A Memoir to Recommend

The imagination is a powerful thing – it can bring video games to life as my son shows me daily.  It can bring a person to tears, even though she knows that she is reading fiction.  It can also make us concoct a dream world out of a place where reality, though more stark and mundane, is far superior.

I’m very glad to have had my Lake District dream world – full of Jane Austen characters and time-worn walking trails  – completely debunked.  This is thanks to James Rebanks whose memoir, The Shepherd’s Life, tells a more complete story.  From his memoir I’ve learned that a young boy can detest school because it vies with the way of life he loves – and this does not make him inept or unambitious.  I’ve learned that this same boy can go on to Oxford, can be capable of attaining the modern dream, and still return to the farm that is home.  I’ve learned that  the hills are called ‘fells’, that ‘winter is a bitch,’ and that selecting the best tup at auction is an art form.

But more importantly I’ve had the privilege of being reminded of an ancient lifestyle of hard work that far exceeds the cozy daydreams in my mind because of the honesty in Mr. Rebanks’ recounting.  I’ve found myself waxing romantic and wishing that I could somehow return to such an existence.  But that is hardly Mr. Rebanks’ point.  Rather, it is to educate – to offer a better understanding to those of us who know little of the farming life and who want to wake from our daydreams.  I’m very grateful to have learned, and I feel better off for it.

You can follow James Rebanks on twitter here and find his book here.   I hope that you’ll enjoy it as I have.

Just An Idea

My son’s birthday is coming up soon, and he received a gift that I just might have to steal from him.

It’s an award-winning children’s book called ‘What Do You Do With An Idea’ by Kobi Yamada.  But this gem of a story should not be read by or for children alone.  It must be lifted beyond the messy chaos of the playroom, away from the kids’ bookshelf that overflows with rhymes about dinosaurs (nothing against dinosaurs, mind you), and given pride of place in the adult library.

It is the story of a simple idea, born without intention and determined to follow its young owner who questions what he should do with it and what others will say about it.

Sound familiar?  It does to me, and it likely will for so many of you who battle to keep your ideas alive, to protect them from criticism (especially your own), and to see them through to the point that they blossom and become somehow bigger than yourself.

Buy a copy of this book.  Look at it every day and remember that the end result of your idea is not the goal.  As with everything in life, it is the journey you take with your idea that matters.

Advice from a Sharpshooter

There are a lot of quotes out there about striving to meet a goal.  I recently stumbled across this one from Annie Oakley and thought I’d share it.

Aim at a high mark, and you will hit it.  No, not the first time, nor the second and maybe not the third.  But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect.  Finally, you’ll hit the Bull’s Eye of Success.


Which comes first…the novel or the market?

Writers are often told not to write ‘to the market.’  We’ve got enough dystopian, Twilight-esq, and Harry Potter wannabe novels out there.  Hell, if I find one more novel set during World War II I might vomit.

Don’t search the bestseller lists and craft your story to match.  But when you follow that advice, take care, or you might end up in my situation.

I’ve started querying, and I’ve been told that I need to find a better, more recent comp.  But quite frankly, I am having no luck.

How do you best find a comp?  Am I looking for a similar tone?  A similar story line?  Similar theme?  Similar character development?  Several of those all together?  Am I looking at novels geared toward adult women since an editor agrees that my writing is good for upmarket women’s fiction?  Or should I instead focus on YA since my protagonist is seventeen?

I wrote my novel without regard for the market, but in doing so I may have made a rookie mistake.   I took the advice too literally.  Instead, I should have been reading widely in the areas of YA and Upmarket Women’s in order to clarify my audience.  I should have been researching to understand the marketability (or lack thereof) of novels with a spiritual bent.  I should not have written without a better understanding of my end goal.

Perhaps the better advice is to write your original story while keeping an eye on the market.  Don’t disregard it entirely.  Familiarize yourself with it.  Or you run the risk of having a story to sell and no clue about who might want to buy it.


The Twelve Days of Writing

Well it’s December 12th, and this seemed appropriate. Enjoy, and happy holidays!

On the twelfth day of writing my true love gave to me…

Twelve books on writing
Eleven bloggers blogging
Ten readers critiquing
Nine agents rejecting
Eight commas splicing
Seven plots unfolding
Six narratives braiding
Five novels written!
Four that won’t sell
Three more in mind
Two manuscript requests
And a house that will publish my book!

Who Cares About Talent?

I know a local singer who recently complained about Taylor Swift.  This person lamented, saying, ‘She really doesn’t have a very good voice.’

Well this musician has completely missed the point, hasn’t she?  Who cares about whether or not Taylor Swift has a great voice?  The girl had a lucky streak and made it into the limelight.  She found a style of music that appealed to people, and she worked it all to her advantage.  Good for her.

Finding success has little to do with raw talent.  It has to do with taking the talent you have, knowing your audience and marketing yourself accordingly.

