Next Meeting

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May 11th- 14 Ways to Find More Writing Time (speakers Liza Garcia & Shirley Jump)
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June 8th- topic pending (speaker Ricko Donovan)
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July 13th- Facts, Rules, and Myths of Book Copyrights (speaker Gary "Dutch" Hinkle)
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Aug 10th- topic pending (speaker Heloise Jones)
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Sept 14th- topic pending (speaker Shana Smith)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Making the Perfect Pitch

Sands, Katharine. Making the Perfect Pitch: How To Catch a Literary Agent's Eye. Watson-Guptill, 2004.

Getting an agent is an effort almost as Herculean as writing a book in the first place. Constructing a query letter or developing a pitch requires an entirely different skill set than creative writing, whether it's a novel or non-fiction. It's no wonder that many beginning writers throw up their hands in despair. One book that can help is Katherine Sands's Making the Perfect Pitch. Although the subtitle is "How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye," it's not a how-to book, but a collection of essays by agents on what they look for in query letters.

This book is not for the easily discouraged. These agents are very blunt about the huge quantity of queries they receive, and what the means for the prospective writer trying to become a first-time author. It's easy to come away from the book feeling that if you don't have an MFA or an existing mass audience, you might as well not even bother. But there's plenty of encouragement as well.

Since it's not a how-to, you'll have to mine the chapters for the advice you need, but it's well worth spending the time to read each agent's advice. You'll find that some of the advice seems contradictory. One agent says that it's important to work the setting into a query letter for fiction; another says it's irrelevant. There's no single, magic formula. But if you study these chapters, you'll quickly discover the common elements that agents look for in queries... and in those who query. Agents aren't just looking for good writing--they're looking for good writing by people who understand that publishing is a business and who are willing to present themselves in a professional manner.

The bottom line: if you want to be published, you almost certainly need an agent. Making the Perfect Pitch can help you get an agent's attention.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Full Wolf Moon - KL Nappier (book review)

4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping story, November 18, 2008
(That's my title of the Amazon review. Yeah, I know, it's weak.)
I'm not a big fan of this genre, but when reading Full Wolf Moon I continually found myself up at night, in bed with the light on, reading instead of sleeping. I couldn't put it down. I enjoyed one of the main characters and one of the supporting characters the most, and understand that in the following book, Bitten, the supporting character I liked is going to play a more prominent role. If you like werewolf stories, this one is a good one. Unique and exciting.

*****

I met Kathy at Necronomicon 2008 in October, in St. Petersburg. I hope to have her speak to the group this coming year. She publishes both through a small local press, Aisling, and an e-book publisher out of Canada.

John

Sunday, November 16, 2008

FWA Conference Closing

The conference closed with C. Hope Clark delivering a great keynote address. Elliot Kleinberg gave the Saturday night one. Both were outstanding. I counted 9 St. Petersburg members in attendance! Everyone I talked to had a good experience, and I hope took away a lot of new information to help in their writing journey.

I enjoyed the last workshop I attended, although it meant I was once again rewriting the opening to my story. I think I'll stick with this new one, at least for now. I had a great time, met some wonderful people, and have a commitment from the founder of FWA to present to our St. Pete group next year. I hope we can make this coming year our best year ever. But before we get there, we have one final meeting this year, featuring Children's author Dianne Ochiltree from Sarasota. I hope to see many of you in attendance.

Later!
John

Our FWA Royal Palm Award Winners!

Our knight in shining armor, Sir John Ray, decked out in white suit, tie, socks and shoes took home 1st place in the Thriller (Unpublished) category Saturday night at the FWA Conference. Jackie Minniti hauled in 2nd place in the Woman's Fiction (Published) category. Congratulations to both of you and to all in our group who participated in this year's contest.

It's late, but the day went well and I met more exciting and interesting people, including one whose column on the internet I had read several months ago. Everyone has been helpful and friendly and after the long awards ceremony, ready to go home! One more morning and we'll be on our way.

See you soon,
John

Friday, November 14, 2008

FWA Conference 1st Day Thoughts

The first day is over for me. I couldn't stay for the completion of open-mic night. It was interesting, but I'm fighting a cold and retiring a bit early. The two presentations I attended were well done and interesting. I liked what I learned about writing scary stories, and found a wealth of information on marketing and promotion from Marcia Freespirit of Jimsaminc.

Feedback from others was also good, and attendance is the highest ever, so I sense a lot of joy from the organizers. A big thank you to them, as this was a monumental task.

