Could You be Addicted to Feedback?

criticism
criticism

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What are the signs?

I have this mentor/friend who thinks I have a problem. She’s traditionally published over a dozen novels and teaches a wildly successful fiction workshop in a major city.

Twice, she has told me to just finish my current draft without getting more feedback.

What kind of feedback am I talking about? Not just your garden variety writing or critique group comments that take place in a workshop setting. (But I partake in that, too!)

After my second full draft, I realized my beginning needed work. I rewrote the first forty pages then got an assessment from a professional editor.

I rewrote those pages again incorporating the changes suggested by the editor (also a well-known novelist).

Next, I took part in a story workshop with an award-winning playwright and realized I hadn’t quite nailed my “what’s this about.”

Most authors, whether they’re screenwriters or novelists, eventually have to distill their project to the infamous log-line.

So, I spent some time on that. Then rewrote my outline making sure I was faithful to the gist of my story.

Then I rewrote the first few chapters to more faithfully follow the outline, and—yep, you guessed it—submitted those for feedback.

All of the feedback I received was spot-on and useful.

So, what makes me think I might need a 12-step program for writers seeking feedback?

Last week, the first mentor I mentioned above asked how my project was going. I was all positive: “Great, still working on it. Incorporating feedback on a new beginning, etc.”

And she asked: “Haven’t you already done that?”

Yes. Three times.

She was confused. She told me to knock it off. That it was just procrastination masquerading as “improving my craft.” She told me to just finish the draft using everything I know how to do. On my own. Like, without a guide. Alone. Solo.

start-and-finish

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I know, pushy, right? So, I said I ok. I committed. No more feedback.

Then I texted her and asked if going cold turkey included getting comments from my writing group.

Her exact response: “OMG. Yes, that counts.”

I’ve had limited time to work on my draft over the last two weeks. I have a post-op son at home that requires twice-daily “wound-care.” And, yes, that’s as disgusting as it sounds.

A dear relative is in the ICU.

I have a day job. I have laundry and meals to prepare and groceries to procure.

(Einstein ought to have tackled that job. The most inefficient system in the modern age: take item off shelf, put item in cart, take item out of cart, place item on conveyor, place item into bag, place bag into cart, take bag out of cart, place bag into car, take bag out of car, take bag into house, take item out of bag, place item onto shelf. Seriously—473 steps for groceries. Aaaaaaggggghhhhhh!)

I’m supposed to find time to exfoliate and floss and meditate and correspond with family. And when do I squeeze in watching VEEP or Silicon Valley on TV?

On my lunch hour today, I sat in my car and read my first two chapters out loud. I listened for the cadence of my sentences. I made notes about two pages of dialogue with almost no exposition or setting. I made notes on two page of exposition and setting with no action or dialogue.

Such is the life of a writer on her first book. I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who has attempted this while also having to figure out how to pick a ripe, juicy cantaloupe from the produce section.

Sometimes knowing you’re not alone helps. Sometimes it doesn’t.

To further suck time from editing my novel, I signed up months ago for an online workshop. Our current module is “Unhooking from Praise and Criticism.”

This dovetails with my feedback obsession for my work in progress.

One of the common pitfalls of first-time novelists is starting over, never getting to the end of the first draft.

But I avoided that trap! I outwitted my newbie-ness and made sure I got to The End on that first draft. And on the second.

The remaining drafts? You guessed it. I keep going back and working on the beginning. Sometimes, this is important if you still don’t know what your story is. And, yes, there’s no right way and blah, blah, blah.

But by sending out the first twenty pages, or the first five chapters or  just this one section for editorial assessments and feedback, I’m avoiding the inevitable.

I have to finish the f$#king draft I’m working on. Not the next one. This one.

Epiphany-ish, no?

And I know how to make it better. I don’t know if anyone will want to publish it, but I do know how to make it better.

There should be a drive-thru service where workers (trained editors of course) scan your latest output of words and hand you a printout that declares Congratulations, these four pages are working. Carry on!

Feedback

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I just don’t know if I’m doing it right. Four nights ago, I was sure it sucked. I decided to just race through the draft maniacally so I could put it in a trunk under my bed and get on with the next, better book.

Several months ago, I was trying to decide if I should send a current draft out for feedback and I asked my wise mentor person if she thought it was a good idea.

She replied, “Have you already done everything to it that you know how to do?”

The answer was an easy No.

What a question! What’s she hinting at?

You guessed it—she suspected my feedback addiction back then. But I had to be ready to quit.

So, I’m taking it one day at a time. Not sharing pages with anyone. Just working away. In my writing room. At my writing desk. In my car. In the coffee shop.

Alone.

In one of my favorite books about the experience of writing a book (Yes, there is such a thing, and it’s fabulous. How’s that for book-y geekdom?), many pitfalls and stages are explained. Writing a book is a journey.

It’s possible I’m making it harder than it has to be. It’s possible I’m doing it all wrong. It’s possible that I’ll relapse. But for now. I’m just writing. And most days, I don’t want to stop.

 

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “Could You be Addicted to Feedback?

  1. Tracey Curzon-Manners on June 7, 2016 at 3:39 am said:

    Suzanne! Your words come alive and I relate to every single sentence… and I agree with your mentor. Trust yourself and silence the inner critic. I understand the need to feedback, I’ve even been tempted myself but deep down I also know what I really want is approval and only I can give me that.

