If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

July Interviews

7/1 Lena Gregory, Scone Cold Killer
7/8 Jessica Baker, Murder on the Flying Scotsman
7/15 TG Wolff, Driving Reign
7/22 Leslie Budewitz, The Solace of Bay Leaves
7/29 Cynthia Kuhn, The Study of Secrets

Saturday Guest Bloggers

7/11 Mark Dressler
7/18 James McCrone

WWK Bloggers:

7/4 Valerie Burns
7/25 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Buzzards Circling Overhead: This Writer Gets Workshopped! by Carla Damron

I’m back from my week-long writing residency set in quiet Roanoke, Virginia., The conference offered workshops and classes to more than fifty writers, mostly from the Southeast. Several of the presentations were quite informative; for example, I now know why I don’t like post-modern fiction* and can use the word ekphrasis* in a sentence.

We also learned about the bleak state of the publishing industry, how there are only five big houses now, and how the entrance into those houses is no larger than a keyhole. The unspoken but very present question among all of us: Does anyone get through that tiny opening?

The answer I heard was “No.”

Okay, a few writers will. Barbara J, an acquisitions editor from Holt, has to be highly selective in choosing manuscripts to publish. She approaches each submission with two factors in mind: “the basic” and “the bold.”

The basic involves grammar, word choice, punctuation, formatting and other structural matters. She expects perfection. She abhors meaningless explaining or repetition of information, which can include some very subtle phrasing. She dislikes what she calls “bad acting”— gestures that aren’t needed. (When my character nodded, it was bad acting.) Another pet peeve is exposition through dialogue (“Where is he this time?” “Bermuda” is an example from my text that she shared with the group).

She also hates submissions that don’t include a title page, and if they do have a title page, the font shouldn’t be too large. A phrase she often repeated: “one name per character per story.” So don’t call him “Joe” in one paragraph and “her husband” in the next. And if you introduce him as Joe Smith in the opening paragraph, you must call him Joe Smith from then on. (I know, I know. Odd, don’t you think?)

For Barbara, the “bold” is what makes a manuscript stand out—an idea, a voice, a theme, a certain something that makes it different/better/awe-inspiring. That makes her not reject it. (Think Jeannette Walls’ amazing THE GLASS CASTLE).

I suspect that “the bold” may always elude me. Is there magic involved? Or is it more like a winning lottery ticket?

My workshop experience was a rocky one. Ours was a very large group, twelve members plus the leader. I had been told that mine was the first submission up for critique, so that Monday morning I felt some trepidation. When I spotted the buzzards circling over the building, it didn’t help.

Turns out, the buzzards were onto something. Forty-five minutes were spent dissecting my first page, pointing out the “bad acting” and “meaningless explaining words.”

I left feeling a little scorched. When I got back to my room, I went through the narrative, making all the changes she suggested. She had some valid criticisms. A few places required an adverb-ectomy. (Dammit! I should have caught those!) And perhaps a paragraph or two were overwritten (“WAAY overwritten,” she said).

But much of what I removed I eventually put back. The clean, lean narrative she loved eliminated my voice. And, more importantly (which is an unnecessary explaining word), it blunted the characters, making their thoughts and ways of approaching the world hard to distinguish.

Bottom line? I can’t be a different writer than who I am. I have flaws—zillions of them—and I must work to overcome them. But in that process, I’m not going to erase my voice.

The good news? I spent time with some friends who are terrific writers and met some very talented folk, expanding my circle of writer colleagues.

 It’s always good to be among my people.

Have you ever been workshopped? What was it like? 

*Post-modern fiction is complex, but what makes me crazy is that is often non-linear in time, which hurts my brain.

*Ekphrasis is a work of art that is a representation of another work of art. Think “Ode to a Grecian Urn”. Feel free to use this word when around uppity writers. 


Gloria Alden said...

Carla, yes I was. The first time was as an older nontraditional student in college when I took an expository writing class. Up to that time I'd taken many English and literature classes beyond what my degree in elementary education called for me and always got A+ on all my papers.
So when the instructor passed out a paper with a selection of the first paragraphs of our papers to go over, I was feeling rather smug since many of them read like something a 8th grader would have written. Boring! While mine was rather humorous. The topic was the difference between formal and informal writing. Well, the class seemed to like mine, but then the professor tore it apart until I felt like sliding down under my desk. It didn't help that one of my former Girl Scouts was in my class. Later when I went to the professor about something else, he did apologize - sort of - saying he might have been a little harsh. I did get my usual A+ for the class and actually asked him to be my adviser when I went on for a Masters in English later when I was teaching. And as you may have noticed in my blogs, in most cases I still keep a touch of humor in my work. It's part of my voice and like you, I won't change that unless it's a rather somber subject.

carla said...

Gloria, never EVER lose your sense of humor!

Nancy said...

Carla--I liked two things in particular in your post. 1. that by making so many changes suggested by someone else, you can lose your voice. 2. that we shouldn't take every word spoken at a workshop/conference as the one and only way to do something. Like editors--it is one person's opinion. If you go to enough conferences, you learn to sift and sort and it appears you have done so. Enjoyed your post.

Sarah Henning said...

Carla, I think you're totally right about saving voice. When I'm editing for a client or critiquing for a critique partner, I'm very careful not to change someone's voice. And I've found it interesting over the years that some notes I get from beta readers can be ones that will change my style to something more similar to their own if I implemented them. I don't think they mean to do this, or to eliminate my voice, but it's clear we have different opinions on style, even if we enjoy reading each other's work.

Kara Cerise said...

I'm glad that you chose your voice, Carla. That's a good lesson for those of us in critique groups to remember. We need to be careful not to inadvertently change someone's voice or use so many suggestions that we lose our own voice.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Carla. I'm glad you were able to enjoy aspects of what overall must have been a disappointment. Hang onto your voice. So many of us appreciate hearing and reading it. Besides, look what happened to Ariel when she bargained with the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid. Not a good place to be!

Jim Jackson said...

It took me over a year in critique groups before I understood the difference between a critique that tries to change my style (not helpful) and one that suggests better techniques to enhance my style (very useful).

Often those trained in MFA programs have a style beaten into them that is dissimilar from my voice. (lyrical versus sparse). Because they have done so much critiquing in school, they are most sure of their critiques—and often they are almost useless to me.

But every so often these trained writers offer a gem and I need to recognize it. Often that realization comes after reflection.

I hope you find your experience was in the whole useful.

~ Jim

Susan O'Brien said...

Hi Carla! What a great, brave post. I completely agree with Nancy about "one person's opinion." I'm so glad you stuck with your voice.
When I was querying, I had many positive reactions to my letter -- and one rough critique from a book editor who offered to help. With genuine appreciation for her time and experience, I thought long and hard about what she said. It turned out her advice wasn't right for me except for one small tweak. In short, go with your gut! Best wishes!