Author Archives: teresafannin

Done!

I like that word. Done. When you say it it is a puff of air, it is hard, singular and finite. 

I am done with a synopsis [well, almost, awaiting a critique on that one] a query letter [one more critique and it will be] and the novel itself. Weighing in at 54768 words. A lot! True not a 90,000 word great american novel.

I have lost count on the number of revisions to this story. It began as a short story with adults in the main character roles. And I liked it, sent it to Ellery Queen for a contest and got nothing back. Which was okay. I didn’t really expect anything. It was really my first attempt at working a story after thirty years of writing abstracts of articles, job descriptions, policy papers, work procedures, how-to’s for managers and supervisors, newsletter and employee handbooks. It was a challenge to add in more words, to describe a room, or to see a scene through the eyes of a character and it started me on this path, this one that I am on now.

It took me a while to understand that writing for adults, while hard~ please do not get me wrong~ was just not the same thing as writing for a kid. And then it took me longer to understand writing for children today. The stories I read as a kid, mostly were either historical fiction where the event was the pivot point, or mysteries where the murder/theft/crime was the pivot point. I mean, consider the girl detective of the post war period. She was clever, confident. You knew somewhere along the story she was going to be in jeopardy, but you also knew she was going to get out of it.

There were the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, and the one lone boy, Encyclopedia Brown. No, I take that back, there were the Hardy Boys. They were always more about the mystery than the kid!  And I loved that. It’s not that I didn’t care about Nancy and her cousins Bess and George, it’s that their lives really did not intrude on the story. They were somewhat independent even though Nancy was when I was reading them, rather young for the responsibilities and opportunities she had to go off on her own. I think too, I always liked that George was a girl!  I was less interested in their lives and more interested in how in a small town like River Heights there could be so many crimes. [I find I have the same problem today with series that are outside major cities, that involve so many murders.]

I digress. Done! The story, the action, the mystery and how it unfolds has been less of an issue for me than the internal story. When I was first asked to describe the emotional journey of the character I immediately thought of my best Sarah Berhardt imitation~ flat of the hand across the brow, a slight sinking of the knees and a huge sigh. It took me a long time to grasp the need for children to connect with a character before they connect with the story. At least that is one of the ways I see it.

We are ruled in our social media by emotions. Do I like? Why is there no don’t like on Facebook? We use pictures~ jpegs., gifs, memes~ to describe what we are dubious about putting into words in places that almost require, nay, demand, the quick short cut. So while we are describing our emotion, it is nothing unique! nothing original. When I use a smily face with stars  in it’s eyes, do I mean it the same way that some one else does? Okay not a lot to worry about, because most of us do not spend that much thought on others thoughts.

But in a book, short cuts do not work for emotions, or better stated, they shouldn’t work for emotions. For a child to read the story and get what the writer means, it should be clear, upfront and a goal sought after through the whole book.

Upteenth revision later, I think I am as close as I can get by myself. When the synopsis critique comes through. When the second query critique comes through, I think I am ready to submit. Not that I did not submit before, I did. I tried and no, nothing. But this time, I think I have a best hook. I think the writing is the clearest and cleanest and most soundly representative of the main character I can come up with. Ha! We shall see.

In truth, tho, Done only means one thing.  there is another story to work on!

Blindsided

I had a critique at a recent SCBWI conference. And. I did everything wrong.

I have had a string of very good critiques, one not so good, but on the whole, good stuff. And, I have handled them all well. But this time. Whoa! Was I surprised. I suppose it was because I had had a really good critique on the same manuscript not that many moons before. I was feeling confident! The previous critique had mentioned all the great features of the manuscript: voice, character, setting, plot. What more is there? And the one issue was the name of the book.

Naming is hard. I often wonder how Adam and Eve came up with all the names for the animals even the ones who are not indigenous to Eden. But I digress. The title to me was a running gag line throughout the book. Death by bananas. No that wasn’t the title, but it could have been.

