October 17, 2009

Rewrites Used to Be Fun posted by Leann Sweeney For the first time in seven books, I met face-to-face with my editor to go over her take on my latest cat mystery--the first draft I'd sent to her two weeks before. I've met with her in person, once at a conference and once just for a nice lunch and visit. I adore her and love meeting with her. She seemed nervous. I was not. My writing group is tough, I've grown alligator skin and I figured I knew what she was going to say anyway. For the most part, I was correct. She's got a good sense for the overall "feel" of a book and she found this one reflected a little too much on the author's problems. The author is me, of course. And yes, it's been another rough year, health-wise. I keep waking up and thinking the fibro and the Lyme and the fatigue will suddenly disappear. It just never does. "Make your heroine nicer. Make the book funnier. And I'd love to see what the characters are wearing and what they look like," she told me. None of this is any different than what I'd heard before and is usually pretty easy to fix. So I began rewrites as soon as I returned from my trip to NYC. But I was unprepared for the comments on the page. Many, many, many comments. And for the first time they stung. I felt as if I'd written a piece of junk even though she'd told me the plot was very solid, very clear and that she had no problems with it. But the voice talking to me through those little "comment balloons" seemed so critical. I felt awful. What used to be the best part of writing had suddenly turned into a bashing that hurt. But this was much more about me than anything she said straight to me or on the page. I've noticed that I've become hyper-sensitive lately. All my husband has to do is look at me a certain way, and I start crying. My granddaughter's birthday was this past weekend and not being there in person made me cry, too,even though we Skyped in to watch her open her gifts. But I wasn't completely aware of how affected I was until I had writer's group and brought a revised chapter with my nicer heroine who just isn't as funny as she should be. "Make this funnier" is not a good suggestion. At least for me, that means it will be less funny than ever before. Anyway, my group tore that particular chapter apart. If I had been unaware of a crisis of confidence before, it all came out on Tuesday night. Five times while I was receiving criticism, I almost cried. I never cry at writer's group. I love it. But not this week. But as Yogi Berra would say, this was deja vous all over again. It made me think of all the rejections I used to get. I'd cry when I got one--no, weep is a better word--and the next day, I would wake up mad as hell. And determined. I spent all day Wednesday determined to make that chapter the best one in the book. Then I sent it to one of my critique partners. She loved the rewrite. Thought I'd fixed every problem and done an excellent job. Whew. I guess why I'm writing about this because those early experiences--no matter what they were about, be it writing, or mothering or learning how to quilt--have value that I sometimes forget or take for granted. I needed to be reminded what hard work writing is, that perhaps these crying spells are related to stress and insecurity. And that I have no reason to be insecure. Oops, sorry. I do have a reason. I'm a writer.
CONFERENCES Posted by Sheila Connolly When you read this, if all goes as planned I will have returned, bleary-eyed and spent, from my second foray to Bouchercon, perhaps the biggest of the mystery conferences. It’s a heady experience that goes on for days. There are panels with authors you have worshipped from afar (hey, I’m on a panel—worshippers welcome!). There are publishers’ parties. And there are many lunches and drinks and dinners with friends who you get to see only once or twice a year at events like this. B’con is big. Really big, like two thousand people, many of whom are authors. The rest are agents, editors, publishers, and readers. Imagine that many people crammed into a single hotel, reeling madly from one room to another (those who don’t stop in the middle of the flow to greet a long-lost friend, thereby creating a monumental traffic jam). No light, no air, sparse food, but oh, the energy generated by so many talented people in one place! As it happens, I’m on the committee managing the New England Crime Bake, an annual conference produced jointly by the local chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. This is a very different event. For a start, it’s about one-tenth the size of B’con. (I have the greatest admiration for those stalwart people who put together B’con—and I don’t want to join them!) This points up a difference in conference philosophy: large or small? What are the pros and cons? I have found that the writers community is welcoming, supportive—and a heck of a lot of fun. But not every writer wants to throw him- or herself into a vast maelstrom of people. It’s daunting, it’s stressful, and it can be overwhelming. If you don’t pace yourself, you may find you want to crawl back to your hotel room, get in bed and pull the covers over your head. Except that you have three roommates, because you have to keep the cost down. Maybe you don’t like to drink alcohol, and all the interesting people seem to be clustered in the bar. Maybe you get completely tongue-tied when you find yourself in front of a Major Author, and slink away in embarrassment. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. On the other hand, in a small conference you can actually talk to people, who don’t all seem to be rushing off to meet someone else at the other end of the vast convention hotel. You can find them. There are fewer panels and seminars—but that means less agonizing about which one you really, really want to attend. This year’s registration for Crime Bake has been unusual and interesting. For one thing, in a year when some conferences have been cancelled for lack of interest, Crime Bake has topped all previous numbers for its eight years. For another, half of the people are first-time attendees. It makes sense: better to get your feet wet at a small conference, if you’re a new or aspiring writer. But whatever the reason, it’s heartwarming to see so much enthusiasm for this conference. But this “success” raises a question: do we want to grow, or do we want to keep the event intimate? Everyone has been happily surprised this year, but we have to make decisions about hotel space almost immediately. Is this year a fluke, or does it signal a trend? Whatever the reason, it’s a good conference. And so is Bouchercon. They have different goals and meet different needs. And if you’re trying to become a writer, or if you simply love being around writers, and you can afford it, try to go to conferences. They’re worth it!

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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