So again, please bear with me while I gloat—just a wee bit.
In addition to the short story in American Fiction Volume 14, I recently found out that…drumroll please…
My book is getting published!
A Hundred Weddings will be released in early 2016 through Marching Ink, an independent company run by publisher Samantha March. I could not be more excited, and can’t wait to hold this novel, at last, in my sweaty little hands.
And it should only take about four months. Well, four months and about eight years to write and edit and at least a couple of years and many attempts to locate an agent or publisher. But hey, who’s counting?
I have a brand new website up (although it’s kind of pared down at the moment) and an author page on Facebook. Please stop by and “Like” if you would. I can use all the word of mouth I can get.
I have to say that both of these pieces weren’t written—but were very much worked on—during our Write Despite year-long challenge. If I hadn’t been trying (and very often succeeding) to meet that 20-minute-a-day goal, these and other manuscripts would be far less publication-ready.
So keep at it, everybody. I wish you much success with your writing goals and hope you’ll let us know what you’ve been able to accomplish!
And by the way, Karen’s Fall for the Book reading at George Mason University was a blast. We had time to catch up and roam around campus in the rain. Here’s the proof:
A quick note to announce that American Fiction Volume 14—edited by Bruce Pratt and Pulitzer Freakin’ Prize winner Elizabeth Strout—was released today. I’m thrilled a story of mine, which took second prize in their contest, is included.
The publisher, New Rivers Press, describes it this way:
“Twenty-one new authors evoke the painful and beautiful realities of life. Whether the struggles of a recent immigrant to support his family, a young daughter dealing with her mother’s mental health issues, or the slow decay of a once- sharp mind, this volume showcases the lives of these diverse American writers and characters.”
(Mine is the young daughter dealing with her wack mom—nothing to do with my own mom, by the way. She’s very sensible and almost never goes off her meds.)
Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy and see what worlds my fellow contributors came up with. Sure to be amazing.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending two literary events celebrating new books by people I’m proud to call friends. They are both exceptional writers, and I was honored to have been asked to review at least parts of both of their books while they were being written. I’m even mentioned in their acknowledgements, which is so very sweet. (Although when I pointed this out to my teenage son, his only comment was, “But you realize the goal is to get your name on the front of the book, Mom, not in the back.” Alas, as they say, always an editor, never an author.)
In any case, Sunday, February 8 was the launch of Katherine Heiny’s Single, Carefree, Mellow at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC.
Katherine read from the story that hurled her into the literary world, “How to Give the Wrong Impression,” which was published in the New Yorker when she was only 25. After the reading, her editor, Jenny Jackson from Knopf/Doubleday, interviewed Katherine, asking all the key questions about her journey to publication, her work habits, her inspirations and roadblocks. It was an exciting, enlightening evening, and I was so glad to be a part of it.
Monday night I met with my beloved book group of a dozen years to gush over author Kirsten Lopresti’s young adult novel, Bright Coin Moon. We all agreed we were more than impressed by this gem of a book–lost in it to the point that we forgot it was written by one who actually walks among us, who lives close enough and is accessible enough to join us for salads and tequila chicken fettuccine at California Pizza Kitchen, and sign our books and answer our questions.
So add to these two books Karen Guzman’s lovely Homing Instincts, and you could say people are getting published all around me.
Am I happy for them?
Thrilled beyond words.
Am I jealous?
Yeah. A bit at least.
Am I feeling like I should throw in the towel because I haven’t accomplished this yet?
Quite the opposite.
Seeing that this can–and does–happen to wonderful, talented, deserving people is nothing short of…well, I would say, miraculous. But it’s more like a push from behind–or a grasp of the hand and a yank forward.
I’m not saying I’m as good a writer as them. I’m saying if I work hard I can be deserving of publication. I’m saying I shouldn’t expect it to not happen, but to just be bold enough to believe it might.
Believe it will.
I’m trying. I hope one day to get there. I hope that for all of us.
Write well, everyone, and know that the promise of your words finding their way into the world is more than conceivable. If you’re putting in the work–every day–I have to believe it’s even pretty damned possible.