    Leave the feedback to your readers – they’re going to love you as much as I loved reading this.

  2. Tracey Curzon-Manners on June 7, 2016 at 3:40 am said:

    ‘ the need to seek feedback’ Tch

How Do You Do Character?: Scientific Poll Results

Inside your main character
Inside your main character

Flickr: State Library Queensland Creative Commons

Do you become your characters, or do you observe them from outside?

I posed this question to writers in a very special Facebook group back in February and promised to report on my findings.

And no, I wasn’t just being nosy. I was reacting to all the craft books overflowing my bookshelves.

You know how it goes—you read a piece of writing advice and then immediately fall into a Ho-Ho binge because you’re not doing something the right way.

Once again, turns out there is no right way.

A few writers weren’t even aware that they favored one method over another until they tried to answer the question.

Ho_hos

In case you’ve forgotten or never met a Ho Ho.

Here’s my original query and some of the fantastic responses shared by writers with a wide range of experience and styles.

When writing your scenes, are you IN the body of your main character trying to feel/see/hear what she does, OR are you watching her to see what she feels/sees/hears? Curious!

“A bit of both, really. I usually first see the scene like a movie in my head, then I describe it while trying to feel like my character.” ~ Kelly M.

“Listening. Sometimes watching. And then, empathizing.” ~ Wendy G.R.

“I never realized it but yes I become my characters and write their story and feelings.” ~ Wendy T.

“In their body, usually. But it also depends on whether I’m in first person, close third, or omniscient. And what psychological distance I’m trying to convey.” ~Tamara L.

“I am the observer and write down what I see, what comes to me.” ~ Esther L.F.

“I think more in . . . ” ~ Lynne L.

“If writing in first person, I’m in, if writing in third, I’m observing and in.” ~ Dorothy R.

“Great question! Actually both . . . sometimes I feel what she feels and sometimes I try to look how she has to look, feeling it.” ~ Miranda M.

“Inside his or her head. More immediate, more fun to write.” ~ Nikki C.

“Both, but not at the same time. Usually as I write the story/scene that is there I’m in. Then I’ll do another pass from the outside.” ~ Jennifer B.

“Living it as much as I can.” ~ Julie H.

“In. Usually so in I find it difficult to use my character’s name even though it’s third person POV.” ~ Rachel V.

“I don’t even think about it. It’s whatever I wrote.” ~ Linda A.

Woman playing with Barbie dolls

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“I just finished a piece yesterday and was in tears, absolutely as devastated as my MC, feeling what she felt. Sometimes I think they channel through us. Sometimes, though less often, it’s like I’m hanging out with the characters—this is especially true for dialogue—and kind of just transcribe what I hear when they’re talking.” ~ Cristel G.O.

“Depends on which POV I’m writing from, which I never fully realized before. Interesting question!” ~ Cathy M.

“In the room with her which makes writing sex scenes awkward, because then I feel like a voyeur.” ~ Gill R.

“All in.” ~ Sherry Anne

“Totally in. So deep I don’t realize I was in until the scene is complete.” ~ Kiarra T.

“Watching. Definitely watching.” ~ Lisa C.B.

“I try to feel what she feels! I often play music that I feel she would like. That helps.” ~ Maire F.

“My friend calls me a Method Writer. I am IN the body of ALL my characters the entire time while writing, which can get really weird, uncomfortable, and straight-up physically and emotionally exhausting since I write hybrid horror/Sci-Fi/fantasy/speculative fiction, among other things. My husband has even come home and told me I wasn’t speaking like myself, and I’d realize later I was actually speaking in the voice of a character.” ~ Sezin G.K.

“I’m sitting on their shoulder so I have POV and can hear them speaking the words I give them to say.” ~ Sally W.

Scientific Poll Results

Of course I’m a writer so the science behind this is based on pretty fonts:

Inside the character – 46.6%

Both inside and observing the character – 34.9%

Observing the character – 13.9%

Two responders could not confirm their own method (writers!).

And there is no statistical margin of error (see pretty fonts).

My goal was to figure out if I was doing it all wrong. I found myself more of the observer type, but with most everything in this novel writing process, I’m learning as I go.

I’ve spent more time trying to see my book world through my main character’s eyes and that’s made a difference. There is no one right way.

How do you get inside your characters? Are you a biography maker? A note taker? Do you have a favorite worksheet or method you care to share? Would love to hear about what works for you!

 

 

2 Thoughts on “How Do You Do Character?: Scientific Poll Results

  1. Such a great question Suzanne. I found out these past few months that I did both. It was an interesting psychological experiment on myself that was observed during therapy treatments called EMDR (Eye Motioning, Desensitization and Reprocessing). I noticed that when I wrote “outside” watching my character (me–I write memoir), it was in the form of a disassociated state caused by trauma. After treatment I no longer am able to write “outside” me, only inside. It has brought about a complete change of perspective, tone, and quality to my writing.

    • That’s fascinating, Deb! Thanks for sharing – I noticed I was having trouble getting to the heart of my character in an opening scene because I was observing from the outside. This prompted my original question. It’s still not a default state for me but I’m learning so much from going “inside.”

