It wasn’t an easy decision for me.
I had to burn a week’s vacation and shell out several hundred bucks just to mingle for five days with 75 people I’d never met before. While I’m not shy, I’m not by nature exceptionally outgoing. Thus, having to hang out with a bunch of folks I didn’t know was well outside my comfort zone.
Not only that. This was to be at a writing conference. The people there would be–GULP–real writers. I knew for certain I’d be exposed as the Great Pretender, a shameless charlatan. My work would be sliced and diced. I’d become the laughing stock of St. Simons Island.
But . . . I wanted to be a novelist. So I schlepped off, with great trepidation, to the 30th annual Southeastern Writers Workshop in 2005, eight years ago.
Eight years ago. Seven conferences ago. Two published novels ago.
See, it paid off.
It paid off so well, I felt compelled to give something back. So two years ago I joined the Board of Directors and now serve as vice president.
Some of the people I met at the 2005 gathering became close friends and I’m sure will remain so for many years. Others, whom I met at subsequent workshops, instructors especially, became great encouragers. These were folks who kept me going when I was ready to run up the white flag after 10 years, 4 manuscripts and no takers. When I was ready to surrender and just piss away my money on golf courses and 19th holes instead of writers workshops. When I was ready to simply throw up my hands and say Screw it.
Thank God for the Southeastern Writers Association.
And here’s where I let you in on a little secret. My writing was, in fact, sliced and diced at that first conference. But guess what. So was everybody else’s. It’s called learning. It’s called earning your spurs. It’s called trial by fire.
It’s what virtually every real writer must go through, whether it’s at St. Simons or in a prestigious MFA program.
Here’s another little secret: My slicer and dicer at that first conference was NY Times best-selling author Steve Berry. Steve had been through the mill before he hit it big, so he knew what it took to get there. Ironically, he later became one of my great encouragers.
Steve doesn’t do critiques any longer, but believe me, there will be plenty of exceptionally skilled instructors at this year’s workshop who will do for you what Steve did for me. Yeah, it might be painful. But these are people who will also help you put things back together. Gently. Skillfully. Professionally. They’ll help take your writing to the next level.
A final note about the SWA Workshop and what make it unique. It’s small, limited to 75 students. There’s a distinct camaraderie that develops among and between students and faculty. No, we don’t sit around campfires singing “Kumbaya” (it’s way too hot for campfires anyhow) or roasting marshmallows (you will have had enough roasting during your critique sessions).
Okay, enough with heat and roasting. Here’s what’s cool. You get to know one another. You chat over meals and during coffee breaks. You make new friends. You network. It’s a “clubby,” not a “cliquey,” atmosphere.
By way of contrast, I went to a huge West Coast conference last summer. It had great instructors and presenters. Big names. Lots of attendees. Lots and lots of attendees. Somewhere north of 500, maybe 600.
Yeah, I met people. We’d sit at breakfast or lunch. Try to converse over the din of a dining area that seated several hundred. Trade names and business cards. Then never see each other again as we elbowed, literally, our ways to whatever sessions were next on our schedules.
Months later, I got emails from several of the attendees I’d met informing me of this or that accomplishment. I’d send back polite attaboys, but never had a clue who any of the folks were. The encounters were too brief and too many.
Take away this: You’ll remember the people you meet at the Southeastern Writers Workshop.
Make the decision to attend today. It’ll pay off.DOESN’T WORK FOR ME—-SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE WRITING PROCESS
The writing process is different for every author. There is no right or wrong way. No, that’s not entirely correct. The right way is whatever works for you.
There’s one school of thought that says the first draft of your book should be pounded out just as fast as you can get the thoughts from your brain onto paper . . . or into your computer. Don’t worry about mistakes, typos and clunky sentences. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to make changes and corrections later—-you know, second draft, third draft, ad infinitum. The key is to capture your ideas before they flee into the ether.
Doesn’t work for me.
I’m a bit of a neat-freak. I abhor clutter. My desk is always shipshape, my home rarely in disarray. So it is with my writing. I can’t stand a sloppy first draft. It needs to be at least semi-polished—-neat and in-order. Yes, that certainly slows the velocity of getting an initial version out. I would argue, however, it speeds up the “make-it-better” phases that follow.
On some days, I’m actually pretty swift with the first go-round. I seem to get in a groove and fly through page after page. On other days, the capability of computers to allow me to “play” with words and sentences really wraps me around the axle.
On such days I spend an inordinate amount of time experimenting with different words and sentence structures. The net result is usually better qualitatively, but not quantitatively. I might end up with only a page or two written by the end of the day. Many authors would save this fix-it-up stuff for the second draft.
Doesn’t work for me.
Here’s a summary of how I work. Again, it’s not the right way or the wrong way. It’s just my way.
I’ll write several chapters of a first draft, with a rule of thumb (mine, nobody else’s) to make each chapter about ten pages (on average, I figure about 250 words per page, but it varies widely). More importantly, I’ll endeavor to make sure I have a hook at the end of each chapter—-something to make the reader want to turn the page.
After I complete a handful of chapters, let’s say three or four, I’ll go back and re-read them and make corrections and edits as needed. I may also take a few pages to my critique group each month.
I’ll repeat that process until I have a finished first draft. Semi-polished. At that point, if I have the luxury of time, I’ll stuff the manuscript into a metaphorical drawer and let it sit for awhile. Maybe for a month or two, maybe just for a week or two.
After the “trial separation,” I’ll pull my baby out of hibernation and try to read it fresh and objectively. That’s impossible, of course, but I like to believe I can do it. (It helps, especially as a novelist, if you’re just a little bit delusional.)
