Friday, May 30, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Slap Dash Dishing

Allison Winn Scotch sold the movie rights to her yet-to-be released novel, Time of My Life. Jennifer McMahon's novel, Island of Lost Girls is a New York Times bestseller. Tish Cohen sold television rights to her middle grade novel The Invisible Rules of the Zoe Lama. Brava to all!

Okay, okay, so we all don't have that kind of news to share -- yet -- but something good must have happened in our literary lives this week. Maybe we wrote a magnificent sentence or our protagonist's most important relationship became crystalline or we can feel the mojo when we sit down to write, you know, that elusive flow. Whatever your good news is, we want to celebrate with you.

Lisa Marnell
My WIP finally makes sense. Odd revelation, perhaps, but there you have it. I'm thrilled!

Amy MacKinnon
I deleted two chapters from my WIP that completely stalled the flow and now I know where I'm going. What an enormous relief. Also, TETHERED is at BEA this weekend (in the light box? which I hear is a good thing) and now I'm waiting for feedback. If anyone reading this is there in LA and is kind enough to snap a picture of the Crown table with my book there, I would be eternally grateful.

Hannah Roveto
The end is in sight, is all I can say. I know the Group will have comments, but the ticket to agent city is dropping from the air like a feather over my head, wafting this way and that, most important, ever-downward. I can see it, just about reach up and grab it. Time to both polish my writing and to review that Dream Agent List I made months ago. (Wasn't there a useful post this week on that very subject?!)

Lynne Griffin
I finished a first draft of my second novel, and then, knowing the story in its entirety, I reworked the first chapter. Now the work of revising and rewriting begins. I love this part of the process. More on a great model for revision in next week's post.

As for LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER, I got to see the proposed interior design this week. What a rush it is to see my words formatted in book layout. It starts to make the whole thing real.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Agent City

Posted by Lynne Griffin

It's been a while since I wrote anything about taking the illustrious trip to the place we here at the writers' group fondly call, agent city. A place you dare not go, but must, if you are to be published with any of the big six. Certainly searching out the right agent for you is no easy task, but a recent article by Paige Wheeler on the terrific new blog hosted by agents at Folio Literary Management reminded me it all comes down to communication.

I have a secret. I had an agent before I landed my dream agent. I won't say who, but suffice it to say, we didn't work out. I was naive and held her up on a pedestal. Two years and two projects later, I still trembled when I dialed the phone to ask her where my manuscript was, where it stood, was it viable?

To her credit, she got me into a total of five editorial meetings. Though even with strong interest from the publisher, which included editor phone meetings, she couldn't seal the deal. Believe it or not, I wanted to think it was me. Maybe my parenting book was too optimistic, too saccharin. What was my hook? Where was my platform? If it was something I lacked, I could fix it. I would rewrite, rework, retool.

Then I went to New York for business and orchestrated a dinner meeting. I finally met my agent face-to-face. Our conversation was awkward, stilted and when I walked out of The Tavern Jane, I didn't feel any better having met her. I didn't feel she could speak to my work, my writing, my passion. It occurred to me that if I felt this way, then of course editors would too. Two weeks later, I sent a certified letter informing her it was time to part company. In a way, I was thankful we hadn't landed a deal, because we would've been tied to each other for the life of a book.

Clean slate. A wealth of possibilities. I was afraid. Wasn't an agent on the phone, worth hundreds on the Internet? Amy, Lisa and Hannah bolstered me; they agreed, I should trust my instincts. My husband loved my new spin on my nonfiction proposal; my champion urged me to move forward.

When a sixty page proposal and three sample chapters were done, I started my list. You know, the one you compile after spending hours perusing Publishers Marketplace, and every other site you can find sharing agent details, like who represents what you write and who has a record of selling projects like yours. I had eight on my list. All accepted e-queries. I was tired of waiting.

My fastest response time was four minutes. I sent my query on a Saturday, and said agent was getting caught up on email. My slowest response time? The clock is still ticking on one agent, and I sent my queries out back in February 2006. In short order, I had six requests for fulls. One week later I'd scheduled four face-to-face meetings--yes, I went to New York. I refused to sign again with someone I hadn't met and didn't have a real feel for, as a professional and as a person. Four offers of representation later, I made an agreement with my present agent. She bowled me over then, and the truth is she still does, with the way she conducts business and how much she cares about my career.

The reason our relationship works is because we communicate regularly. Everything from manuscript feedback sessions, to cursory emails sharing news. I never call her unless it's important, but I keep her updated with things on my end, whenever there's something noteworthy to share. She understands my career goals, and the kind of writer I want to be. She neither pushes trends on me, nor does she tell me my work is fantastic, when it isn't. She holds me to a bar as high or higher than the one I've set for myself.

I have no delusions that our relationship will last a lifetime--though in all honesty, I hope it does. What matters, for me, is that our goals remain compatible, our communication remain open, honesty and frequent, and that we continue to see eye-to-eye on the trajectory of my career.

If you're preparing for a trip to agent city, be sure you know what you're looking for. Last year, the wonderful Eve Bridburg, founder of Grub Street and an agent at the marvelous Zachary, Schuster and Harmsworth shared her thoughts about connecting with agents.

My best advice is to do your homework; read, read, read. And when you're absolutely sure you're ready, take the trip. Be true to yourself, and you'll get there.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Final Stretch

by Hannah Roveto

Really, truly. I know how grateful you are that my posts do not consist of progress reports: I'm editing. I'm revising. Still revising. Yup, editing. Still, I have to tell you this week, I believe myself to be in the final stretch. How do I know?

Tess Gerritsen did a post a year ago on her revision process. Of all the interviews and posts ever written on this topic, this one I saved. Every so often, I find it, scan it, compare my progress against her words. As I did just last week:

First, make the plot hang together. Make the story's set up match the story's resolution. I have gone back over my own WIP, and made sure it all connects. As character motives shifted, so did plot, and I had to go back through and redo quite a bit. You'd think after two (much-worked-over) drafts, I'd have known them, but sometimes three's the charm, apparently (or four, five...)!

Second, refine and deepen the characters. With those crystallized character motives have come insights into behavior that change first appearances on the page to small quirks in certain situations. Check, again.

Third, heighten the poetry. Gerritsen notes that some people think fiction -- and mystery -- is not in need of poetry. For the record, even humorous fiction is all the better for a little poetry in its presentation.

Fourth, clean up all the inconsistencies. Funny how my antagonist's last name was one thing at the start, something else halfway through. Did he meet with the old woman in March or April? Appearance details, timelines, everything has been doublechecked.

Fifth, reorder the scenes to heighten the tension. Gerritsen writes each subplot start to finish, then weaves them together in the second or third draft. I don't, although maybe it would have streamlined my progress, who's to know? Still, I have done exactly that, shifting scenes so the characters are shown a certain way at key points and the plot is pushed to (I hope!) up the stakes.