New Stuff to Read!

Bang2Write

Excited to be featured on Lucy V Hay’s Bang2Write site offering writing craft tips for screenwriters and novelists.  Please share if you like the post!

Also, my review for Eighth Wonder: The Thomas Bethune Story can be found on Blogcritics this week! Stay tuned for a cool interview with the author, Anita M. Cal.

Comments are closed.

Glimmerglass: 2014 INDIEFAB BOOK OF THE YEAR FINALIST, Interview with Author Marly Youmans

Marly Youmans, Author_Version 2

Update: Glimmerglass is a Finalist for Foreword Reviews‘ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards! My interview with her originally appeared on www.Blogcritics.org

Marly Youmans, Author_Version 2

Marly Youmans is a poet, novelist, and teacher living in Cooperstown, NY, with her family. She has been called “the best kept secret” among contemporary writers and her prose hailed as “gorgeous, haunting, beautiful and brilliant.” Youmans is a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship and her previous novels, short stories and poetry have won numerous awards. I found Glimmerglass (Mercer University Press, 2014) on my library shelf and after falling under its spell, requested an interview. She was gracious with her time and experience as we covered ground from the lack of quality literary criticism to the trait most writers need to cultivate.

As you know, I read and loved Glimmerglass and am curious to know where you got the idea for this tale about the artist in the gatehouse.

A great deal that characterizes the book has to do with my belief that Cooperstown (the inspiration for Cooper Patent) is a place that mixes the real and unreal, but there are more straightforward elements that led me to an artist and a gatehouse. I have a lot of friends who are painters, and Cooperstown is awash in visual arts; the Susquehanna River Valley is still strongly appealing as a place to live for many artists. My most frequent lunch buddies are the two painters to whom the book is dedicated, Ashley Norwood Cooper and Yolanda Sharpe, though I’m glad to say that they do not suffer from Cynthia’s art troubles.

We live in a time when every person who strives to make art that is authentic and strong must mull how the work can and should be done, and how it relates to a commercial, mainstream world that rates money above the true, the good, and the beautiful. Through Cynthia, I dealt with the problem of making art in our current culture (though that was not in the least what I consciously intended, when dreaming through the story), considering the situation of someone who had made a choice that she came to see as wrong. The book offers her a kind of redemption, and even though she does not get to keep the physical proof of what she achieves, the possibility of meaningful work is still is open to her. She reaches for the same joyful knowledge that Hawthorne’s artist of the beautiful achieves in his glittering, mechanic art.

glimmerglass a novelThe gatehouse is a charming local one with seven doors and a stream rushing by, down to Otsego Lake, James Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass. I once ate lunch there and had a tour of the place, and the house stuck in my mind as magical and odd. (The watermark, the ceiling motifs, and the overall look of the place all draw on that memory. Frog pageants also were borrowed from the gatehouse residents.) I took the liberty of creating Sea House because the mansion near the gate burned to the foundation stones long ago.

Can you elaborate on your creative process? Specifically, do you begin with a pre-planned plot, a simple idea or problem? Does the story seem to write itself or come from some mysterious place within, and is it the same for all of your stories?

No, I don’t care for much pre-planning and am not one of the people (I know some of these and admire their organization) who make charts of characters and detailed outlines of plots. With Glimmerglass, I had a feeling for the places and knew that there would be a labyrinth. In writing, I tend to move by instinct, but I don’t claim that as a virtue – I don’t suppose there’s merit in one way of working over another. After all, it’s the final result that counts, no matter how it was made. I just write in the way that feels like a “rightness” to me. Sometimes I am suddenly gripped by something that I did not expect at all; that’s the way Thaliad (2012) arrived. I just woke up one morning and the narrative was in my mind, burning to leap out. The poems for The Book of the Red King (a lot of them have been published, but I’m still not quite ready for a book) arrived in a similar manner. For about three months I was inhabited by the book and wrote at least a poem a day.

With fiction, I often start with relatively little knowledge. With A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (2012), I wrote the first two chapters in a big swoop and then had to figure out what happened afterward. But some things were quite clear in my mind – the main character, the sharecropper’s farm (modeled closely on the one my paternal grandparents worked), the fact that Pip would ride the rails west and north. I did not know if he would ever return or find a place to alight and stay. My 13th book, Maze of Blood (September, 2015) is one of the few books that I’ve written based on specific happenings in our real world. Though fiction, it depends on events in the life of pulp writer Robert Howard. I’ve wanted to do something based on an existing pattern for a while, as I’ve long been fascinated by the way Shakespeare takes what was known about the history of a figure and makes something new from it. So I did choose some key moments to juggle and play with as fiction. That plan had its own odd challenges, and I ended up radically re-working the order of events.

My favorite times tend to be when poems rush out unexpectedly, or when stories or parts of novels seem to pour out as if by magic. I love the strange sensation that something is pouring through me – a waterfall of language that feels like me and not-me at once. It leads to a thrilling sense of surprise. Of course, there are parts of novels that must be stitched together in a more mundane way. I’ve never been particularly interested in elaborate transitions and the “fat” of many novels, and my books tend to be lean. If a reader does not like that Jack-Sprat tendency, well, he or she has a challenge.

