I sit in the “Den of the Cougars” otherwise known as the gym. Yellow and blue flags hang from the walls celebrating league champions for Single Tennis, Boys Soccer, Girls Volleyball and other sports. I’m here for the competitive sport of writing, publishing and selling.
Overhear someone say, “This place looks like a southern plantation.”The room fills with a babble of voices. Hundreds of words mingle; merge to form greetings, life experiences, writing projects. A laugh. The quest for the proper chair to sit in. Who’s here? Who’s not? Didn’t we meet at….? Aren’t you a friend of …?
News flash: No more coffee!
The day begins with “bathroom announcements.” Toilet paper shortage in nearby bathrooms, more toilet paper in the bathrooms further away.
Rachel Abrams, assistant editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books topic is “This Book Needs to Be Read! Honing Your Craft and Writing Your Best.” She reads from three favorite books as examples of how to start a story.
Abundance of Catherine by John Green.Ms. Abrams answers a question about voice in historical fiction: Adolescent issues are the same regardless of the time period. Another question inquires about bodily functions? “Okay as long as they’re plot driven,” she answers. She outlines pitfalls in writing dialogue:
Gorgeous by Rachel Vail
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Another favorite book is Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.
There’s information dumps.Ms. Abrams focuses on characters, plot is secondary. Middle Grade/Tween – ages 8 to 12. Teen 12 and up. Represents Middle Grade and YA, preferring paranormal and teen romances.
Chatty or on the nose gabbing.
Adverbial speech tags – Adverbs in dialog tags are editors’ pet peeve.
When she cites other favorite authors, the name sound like a litany of saints, accompanied by ooohs and aaahs, murmurs of acknowledgement. “That’s a good book.” “I read that one.” Or furious scribbling on notepads or typing on laptops.
Discussing styles, Ms. Abrams cites Vladimir Nabokov, "In reading, one should notice and fondle the details.” She recommends finding an agent. Responding to a question about personal editorial “pet peeves,” she says, “I won’t have a job if you guys didn’t need editors.”
Break 10 a.m.
Now begins the Information Age ritual of checking cell phones, blackberries, blueberries, crackberries and strawberries for messages, emails, gmails, tweets, sweets, sheets, cleats and a better seat.
After speaking, Ms. Abrams waits at the head of a receiving line. Writers are eager for her blessing, her business card, a comment, an encouragement, a smile for that great story.
10:34 a.m. Call to Order and Take Your Seats.
“Just because kids like rhyme,” she says, “is not a good reason to write in rhyme.”
Ms. Wheeler encourages picture books writers to “defend their rhyme.” As a child, she ran into the living room when TV commercials played so she could listen to the jingle. After the commercial ended, Wheeler left the room. The word seven is a bad rhyming word. Bad rhyme doesn’t sell. “Rhyme is poetry – not just rhyming end lines.”
Break. 11:30 a.m. Announcements. Raffle. My raffle ticket number is 429045. Come on lucky 45!Curses! I don’t win. Lunch 12 p.m. Sun appears. Morning overcast broken. San Gabriel Mountains visible to the north.
Overhear someone say, “I’m a light airy person.”After a nap on the gym bleachers, I open my eyes amid the crowd, noisy gym.
Among the sentences not to include in a query letter:
“I am a new writer.”Ms. Corcoran wants to know why the author wants her as an agent. “You gotta know what sells you.”
“This is the first book in my 9 book series.”
“Hope you and everyone around you are doing well.”
She emphasizes vigilance on your internet presence. Don’t post anything that could harm your career. I guess I’d better take down my Lion Tamer Website.
Kathleen O’Dell, Middle Grade author, speaks on “Crafting Books for Restless Middle Grade Readers.” “Don’t be afraid to quit,” Ms. O’Dell says, “You’ll come back if it calls you.” The editing process “is not for babies. The author must earn the trust of middle grade readers. “Bordom is death for kids.”
Overhear someone say, “You know her, she’s on Facebook.”In regards to a lengthy manuscript, she once used the “Harry Potter Defense.” An editor said her manuscript was too long. Kids wouldn’t read it. Ms. O’Dell responded, “What about Harry Potter?” Needless to say, the “Harry Potter Defense” is spoken no more. Talking about the writing process, she says, “It’s a temptation for writers to be lazy.” There’s bitterness at being rejected and fear at revision when receiving an envelope from an editor.
Ms. Bray lists her advice on writing.
- No one ever died from a day of bad writing, except writing a safety manual.
- Name you inner critique.
- If it doesn’t scare you to at least write your story, you haven’t raised the stakes.
- Read. Read across genres.
- Don’t write Cherrios – not exciting, just filler, unsatisfying, soggy, forgettable.
- Remember. Write for your inner teen. Remember the emotional language of 10, 14, 16.
- Find your own voice and honor it. “You know who does the best Raymond Carver? Raymond Carver.”
- Change up your game - as long as it serves your story. Don’t get complacent.
- As a Public Service Announcement, Ms. Bray urges us, “Just say no to the hot pterodactyl boyfriend.” Avoid current trends.
- Earn your moments. Truth should make us uncomfortable. Don’t flinch. Don’t give characters qualities they don’t have.
A green cart sits in the back of the gym, stacked with musty dark brown Christian Science Hymnal books. Perhaps we should start this day with a song. “O’ Publisher Near to Thee,” or “Holy Trinity”? (The Trinity is Agent/Editor/Publisher – until a media paradigm shift.)
I recline on the hard worn bleachers, ready to cheer. “Go Writers Go! Query Back! Query Back! Way, way back! Goooo Unpublished Writers! Yeah!”
A pep rally, indeed.
“Stories survive,” Ms. Bray says.
Time to go home and write.