Sixth, figure out chapter breaks. I thought I had, but going back through now, I am realizing they are not where they should be. Thus, I am merging a couple of chapters together and considering breaking one apart. After that, well, I'm feeling quite good about it!

Certainly I'm not relying solely on Tess' words to measure how far along I have come. It struck me, though, this time when I found the post and read through, I was able to check each piece off. Tasks one through five: done; task six, on its way. As am I, I believe, at last. So let me toss this out, to those of you revising Novel One, or Novel Three, or Novel Five, do these steps ring true for you as well? Any others would you add? I am all ears!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Out There

By Amy MacKinnon

I wonder if it's too late.

Galleys have gone out for review, been sent to booksellers for ordering, to friends and family to read. I want to pull them all back, re-pack them in their cardboard boxes and hide them away from curious minds. People will talk. They'll have opinions and thoughts -- not all of them positive -- about the story, the writing, me. Soon, very soon, the book and I will be judged.

Not everyone will be kind, though some will fall to the other extreme. I won't know everyone's motives. Reviews on Amazon and other sites will be precipitated by friendship, animosity, or true conviction. I won't always be able to tell the difference. Labels of mediocrity will sting worst of all. I despise average.

It's never bothered me to be judged by the way I look, my actions, gender, politics, my parenting, address, or religion. I don't generally care. I've been regarded as fat, ugly, poor, stupid, and cruel, all of which have been true at different points in my life. That's fine, I can accept those critiques just fine. I have been laid bare in my most primal state before a room filled with curious residents and not blinked. Childbirth is humbling that way. But to have my book reviewed publicly will be the most disconcerting experience of all.

I want to be the person who walks into the wind upright and steadfast. I want to be Teflon. I want to be above the fray of the naysayers and uglies. I want to be fierce. And I am. Much like Achilles on the battlefield, I am strong and sure for the most part, but this book of mine is my sweet, soft heel.

So how to cope?

Monday, May 26, 2008


Posted by Lisa Marnell

A teacher friend of mine in Massachusetts gave this essay to me at the end of last year (thanks, Kim). I wanted to share this writing with you because of the details. Good details make good writing. The writing below is beautiful.

I Hope That - By Paul Harvey

We have tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse. For my grandchildren, I’d like better. I’d really like them to know about hand-me-down clothes and home-made ice cream and leftover meatloaf sandwiches. I really would.

I hope you learn humility by being humiliated, and that you learn honesty by being cheated. I hope you learn to make your own bed and mow the lawn and wash the car. And I really hope that nobody gives you a brand new car when you are sixteen.

It will be good if at least one time you can see puppies born and your old dog put to sleep.

I hope you get a black eye fighting for something you believe in.

I hope you have to share a bedroom with a younger brother or sister. And it is alright if you have to draw a line down the middle of the room, but when he wants to crawl under the covers with you because he is scared, I hope you let him.

When you want to see a movie and your little sister wants to tag along, I hope you let her. I hope that you have to walk uphill to school with your friends and that you live in a town where you can do it safely.

On rainy days when you have to catch a ride, I hope you don’t ask your driver to drop you two blocks away so you won’t be seen riding with someone as uncool as your mom.

If you want a slingshot, I hope your dad teaches you how to make one instead of buying one. I hope you learn to dig in the dirt and read books.

When you learn to use computers, I hope you also learn to add and subtract in your head.

I hope that you get teased by your friends when you have your first crush, and when you talk back to your mother that you learn what Ivory soap tastes like.

May you skin your knee climbing a mountain and stick your tongue on a frozen flagpole.

I sure hope you take the time to sit on a porch with your grandfather and go fishing with your uncle.

May you feel sorrow at a funeral and joy during the holidays.

I hope that your mother punishes you when you throw a baseball through a neighbor’s window and that she hugs and kisses you when you give her a plaster mold of your hand.

These things I wish for you: tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness. To me, it is the only way to appreciate life.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Making A Literary Life Friday: Passages

Most people join or create writers' groups when we are ready for work to be critiqued; there is a sense that outside hands can push us along the path we have chosen a little faster than we might get there on our own. A side benefit to a writers' group, however, is learning from reading other work critically, watching how a passage, a page, or an entire story shifts as the writer explores new territory, then deepens and strengthens it.

As stronger readers, we then take even greater delight in a phrase or a passage that stops us cold for all the right reasons, when we have to pause simply to appreciate the gorgeous simplicity of a story well told. Here are a few bits that have struck us most of late.

Lisa Marnell
I'm drawing from an old read, I was looking at recently: Sarah Dunant's novel, The Birth of Venus.

"It wasn't as if Florence didn't have artists enough of her own. The city was filled with the smell of paint and the scratch of ink on the contracts. There were times when you couldn't walk the streets for fear of falling into some pit or mire left by constant building."

Amy MacKinnon
Ian McEwan's ATONEMENT is a favorite novel. This line is among the most memorable, the most gorgeous I've ever read:

"Another mole, the size of a farthling on her thigh and something purplish on her calf -- a strawberry mark, a scar. Not blemishes. Adornments."

Hannah Roveto
Scott Heim's We Disappear is stunning. In this particular paragraph, Heim captures mood, pace and scene in three simple sentences as two people hesitate, and I love the use of dissolve:

"She closed her eyes, pausing to arrange the memories. The TV's light wavered sleepily over her face; from outside, the echo of a church bell, reminding me of the bell above the Haven Cafe door, and of Mr. Wyler, weeping soundlessly at his booth. I listened as the low tolling dissolved and the town went silent."

Lynne Griffin
Ronlyn Domingue's, Mercy of Thin Air is a elegant as her novel's title. This book is rich in everything that matters. Character, plot, setting--and prose. Here is the first lovely passage I came to by merely opening the novel and pointing to a page.

"Andrew's essence drew outward, then stalled. The particles suspended in a dense concentration of cold, still air. I held the salty tinge within me for the length of a breath, before anything more could make an escape, before I could on the question, What happened to him?"

On a side note, Ronlyn is a generous writer who's written some advice well worth reading. Check out her website.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Turn Things on Their Head

Posted by Lynne Griffin

A few days ago, a very creative friend of mine wondered out loud if she were innately imaginative enough to write a rich and compelling novel. I was first struck by how preposterous this musing was, since she's extremely inventive. Later, this thought intrigued me: should any writer rest on his or her God-given gifts of imagination and inspiration, or is every writer equally responsible for the search to find the thing that sets the break and tumble wave of creativity in motion?

Maybe there's a picture or poem that introduces you to an interesting character. The picture to the right is one of my parents in the early days of their courtship. I started a story inspired by their love affair, and it became something entirely different. I'm indebted to them, and to this photograph for planting the seed.

Or perhaps you've read or heard a news story so unbelievable you have to understand why things unfolded the way they did, or rewrite the ending.