Kirsten Lopresti, having just released her fab-tastic debut novel, Bright Coin Moon, offers up some tips for fitting writing into your holiday craziness. Please check out her website, and order a copy of Bright Coin Moon for yourself or any YA readers on your gift list. It’s a smart, funny, moving tale of a teenager caught up in her mother’s fake fortunetelling business, and her plan to become a Hollywood “Psychic to the Stars.”
Happy holidays, everyone!
How to Find Time to Write This Holiday Season
The holiday season is upon us, and if you are like me, your to-do list is sky high. So how do you find time to write? Here are five suggestions that might help you squeeze in a little more time.
Make a plan. If you leave it up to chance that you will find some time to write each day, you probably won’t. Take a close look at your schedule. Can you write after dinner? During your lunch break? At your daughter’s dance class while you are waiting for her to come out? How do mornings work for you? Evenings? How do you realistically function with less sleep? Decide how much time you can give to your writing and exactly when you will do it. Try to stick to the same time each day if you can. If you make it a habit, it will become easier to sit down and begin.
Give yourself permission to cut some corners with your holiday preparations. Shop online. Buy some cookies from the grocery store and attempt to pass them off as homemade. Splurge for a house cleaner if you have company coming. Do whatever it takes. You deserve some time to enjoy the season, too.
Cut corners with your writing, too. It’s not an all or nothing thing. If you usually have an hour to devote to writing, during the holiday season you may only have half an hour. Accept this and go on.
Don’t compete with others. This goes for your writing as well as for your holiday preparations. If your neighbor’s Elf on the Shelf gives surprise presents and bakes cookies and yours can’t manage to hang upside down from a new place each morning, try not to think too much about it. There are no set rules for holiday preparations. Make a priority list and write at the top, “Priority number 1: keeping my sanity.” All other priorities from two on down should bow to that one.
If you’ve made a plan and a priority list and you still can’t find time to write right now, don’t beat yourself up. If you’ve seen the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you may remember the scene where Walter meets the photographer. He’s sitting on the hill, waiting for his opportunity to film the snow leopard, but when it finally appears, he doesn’t take the shot. When Walter asks him why, he replies, “Sometimes I don’t.” He then goes on to explain that he’d rather be in the moment sometimes, even if it means missing a really great picture. So if you need a few weeks off, take it. It could be that enjoying the holiday season is exactly what you need to be doing right now.
Karen’s official book launch was this Saturday–a quiet signing at Breakwater Books in Guilford, Connecticut.
And damn it, I just had to be there.
I decided not to tell her I was coming, for two reasons: 1) I thought it would be fun to surprise her, and 2) If I had to back out at the last minute, I didn’t want to screw up her plans.
God bless my crazy friend who offered to tag along and ended up driving nearly the whole six hours from DC (I get a tad nervous in that NYC snarl, but she drives like a machine).
Much zaniness along the way, including a stop at the Pez Visitor Center. Yes, that’s the candy that pops out of the heads. Did you ever wonder what the World’s Largest Pez dispenser would look like? Wonder no more.
So anyway, we finally made it to Connecticut and headed for Breakwater Books. Now keep in mind that, although Karen and I talk via electronics frequently, we hadn’t seen each other in person in EIGHT years.
So I walked in, and this happened:
Fun, right? I thought so.
Karen invited us back to her lovely home afterward, and we all had breakfast with her husband and son the next morning, then hit the road before the snow started. Here we are outside the cafe at Lyman’s Orchard (a way cool farmer’s market store):
The whole trip was way cool, and I’m so glad I was able to do it. This Saturday Karen will be giving her first reading in Mystic, CT. If you’re local (or if you’re into crazy road trips), go get a book signed and hear her read from Homing Instincts. You won’t be disappointed.
Congratulations, Karen! Hope to see you again before another eight years passes!
New writer Karen Baker recently stumbled upon the Write Despite challenge. Wrestling with a short story she needed to get down on paper, Karen says 20 minutes a day have made all the difference.
Please welcome Karen Baker to Write Despite.
I found Write Despite through a very dear friend of mine, who gave me the delightful news that her daughter-in-law, Karen Guzman, was having her first novel published. When I was Googling around one day, I decided to look Karen up and I discovered the wonderful treasure tool, Write Despite. It was the perfect nudge for me because it featured the 20-minute challenge right there in the first line on the front page of the website.