I would say that every narrative begins in a different way, that it is never “the same.” In order to make books that live, a writer needs to strive to do something she can’t do – to make something that has no recipe or instructions, that is not explained or plotted-out by one of her previous books. So I never know at the start where I am going, or whether I can master the dream and make it shapely.

Even your prose responses to my questions seem to have a bit of poetry in them. Was this unusual way of looking at the world something you’ve always possessed? Do you view the daily “mundane” world through similar spectacles (e.g., when giving instructions to your children, etc.)?

Some of my early childhood memories sparkle – my memories of my years as a small child in Louisiana (Gramercy and Baton Rouge) are colorful and magical. But I think a lot of us tend to veer from the grossly mundane to the soulful, often in the same minute.

I believe that one of the great functions of storytelling is to share a kind of enchantment – to give us eyes to see how beautiful and extraordinary the world is, and to know that being alive and conscious is a gift. Storytelling also tells us how very far we have fallen from being creatures who know and love what we are, and who love the world we possess for a while as the stage for our lives.

“When giving instructions to children?” Interesting question. Children love it when things are slightly askew, and when adults are playful. So yes, I was sometimes playful. But I expect that many parents are. During the teen years of the older two, I posted a big chart of epithets that my three could use on one another – they were drawn from Shakespeare and Wodehouse. “Great steaming radish!” “Peevish canker-blossom!” “Prating malignancy!” For a time, that list eliminated most of the bad (and boring) things that they called one another and meant that they laughed a good deal more than they might have otherwise. And occasionally I would sing my advice or requests in operatic flights (Cooperstown is home to Glimmerglass Opera.) Right now I have only one child left in high school, and we do often act quite silly or dance around the kitchen together.

Can you describe in any specific technical detail how you approach the revision/rewriting process? Is this different every time as well or is there a routine you follow?

I’m fairly simple-minded in this area. With fiction, I write on the computer because I like being able to fly along with my thoughts. Then I print out what I’ve done and blacken it with additions and deletions. Then I let time go by and repeat the process. And again and again until I’m just fiddling. Then I stop and read the whole thing aloud to catch any weird, unattractive rhymes and sounds. Reading aloud to children, you learn that a great many writers skip that step, and that they should not. My mode is similar with poetry, although poetry enjoys a much richer structure of sounds.

Can you share a colorful or magical memory from your childhood?

When I lived in Gramercy, I spoke Cajun French with the children next door. I was only three and don’t remember it, but I do remember playing with Maxine, and that she taught me to wear little green lizards with pink throats as earrings. The poor creatures could not release themselves until we pinched their jaws. In the yard were holes with big, hairy spiders. We had a garden bed made out of sugar slag from the refinery, and the plants grew up into the trees. My small garden was cucumbers and moonflowers; I loved to see them spiral open at night, their faces looking up at the moon.

Back to your writing, when did you start to produce material for publication? How did you know you were ready and how long did it take you to get there?

In seventh grade I was living in Delaware and attending a huge junior high school. I remember that my English teacher recommended a piece of mine for the literary magazine, and that was the first time somebody requested a piece of writing, and that I was pleased. I had poems and the occasional story in plenty of school magazines, but I’m not sure when my first poem was accepted by a little magazine – probably when I was around 19. I doubt that I did know if it was ready! When I was 20 and graduated from college, I threw away everything I’d done up to that point. I was sorry later, as it was so full of youth.

Along the same lines, what is the one piece of writing advice you received yourself or have heard that you think newer writers should ignore?

Ignore it all! Listen to it all, and then take advice with a grain of salt. I was told all sorts of things – write what you know, don’t use certain words (like “love” and “rainbow” and “beautiful”), show don’t tell, and so on. Hearing those things just made me obstinate and determined to do the opposite, often in some unexpected manner. There is no writing rule that cannot be broken. Just write. After a while, you will have your own ways of putting words into patterns. But I expect that even those ways will grow constricting, and you’ll leap over them and make new ways and then leap over them.

In a previous interview you said that when you first started writing fiction, you didn’t understand anything about plot, propulsion or causality. How important are those things in Glimmerglass and your other stories and how did you learn about them? What aspect of the craft of writing do you think is undervalued? Overvalued?

My feeling is that you learn about how to write by putting words on the page. Between Little Jordan andCatherwood, there’s a kind of jump – I’m more interested in how choice causes event. Then by the next book, The Wolf Pit, I’m fooling around with both causality and form in a bigger way, so that the book becomes a kind of helix composed of two stories, each with its own propulsion. If you look at those books as a group, you can see a poet hopping forward from little lily pad to bigger lily pad, reaching toward those tasty bits of plot and form.

The importance of any aspect of a book is surely determined by the story. With Val/Orson, I was working with Shakespearean, mythic materials that had built-in traditional motifs and shapes, ready for play – mistaken identities, twinship and separation, Arcadian romance, fey hints, love for the wrong person that is later transferred to another, doublings, and more. Plot emerged naturally out of those things, and right up to the final page, the story is influenced by Shakespeare.

With the two Southern fantasies, The Curse of the Raven Mocker and Ingledove, crossing Cherokee lore with the beliefs of Scots-Irish settlers seemed to easily generate story, large mythic entities, and causality. In fact, I would say that marrying two unexpected elements tends to be generative for a writer because something new will always be born.