As I write this, I have a copy of Anne Halpin's breathtaking book, Seascape Gardening on my desk. It's been sitting there since I received it as a birthday gift. The setting of my work-in-progress is laid out all over its pages, as if Ms. Halpin collected the Roger Foley images and wrote the commentary, specifically for me.

In writing, there are many well known taglines. Show, don’t tell. Write what you know. Allow yourself the shitty first draft. But like the idea of waiting on the Muse, to each of these there's a flip side.

Tell and show.
There are times when telling is the right thing to do. At the beginning of chapters, to let the reader know time has past, or in making the perfect transition, keeping the pace of the novel swift and the plot moving forward. I don't worry, in early drafts, if there's a little too much tell. I know adding show will be the work of revision. And a side note here--Jennifer Haigh wrote her first novel in sixty pages. In revision, she fleshed the entire story out. I imagine there was a lot of telling in the early draft.

Write what you don't know.
For me, inspiration is often found in learning something new. Research can be energizing. Choosing a character's occupation or fascination opens doors to all kinds of things that can provide inspiration and motivation. Why not try to write what you don't know?

Allow yourself a glorious first draft.
Perhaps there are days, weeks, or even novels that require one to write slowly, critiquing every word set down on the page. What a difference it might make to scrutinize each word choice, making every one count.

To a degree--though I may adjust the percentages a bit--I share Thomas Edison's thinking on achieving your goals. He said, success is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. Friend of our blog Larramie wrote a beautiful sentiment, last year about this time. I love it so much I'll share it here. She wrote, Summer is a season of indulgences. Mine just happens to be writing.

So my advice to writers, at the beginning of this Memorial Day weekend, is to go out and turn traditional ideas about writing on their head. You may just find the inspiration you've been looking for.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Rising Tide

by Hannah Roveto

A short article in the Wall Street Journal last week caught my eye: Penguin Hires Pair to Lift Children's Unit. Don Weisberg, former president of Random House Sales, was named president of Penguin Young Readers Group. Barbara Marcus, former president of children's book publishing and distribution at Random House, was named Strategic Advisor. Ms. Marcus merely was the person who oversaw U.S. publication of the first six books written by some British woman -- the one about a boy wizard -- anyone recall the title?!

"Children's book publishing has always been strong," said the article, adding it has gained significance in recent years due to the strength of backlists. Hardcover sales are up. The story struck me, because when writers get together, there is concerned discussion about people not reading; about whether work is literary or commercial, where is the line and how much is on what side of the line; what will the electronic book do to print sales; how many titles are out there and how hard it is to be found among the masses; literacy among children and the power of the computer to draw them away from books. All worthy topics. Yet I have gone back to this story day after day, ripped from my newspaper, because it signals a rising tide.

As we all know, no company puts that kind of effort into a strategy unless they're confident it will generate money. In this case, money from books you can weigh in your hand, flip pages, smell the paper and ink. Money from new readers, repeat readers, readers who believe in storytelling that feeds and fires the imagination in a way only a book can deliver. In this case, we are talking about young readers, who will go through those hit titles Mr. Weisberg and Ms. Marcus will find, support and market, and want more the next month, the next year, into their teens and on into hood.

Children who know books love books; children who love books want good books. If there is a good book at hand, they will actually choose to read, even if there is a computer in the house. I promise you this. Maybe they don't spend every spare moment with noses in books, but a good book will be read, its sequel requested, books like it researched, the author followed even if he or she switches genres.

Like us, to be truthful, children have limited reading time, which creates a challenge. They want something worth their investment: a good story, told well. Like us, too, they want something different each time, not the same plots over and over. Soemthing that fits their moods, their interests, their views of the world, their dreams. (As a side note, check out 1001 Books for Every Mood by Hallie Ephron if you're stuck for some good titles, for grown-ups and children.)

This means only good things for writers, no matter whether we write children's or YA or literary or commercial or something in-between. The book is not , it was riding a receding tide and now is making a resurgence. The next generation has found, through comparison, that no matter how interactive and cool the graphics are on a wide screen, a book delivers a unique experience, and a good book delivers one that is unparalleled. So never fear, you there in front of your computer, with your typewriter, keyboard or notebook at hand -- your audience awaits.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Extraordinary New Cover!

By Amy MacKinnon

A dream come true thanks to designer Whitney Cookman. He created this without seeing my web site and they are shockingly in sync.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Posted by Lisa Marnell

For those of us who work in the schools, the next few weeks are BUSY! As a driven writer, I am determined to prevent end of the year time pressures from interfering with my writing. I am going to be surgical with time management. To do so, I will eliminate EXTRAS, such as the following:

1- No EXTRA Characters: Why spend hours writing a scene about a character when the character is not likely to survive a second draft.

I vow to ask myself if a character, any character, moves the plot forward. If he or she doesn’t, it’s curtains!

2- No EXTRA Words: What takes longer to type: “The situation was nearing the point where they’d have to come out soon.” Or “It was over!”

I vow to become an “It was over!” kind of writer. (Example borrowed from “The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall)

3- No EXTRA Web-Surfing: NO! NO! NO!

I vow to pick one web sight I’ll allow myself to visit, once a day, prior to writing, not because of boredom or ADD, but as a venue for inspiration.

4- No EXTRA e-mails to friends: No poems to Amy and Hannah and Lynne (is that a relief?) No joking e-mails to my friend Kim in Marshfield either.

I vow to be business like and efficient in online communications.

5- No EXTRA subplots. I do this extra subplot thing. An idea comes to me and I go with it, only to nix it later.

I vow to stick to my outlined plot and finish Rose’s story with no added bells and whistles.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Wandering the Web

A reader wrote to us asking what were some of the better web sites to enrich a writer's life. Too many was the initial response. If any of you are Slate readers, then you know what a time-sucker the Internet can be to a writer. Still, there are riches to be found.

Below, we've shared some of our favorites, but we'd like to hear about yours. What web sites inform your writing?

Lisa Marnell
Verlakay! A beautiful interactive website developed and maintained by author Verla Kay. It's a hang-out for writers and wannabe writers of children's fiction. There's even a thread for those of us attending LA's summer SCBWI (Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference - see you there? Couldn't live without you, Verla.

Lois Lowry - I love her. Discomermaids (Jay Asher's blog).

Amy MacKinnon
Where to start? I read a lot of sites because I'm naturally curious, some for pure entertainment, but to further my career as a writer...Let's start with the industry standard, Publishers Weekly. Booksellers, sales reps, agents, and editors all read it. You should too. In fact, it was an article in last week's edition that pointed me to my next new favorite site, Books on the Nightstand. It was started by two publishing insiders who wanted to share good reads. They do that via columns and podcasts. Very savvy of them to mix up the media. So you can clean off your desk while you listen. They even take their show on the road and recommend books to eager readers. Clever. And one of my absolute favorites web sites is American Fiction. Who is Mark Athitakis and where did he find his voice? He has his ear pressed to the inner circle of the loop and shares it all with us. How he consistently culls the finest articles, interviews, news from the world wide web is beyond me. I'm just glad he does it.