So in the more recent critique I did change the title. Good so far.

Then Boom! The initial fifteen minutes of face to face time was so far from any thinking process I have had, or any feedback I have received from my critique group, or from the beta readers, or from other critiques about the manuscript that I was thrown into outer space. Well, for all the good it did me in the session, I could have been in outer space. It was cold, dark and unfortunately I remember little else of the time. I froze. I do remember being upset. I’m not sure I handled myself well and for that I am embarrassed! I truly blew an opportunity.

But almost like Sisyphus compelled to roll that stone up a hill, and almost as a punishment,  I’ve toted this critique~ the two pages of the SCBWI Gold form and the ten pages I submitted AND the synopsis around with me for months. The psychic weight was difficult. It hung on me, depressed me, and almost took away my enthusiasm for the story.

Still, I do not succumb easily to failure. I always have considered failure nothing more than another door opening. I trudged on. I attended a couple of online programs on query writing. What was the essence of the story. Not the hook, but the central concept. What was important about the story. I studied pitching on line. I participated in a program on how to write a synopsis, read blogs and continually wrote and rewrote the story line for my critique group.

At issue is that I like this story. I have been writing it in one form or another for maybe twenty years. There are so many parts that are me…the main character, the grandma, the interaction. I can see those things in my own life as well as in video format.

It has taken me a couple of months to actually pick up and read the written critique, I found that the critiquer liked the story too. “The writing is restrained, never giving information dumps or otherwise overly explaining backstory. I like how you allow Emily’s story to unfold slowly, forcing the reader to follow the breadcrumbs trail you are providing about her situation. I really like the presence of a very strong matriarch in this family with a powerful corporate/scientific career–unusual in kid lit.”

What was I thinking? Well. I wasn’t, was I? So. Now I have read the entire critique. The two pages of the SCBWI Gold Form.  The ten pages, heavily annotated, and the synopsis, also annotated. And I remembered something I heard from an agent who attended a Carolinas conference several years ago. That it was, is, harder to critique a bad manuscript, than a good one. With a good one, you can point out all the ways the writer can make it better. 

And, you know what? I am grateful for this critique. It is right. I strayed from my original voice. I over-reacted to the story device. And, while I disagree heartily with the opinion that the character is a ‘little bit of a cipher’ I now get what the critique is trying to tell me.

Here’s hoping. #amthinking #revising #amwriting

 

Distracted

There is much out there to be concerned about. The recent track of Irma as the hurricane invaded Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, glanced past Cuba and made for the Florida Keys. At one point in time the trajectory was right up the middle of Florida with it’s sphere of rain, wind and havoc projected to cover the entire peninsula. Wow! We had all just witnessed Harvey who blew into Houston and decided to stay a while and dump on a low land that just happens to be important to our energy industry. Sigh!  And you have to say to yourself, wait! What? no one is talking about Jose who is sitting out there in the Atlantic. What about Jose?

Weather! No, it’s not the weather. I grew up in California. You knew you were in an earthquake when it hit. Up in Boston you knew you were in a major ice storm or blizzard–again–when it hit. Now you get 24/7 on the news channels. [Whose idea was it to give weather it’s own channel? So that we can constantly be alerted to all the natural disasters Mother Nature can dish out? Seriously?]  Like we can do anything about it. Well, yes, I concede. We can do something, we can be prepared. There would have been tremendous loss of life in Florida if there were no warnings and people just stayed.

I recently read Jacqueline Kelly’s The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. Yes, the voice was extraordinary, the story a powerful one of accepting society as it is and yet being brave enough to know that there are changes needed. Calpurnia stays focused on the fact that she has a brain and wants to use it. And as her grandfather accepts her into his study, she finds support for her goals. Nicely Done.

Interestingly, the story also talks obliquely about the Galveston Flood of 1900. A cousin comes to stay because her Galveston house is destroyed. A veterinarian comes to town with a story of surviving the flood. And through it all you realize that all their information is weeks if not months old. And while people are shocked and horrified at what occurred, that buffer of time also lessens the personal anxiety and fears.