I have to say that Write Despite has come along at just the right time for me. I have had a story going on in my mind for some time. It is with me all the time like an invisible friend. One day I finally started to write it down. I thought if I could get it out of me, then my mind would have some space to be calm, and start a new story. I always feel like I am trying to help this character, as if she is a real person. The story is about Angie, a middle-aged married woman who is very unhappy and has a few health issues that she is consumed with—so much so that they are interfering with all of her relationships. They aren’t even life threatening, but she relies heavily on her pain medication and has forgotten the joy of living.
When a “health nut” outsider arrives one day, a new spirit of fun begins as one very interesting fact about who she is and why she is there is revealed.
The 20-minute-a-day challenge has really made a huge difference in my dedication to writing, because it keeps it simple and fun. The time is perfect because with the busy schedules that everyone seems to have, 20 minutes of writing is manageable and feels like a huge accomplishment. Why, after 20 minutes, it leaves me wanting to write a little more. It’s similar to the feeling of when you’re reading a really good book, and keep telling yourself you’re going to read just one more chapter before returning to the dishes.
Thanks to Karen and Cathy for making writing fun and for demonstrating the possibility that dreams can come true.
Hannah Barnaby is author of Wonder Show, anovel set in 1939 that tells the tale of 13-year-old Portia Remini, who flees a Home for Wayward Girls and winds up with a traveling sideshow. As if the freakish world of the carnival and its sideshow “misfits” aren’t enough to deal with, Portia’s also searching for the father who abandoned her, and keeping a constant watch for Mister, her old headmaster, whom she’s certain will someday find her.
Wonder Show was a 2013 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist and a Children’s Book of the Month Club pick. It was also named to the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults List, the Bank Street College’s Best Books List, and the School Library Journal’s Best Books List, and it was an IndieBound New Voices Selection.
Intrigued? Offer up a comment to Hannah’s interview with Write Despite, below, and you could win a free, signed copy of Wonder Show.
This is your first book, correct? Why did you choose to write YA and is it the genre you plan to continue with?
Wonder Show is my first published novel, but not the first that I wrote. I have a middle-grade story that I wrote during my MFA program at Vermont College, that novel-in-the-drawer that most writers have. I’m not sure if it will ever be resurrected, but it taught me about the building blocks of a novel and about my own process.
As for choosing to write YA, I actually work pretty hard not to think about genre while I’m writing. Some genres—picture books, for instance—are obvious designations and have their own rules, but the lines between others—like middle-grade and YA—are not as clear. When Wonder Show was first published, it was named to the middle-grade summer reading list for the Children’s Book of the Month Club. Then it was nominated for the William C. Morris Award for debut young adult novels. So there was no hard and fast label for the book, which I appreciated because it reflected the fact that the audience for Wonder Show could be wider than one group of readers.
Your website says you came up with the character of Portia Remini in a dream, but what drew you to write about the circus, and its sideshow “misfits” in particular?
When I set out to write Wonder Show, all I had was the image of a girl riding a bicycle on a dirt road, and the sense that she was running away from somewhere. I didn’t know where she was going or who she was running from or anything else, really. Then a friend told me about a grant offered by the Boston Public Library, the winner of which would get financial support as well as being named the Children’s Writer-in-Residence. I decided to apply, and in researching the library’s Special Collections, I found that they had an archive of circus materials and quite a few books on circus and carnival history. A few months later, I won the grant! And then I was faced with actually writing the project that I’d proposed, which became Wonder Show.
The shifting POV among your characters comes later in the book, and gives it an unexpected twist. Was it fun to switch gears this way, and what made you decide to use this technique?
I wrote the first draft of Wonder Show very much by instinct. When I sat down to write each day, I took a few minutes to think about Portia and where she was and who she was with, and then I started to fashion a scene that built that atmosphere. It wasn’t plot-driven writing at all, but it was very much character-driven, and so I needed to get to know the supporting cast better. Writing pieces of narrative from each different point-of-view gave each character a turn to speak to me and let me know who they were and how their stories intersected with Portia’s. I wasn’t sure about keeping these pieces in the final manuscript, but I came to love them and what they revealed about the sideshow family. (I will say, however, that writing without regard for plot or chronology made the revision process *extremely* challenging. I don’t recommend this method.)