Hope you come back on Tuesday because I have the most magnificent news to share! I'm bursting to tell you, but I must wait my turn! If you're really curious, like I am in life, I've embedded a clue in my post.

Hannah Roveto
Good ones, all. What else? I do love reading the inside view from agents' perspectives. There's Nathan Bransford and Kristin Nelson's PubRants, whom I love to visit now and again. I do miss Miss Snark, but you can find oldies but goodies still out there floating around!

Lynne Griffin
I echo Amy's choices for must reads. I would also add Publishers Marketplace, which though it does require a monthly subscription fee is critical to learning which agents represent the types of fiction or non you write. I also like it because it keeps you up-to-date on what authors are selling, trends, etc... Another insider site I love is Mediabistro's Galleycat. It's casual tone shouldn't fool you, the info gives you a valuable glimpse inside the business. And finally, I am a big Poets & Writers fan. It has everything the magazine does and more. Extended interviews, web only articles and an amazing archives, I can spend hours here.

And don't forget to peruse our friends of our blog link list to the right. Many of these sites offer generous amounts of content. Happy reading.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rhythm and Writing

Posted by Lynne Griffin

Just for a bit of inspiration, I dipped into Joyce Carol Oates, The Faith of a Writer. Battling a cold, I'd taken to my bed with her book, the novel I'm rereading--A Separate Peace--and a new book of writing exercises called, Naming the World, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.

In an essay on inspiration, Oates quotes Virginia Woolf. She'd written about the connection between style and rhythm in one of her many letters, analyzing the complexities of the writer's life. I took pause when I read the following:

A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in has to recapture this, and set this working and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit in.

I really connected to this passage, in love with thinking about inspiration as a wave. Ripples, seas, and swells are waves of varying intensity. The process of writing, for me, begins with feeling some kind of disturbance--whether it's taking notice of some sensory detail or acknowledging a feeling--which leads to a transfer of energy in space and time. This breaking and tumbling that Woolf refers to, begs to be captured in words and phrases, sentences and paragraphs.

Moving on to Bret Anthony Johnston's, Naming the World, I noticed an essay by Paul Lisicky called, All about Rhythm. I turned to page 286, and it began with the same Woolf quote highlighted above. Don't you love when the Muse hits you on the head, urging you to learn something new about writing? The same quote placed before me in a matter of an hour, sent me on a quest to find out more about waves.

Waves are born when wind meets water. Speed and distance and time are the variables that influence formation of what's called a fetch. I'll make the leap and say I believe rhythm in writing is formed with the right combination of pace, and psychic distance (how close or far the writing is to the reader) and word combinations. In Lisicky's essay, he says the master of rhythm is the poet. He asserts that if a writer is to find the rhythm--the break and tumble of waves brought forth on the page--one needs to be:

...more deeply aware of pauses, sentence length, stops, even alliteration and assonance in the ourselves up to our own rhythms--the patterns of our everyday speech, the quirkiness of the way we move and walk--and carry those over to the lives of our invention.

So today, as I delve into writing my work-in-progress, I'm going to be thinking about waves. The way they spill and roll, plunge and dump water on sand. Here's hoping I'll find my rhythm, a surging type of wave; one that will knock my readers over and drag them deeper into my story.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Maybe You're Just Molting

by Hannah Roveto

I might be identifying too closely with my son's hermit crabs. Why I shouldn't is clear: they are very low on the evolutionary scale, although I feel that way at times. They are scary looking; first thing in the morning I might come close to their appearance. Like today, for example, when I was woken up at 5:30 because one of the crabs was in the water dish naked.

The initial concern was that it was dead. No, quite the reverse. The crabs are molting. They've been sloughing off their exoskeletons, hiding for days down in the gravel with only their painted shells peeking up into the light. (Smaller Dean had Spiderman on his back, Crabby a more mature and elegant metallic green.)

During this time they peel themselves out and are at their most vulnerable. Thanks to Crabby's foray into the (empty) water dish to refresh himself with water held in the sponge, we now know their back ends look like oversized grubs with small claw-like legs sticking out, the better to hold onto their shells once they get back inside. Ugh. Their front ends look like miniature crabs, yes, but without those formidable and surprisingly strong pincers we have all come to respect. Our cat stared past the chicken wire screen longingly, inches away from a tender, defenseless treat. Why do the crabs put themselves at such risk? Simple: they will die if they don't.

I was going to blog today about why some writers take so darn long to become writers. I read something recently in which an author noted she came to the art of writing as an adult. In interviews for this blog's Author Spotlight series, Hallie Ephron said she took on fiction once her children were grown and she became unafraid of what her creative family might think of her efforts. Mameve Medwed said she was a short story writer until a good friend told her to write a novel; she said she was petrified, went at it "kicking and screaming."

Jonathan Franzen, speaking at Grub Street's Muse and the Marketplace, said he believes many great writers are women who come to it later in life, or at least, not straight out of college or grad school. He said women have other things in their lives that demand attention; once women start to focus more on themselves than on the external in their lives, they find their writers' voices. I think this is true -- and applies to some men, too.

Some writers need time, whether it is to experience enough to generate a full story, or to overcome the terror of putting ourselves out there. The transformation does not take place overnight; it takes time, agonizing months and years. We know what we are about to do, and that knowledge alone could stop us in our tracks. But it doesn't. Maybe we don't really have a choice. So we pick at our old selves, get uncomfortable with the shell we have wrapped around our soft cores. We burrow and peel that shell off, a dangerous, delicate operation. We develop the courage to walk around exposed, if need be, as we form a new way to present ourselves to the world: a bigger, stronger, better us. Molting is important to humans, but perhaps it is required of writers -- at any stage. It's scary and exciting and dangerous and essential to our beings.

(Update: Dean seems to be back in his original shell, although burrowing again, and Crabby is out of the water dish and checking out an upgrade to a larger soccer-motif number. The cat is sleeping in another room.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Evolution of a Page

By Amy MacKinnon

I think it was our second meeting when I submitted twenty pages of my manuscript, then tentatively title TETHERED, to my writers' group. This is Hannah's feedback from that night. I was wreck showing it to them, but see how kind her notes are -- and they weren't overwhelming either.

This second page is what I submitted to Grub Street's Muse and the Marketplace two years ago. I signed up with Little, Brown editor Asya Muchnick. Beforehand, she read 20 page of my manuscript, making careful notes on each. It was waiting in line for my critique when I met Gail Konop Baker; what a blessing that's been. Asya gave my manuscript a careful, thoughtful edit. I floated out of there.