No buffer today. Journalists and reporters are out there, battered by the winds, lol, warning others to be careful. The weather is right in our homes, it’s on our social media as people check-in to say they are safe. It is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. And also, in retrospect, amusing, the loss of power does not seem to impact the WiFi and the posting continues.

It’s like there is this invisible tether attaching you to the TV. It is a massive distraction. It is mesmerizing. It is addicting. How can you not watch? And yet, there are still very importing things going on in your own life. But still. The anxiety of the reporting~’it’s coming this way, no, it’s going here, landfall will be at…the winds are…’.  You feel almost trapped by the ongoing coverage and what, dear god, if you miss something?

You feel like you’ve run a marathon when it is over. Time to regroup. Time to settle your mind. Get back to the tasks that are important. Time to focus.

Thank goodness I have a massive rewrite to concern me. After my critique sessions at the recent SCBWI Carolinas conference I was adrift, not really wanting to spend time. Upset at breaking my own rules about critiques, questioning now when I should have questioned then.

But life is a series of ‘do-overs’. So here I am. Getting my anxiety out and on ‘paper’. Moving on.

Write On!

 

Butt in Chair

BIC. Butt in Chair. Time to return to writing. This year with a shortened conference timeline~posting registration in May and selling out in July~ It seemed like I lost a couple of months of thinking, mulling, musing and writing time. I did. Back now!

I don’t get to many of the sessions at the conference, not because I can’t, but because I want to make sure that I focus on the conference and all that it entails. Sigh. I value multitasking, but that was in business where the thought was not deep, the stakes were not as high and the opportunity to use subordinates existed 🙂

I make up by reading the books recommended by the speakers [I use NC Digital Library when I can] and I stack them up against my own story-not the writing- but the story. What is the voice?  What about the pacing of this novel. Can I chart the synopsis, the major crisis, show where the denouement comes in? I look at presenters website and follow their process. It is a personal journey that I recognize for some is shorter than for others. Who is their editor? Who is their agent? What are my possibilities?

So I am always attuned to how writers write.  The Techniques of a Bestselling Writer, Five-Second Rule to Transform Your Life, The Writer’s Journey. Oh, there are many! They are great reads. Thank you. But no.

I remember at a NESCBWI conference in the last century Barbara Seuling said she never delivered a book to her editor where the editor kept the first two chapters, they were always cut! This gives me hope, but not. It is a different time since Barbara first penned her first manuscript and submitted.  Today we talk about The Most Valuable Real Estate in Your Novel~The First Page & THE HOOK!  Admittedly, our conference first pages session shows that editors and agents, tho they are not on the panel, also look for that indescribable ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ line or paragraph. How many of those books they accept? Who knows? But yikes, no pressure!

Anyone who knows me, like my own critique group, knows I start a book with the end scene. I know where I want the character to end up~ solving a mystery, finding family, accepting but still unhappy with the solution they themselves wrought, successful, improved, better than they were at the beginning.  In that moment I know the character at that place in time. What they want, why, and how. I’m not always sure how to describe it [and mayhaps I have blown many a query in not being able to articulate it.]  Then my only problem is to go back to the beginning and start the story.

And there you have it. START THE STORY. Full confession: while I did learn to diagram sentences [actually loved that] the outlining of an essay, chapter, story has never been in my skill set. I sort of consider it the same as not being able to get out of San Francisco heading south~ needing to go north to Marin county, turn around, head across the Golden Gate and then get on the right highway. Maybe now with GPS it would be different, but…. Sigh. It is just the way it is, I have accepted this. But always felt a bit backward and incomplete.

I also belong to Sisters in Crime. the quarterly InSinC magazine appeared in my mailbox on Saturday and as I leafed through I came across an article by Jill Kelly, author of six novels and a member. Defending the Rights of Pantsers. I laughed at the title. Truly! Yes.