Underlying A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage is a simple, basic structure of journey-and-return, but the main character’s hunger to know, to reject, or to search gives birth to a lot of action. The initial tragic event sends Pip pell-mell into the world, and then his inability to love and to trust keeps him moving and dictates a good deal of sudden change in place and event. Character breeds causality.

Glimmerglass is again a more mythic sort of tale – well, I can describe it but don’t know exactly what that book is, as yet! – but the engine-thrust of the story is Cynthia’s deep ache to be more than she has been, and to make something of meaning from her art and life.

Undervalued. Overvalued. “Value” is an interesting word when applied to craft because we live in a digital age awash in advice to writers on “product” and “platform” and how to become visible to the world. Google the topic, and a wearying onslaught appears instantaneously. The “value” most often evident in the online realm is the value of money – that is, the measure of writing is by its relation to money. We’ve slipped into a state where we measure and value success in writing by monetary success, even though we know perfectly well that major writers from the past often failed to find that kind of success and so failed to make a lot of money.

This tendency to rate by cash afflicts all the arts. (In addition, we no longer have the kind of publicly-admired critics who once helped us see merit and sort out the literary scene –figures like Randall Jarrell, Lionel Trilling, or Edmund Wilson.) So I’d like to misread your question a little, avoiding craft and saying that what is overvalued is money as a measure of art. What is undervalued is mastery, which quite frequently has precious little to do with money and success.

Continued in Part 2.

Marly had such great insight into creativity and artists that we decided to run the entire interview in two parts. Here is the conclusion to our interview (originally appeared on www.Blogcritics.org)

Continued from Part 1

This is the second of our two-part interview with author Marly Youmans. Her deep love of language, books and art shone through her thoughtful answers. Read on for more insight into her writing process.

As for the aspects of the craft being valued or undervalued, I guess I was trying to understand how you learned to jump from lily pad to lily pad. What knowledge gleaned kept you from ending up on the same level of lily pad? Were you searching for “causality” and “propulsion” because a teacher or book told you that was the right way or was it more of a natural insight as a gifted storyteller?

I’m not so sure that we learn much from advice when it comes to writing. Yes, I may occasionally come upon a comment in a review, say, and think it a good point, and that I might need to think about an issue a little more. But we learn by writing. I’m not saying that a writer can’t learn anything from advice, but that I learn infinitely more by trying to make something out of words.

The way I think about moving from book to book is this: I’ve established a certain land mass, a kind of country made up of poems and stories and novels. That’s the ground under my feet. That’s where I have been, what I have made. When I want to write a new book, I run across the land and leap off the edge of the known world. I trust that my feet will find something solid as I fall.

Did you always trust your feet would find something? Is that a natural-born confidence?

I definitely grow bolder over time, so I suppose it is a learned confidence and faith that the work will find its way. Meanwhile, I’m not particularly adept about the business side of things. I do a good many events, but I have more and more gone on my own path in terms of publishing. I’m not with a Big 5 publisher any longer, and I have sacrificed a certain amount in order to have my books be the way I want them to be. I’ve loved being with small and university houses and plotting with my friend Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ Artlog: to make beautiful books – particularly Thaliad from Phoenicia, The Foliate Head from Stanza, and Glimmerglass from Mercer. The Throne of Psyche and Glimmerglass are also immaculate-looking books (Mercer outsources to Burt & Burt, a great design team), though there’s less collaboration on those. Part of the impulse to make beautiful books [comes from] starting out as a poet, where smaller and university presses are so important.

Some time ago I parted with my agent, Liz Darhansoff, and I have not bothered to look for another one, a lack which has some drawbacks. Usually I’ve relied on requests for manuscripts from publishers. Also, I’ve gotten some recent film option nibbles and ought to get a good film agent, but I tend to be so busy with family and books that I don’t get all the practical things done.

Your work has received many awards and has been hailed as genius and rare and beautiful. How do you celebrate finished books and are you emotionally affected by critical acclaim?

I am one of those writers who gets good critical feedback and awards and has loyal readers but who really needs a larger readership. That’s something that’s hard to manage when I do a lot of projects with smaller houses, where marketing and promotion are limited. And I probably need a more “braggadocio” personality! When books come out, I’m pleased but don’t do anything extraordinary – just more events. I tend to be relieved as well as glad when I have good reviews and notice and awards. Relief was part of my attitude to my first book acceptance as well. Externals don’t affect what I do next.

A family thread runs through your responses, Glimmerglass, and much if not all of your other writing. How has being a mother influenced your prose and poetry? Is it possible for you to distinguish natural growth as a writer from any specific effects of parenthood?

Life comes before art, and parenthood is important to me. Children are not easy, they don’t need a writer in the house, and their needs seem quite pressing to them. Being a mother has meant that I had to learn how to use well what time I had – and to go without sleep when I needed to do so! It meant that I had to learn how to think about stories while doing other things (particularly housework). Sometimes it meant being clever about help; the two Southern fantasies were written as gifts for my daughter, who begged for them, and who babysat her busy little brother in order to get new pages. It was a good swap for both of us. Bits of my children as babies, children, and young people appear in characters who inhabit my short stories and poems and novels. Catherwood in particular is about the potency of motherhood and mother love. My eldest child’s obsession with the Civil War led me in the direction of The Wolf Pit. Lots of my poems began with some detail of a child’s life.