Now this third page is probably the most marked-up of the bunch. That handwriting belongs to my editor Sally Kim. After sending me a two page editorial letter with an overall structural critique (what needs tweaking, what doesn't work, what needs more depth), she then did a careful line edit of the manuscript. Now don't let anyone tell you editors don't edit anymore. Here's physical proof they do and do it beautifully.

And then the lovely, lovely copy edits. Now when it's your turn to open that huge bubble-lined manilla envelope and pull out your manuscript, you'll be tickled to see a key with all of your characters' names, every major business, each setting. It's quite a kick. It might also intimidate you a bit to know a professional grammarian has laid eyes on your words. Not to worry, s/he is on your side to make your book the best it can be. There will be a lot of marks. It might scare the bejesus out of you so much, you close the envelope back up again -- for a few days. I'm not saying I did this, but I might have. Once you plunge in, though, you find it's not nearly as humiliating as you feared. In fact, I asked my bestest friend Heather Grant Murray, also a copy editor, to go over it as I did. I love copy editors.

Then the best part happens. Your first pass pages arrive. For the first time since you sat down at your desk all those years ago, you see how your words will appear on the page. Isn't it magnificent? Lynn Amft designed the interior layout and she is brilliant. The very first design I was shown, I loved. She captured the tone perfectly.

Looks like quite a bit of work by many hands, doesn't it? But imagine, that's just one page...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Meeting Rose

Posted by Lisa Marnell

Last week, I shared my story in pictures with you. In order to help me visualize the New Hampshire setting where my novel takes place, I googled images of snow and mountains, ski hills and dilapidated houses. I printed the photos and taped them to the wall in my study. Now when I write, I tell my family I'm going to New Hampshire. They understand - thanks for the idea, Lynne!

I started writing this YA novel almost two years ago. It started from a seed, a snippet in time that happened years ago. I was twelve. It was a rainy New Hampshire day, and we wouldn't be water skiing on Lake Winnepasaukee that afternoon. My dad dropped us, my sister, brother, and neighbors, Cathy and Scott at a local bowling alley. He gave us money for lanes and shoes, snacks and drinks, and promised he'd be back in a couple hours to pick us up. It was the stringy-haired girl at the bowling alley that I remember; she's the detail that had an impact on me that day.

She had no money. No one bought her snacks. Her dad was young - late twenties maybe? - and the woman he was with wasn't her mom. Her mom would have commented on her bowling, or at least nagged her to tie back her stringy black hair. That girl was as interested in me as I was in her. The moment that is branded in my mind is the way way she stared as I sipped Coke from the cup my brother delivered to me. No one bought that girl a Coke. And I used two straws!

The protagonist in my work in progress is Rose, the name I gave that girl in the bowling alley. I wrote a full first draft of this novel last year and shared it with our writers' group. They complimented my setting, my use of language in places, but the story, the entire story wasn't working. I scrapped it, for the most part, and started again. Part of the problem was that Rose's story wasn't her own. The bigger problem was that I didn't know Rose. Who was Rose?

I used character sheets at the start of this novel. You know, the lists of a character's physical traits, habits, history, secret longings. They helped, to some extent, but creating a character is not the same as meeting one. It took time to get to know Rose. At this point in this novel, I know her, better. I could fill out a character sheet now for her and have answers for most of the questions.

Now, I'm close to completing a new first draft. The story is RADICALLY different than it was. In keeping with my strategy of using pictures to help me immerse myself in my fiction, I found Rose's picture - another google search. Meet my Rose. She's smart, and kind, sad and frustrated. She's lovely, really, and has a story to tell.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Changing Perspective

For each of us there was a time before we were writers. Back in those days, our ideas about the writing life were different than they are today. Here at the Writers' Group, we've traveled along roads we only dreamed about. How have our perspectives about writing changed? How have yours?

Lisa Marnell
I used to think writers were, well, celebrities, I suppose. The first time I met Christopher Castellani (at Duxbury Library on a cold December night), I could barely put two words together; he had written two books! Now I know writers are people. It gives me hope! It fills me with a sense of happiness and calm.

Amy MacKinnon
I'm not quite as far along as Lisa is in the process. When I met Julia Glass at the Muse, my voice trembled and I managed to stutter out a few words, but not the ones I wanted.

I think my perspective about agents and editors has changed the most. I used to be some what intimidated by them. I thought they held all the keys to us writers getting our work published. Now I know from the ones I've met that they're not wheelers-n-dealers, but people who care deeply about good writing. They want us to succeed. Most profound, we writers have been holding the keys--in the form of a good--book all along.

Hannah Roveto
I knew writers growing up; I never saw them work, though, and I must have assumed all the elements of craft flowed from them in some natural way. When I started to take fiction more seriously, I was stymied. I was a good writer; why couldn't I make it come out the way I wanted? The joy of meeting and talking with other writers -- and taking classes from the likes of a Hallie Ephron -- is finding out how to make that leap, to ask the right questions and pull out answers that are most useful. Because as we know, we all go at this differently!

Lynne Griffin
When I fantasized about being a writer, but had not yet put pen to page, I was blocked by doubt. How could I be published alongside my idols Anna Quindlen, Carol Goodman, Ann Patchett? Along came a treasured gift from my husband; a copy of Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life. Carolyn talks about desire as a critical component to success. She encourages writers to take the journey seriously enough to do what’s necessary. Everything that’s necessary. Over the years my perspective about success has changed. It doesn’t come looking for you, you have to go out and find it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Copy Edits

Posted by Lynne Griffin

Lisa's story arrived in pictures on Monday, Amy's galley on Tuesday and Hannah's inspiration just yesterday. What did I get in the mail this week? My copy edited manuscript. It is really a thrill to see it, all marked up with purple pencil, with little green Post-its littered throughout.

The process of getting a manuscript through production includes a thorough read by an expert stylist and grammarian. You'd be surprised at how many little details and inconsistencies even the most meticulous writer misses.

Some of you are old pros at this part of the publication process, but for those of you who aren't, let me share how it works.

The manuscript was sent to me via UPS with a tracking number--the mere thought of all that work getting lost is frightening. When it arrived, I pulled it from its envelope and went through each page to get a sense of just how much work there would be to do. You see, my job at this stage is to go through and read the manuscript word-by-word. When I get to a correction made by the copy editor--it could be as simple as to add or delete a comma, or as complex as to change a whole sentence, for readability--I am to decide whether or not to accept the change. If I accept it, I do nothing; just leave it and keep reading. If I disagree with the change (and I would if the change interfered with meaning, or characterization, and the like) I write the word STET next to it, which means leave the material as it was written.

Through the manuscript on Post-it notes, there are what are called queries. The copy editor is in fact asking me questions. They can be easy questions such as, do I like the sentence change, to more complicated ones like would this character really do this? I even had to do a bit of research on some queries, like do certain trees hold their leaves as long as I said they did. Great pick ups like this assure a quality read for readers. My copy editor did an amazing job with another important task--reading for consistency.