My agent interview went well, too. I found if I could trim my novel, she'd be interested. Seeing as how it's not quite complete yet, that means I have less to write! But I recommend, if you have the chance, of talking to these types of people, if for no other reason than to get comfortable around them, realize they are just like you, and hopefully with additional face time they may get to know you. As I read on one site, one of the keys to success is Contacts! So don't be afraid to make them.

All for now,

John

FWA Conference Opens

It's Friday morning and the beginning of the conference. I'll be sending updates and impressions as the weekend goes on, so that those who couldn't make it can find out what I think about it. I won't compare it to last weekend, when I attended Donald Maass's High Tension Workshop. That wouldn't be fair. But I will have an entry about that (along with a pic with Don) after this weekend. That one was excellent and well worth the money.

I did find out that going through Tampa at 6pm on a weeknight is not the best way to spend your time. From Pinellas it took me an hour to get near the I-4 interchange! I finally made it here after 3 hours on the road, though once I hit I-4 it was smooth sailing. There was a well-placed rest stop on the way.

Stay tuned...

John

Monday, November 10, 2008

Scene & Structure

Bickham, Jack M. Scene & Structure. Writer's Digest Books, 1993.

Last month, when I recommended Techniques of the Selling Writer, I mentioned that the book is quite dense. Swain provides so much information on so many components of modern fiction that it can be difficult to tease out the individual strands of advice and apply them. I especially wanted a deeper look at the "scene and sequel" technique he presents. I found it in Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure.

Bickham, a student of Swain's, begins with an analysis of the structure of modern fiction. He dispels the myth that "structure" requires a formula or particular format. Instead, structure is a method of organizing a story "in a way that's both logical and dramatic." The rest of the book is devoted to demonstrating that definition.

Many writers struggle with how to begin and end their stories, so Bickham tackles that problem first. A story should start, "at the time of change that threatens your major character's self-concept." That threat generates the protagonist's story goal: the one thing she must accomplish in order to end the threat: "Sarah must find her lost child," for example. The story goal turns into a yes-or-no story question in the reader's mind: "Will Sarah find her lost child?" The story ends when that question is answered.

So what goes in the middle?

To answer that question, Bickham zooms in to focus on "Structure in Microcosm: Cause and Effect." In order to make sense to the reader, a story must present its events in a logical sequence: cause precedes effect. That's easy to see on the macroscopic scale. In a mystery, the crime must occur before the detective has anything to investigate. But it's also true on an almost line-by-line level in a story. Characters experience an event (stimulus), consider what to do (internalization) and act (response). Granted, the pattern doesn't always hold: if someone points a gun at your character, internalization vanishes in favor of an immediate reaction. But in general, this pattern of stimulus-internalization-response is necessary to hold the reader's attention and interest.

Bickham turns next to the macroscopic versions of cause and effect: scenes and sequels. The scene is an action unit in which the point of view character strives to attain a specific, short-term goal that leads to the story goal. Conflict leades to failure: Sometimes the goal is blocked entirely (No!), sometimes the goal is blocked until another goal is achieved (No, but...), and sometimes the goal is blocked and another setback is inflicted (No, and furthermore...). The reader keeps turning pages, wondering how the character will deal with this disaster and what he'll do next.

The character wonders, too, and that's where sequel comes in. Sequels tie scenes together by providing a period of introspection (internalization) during which the character can review the situation, analyze options, and decide what to do next. Sequels can be as long or short as necessary: in a thriller, sequels are often so short as to be nearly non-existent; in other forms of fiction, they can last for pages. But the sequel allows the character to determine a new short-term goal, which becomes the starting point of the next scene.

Bickham offers further advice on using scenes and sequels to control the pace of a novel, varying the internal structure of these components, dealing with common scene errors, and using scene and sequel to plot a novel. If, like me, you prefer to work from an outline, this advice will be particularly valuable. If you don't like outlines, you'll still find Bickham's advice useful, because you'll need to keep the story structure in mind as you write or revise.

Like Swain, Bickham is primarily concerned with popular or commercial rather than literary fiction. However, if the latter is what you want to write, this book is still worth reading. Structure is like the frame of a house: whether you're building a Colonial mansion or a shotgun shack, you'll still need walls and a roof. Whether you're writing a deeply literary character study or a pulse-pounding thriller, you'll still need scenes and sequels. Let Jack Bickham show you how to build them.