Anything that deepens your life is of use to a writer. Anything that makes you a bigger person on the inside is of use. Anything that helps you understand other people is of use. And anything that causes you to grieve, love, be sheltering, be upset, and feel joy is of use. Children may be Bacon’s “hostages to fortune,” but they also teach, widen the mind’s focus, and make a parent change and mature. I would say that my growth as a writer has often been tangled with my life as a mother.

You still do a bit of teaching. What do you try to offer your students if you consider a lot of writing advice suspect?

Clever of you to ask me about teaching stints since I’ve cast doubt on writing advice! Of course, I might very well contradict myself in a weak moment and blather away with advice! But if I did, I would always give the anti-advice that writers must find their own rules of how to go, and they must not let those rules harden into stone. A person’s own writing will dictate what she believes about and wants in her work, but those ideas should keep evolving.

Being individuals, students write differently than I do, so I don’t often give them generalized advice but like to figure out the nature of the writing they have already accomplished and in what direction they seem to be and want to be going. From that point, it’s interesting to consider what works and does not work in their pieces. Sometimes I might have them write in an unusual form and talk about the advantages and pitfalls of the form, or look at where their use of the form took advantage of its one-of-a-kind demands. Also, sometimes their stage of progression means that they have concerns and questions I did not anticipate. For example, one thing that I didn’t expect to do at Antioch last summer was to talk about ordering a poetry manuscript, but I had students who were ready to submit a chapbook or book. So we all tried arranging a couple of 10-poem manuscripts and then discussed why we grouped poems as we did.

What do you feel is the most common trait lacking or underdeveloped in writers who aren’t having much success?

Persistence.

In assisting your students with the chapbooks, how do you assess their levels? How do you judge “stages” of writing?

Assessing any work is a result of having read the good and the great – that’s the yardstick.

You mentioned a lack of great literary criticism nowadays. Do you consider yourself an astute critic of other literary works?

I do seem to be critical, which I find rather sad at times. I am less able to finish books than years ago, and more prone to setting down a book unfinished. But I have no desire to write criticism.

What do you like to read for pleasure? Are you always “reading like a writer” or are you able to get lost in stories other than your own?

At the moment, I have a number of books underway – Ted Hughes’s translation of Ovid’sMetamorphoses and also his Selected Translations, Lawrence Principe’s The Secrets of Alchemy, and Jack Zipes’s The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition. Soon I am going to read Scott G. F. Bailey’s The Astrologer, which has re-surfaced after being carried off and read by my husband.

Getting lost in a story doesn’t happen as often as when I was young. The last book in which I strongly felt that childlike sensation was Anthea Bell’s translation of a 1971 children’s novel by Ottfried Preussler, Krabat and the Sorceror’s MillI have it more frequently with poetry.

Favorite novel of all time?

Tom Jones? Bleak House? Pride and Prejudice? Jane Eyre?

Favorite poet of all time?

It’s between Yeats and Shakespeare.

First book you remember loving as a child?

I was given slipcased copies of the Alice books when I was about five, and I have never gotten over Carroll’s wondrous freedom.

Any last thoughts or recommendations for writers at the beginning of their journey, or something you wish you had known at the start of your own journey?

Many more presses and awards (especially for early books) and retreats and scholarships exist than when I was young. A national system for producing poets and fiction writers and supporting them via college and university programs is now powerful. A huge number of competent writers are at work. In poetry, I see a lessening of the stigma against writers who care about form and traditional tools. Publishing includes ebooks and self-published paperbacks. These and many other changes have changed the conditions for writers, but I think that a simple “Persist” is still the best advice to give a young novelist or poet.

Yet it’s a difficult path, and plenty of writers have found publication to be like dropping a precious manuscript down a well. Most novels are not anointed as lead book for a Big 5 publisher and given what’s called a push. Nor do most ebooks have the pleasant outcome of Hugh Howey’s Wool. Many poetry books find few readers. So I would add that if a writer chooses to put an end to his work, he should not be harsh on himself but search for a meaningful way of life elsewhere.

If I could tell my young self something, I’d say that she should not let anything take away her joy in making things out of words – that whatever tends to take away from that deep play and pleasure should be questioned. I would praise persistence and the weird intuitions of the soul. (I would probably also tell her that living in a snowbank in the remote boondocks is not all that helpful when it comes to visibility and doing events. On the other hand, a Southerner may get a lot of work done, living in a region of mighty snows and long winters.)

You can find out more about Marly Youmans, including all the novels mentioned here, on her blog, “The Palace at 2am.”  Her books are available at independent bookstores as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

3 Thoughts on “Glimmerglass: 2014 INDIEFAB BOOK OF THE YEAR FINALIST, Interview with Author Marly Youmans

  1. Brenda Undercoffer on March 14, 2015 at 6:12 am said:

    Really enjoyed this interview. As a “creative type” who is unclear on what a creative process is or how to develop one, I found both the interviewer’s questions and the author’s responses to be refreshingly concise. I particularly enjoyed the final paragraph, where the author cautions against letting “anything take away her joy in making things out of words – that whatever tends to take away from that deep play and pleasure should be questioned.” Any reminder to keep the Inner Child alive is appreciated!