Not as easy as it sounds.

Here’s to all of us who hope to be a little less like the local, lauded prodigy and a little more like the smart-as-hell Taylor Swift.

Laissez Les Rejection Letters Rouler

Plenty of famous authors were initially cast aside with rejection letters.  Kathryn Stockett – author of The Help – amassed a collection of sixty.   I’m looking forward to joining the club, but I would be satisfied with less. I think that I’d feel sufficiently humbled and disillusioned with twenty letters. Yes. Twenty would be fine.

You hear that, agents? Number twenty-one has to be the charm. I’ll let you know who you are.

If only it were that easy.

I know that rejection letters – along with no response at all from some agents – are part of the process. And that’s okay. In fact, rejection is better than okay. It’s great. Those letters are proof that I’m really doing this. They’re proof that I am not just a hobbyist. They’re proof that somewhere out there an agent has read my work and considered it – even if for a moment.

So far I have received one rejection and one chirping cricket.

I’m on my way.

What Shall I Wear Today?

I just read this article on CNN that must have clothing designers aghast, but it had me ready to sign up. I think I’ll go with the gray t-shirt. Every day. And jeans. Sounds great.

The point of the article is a point made and ignored all too often these days. In essence, humanity has let itself become bombarded with information, and thus decisions to make, and we are stressing ourselves out. Unable to stop checking our email, texting our friends, surfing the net, signing up for more activities, taking on more work, multi-tasking to the nth degree – you know the drill. Our little minds are spent. Those who understand this evidently find respite not in yoga and meditation but in their wardrobe. They take one potential stressor out of every day and just wear the same damn thing. Brilliant.

So to all of my blogging friends, this post is just one more reminder to pause and give your minds a rest – whether through your clothing selection or something else. I’m going to apply this to my writing in that I’ll stop checking my email ten times a day to see if I’ve had any responses from agents yet. It’s a futile and disappointing effort, and it sucks my time and focus.  So enough.  They’ll write when they write. And in the meantime I’ll live my life.

I feel better already.

Favorite Finds

The process of researching a novel is like a scavenger hunt. You pick up a pebble here and there. You search for ideas and inspiration without knowing what you will find. You fill your proverbial pocket with an arsenal of useful information – things that you’d have never sought out and learned were it not for your writing.

I have gathered a small collection of new favorite books – all found as a result of writing and researching for The Scars of Martyrs. I thought I’d share some of them with you. Here are my favorite ten finds in no particular order:

  1. Mariette in Ecstasy – a novel by Ron Hansen.
  2. Mont St. Michel – a book of photography by Michael Kenna
  3. Mont-Saint-Michel: Immensity – a book of photography by Olivier Meriel with text by Nicolas Simonnet
  4. The Tides of Mont St. Michel – a novel by Roger Vercel
  5. Joan of Arc In Her Own Words – a book containing transcripts from Joan of Arc’s condemnation trials.
  6. Fatima in Lucia’s own words – a memoir from one of the three children (now an adult) who claims to have experienced private revelations from Mary
  7. Moines & Moniales au Mont-Saint-Michel – a small French book detailing in words and photos the lives of the Religious who make Mont Saint Michel home.
  8. A Still Small Voice – a book on private revelations by Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel
  9. Our Lady of the Forest – a novel by David Guterson
  10. Hunting and Gathering – a novel by Anna Gavalda

If you’ve ever had an interest in any of the topics covered by these works, I highly recommend them. And if you haven’t had such an interest – pick one out and give it a try anyway. After all, that’s the fun of a scavenger hunt: finding unexpected treasures.

Hey! Remember Me?

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m almost at home base. I’m so close I can taste it. To what are these over-used expressions referring, you ask? Querying, of course!

I’ve spent over a year editing my book, and quite frankly I can’t take any more. I feel good about it, and it is finally time to send it out. Woohoo! So, I’ve started the process of researching agents.

I’ve run across several agents whom I queried twelve years ago with my first novel, and the thought crossed my mind to write them again. “Hey! Remember me? I’m the one whose fantasy manuscript you requested and rejected back in 2003. Remember? Girl named Aislinn stuck on a rock and a dragon comes and flies away with her and she meets a couple of rodent-like creatures….No? You don’t remember? Okay, fine.”  Guess I’ll skip that method.

Writing a query letter is a challenge, and there is a lot of advice out there. I have really enjoyed seeing examples in a Writer’s Digest series by Chuck Sambuchino, and you can find them here. I don’t know how much they’ve helped, but I’ve enjoyed reading them. They’re all very different, which goes to show that there is no perfect formula. There is some obvious advice to follow: spell the agent’s name correctly, check your grammar, and give the basics of your story (that’s the hard part). Other than that, you’re on your own. You just have to hope that after two years of writing and one year of editing you’ve got a story worth telling – and the confidence to tell it well.