Can you talk a bit about your road to publication?
My path to publication is very different than that of most other writers, because prior to becoming a writer I worked as a children’s book editor at Houghton Mifflin, and winning the grant from the BPL also put me in contact with some valuable allies. One of the judges who awarded me the grant was Melanie Kroupa, who then had her own imprint at FSG. A couple of years after I finished my residency, Melanie wrote to ask, “What ever happened with your novel? Can I read it?” I asked for some time to do a quick revision (six weeks!) and I sent it off. Melanie didn’t end up acquiring the project, but her request got me working on the manuscript again and eventually Kate O’Sullivan, a friend and former colleague at Houghton, offered me a contract.
Do you write every day?
I aspire to write every day, but I rarely do. The reality is that I have three kids, only two of them are in school full-time, and life is unpredictable. So most of all, I try to be flexible. I might steal 20 minutes of writing time while my daughter’s in ballet class or while I’m supposed to be folding laundry. When I can plan for larger blocks of writing time, I always plan ahead so I know what to work on as soon as I sit down. I always, always have a notebook and pen with me because you never know when an new idea will come or the solution to a problem will make itself clear. (And my kids are always saying the most hilarious things, so I can capture those, too.)
What advice do you have for other writers still struggling to create or publish?
Writing is HARD WORK. And the fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong—it means that it’s important and complex and full of emotion, as all good writing should be. Take the time to find the process that works for you, and know that your process will adapt and change from project to project. When I started writing Wonder Show, I was a single, working professional living in Boston. By the time I finished the novel for publication, I was married with children and living in the Connecticut suburbs. My perspective had evolved, and it deepened my writing and my understanding of the creative process.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just completed a contemporary YA novel that’s going out for submission soon (wish me luck!). This summer, I plan to work on a younger chapter book and a few picture book manuscripts—I’m giving myself permission to loosen up my schedule and play with writing more than I usually do. I’ll let you know how it goes!
And by the way, if you’re anywhere near Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, Hannah will be reading at the Girls of Summer Reading Party at 7 pm at the main branch of the Richmond Public Library, 101 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA. She will be reading with Meg Medina and also author Gigi Amateau, another ‘Q&A Book Giveaway’ author previously featured on Write Despite. Go if you can!
AND DON’T FORGET: YOU COULD OWN A FREE COPY OF WONDER SHOW. JUST TELL US WHY YOU’D LIKE TO OWN THIS BOOK BY POSTING YOUR COMMENT HERE.
I recently sat in on a panel with Jeff Kleinman—again. He’s the agent from Folio Literary Management I wrote about last year. If you missed that post, here it is. He gives lots of great information for submitting novels to agents, especially literary fiction, and had a few new insights this year. But even what I got from the panel last year bears repeating.
On Biggest Mistakes
Kleinman has four must-haves for writers who submit to his agency:
1)Premise – You MUST have a logline, even if you don’t use it in your submissions. You have to know it in your head because it will help you hone in on your book. Too many good writers don’t have a real sense of what their book is about. A logline, as he explains it, is much like the statement you see on a movie poster. For Splash it was: “Boy meets girl. She’s a fish.”
2)Characters – You get rejected mainly because agents DON’T FALL IN LOVE with anyone in your book. That means you didn’t do a good enough job of bringing your characters to life. Go deeper! Interview your character with crazy questions and keep asking him or her why.
3)Momentum – Make sure words serve to turn pages. Understand what your reader wants to know next.
4)VOICE. This can’t be stressed enough. In commercial fiction it’s what’s most important and it’s a huge problem for many writers. Ask yourself how you can focus and drill down to get something that’s distinctive. Establish voice in the first three to four sentences. There has to be an authority in the voice that the reader buys into.
Also, there’s this. People read for three things: Character, voice and plot. Kleinman suggested reading The Goldfinch as a great current example of all three. The painting in this book, he says, is the plot device that carries the story forward.
