Monday, August 30, 2010

Much-appreciated critique

Kind words from Clarissa Draper at Listen to the Voices today as she reviewed the first chapter of my second WIP, Forty & Out. And boy, did I need that today! Now I have motivation to keep working on the rewrite of the ending for this book. Thank you, Clarissa!
The paradox that is writing commercial fiction

An agent I met at this summer’s Antioch Writers Workshop, who was gracious enough to request a full copy of my work in progress, Ties that Bind (now posted on Scribd, if anyone is interested) has responded. Not, as she so perceptively noted, with what I wanted to hear necessarily, but with much of what I needed to hear. I’ve spent the past two days since her email mentally defending my work, railing (again, still!) against the inconsistencies in the ‘rules’ of writing. Rather than re-engaging that battle too strenuously, I’ll quote an earlier post from 043010:

“The most difficult part of all this learning-the-craft process is that as soon as I think I’ve got a handle on the rules, occasionally breaking them judiciously only to get slapped down for it, I pick up a book or literary journal that does exactly what I’ve been told not to do. Learning which of those ‘lessons’ to heed and which to ignore is mind-boggling. And all too often it depends on who the reader is at any given point.”

and move on…mostly.

The one specific I will detail is this: one of the last pieces of Ties that I wrote is a three-page prologue. I’m not generally a fan of prologues, but the story needed some history for the main plot to make sense without lots of flashbacks, which I don’t care for either. I’m still not convinced it’s the best way to handle the issue, but that’s where the manuscript stands at this stage.

Here’s the paradox: I have one critique from another well-respected professional who loved the prologue and the opening scenes, specifically: “The prologue is fantastic.” The AWW agent mentioned earlier had this to say: “And worse, the story actually starts on page 12, chapter 2. That's the first place we really see any sense of tension and conflict. You lose 2600 words if you chop the prologue and chapter 1. Building word count isn't just adding words; it's adding the right ones. Like bulking up means adding muscle, not just gaining weight.”


This is even worse than anything in the oft-quoted Writers On Writing: Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle, by Elmore Leonard. I thought I had finally reconciled myself to ‘rules are made to be broken,’ since every one of those ‘always/never’ instructions is disregarded daily by best-selling authors everywhere. I know the rules; I truly thought I knew how and when to break them. Now this.

I am not entirely dissatisfied with the most recent critique. She offered several concrete suggestions on distance, being engaged, etc., that reinforced things I know I need to address. And I’m fighting the urge to frame her closing words and post them over my computer: “You're a good writer. You just need to write more!”

As I said in my response to her kind email, I need to trust my own instincts more and stop trying to please everyone, which is not an easy thing for someone who grew up as the family peacekeeper. But I will persevere.

Fellow writers, am I delusional, or just being my obstinate self?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Our new life

The waiting is over. The change has evolved to reality. The house is ours (and the banks, of course) and we are ‘Springers.’ Yellow Springs, that is, not Jerry’s dysfunctional crew. Although we’ve officially been in residence for just over a month, there are still mornings when I wake up wondering where I am, only to be awestruck at the beautiful surroundings that are now our home.

We’re still working out the kinks, trying to decipher the mysteries of the multiple filters needed for the water softener, reverse osmosis system, furnace, and learning to set aside a shared fear of really tall ladders in order to wash the seventeen-foot high clerestory windows which run the length of the house. Drywall, massive amounts of gardening, screen repair…the list is never-ending, but it is satisfying.

The dogs have adjusted well. Barkley patrols the backyard, getting lost in the vegetation so that often all we can see is his stubby tail, wagging furiously at the wonderful smells. Chi is more content to lie on the deck and watch the hummingbirds and butterflies, with an occasional roll in the sun-drenched grass. Sadly, we lost our cat Reese just two weeks after the move. At nearly twenty years of age, and with increasing physical issues finally slowing her down it was time. She died curled on the loveseat with me, dogs at my feet. The many memories of her years with us, from birth to death, and her ashes scattered in the backyard keep Reese with us forever.

Biking the almost seven miles to his office every day has Geo well on his way to fit and trim. I am constantly thrilled at being able to walk the short couple of blocks downtown to the grocery, drug store, a real hardware, the post office – and so much more. Yellow Springs is good for us. We’re entertaining old friends, and making new ones. I hope to be able to give back to our new community soon as well, as I search for just the right fit among the many volunteer opportunities available.

And now that I have completed my life in academia (for now) with a master’s degree from the final class at Antioch University McGregor (reborn as Antioch Midwest), I am writing for writing’s sake instead of to meet the requirements of a syllabus. Not as much as I would like, not yet, but it’s gradually becoming a larger part of my daily life as I’d always hoped. An agent from July’s Antioch Writers Workshop is reviewing my first novel; I’ll probably only get a critique, but that’s a terrific start. While I’m waiting (not so patiently, I confess) for her comments, I’m revising and editing novel number two. I’ve also had two more book reviews (Remembering Our Childhood and Student’s Guide to the History and Philosophy of Yoga) and a short story accepted for publication, and have several more pieces out for consideration. I’m working with not one but two writers groups, after years of solitary labor, and the support and encouragement offered is immensely gratifying.

So that’s my life these days, in a brief summary that can’t do justice to the joy and gratitude contained in every hour. Now it’s back to revisions, and submissions, and searching for new projects.

Maybe I’ll take a walk in the garden first…