Gardner’s October Light

Okay, so I’m trying to ease myself out of the doldrums I’ve been in all month and doing my usual reading about writing and my to-read list. If you’ve read John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction then you probably know that he was a famous writing teacher. Art was written for beginning writers but it has some great points or reminders for everyone, just skip over the parts about talent. Those passages always make me want to throw the book across the room and I have an old copy that must be coddled so I try not to look.

The book from my to-read list is one of Gardner’s, called October Light. I haven’t finished the book yet because like my writing, I stop and then I go and then I stop again. I’ll be glad when this phase passes. My little note to you today is about the fascinating introduction by Tom Bissell in the New Directions edition (2005) where he discusses how popular Gardner and others were during their peak and how Gardner’s books are mainly read by writers today.

Will we also conquer the mountain and later become passe? Some egos I’ve met would never be able to withstand the fall but I don’t think Gardner would have splattered on the pavement. His view of the world was very opinionated (like most writers) yet he had a certain contrariness that I think would have made his writing evolve whether he wanted it to or not. We’ll never know for sure since he died at age 49 in a motorcycle accident.

When someone stops writing (I guess we could say, he had the best reason), the remembrance of a person or an era, or maybe even that corner store where the author’s mother sent them to buy milk, is gone.  That’s a good enough reason to keep writing even if you never make it to the top of your own personal mountain. More later on October Light which is available at,, and many other places.

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Down But Not Out

I see that my followers on Twitter (which is how I usually judge what’s happening) have been a small but steady group in my absence. The family issues I mentioned earlier became much more serious at the end of November. No matter how old your mother is, I imagine no one is ready to say goodbye.  I’m a bit of an old fart and my mother was pretty old, eighty-eight, when she passed away.  I know I will just have to live through feeling bad but its pretty tough right now and writing, almost impossible. This actually is my first little trip back into the writing world. So I’ll write a little bit a day and we’ll see how it goes. I will try not to become too moribund.

Happy Holidays to everyone and remember to listen to those funny quips from your relatives or the all too often told sagas that might contain the seed of a great story!   

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Well. this has been a strange month and may have even more disrruptions coming! People in and out of the hospital – ruffled feathers- not a good month for writing! To add to the jumble, I picked up a nasty flu at the conference. It has been hard to be out and about without hearing someone cough and now it’s me! But Nanowriters pull themselves up and see what can be done and that’s what I’ll be doing today. Having literally been asleep for almost a week, I’m fresh and ready to go and also with a clear head, it’s time to reassess what I expect to do over the next couple of months. Finishing projects is always a good idea but which project? The answer is probably the YA/middlegrade project. So we shall see how that goes in December – maybe into January. And I still haven’t decided which conference to go to Chicago or New York. Conundrums! I should decide soon. Back to writing!

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Tri-Regional SCBWI

Wow! This was a great conference – congratulations to the Western PA, Eastern PA, and Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) for the wonderful conference. I do hope that other regions will give this a try because it was so much fun meeting everyone from Pennsylvania. Would really like to attend some other regional events! 


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Tri-Regional SCBWI

Patricia MacLachlan was inspiring, witty, amazing. If you ever have a chance to see her in person you won’t want to miss her. She’s personable and charming in addition to being a great writer and very generous with her insights into writing – I guess you could say the perfect keynote speaker. In fact, I haven’t gone to a workshop or heard a speaker that wasn’t well worth the trip to Gettysburg. John Rudolph, well let’s just say that I didn’t like him and leave it at that. As usual though, I always get ideas when I’m around writers so I know where to begin on my middle grade/YA novel when I start revisions after Nanowrimo.

Let’s not forget Jim Murphy, the Rodney Dangerfield of writing who was the keynote speaker on Saturday. People are still talking about his story about when he took a bunch of book manuscripts out to the garbage truck and had no other copies.  Everybody loved him.

First pages and first looks with a panel of illustrator/editors reviewing first pages and illustrations. That is one of best looks at how first pages/first impressions that I’ve ever heard and an especially great help in understanding how my own book should start. Let’s not forget Sarah Davies an agent from the D.C. area who obviously knows a lot about the craft of writing and I think my favorite, Marcia Wernick who also spent a lot of time on beginnings in her workshop session although Lin Oliver is up this morning and she may win out over Marcia. She definitely did win out over some pretty amazing authors last winter when I attended the national SCBWI meeting in New York.

All in all – except for the strange session with John Rudolph – extremely helpful and fun conference. I love all the SCBWI organizers – they go to great lengths to make everyone at home and I especially love meeting new writing friends.

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SCBWI Tri-Regional Gettysburg Conference

I’ve been to SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) regional conferences and local events before in addition to the National Conference last January in New York. I’m anxious to see how this one will play out. They have three agents attending plus an assortment of published authors and editors. Tomorrow, I have a critique meeting with John Rudolph from Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. You only get to submit ten pages and I’m woefully aware that my beginning could be much stronger for my formerly YA novel that I now believe is a middle-grade novel. I did do some research on-line and this agent does seem to be a good fit for me so wish me luck. Sarah Davies  of Greenhouse Literary Agency and Marcia Wernick of the Wernick & Pratt Agency are also attending.

It was a bit of a stretch making it up to Gettysburg for the Friday nite session but I know that even though I have several agents that have told me they would like to see Sir Gawain of Baltimore when I’m ready, you never know who might be the best fit and there’s no telling if they will like the book when they read it! I am confident that someone will take it on since it is very original and fits well into a fantasy/science fiction type of category that seems to do well these days. I also have the second book in the series drafted. But when these opportunities do come up and I’m not absolutely ready to submit the book ( I did just finish my year long revision of my literary/mainstream novel – Infidelity) I worry that my timing is going to get me into trouble. I don’t like the idea that I might be burning bridges because I won’t be able to send out the manuscript until mid-December because now of course, I’m in the middle of drafting a new novel during Nanowrimo!

I will hold on to this manuscript until I’m really ready to have them look at the book. I think I sent out Infidelity too soon when I did a preliminary test last year to see if people would be responsive to the book.  We shall see!

Tonight is the agents panel which may be useful. That’s why I drove up today so I’ll give you a report on that tomorrow.

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Self-promotion does seem to be the key to success, that and a lot of luck, and maybe even just some common sense. I’m currently working on a mystery and even though it would be great to see it in print, I would also have no problem offering it for $.99 on Amazon.

I actually do have some marketing experience and it’s not hard to see that there’s a great opportunity for volume in e-book publishing that can make it worthwhile. That makes it very different than the vanity publishing of the past. The trick is to discover the pricepoint where you can optimize your earnings. Personally, I don’t mind taking a chance on a book that doesn’t cost that much – guess that’s why I also like Ukazoo! That’s a great bookstore in our area with lots of used books. So, kind of interesting!

In some of our local writing groups and some national conferences I’ve attended we’ve talked a lot about establishing a platform, that’s kind of a name-recognition, getting people to know you type of thing. Lots of folks suggest a blog like this one, a web-site, being involved in different groups. I had a story published in a local anthology a couple of years ago and volunteered to read at a bunch of different places. I was very surprised when a lady who was complimenting me on a story that I read at a craft festival (wasn’t even the story in the anthology) said that she’d heard of me! Guess that’s one way to get some name recognition. I’ve also belonged to the Maryland Writers Association for a long time and now I’m in AWP (Associated Writers Programs) and the SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) in which I’ve been fairly active. All of these activities are something that you can do now instead of waiting for your book to be published by you or someone else.

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