent jellies from the deep. It’s good to know now, after reading Jack and Bob’s Writing Blog, that I was spot on with my discovery.
As you write your memoir everyday, the process brings insight to who you are and who other people are. Writing brings you new perspective. New confidence. New ideas. Relief. Joy. And with it all, a little Pain. Writing gives you connection with the universe. The psychological benefits of the writing process are innumerable. Last, but not least, writing is a gatekeeper against dementia. With dementia coursing through my family’s generations, I want to learn how to write better. To fight the dragon.