Like most of us, being a pantser was not her choice. But she wrote. Every day. At least 300 words. [do emails count?  Probably not.] After writing four novels she happened on a book Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.  Yes, I may buy it, but not really sure why. As Jill says in the article about the main character in House of Cards: ”he is the god of his little world….he is the CEO and everyone does his bidding. I think this is how story engineers do it.”

And then she says, “my relationship with my characters is very different. We’re friends, collaborators…sharing a mutual experience, they are writing this book with me.”  She names pantsing a ‘call and response tradition’ like jazz musicians improvising off one another. I so get that. I get emotional over my character’s problems and solutions. I feel, deeply, the points in the story where she is faced with choice. I worry with her over how this will end. While I cheer for her success, I can see how she could fail! I cry. I get angry. I am amazed when a character shows up to help or hinder. Where were they before? Should I know that? Why do I see them so clearly today but not even know they existed yesterday?

Ms. Kelly’s tips include: Write everyday. Write the first thing in the morning. Gather possibilities. Draft fast, rewrite slow. Be proud of how you work. Nice!

Maybe because of the thirty years spent in corporate America, being paid on the basis of goals met, her tips feel like a set of performance appraisal goals that are attainable, worthwhile and straightforward. There are four months left in the year! These are not strident, difficult or unmanageable goals.

So. Butt in Chair.  Yes, Pantser! Officially, proudly,  joining the club!

 

One Week Later

At this time last week I was looking at the conference schedule and anticipating the heartfelt and honest keynote of Lisa Williams Kline, the final presentation of the 25th anniversary. It is always both a joy and a sadness to come to the end. We start the weekend on Thursday with pick ups of the intensive faculty, dinner and the short sweet time to savor all the work that has gone into making this weekend happen. Not forgotten, but put aside, are the mistakes in scheduling, the long hours, the continual communication, the problems with registration…the meal is cooked, it is time to sit and eat.

With a sold out crowd and many on the wait list, there is a certain amount of satisfaction in opening the conference officially Saturday morning and this year, with the extraordinary voice of Gary Schmidt leading the charge for us to remember always the children, to cherish, to tell the truth, that there is not one truth but many because there is not one child in one situation but many children in different situations and we as writers and illustrators are there to serve their stories.

When we ask our presenters, especially the editors, agents, art directors, we ask for a craft presentation. How do you describe voice? What is pacing and how does it add suspense? What is the structure of a story? Our PAL authors have proposed and based on what we have in space, and track we choose. It is difficult and yet not.

I get that we disappoint some. There’s not enough for illustrators. There should be more on chapter books. Why do you do mainly categories and not genres? Like anyone else developing and delivering a conference for individuals in the children’s lit field, we are limited by what is presented to us and what time we have to schedule. Sometimes I think, if we could eliminate first pages and first impressions, then….but I think there would be a boycott of the conference.

It is definitely not~bye, farewell, all done! Now it is one week later. The conference paraphernalia is accounted for and put on the shelves. The finances are tallied and the long report required by the main office is almost complete. An event report is required on the regional team list and that is done. Certificates of those who won contests, but did not attend, have been mailed out, as well as checks for contracts met.  A email blast on the conference wrap up has been completed and sent and, yes, there are still questions and emails have, too, been answered. My house is cleaned after being neglected for some days and the laundry is done!  Still to come is the tallying of the evaluations and sending to the faculty.

While a part in the back of my brain rails against the time spent in followup, I do remind myself that this is a time to reflect on what we can do better. To look at all the successes that have come from these conferences this team has delivered for this region- nine now for me.

This was the 25th conference for SCBWI Carolinas, the first conference in 1972 run by Fran Davis and we value the traditions set by Fran and Earl when he joined her in jointly running SCBWI Carolinas.  And, we are not done. We have three webinars upcoming and 2018 to initiate.

Not a bad 25th celebratory year!