  2. Pingback: Interview: Lene Fogelberg, Author of ‘Beautiful Affliction: A Memoir’ | Suzanne M. Brazil

The 2K International Writers’ Blog Tour – Author Interview Kylie Betzner

The Quest for the Holy Something or Other

2K International Writer's Blog Tour

Say hello to Kylie, our 5th stop on The 2K International Writers’ Blog Tour:

Kylie Betzner

That awkward moment when we’re asked to describe ourselves to strangers . . . For starters, I’m an incurable nerd. I love all things fantasy and even do a little cosplay on the side. I’m a natural-born comedian, self-identified coffee junkie, and now leader of The League of Comedy Fantasists, a group designed to bring comedy to the masses. Did I forget to mention I’m an author? My firsKylie Betznert novel, The Quest for the Holy Something or Other is available in both paperback and e-book formats on Amazon! But seriously, the titles I am most proud of are sister, auntie, and friend.

Growing up in a small town surrounded by cornfields, I had nothing better to do than fantasize about unicorns and elves. As an adult, I still refuse to grow up, and spend most of my time creating stories of comedic fantasy. When I’m not writing, which is hardly ever, I enjoy reading, drinking coffee, and spending time with my family and friends. I also run, although I don’t enjoy it so much.

I currently reside in Indiana with my sister, nephew, horde of cats, and one very silly dog.

What is the first piece you remember writing (from childhood or young adulthood)?

I remember co-authoring a terrible little story with my sister about unicorns and evil leprechauns. We didn’t know how to write then, so we just illustrated the whole story with crayons. I think we were six years old. My writing has come a long way since then . . . I hope;)

What is your favorite aspect of being a writer? Your least favorite?

My favorite thing about being a writer is sharing my story with the world . . . or the ten or so people who have purchased it thus far. Haha. I’m looking forward to continually connecting with new readers and other authors in this great literary community.

My least favorite thing about being a writer is marketing my work. It feels so dirty, even if you do it the “organic way” that experts advise, it still feels dirty. I hate approaching people with an agenda and having to “whore” myself out to sell copies. I wish there was a better way, or someone who could do it for me;)

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, what is your best tip for beating it? If not, why not?

I believe in writer’s block no more than I believe in unicorns and winning the lottery. Writer’s block is a fancy term way of saying “lack of inspiration” or “lack of motivation.” When you really have a good story to write that you believe in, you don’t get writer’s block.

What is your current writing project? What is the most challenging aspect of your current writing project?

Currently, I’m working on a comedic fantasy series that centers around a misfit named Mongrel and his adventures in a hostile fantasy realm. The most challenging aspect of this project is juggling so many POVs. With The Quest for the Holy Something or Other I didn’t have this problem because I focused on only 2 main characters with 3 or 4 major supporting ones. My current project has quite a few more, and it’s proving difficult to balance.

What supports you in your writing?

Coffee, for one. Haha! What writer can live without a constant caffeine intake? The “what” aside, the “who” who supports me the most in my writing is my twin sister, Toni. She is always there to brainstorm new ideas, squash bad ideas, and lend an open hear when I need to whine. Every writer should have a sister like mine. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

What are you currently reading?

I’m still plugging away at Game of Thrones but I think I’ll be taking a break to read Outlander. Sounds like a guilty pleasure not to pass up.

Where can our readers find you and your books online?

Blog: www.litchicblog.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kbbetzner

My debut novel, The Quest for the Holy Something or Other is available now: The Quest for the Holy Something or Other

Kindle

Paperback

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After the First Draft or I Wrote a Book, Now What? The Editor’s Assessment

edit all the words

So did the editor like my novel? I promised to give you an update and share some information on selecting an editor. What follows is a breakdown of the assessment I received along with my Top 10 Tips for a Manuscript Assessment.
Book Cover

There are plenty of websites out there telling you how to select an editor and that will describe the different types of editing. If you’re a beginning writer, know that you can you can Google this just as easily as you can Google the most popular Christmas song of all time. Silent Night, by the way, is more than twice as popular as the #2 song.

I selected Warner Coaching, Inc. and Editor Brooke Warner to review my manuscript based on a referral from a published author I met in a writing class. During our email exchange, I got a feel for how prompt she was; how open to questions (I’m new, remember?!); what the report would look like; and how payment would be handled.  I paid about 40 percent when I sent the manuscript and the balance after I received the evaluation. The process took about three weeks from the time I emailed my manuscript.

What follows is a little bit like showing you my underwear

Brooke’s assessment started with an overview and then flowed into specifics. She was direct but encouraging and most of all, she was professional. Sections in italics are excerpted directly from the assessment.

edit all the words

 www.memegen.com

Overview

Tell Me What You Want is a solid effort at crafting a broadly appealing, suspenseful page-turner. At this stage, additional developmental editing will help you to ensure that the book is more streamlined and nuanced and that the characters who shepherd your readers through these pages are as distinctive as possible.

Key Themes/Reader Takeaways

Some of the valuable lessons that you share in the manuscript include the following-

I won’t give away all my secrets here. This section was 7 bullet points detailing what the editor thought my story was about. Good news – she got my messages.