This so-called objective read-through is where I really find the clunkers. “Oh my God. I didn’t actually write that, did I?” “I wonder what the hell I meant here?” “Crap. That was Dick speaking, not Jane.” “I don’t understand this; somebody’s changed my manuscript . . . damn those Chinese hackers.”
So that’s rewrite number one.
Any number of additional rewrites may follow, based on comments from my “trusted readers,” my agent and finally, my editor(s).
Editors. That’s where the going gets tough and my workload increases exponentially. Based on their input, dialogue may get axed or added; old scenes may disappear or new ones appear; and chapters may get shifted around like pieces on a chess board.
Editors, however, make my stories better. I don’t always agree with their suggested changes, but the vast majority of them I accept. I’ve been lucky to have really good editors at BelleBooks, my publisher. They are ladies who’ve written more than I have and won more awards. It’s not hard for me to defer to them.
So, that’s how I do it. Might not work for you. Does for me.THE NEXT BIG THING
Happy New Year and welcome to the January 2nd NEXT BIG THING Blog Hop. Exciting, huh? But what the heck is it?
Basically, it provides a way for readers to discover authors new to them.
On this stop of the Blog Hop, you’ll find a bit of information about me and my latest novel, Plague, as well as links to three other authors whose works you can explore.
By the way, although this is the same day my two-month virtual author tour kicks off, the NEXT BIG THING is entirely separate from that.
My gratitude to fellow author Vicki Hinze, a fine lady and wonderful writer, for inviting me to participate in this event. You can click on the following links to learn more about Vicki and her books. As you will discover, she’s a prolific writer who delves into many different genres.
On each Blog Hop stop, authors answer ten questions about their most recent book or work-in-progress. Since the questions are the same from blog to blog, you might have a bit of fun comparing answers and finding out what drives each of us.
So here’s the Q and A segment for my new novel, Plague, which one reviewer called—-here comes the shameless self-promotion part—-“. . . quite possibly the fastest-paced and most intriguing thriller of the twenty-first century.”
1: What is the working title of your book?
The working title of my current novel was The Koltsovo Legacy (you’ll understand why when you read the book), but it was published as Plague.
2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
The inspiration for Plague sprang from, ironically, a nonfiction book: Richard Preston’s 1994 spine-tingling best seller about the Ebola virus, The Hot Zone. As I read Preston’s book, I became fascinated by Ebola and, quite frankly, scared to death by the thought there might be an airborne version of it. Thriller writers, naturally, love things that scare folks. So, I began thinking about how I could craft my fright into a terrifying novel.
3: What genre does your book come under?
Plague is a classic thriller with the good guys in a race against time (and the odds) to stop a bad guy—-in this case an intelligent but psychopathic terrorist with weaponized Ebola.
4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m really at a loss on this question, since I don’t watch that many movies. I’d probably sound like a doofus—-I know, I know: this is different how?—-if I tried to answer. All I know is I’d like James Horner (Braveheart, Titanic) to do the musical score.
5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In only a matter of days, 9/11 and the destruction of the Twin Towers will be rivaled by a lone-wolf terrorist attack on America with Atlanta targeted as Ground Zero.
6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
Plague was published by Bell Bridge Books, an imprint of BelleBooks. I’m represented by Jeanie Loiacano of the Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency.
7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first draft probably took about a year, but I rewrote it four or five times and even put it in storage for awhile while I worked on Eyewall, my debut novel.
8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Again, I have to beg off on this question since I mostly read thrillers about spies and espionage, and James Lee Burke mysteries, not novels about bioterrorism. If it helps, several people have compared my writing to Michael Crichton’s. But you’ll have to judge that for yourself.
9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I refer you back to the answer to question two. The real inspiration came from Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone.
10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s darn scary, and there are twists and turns in it that even I didn’t see coming until, well, I got there. I really like the ending and so did my editor who called it “kick ass.” And finally, although Epilogues usually wrap up the story for readers and let them know what happened to the main characters after the dust settled, there’s a zinger in Plague’s Epilogue that most readers won’t see coming.
Below you will find authors who will be joining me by blog next Wednesday. Be sure to bookmark and add them to your calendars for updates on works-in-progress and new releases. Happy writing and reading!
K. D. McCrite’s Blog: http://kdmccrite.com/
Stu Blandford’s Blog: http://www.daddyiwant.blogspot.com/
Emily Sue Harvey’s Blog: http://emilysueharvey.com/THE AUTHORING LIFE
For my non-Facebook friends, it’s time to bring you up to date on my authoring life.
First, my upcoming novel is now called Plague. It was born as The Koltsovo Legacy and went through three or four title changes before reaching the “carved in stone” stage. Plague.
Second, the release date for Plague is September 15. There’ll be an Atlanta Writers Club-sponsored launch party (book signing) at Peerless Book Store in Alpharetta, Georgia, that evening.
Third, my Website is currently in the process of being updated/upgraded. You should be able to view the new and improved model here by the middle of August.
Fourth, I’ll be on my way in less than two weeks to the Great Northwest and the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. There, I hope to pick up some pointers on how to get Eyewall some visibility amongst the Hollywood crowd. That should be interesting.
Fifth, with a lot of PR and prep work going into Plague now, Supercell has been stuffed into a metaphorical drawer, at least for awhile. I’ll get back to it later in the fall. Got about 200 pages of an initial draft written so far.
See ya at Peerless in September.
-July 24, 2012-