It’s November and, once again, information about NaNoWriMo is flooding social media. Many writers participate in this annual National Novel Writing Month. Maybe some sit by the wayside, wondering: Is it worth the effort?
I have participated in NaNoWriMo twice. In 2010, I wrote a complete first draft of my novel Castles in the Sand. In 2012, I wrote a complete first draft of my work-in-progress, Of Sea and Seed.
This year, because I wished to include Blue Pencil and Pitch sessions, I paid the price of admission (Saturday only.)
My day was rich with many events: riveting keynote speech by Cory Doctorow, an agent/editor insight panel, SiWC Idol panel, Rookie Mistakes workshop, and a Creating Kick-Ass Characters workshop. In addition, I became reacquainted with conference buddies, and met up with author friends.
I’ve been writing for several years now and feel very comfortable walking into Blue Pencil and Pitch sessions; in fact, on Saturday, I did so without a twinge of anxiety. (It helped that a wonderful post jumped into my Twitter feed on Friday:How to Rock a Writers Conference.It was a reminder: have a goal, but have fun, too.)
Prescheduled on my agenda were two appointments: one Blue Pencil, one Pitch. Once at the conference, I lined up to sign up for a second session in each (first-come, first-served basis.)
My two Blue Pencil sessions were back-to-back, one at 11:15, the second at 11:30. For my prescheduled session, I chose a writer who was familiar with the Celtic world: I wanted to see if my second chapter, which references the Great Famine, rang true. She was lavish in her support of what I was doing and offered suggestions, such as the addition of a third element, to enhance it. I lucked out in the line-up-to-sign-up for my second Blue Pencil. My appointment was with a writing professor/accomplished author. I deliberately showed her a different chapter, the opening. Once again, I received great feedback and suggestions ( i.e. use more internal reaction of narrator.)
After I finished my Blue Pencils, I lined up for a second Pitch session. Not one of the agents I wanted to see was available, but there was one free “now.” I jumped at the opportunity and switched to ‘pitch’ mode. After initial introductions, the conversation, paraphrased, was: Me: “They just offered me this slot and I jumped, without knowing what your area of expertise is.” Him: “I am looking for stories to turn into screen plays.” Me: “So you’re looking for another Gone Girl?” Him (eyes bright): “Do you have that?” Me: “Nope. Do you mind if I just practice my pitch with you?” Him: “No problem.”
So I pitched my historical fiction trilogy. He offered advice that would improve my pitch. I listened. During lunch, I received and overheard tips about presenting a pitch. Here’s the rundown:
Memorize, don’t read, your pitch.
Focus on story.
Insert history afterwards (if, like me, you’re writing historical fiction).
Be prepared to say who the comparable writers are (I floundered a bit on this one. Know better now.)
Know your word count.
Be prepared to answer the question “why are you writing this?”
I incorporated all of the above at my 1:40 session.
Overall advice? Go with a goal. Be prepared. Be open to everything. Enjoy the opportunity to have professionals offer advice. Be determined to have fun.
My thanks to all at SiWC, including those amazing volunteers, who made my experience so enjoyable. I left feeling inspired!
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I love to enter short story contests (see previous post: Why Enter Story Contests?) In my 2014 goals, I listed that I would enter a few. (One done in January, one in October. Yay!) I enter to learn, not to win. I enter for the fun and for the feeling of accomplishment that the marathon of the novel does not provide.
Here is an entry that did manage to land second place this year:
Bittersweet memories float past, memories of emerging from the womb, hoping to fly, flailing like a nestling, disillusioned by gravity. Childhood slips by in a blur of fairy stories and bluebirds and magic carpets and angels’ wings. Deeds of derring-do slide in: toppling from tree branches, leaping from monkey bars, jumping from a second-floor balcony. Echoes of painful cries ring out as I recall dropping like Icarus to broken bones and harsh reality.
Footfall (not free flight) was to be my transportation.
Grounded, literally, yet one day I fluttered with hope when I spotted a skein of Canada Geese scissoring the sky. Hope is the thing with feathers, Dickinson’s apposite metaphor, instantly flitted in. I stared at my bony arms which were peppered with freckles and wisps of hair, nary a feather in sight. Juxtaposed with tears of frustration was dissolution of hope. Knowing that I could never soar with birds, I shelved the dream and faced the future, determined to live my life to the fullest.
Love tapped on my door and I ushered it in.
Marriage followed and, with it, the free flowing joy of motherhood.
Never planned for divorce, but there it was and there I was.
On my own.
Quickly, so as not to dissolve in a puddle of loneliness, I found a platonic partner with whom I happily shared more than two decades of living expenses, childrearing, and world travels.
Retirement years loomed, yet I, still committed to living large, never gave them, nor money, a thought.
“Save for your golden years,” warned my adult daughter, “else you’ll end up residing in my den.”
“The truth of the matter,” I replied, “is that life is short and I intend to experience all the joys of this earth, and that I will continue to travel until…”
“Until death do you part this mortal coil?” she grinned.
Vibrations shook me momentarily, a cold shiver passing through.
Was it really days later, after a minor surgical procedure, that doctors told me I had mere hours left? X-rays confirmed their diagnosis and soon I was gone, my body cremated, my ashes residing in an urn, in my daughter’s den, just as she had predicted.
Yes, my earthbound life was over and my loving daughter, knowing my deepest desire, chose a blustery day, this very day, to fling my ashes into the wind. Zillions of tiny particles, the remains of me, now sweep through the air like a murmuration of starlings, joyous, soaring, and I, after a lifetime of longing, am airborne at last.
The above story was written in January for an Alphabet Acrostic contest. The opening, “Airborne at last,” was given. The criteria? “Complete your story in 26 sentences, each beginning with words in the sequence of the English alphabet.”
The learning? I have entered this contest before, each time loving the experience of reading the dictionary to search for words. (Yes, X is limiting, but there are ways around it.) The fun? Love it! (This particular contest is available annually throughThe Brucedale Press. The sixteenth annual Alphabet Acrostic contest will be announced sometime this month (October, 2014.) Check their website!
*The Thing with Feathers was first published by The Brucedale Press in The Leaf #34, Spring 2014.
My questions for you: Did you notice as you read the story that I was progressing through the alphabet? If not, did you go back to check? 🙂
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If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others:
read a lot and write a lot. ~ Stephen King
I do both.
What follows are some of my favorite opening lines.
Can you name the titles of the books?
(See answers below!)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
“As a boy, I dreamed of fishing before I went, and went fishing before I caught anything, and knew fishermen before I became one.”
“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.”
“Elspeth died while Robert was standing in front of a vending machine watching tea shoot into a small plastic cup.”
“Riding up the winding road of St. Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods.”
“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was 14 when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”
“Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before.”
“It happens that I am going through a period of great unhappiness and loss just now. All my life I’ve heard people speak of finding themselves in acute pain, bankrupt in spirit and body, but I’ve never understood what they meant.”
“They’re all dead now.”
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Back When We Were Grownupsby Anne Tyler (2001)
The Go-Betweenby L. P. Hartley (1953)
Lines in the Water by David Adams Richards (1998)
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (2005)
Her Fearful Symmetryby Audrey Niffenegger (2009)
Ironweed by William Kennedy (1979)
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002)
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (2002)
Unlessby Carol Shields (2002)
Fall On Your Knees by Anne-Marie McDonald (1996)
A Tale of Two Citiesby Charles Dickens (1859)
If you have any favorite opening lines, please share. Would love to read them! Might even read the whole book!
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