About My Last Workshop

Another installment….

When the book is published (I’ve decided to take an optimistic view), lots of teachers and students from Hopkins will be able to say that they helped me. I’d entered the program to work on Bad Luck Companion and I could imagine the completed manuscript now, an important step (Now I think that it’s essential) in the writing process. I just had to finish the work.

It’s a funny thing how you can get swept away by different projects though. After this workshop, I had a semester to work on my thesis which I’ll talk about later. Then, after graduation, I decided to transfer my diary entries about school into the manuscript, Surviving a Graduate Writing Program. Before I knew it, November was upon me and I decided to take the 50,000 word challenge. That’s the year that I drafted The Terrifying Miss Bascom. I’ve made major revisions to that book four times and I’m just getting ready to send the book out again after incorporating my Sewanee revisons (plus other ideas). I actually did send it to some agents last year but it was obvious from their comments that it needed more work. I have another book that only needs a little more revision. But have I finished Bad Luck Companion? Nope. I wonder if other people get swept away like I do? I did participate in Nanowrimo three out of the last four years because it’s so much fun but I also do think it’s a good idea to have two projects going simultaneously because if you get a little stale, you can switch to the other project for a while. I guess I’ll get back to Companion next summer! Back to 2006!

During the semester, I also wrote two short stories that I workshopped. The first one was the product of an online conversation that I’d had with my friend Cyndi (Italy Workshop) about twisting a love story to another purpose. The story was about a serial killer stalking his victims which eventually morphed into a story about a man erroneously suspecting that someone he’s just met is a serial killer. I thought that it might be a good idea to publish some mystery genre stories to help pave the way for marketing my mysteries so I decided to workshop the story.

They didn’t like the beginning segments about the killer reading about his acts in the newspaper. The introduction was heavy-handed. They also weren’t sure how to react to a genre story. My teacher asked me why I was always killing people! I didn’t have an answer for him.

None of the mystery writers that I’ve met have been morose or unduly depressed except for a man I once met who wrote mysteries about child abusers. I couldn’t even make it through his book. The other mystery writers that I’ve met were the glass-half-full type who like to play with the puzzles. Many of them would make good grandparents, a wholesome bunch. The lure of mysteries is the riddle or setting up the riddle so a reader doesn’t find out who the killer is too soon and it makes sense to her when she does!

During my semester with this teacher who was great by the way, I also took a mystery workshop at the Bethesda Writing Center. I didn’t tell the folks at school about those Saturday sessions. It was foolish to stretch myself so thin but I’d been trying to register for the class for years and was finally successful that fall. I’m glad that I did. The teacher has since retired and I’m not sure that anyone could ever replace her, she was so open and knowledgeable about the genre. She gave me some great tips about how to improve my books, tips you can only receive from a successful author who knows the market and steered me clear of some comments from the class that could have tied me up for months.

I’ve always imagined that I wouldn’t confine my writing to one genre, that I would enjoy writing mysteries as well as “literary” novels. Keeping my options open, still appeals to me. 


About marystojak

Mary Stojak has published numerous short stories, her latest will be published September 28th in Mystery Weekly.
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