Enclosed in the package sent to me, is what is called a style sheet. Imagine a set of directions that covers everything from how unique words will be spelled, (one-two punch & hit and run) how dates and times will be managed, (spell out the quarter hour & use a.m and p.m.) and (this is my favorite) a character listing, one that includes physical traits and plot details. It even includes a brief summary of each chapter. I loved seeing my novel captured this way by a fresh reader.

All of this work done by someone you may never meet, but should certainly thank, is a generous gift. To know that someone who loves books took tons of time to read and fine-tune my manuscript is awe inspiring.

My copy edits are done now and will go back to my editor. She in turn will send it back over to production so that the changes can be incorporated into the manuscript. Next step is galley creation, like the one you saw Amy holding this week. Each of these essential milestones take me closer to publication. It's hard work, but thrilling.

Those of you who've gone through this process, feel free to add info I've left out via the comments section. And if you have questions, feel free to pose them here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Author Spotlight Series: Mameve Medwed

Posted by Hannah Roveto

Mameve Medwed’s books are known for their strong sense of setting, fully-drawn characters, and plots that build on comedies of manners in the issues that matter most day-to-day: love, children, parents, career, self. Of her first novel, 1997’s Mail, Publishers Weekly noted that “Medwed’s talent is in the details,” and her books have been praised by the likes of Arthur Golden, Tom Perrotta, Gregory Maguire and Anita Shreve. Her new book, Of Men and Their Mothers, is a BookSense “Notable Book” for May. She graciously agreed to be interviewed for The Writers’ Group blog, and offers insights into her path through and take on the literary life.

Hannah Roveto: Thank you for sharing your time with us. I’ve read your first four books, already bought the fifth, and the fact that you are known for humor is of particular interest to me. First off, Mail came out in 1997. What was your background to that point? You were writing already?

Mameve Medwed
: Thank you, too! Yes, I was writing short stories and had published a lot. Mail started as a short story published in The Missouri Review. I thought I was a short story writer. Elinor Lipman called and said, you know, you need to write a novel. I told her I didn’t know how, and she said, “Nobody does. Take Mail and turn it into one.” So I did it, kicking and screaming. Then it finds an agent, results in a bidding war, and I thought, this isn’t so bad! I felt I never wanted to write short stories again. I love the luxury of working on something for a matter of years. I always panic at the end of a story, worry where the story will go, and will I ever get another idea. Novel writing delays that panic.

HR: How did you meet Elinor Lipman?

MM: I met Elinor almost thirty years ago in a writing class at Brandeis, adult ed, twelve weeks for forty bucks. We hit it off and became fast friends right away, especially since we were the only ones writing funny stuff and we were considered not “serious!”

HR: What did you learn as you grew into a novel writer?

MM: I don’t know what I learned, in that I did it by the seat of my pants. I’d always keep one paragraph ahead of myself. I was so certain I couldn’t do it, that nobody would want it, I didn’t set any limits on myself. I let my imagination spin, went on tangents, moved back and forth in time. I took classes, of course, at the Cambridge Center and at Radcliffe, which were tremendously helpful. I was quite sure nothing would come of it, though. I still feel that way with every novel, that I’m reinventing the wheel for myself.

HR: Did you have a writers group in those early days?

MM: I’ve certainly been sustained by writers groups and seminars, but all the groups petered out over time. They’d work for a while, then they didn’t. I have one reader over the years, Elinor, who’s been a constant. I read her work and she reads mine. Sometimes my agent reads before I’m done, sometimes someone else.

HR: Do you have a formal process or rules any longer?

MM: No. (Laughs.) Ellie send stories chapter by chapter, very polished. I send her big messy manuscripts I’ve certainly gone over a number of times, but I think she has the harder end of that deal. I don’t want to be stopped too early on.

HR: If you are asking someone else to read, are there any guidelines you suggest to them?

MM: I’m very careful whom I ask to read. I have to know the person, know they know me. I want brutal honesty wrapped in encouragement. I don’t want to feel like I’m going to go home and fall on my sword; I want a certain professionalism. You need to know if the story works, the characters are real, whether there are any confusions. Is it too long, and so forth.

HR: You’ve said Mail took about three years to write, and your other books have come out at about two year intervals. Can you talk a bit to your process while you write? Do you outline, or know where your stories are headed, and do you have any thoughts on those “messy middles?”

MM: I’ve been told I’m “so prolific.” Of course, between the time you have a book accepted and when it is published is about eighteen months, so there’s been an additional six months or so of time nobody sees. I have very bad habits, or at least, a horrible time starting a new book. First, I’m often in the whole publication-touring-promotion phase for another book, so it’s hard to switch heads. I haven’t given birth to the old book yet, fully. Nothing flows, and that is torture. It’s an exquisite and delightful torture.

I never know the story when I start to write it out. That’s what makes it interesting to me. If I know, then to me the process feels too mechanical. I like the surprises along the way; they keep me going. If I felt I had to analyze or intellectualize the elements, I’d be paralyzed. I used to feel dumb, but I’ve learned to trust the subconscious when I’m in the zone. The first draft, I try not to overthink. E.L. Doctorow had a quote about writing a novel: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I keep that over my computer.

Once I have about fifty pages, though, I have a place to go. Then I’m really good, have exemplary habits. I can work for eight or ten hours a day and will do at least two pages each day, which accumulates. I let myself write badly; everything including the kitchen sink goes in, what I read in the newspapers, everything. I don’t worry about the middle, because I know I’m going to revise. In revising, I cut huge swathes through it, connect the dots, address continuity. If you allow yourself to write badly the first time through, you use some of it, not other parts, but it’s all there on paper.

HR: So you never know the endings, even in a book like The End of An Error (re-released in paperback in April)?

MM: No. I didn’t. And I don’t know that afterward she sticks with that choice or regrets it, either.

HR: Humor is tricky. What do you think makes it work, if it is something that can be quantified at all? Any tips for someone working in this category?

MM: I don’t think I’m funny. I’m dead serious when I’m writing. That it was funny was a surprise, that people laughed. I suppose it’s my voice, my style. I’ve been on panels, talked about it a lot, and I’ll say that when you’re going to write anything, even humor, it still has to be serious. I do write serious books, about life, love and loss. Robert Stone said it’s the great thing about literature: it makes the world less lonely.

To write it, I know the characters have to be real, layered; they can’t be caricatures. The biggest danger in comedy is to have cardboard characters. You need a real person with an inner life. Trollope says that easy reading takes hard writing. You have to go over it a million times to make it seamless, make sure it flows.

HR: When you are ready to start a novel, what sets it off: a moment, a story you hear, a character idea? What inspired your newest book, Of Men and Their Mothers, for example?