On Rejection Letters
If you’re getting:
All form rejections—Then your premise needs work. It doesn’t sound at all interesting.
“Minimal” rejections, as in “Hey, it’s not right for me”—Then your writing is stronger but you still don’t have a great premise.
Personalized rejections—Then clearly something is starting to work. They want to engage with you more. Now you’re likely done with your query letter—it’s probably good enough.
Requests for the first 50 pages—This is the basic minimal amount that gauges their interest in you and it means you have a strong premise. They’re willing to go further.
Requests for the full manuscript and they still reject it—Then it’s always, always CHARACTER. You didn’t engage the agent enough with your characters, especially the main one.
Your query letter should state:
– Why you’re writing to that particular agent.
– Who you are, and how you met the agent, if you did.
– Your contact info.
– What your book’s about—one to two sentences only. Your synopsis will provide the rest.
And hey, get this: He says not to sweat the synopsis too much: “We usually only ask for a synopsis to ensure you’ve written the whole thing.” We suspected as much, didn’t we?
“All agents can do is point out that you’re bleeding. We don’t necessarily know where you’re bleeding from. You have to know how to fix it.”
“Agents want to help you improve your book, but only when you’ve taken it as far as you can. Make sure it’s as ready as you can make it.”
Paperlet, an online writer community, not only allows readers to comment on and edit each other’s work, but actually helps you “build” your story by walking you through the basic structural steps. Check it out at www.paperlet.com.
Hope you find this stuff as useful as I did, everyone. Write well!
C. Michael Curtis, a senior editor and longtime revered fiction editor at the Atlantic Monthly, published an essay called “Publishers and Publishing,” in On Writing Short Stories, a collection of essays, edited by Tom Bailey. It’s a pretty enlightening, amusing reflection on the fiction submissions he receives. Our fave part:
“Much of the writing that pours onto the desks of literary editors at both the serious-minded but commercial general magazines and the smallest, most fiercely independent quarterlies is inept, undeveloped, amateurish, crazed, obscene, unintelligible, or some combination of the above.”
Kinda makes you feel better about the stuff you submit, right?
At least, that’s what we thought. I mean, we’ve received rejection letters with comments like “uninteresting” and “meandering” and “seems to have no larger point.”
But “crazed?” “Obscene?” Just what the hell are people doing out there?
Here are some other amusing rejections we ran across:
“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” (Written about Joseph Heller’s Catch-22—believed to have been given this title because it was the 22nd publisher, Simon and Schuster, who agreed to take it on.)
“The American public is not interested in China.” (Seriously, what could be interesting about Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth?)
“This will set publishing back 25 years.” (Wonder why? Anyone read Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park?)
“Good God, I can’t publish this.” (Said about William Faulkner’s Sanctuary.)
“An absurd story as romance, melodrama or record of New York high life.” (Gasp! Blasphemy uttered about F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.)
“Stick to teaching.” (Louisa May Alcott was urged to keep her day job after submitting Little Women.)
“I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” (We get your point. But Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was still a masterpiece.)
“An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” (Maybe depressing and gory and violent, but William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was dull?)
“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” (Wonder what this visionary thinks of The Hunger Games. He rejected Carrie, by Stephen King)
“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” (Give it up, Garth Stein. Even George Orwell’s Animal Farm can’t cut it.)
This is an awesome essay of Curtis’s by the way, and you can check it out here:
If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, let us recap a bit. He gives a great rundown of what editors are, and aren’t, looking for in submissions, including cover letters. He says only two things included in your letter might cause an editor to be more interested in your story than the average one:
Citations of stories published elsewhere, particularly in periodicals of comparable size and reputation; and
Mention of the fact that you’ve been enrolled in a reputable MFA program (or residence at Bread Loaf or Sewanee, etc.).
Other take-aways? Same as you’ve always heard:
Don’t recap your story—let it speak for itself.
Don’t talk about other magazines that have rejected it already.
Don’t single space.
Don’t send anything with typos or grammatical errors.
Don’t try to dazzle them with your wit or sound hostile or desperate.
In short, just make your writing as fab as possible, keep your cover letter simple and direct, and send it out.