Structure/Plot Flow

The book is structured ambitiously, as it alternates between different points of view, but very consistently. It is easy to follow and proceeds chronologically.

Details in this section included some recommendations regarding a main character and eliminating one POV for streamlining.

Pacing

The pacing of the book is fluid overall, but it suffers at times from unnecessary repetition of details and ideas that bog down the plot.

(p. 71): “Jenny had told her a couple of times that she’d done some amazing things in her life but Shelly never seemed satisfied.” We already know that Jenny feels this way, because Shelly has already shared this information with the reader.

The paragraph above is one of seven Brooke wrote citing specific page numbers and quotes directly from the manuscript along with her recommendations for improvement.

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” 
― Dr. Seuss

Dr.-Seuss

www.sockitmama.com

Character Development

Shelly’s character has the most dramatic arc in the story and is well done, as is Greg’s. In particular, Jenny’s character, albeit likable, feels quite one-note, which is part of the reason why her point of view doesn’t add significant value to the narrative. A developmental editor can help you to tease out each of these key characters’ unique attributes to make them more distinctive.

The editor included several paragraphs of examples here both positive and those needing revision.

Scene Development

You have a good instinct for developing scenes, most of which are fluid and well wrought in this book. The primary exceptions are the scenes involving the following plotlines:

Again, specific examples of unbelievable coincidences or unlikely events were detailed with page numbers, quotes and recommendations for improvement.

Dialogue

The book’s dialogue is quite strong overall. It feels natural and both true to life and true to your characters’ distinct personalities. My one recommendation in this area is to eliminate the use of the nicknames…etc. Eliminating this language from these women’s conversations would serve both conversational flow and character development.

Brooke commented not only on the wording that sounded forced but also how it didn’t mesh with some characters’ personalities that were previously established.

Point of View

Your current approach of using three alternating points of view is successful in the sense that it is consistent and comprehensible. However, I do not think that Jenny’s point of view enhances the manuscript significantly (although I would not remove her character from the story entirely).  In addition, on p. 81, there’s an abrupt POV shift.

The editor pointed out why she thought this POV should be eliminated and suggested either reworking it myself or with the help of a developmental editor. She explained why it wasn’t working or wasn’t necessary as well.

Tone and Style

Your writing style and tone are consistent but at times you employ clichéd language. In addition, you sometimes rely on telling the reader what your characters are feeling, rather than showing it.

Here she gave page numbers and quotes as well as suggestions for more nuanced language and fresher descriptions. Much of this I would have caught as I began revising but it is helpful to have the examples to follow as I check through the manuscript.

Grammar and Punctuation

The book needs a medium to heavy copyedit after all of the developmental work is complete, to fix grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors.

Was it Worth it and What’s Next?

In a more extensive developmental edit, the editor would go into even more detail. This was the right step for me taking my goals into consideration. I am using this book as a learning process. I wanted to get professional feedback from someone that had read the entire manuscript instead of just excerpts. Now I know what my strengths are and where I need to focus for the most improvement.

My revision process has started with character profiles. I’m trying to make my characters more three-dimensional. I have applied and been accepted to the Novel In a Year program at Story Studio and my plan is to work on and finish the second draft in this class.  So that’s where I’m at. Leave me a note to let me know where you are with your latest project.

Here are my Top 10 Tips for a ManuscriptAssessment

  1.  Ask for referrals, send emails or call explaining your project and what you need
  2. Make sure you understand what is included, ask questions
  3. Decide what level of help you need
  4. Receive feedback with an open mind – anything can be fixed once it’s on the page.
  5. Pay on time. This might be your first time dealing with professionals in the publishing industry. You want to project professionalism.
  6. KEEP WRITING. Whether it’s short stories or an outline for a new project, keep working while the editor is reading your manuscript and preparing the assessment. Don’t sit and wait.
  7. Read it and ignore it. That’s right. You will be curious and anxious and excited and possibly distressed. Read it and then let it, and your ego, rest. Go on to something else and come back to the assessment when you are ready to begin revisions.
  8. Follow the editor’s advice. You paid him. He’s an expert. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring his advice.
  9. Don’t follow the editor’s advice. It’s  your story and if you think they’re dead wrong about a beloved character or plot twist, follow your gut. Take a risk.
  10. Exercise your rewriting muscles remembering that anything can be improved. Make use of the information you received for future projects as well.

 

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After the First Draft (for New Writers), An Update: The Editor Responds and How to Choose an Editor

In my first post about completing the first draft of a novel, I promised to give you an update on what happens next. I keep my promises:

Book Cover

Late last night I sat with the family as they watched The Walking Dead. I don’t watch. I hate Zombies. I love Vampires, but that’s a different post.

Hoping to distract myself from the gnashing sound of zombie teeth on flesh, I checked my email via my phone and there it was – the professional editor’s assessment of my first novel!

I gave the email a once-over and was encouraged enough to open the attachment. The editor sent a five-page breakdown of what worked for her and what didn’t.

Stay tuned for a synopsis of the editor’s opinion and recommendations along with my next steps.

I will include:

  • Different types of editing available
  • What an assessment covers
  • Why I selected an assessment
  • How to choose your own editor
  • Results – worth the money or not
  • What’s next?

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