MM: I always like writing about mothers and sons; there were certainly experiences with my own mother-in-law that prompt thoughts, and stories I hear. Although then you need to take it and bring it to another level. And class – that’s something we dare not name in our society. For the new book, I’d had some thoughts. Then a somewhat scruffy man was looking for some neighbors, who were out. I told the woman later about him, and she asked me to come over. She pulled a bag from the freezer: breast milk that had been in there for three years or so. Her husband was a lawyer who’d done a pro bono case for DSS and his client asked him to store the milk. The idea of someone’s breast milk in a stranger’s freezer for years… well, that clicked right away with what I was thinking!

HR: What do you like best about the literary life?

MM: I like that I am the god of my domain. I can do whatever I want. And I do love the torture of writing, which gives me the clay to do revision. I like the big feeling of having a book in me, no matter where I go, carrying it inside of me. I don’t like giving up that control once it’s done, when it depends on so many other people, on budgets, reviews and sales. It’s hard to give up the story to that. Most of us are shy, find it hard, worrying about what another person will think even though you know it’s only one opinion; but will it make or break the book? The lovely part, then in turn, is to have a book in your hands, in bookstores and libraries. You get that connection with readers.

When you start writing, all you want is to have a book. Then you say, okay, all I want is another book. You’re never satisfied, and each time the anxiety gets ratcheted up, and then the book comes out and that alone doesn’t fulfill you. In the end, it always goes back to the joy and torture of writing your world. Every single time, you have to go back to the writing.

Information on Mameve Medwed’s books, from those above to How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life and Host Family, as well as essays and public appearance dates are at

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Galleys Have Arrived

By Amy MacKinnon

Yay!!! And if you haven't checked out my web site yet, please stop by and let me know what you think.
Also, I have one extra to give away if anyone is interested.

The Character is the Story

By Amy MacKinnon

Sunday was a day of decadence.

While my children entertained themselves with painting and books, video games and IMing, while my husband prepared our dinner in the kitchen and my dog chased turkeys in the backyard, I laid on the couch, tucked myself under a blanket, and read a book cover-to-cover. It was divine. I justified it by telling myself it was research and it was.

The book was Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. No, it isn't as good as his others --Mystic River and the Patrick Kenzie series -- but it does share one important aspect, in fact, the most important aspect of any good story: memorable characters.

I finished reading Shutter Island about 11:00 p.m., long after I should have been asleep. But I stayed with it not because of the plot, though it had that great hook everyone talks about; not because of the pacing, though it had that too; I stayed because of Lehane's protagonist Teddy Daniels. He moved me. And when I closed the book hours after my bedtime, I wanted nothing more than to give Teddy Daniels shelter from this cruel world of ours. I cared for him. Deeply.

That's been the problem with a lot of books I've picked up lately -- great hook, okay pacing, life-altering conflict -- but the characters fall flat. I read 20, 30, sometimes as many as 50 pages and then I close the book. If I don't believe in the characters, feel them as wholly as I do the people around me, I simply don't care to read more.

Jane Austen isn't beloved because of her stories and conflicts, pacing and settings. Her books are still read today because her characters come to life on the page. Ms. Austen didn't think readers would much like her novel's namesake Emma, too flawed, she thought, but that is exactly why we adore her. Emma is a reflection of our misguided desires. Have you read Austen lately? The writing is difficult, the conflicts are simple, and we all can be assured of how the stories will end, and yet her books live on and on because her characters do.

Stephen King isn't the bestselling writer of all time because he writes horror. I don't actually read horror, nor do many people I know who read Stephen King. We read his books because he writes characters who are as real to us as the man three doors down with the bad teeth and taste for Schlitz, the one who calls the ambulance to his home every so often when loneliness gets the better of him. King's good guys can be bad (Larry Underwood) and his bad guys can be unbearably sweet (Trashcan Man). His characters are alive. Just writing about it now makes me want to read The Stand again.
I think about all of this as I write my next book. I want to create people who are as real to you as they are to me. I want you to see the grit and tears caking in Mrs. Martin's crows feet; smell the collective sweat of the room that contains them all; I want you to hear the blood pumping in Edith's ears as she runs through the woods and feel the bruise forming at her hip where the gun butt beats in time to her step; and I want you to know George and his angst the way only George has come to know it.

So Sunday wasn't completely decadent. It was just another reminder of what I need to do to write a good book. God, I hope I can.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Story in Pictures

Posted by Lisa Marnell

Perhaps I was inspired by the Muse & the Marketplace conference last weekend. Maybe it was the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) summer conference flyer that came in the mail, but when I sat down to write early Saturday morning, I couldn't. I did something better.

I am not a visual person, not really. I'm the person who can tell you every song that has been playing on the overhead speakers in a store for the previous twenty minutes. I listen well. I don't need a picture.

However, this Saturday, I searched images online. I looked through photographs from my dad's old place in New Hampshire. For my YA story to come to life, I needed to see the place I was writing about. How could I write about December in fictional Sugarton, New Hampshire, with now-drying Southern California mountains watching me from my window. And the birds! They were lovely, yes, but quite the distraction. So, I searched for photos that would bring me to my protagonist's world. Take a look at my album: photos taped on the wall above my laptop now.

The bowling alley where I first saw Rose, the real Rose, a girl with stringy hair and not enough change for a Coca Cola.

The house Rose returns to after her hospitalization. This is the start of my novel, and this picture helps me visualize Rose's home. It's dark. It's dreary. Her house is actually half this size. It's not somewhere she wants to be. I found this photo on Google images.

This is the storm that arrives the night that Rose walks to her friend Ava's house.

Here's the ski hill where, well, you'll have to buy the book. And I have to finish writing it.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Making a Literary Life Friday: Conference Highlights

Do you go to a conference thirsting for new content? Or is it your style to treat yourself to deep conversations with your writer friends, while savoring the chance to meet new people who truly understand what it means to live a literary life?

All four of us are just back from the Muse and the Marketplace conference, and it delivered a banquet of literary sustenance for writers, editors and agents. It ended several days ago, and we're still full of wonderful memories, epiphanies about writing, and conversations to recount. So here are our conference highlights.

Lisa Marnell
I could listen to Lois Lowry speak for hours and hours and hours. A true highlight for me this weekend was meeting a legend. She has written 35 books and, as amazing as this is, they vary enormously in style, content, and the age group for which they were written. I just finished reading Gathering Blue, sequel to The Giver - OMG!

Karl Iagnemma and Scott Heim were inspirations to me this weekend. To blog readers, it must come as no surprise that Michael Lowenthal gave me food for thought - Avoidance sits in its place beside my laptop this very moment. Michael's insights regarding the differences between commercial and literary fiction led me to ponder my reasons for writing: it's love of the craft and the journey, to be honest.

And bonding with Amy, Hannah, and Lynne, now THAT was a treat, too!

Amy MacKinnon
First and foremost, thanks to Chris Castellani, Whitney Scharer, and Sonya Larson for what may have been the best Muse ever! I left there crushing on too many people. For those of you about to query agents, may I recommend Dorian Karchmar, Collen Mohyde, Julie Barer, and Mitchell Waters? They are the ones I met and whose workshops I peeked in on. Smart, gracious, and very kind. Of course spending time with my lovely editor Sally Kim was a highlight. Did I mention how exciting it was to talk to Asya Muchnick about David Sedaris's upcoming book? Truly surreal.

The literati abounded! Julia Glass (a goddess to me; I SEE YOU EVERYWHERE will be out in October); Jonathan Franzen (you all read what he said at Harvard, didn't you?); Jenna Blum (beautiful, brilliant, and hilarious; she loves doing book clubs, if you're interested); Margot Livesey (it's Lynne's story, but I was there!); I hand sold Michael Lowenthal's CHARITY to several publishing types because he is one of the most brilliant writers of our time (please tell me you've read CG; no excuses, it's out in paperback), and I had the chance to spend time with another of my favorite, truly brilliant writers, Scott Heim, he of WE DISAPPEAR fame. We're all sort of crushing on him.

Of course I loved spending whole blocks of time with Hannah, Lisa, and Lynne. Can we do this again soon?

And while this has nothing to do with the Muse, I have to congratulate my dear friend, Hank Phillippi Ryan on receiving the prestigious Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Didn't I tell you her PRIME TIME series was delicious?
Oh, and my web site went live today. Check it out.

Hannah Roveto
As you can tell, it was quite the amazing weekend. First, it was so good to have all four of us in the same rooms at the same time! It was also a huge treat to spend time chatting with our long-time faves like Michael Lowenthal and Scott Heim, as well as newer faves like Jenna Blum and Paul Yoon. And a shout out to Trish Ryan!

Mameve Medwed was gracious and fascinating; she agreed to be interviewed for the blog, so look for that in about two weeks. Her writing "group" partner Elinor Lipman has also agreed, so once the whirlwind that is her new movie, Then She Found Me, slows to a Nor'easter, that will come your way as well. We met fabulous Anita Shreve, as well, and perhaps yet another interview will be forthcoming from that? Fingers crossed.

I was impressed when the agent who'd read my MS two years ago at the Manuscript Mart said I looked familiar. It's the little things, isn't it? Hearing I will be done this summer, and that not only is it complete, but stronger and better, she said to send it her way. Yay! The agents and editors were every bit as giving as the authors; one example was the Agent Idol sessions the geniuses at Grub set up: three agents on stage, one reader presents submitted pages of up to 250 words. Each agent would raise a hand if/when he or she would put the MS down. If two raised their hands, the reading stopped, and in each case, the agents explained why they would or wouldn't be interested in more. Kudos to the brave writers, for whom anonymity was beside the point. Your words out loud in front of agents in public? Formidable.

One other session attended not mentioned elsewhere: D.Y. Bechard's Vicious Intimacies, Mourning the of Monsters, was an unbelievable review and set of exercises in making antagonists -- and protagonists -- rich and round and intriguing. Check out his book Vandal Love for these insights in action.

And last, it was great fun just plain meeting other writers, no matter what stages their work has reached. To write is to live in your head, and to have the chance to hang with a couple hundred people who know what that means is invaluable. Thank you, Grub Street, for a great weekend!

Lynne Griffin
One of my highlights was spending some social time with my fantastic editor from St. Martin's, Hilary Teeman. It was a real treat to get to know her better.

I will always treasure my Margot Livesey moment. At a cocktail party, I introduced myself and thanked her for her wonderful blurb for LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER. She put one hand out to Amy, and her other to Hilary and said, "You two should really read this novel, it's wonderful." When we smiled and told her Amy was in my writers' group and Hilary was my editor she said, "Well then you know how great it is, don't you?"

I was really pleased with the job my panel did on sharing tips for promotion and publicity with our audience. I'm grateful to Janet Reid, Alison Bass, Jocelyn Kelley and Jenna Blum. Thanks for making a moderator's job so easy.

I took three fabulous workshops. I learned everything Lisa Scottoline knows. Learned to build characters with Julia Glass. And have now adopted a wonderful revision process outlined by Karl Iagnemma.

You'll be hearing so much more from all of us as the weeks progress. There is simply too much to share in one post. But I know I speak for all of us when I say one very special highlight was spending time with Scott Heim.

And if you haven't bought his book, We Disappear, yet, get thee to a bookstore. Haunting and lyrical, it is a beautiful novel.

Congratulations, Scott!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Only Your Best Work

By Lynne Griffin

Last year around this time, LIFE WITHOUT SUMMER was almost finished; I felt only picayune edits still needed to be completed. My wonderful agent had planned to submit the manuscript widely, when I was sure the manuscript was as clean and perfect as I could possibly make it. At the Muse and the Marketplace conference, an editor who reviewed twenty manuscript pages during the manuscript mart requested a full.

Suddenly there was a real reason to be finished, really finished. Meandering through the Omni Parker lobby with the likes of Michael Lowenthal, Gregory Maguire, Charles Baxter and Suzanne Berne, I wanted so badly to be among them--I wondered if this editor's request was my fast tract toward becoming a published novelist. An editor from a large house wanted to read my novel.

Perhaps I could push my manuscript out the door, after all it was really close. The editor who'd requested my full seemed to like me, surely she would see my novel's potential. Wouldn't my prose conceal any chinks in the plot, couldn't my fierce protagonist carry her weaker counterpart?

When I returned from the conference I visited New York and had a lovely meeting with my agent. Sitting at an outdoor cafe, she reached out to me and said, "I'm excited too, but don't rush. She'll read it whenever it's ready. You only have one shot with her. Take your time."

Wise words spoken, reassurance offered, I took a deep breath and got back to work. I spent more time than I thought I would getting every detail just so. In late summer, the manuscript did go out to the editor who'd requested the full. She didn't comment on why it had taken my agent so long to send it; she remembered she'd asked to see it, so she read it. And her feedback to me was invaluable.

While this was not the editor who ultimately acquired my novel, the experience taught me something so valuable, I'd like to pass it on. Don't hurry. Take your time. Network, build contacts and take agents and editors up on offers to submit to them. But don't rush the work to do so. Adopt the mantra: I will only submit my best work.

I'm incredibly grateful to my agent for centering me, for advising me to write the best novel I could and then to edit it all the way to clean. I'm certain my swift sale, once she submitted widely, was in large part due to this. As hard as it is to resist getting caught up in the desire to be published like those writers you admire, or to quell the longing to be on the other side of the table, it won't happen if you submit work that isn't there yet.

Trust the process. Embrace the timeline. Recite the mantra, if you like.

I will only submit my best work.