I have the Dave Jones interview completed. I just have to clean it up before I post it. Also Sandra Clarke will follow. I’ve decided that the Author’s Voice entries should be monthly even though there is now a backlog of writers willing to let me rake them over the coals to extract little bits of humour and wisdom, not necessarily in that order.
But enough shop talk, I know you are all wondering what happened at the Algonkian Niagara Writers Conference. Well, there were mass ritual sacrifices, flailings and… ok, you got me, there were no sacrifices. Please excuse my writerly inclinations.
Seriously now, it was an eye-opener. If all new writers were made to run this gamut, the bookstores would be overflowing with excellent books. That said, it is not for the weak of heart. Some of the suggestions, when taken literally and viewed through the eyes of someone that feels their book is the best one written in forever, can set a green writer back.
I think the key was to be able to accept that they were made in an effort to fire-proof the first novel, made in an effort to get the absolute best out of the author, made to make you see your book from a different angle.
For me it was a gut check. I will be the first to admit that Friday I was questioning my skill. The door was open and I could see the parking lot. I thought I was equipped to handle suggested change. I had prepared myself for it, in fact, but like all writers, I still had that sparkly vision that my novel would be snatched up as brilliant. Thankfully, my wife and girls came along for the trip. “We want to be there if you get snatched up by an agent or if you get shot down.” They had faith in me. When I came back to the room I felt I had nothing to pitch to the editors and agents, my story lay in pieces at my feet. My wife told me, “you’re a fighter. You’ve always accomplished what you were told you couldn’t do, just to prove a point. Now go re-write your pitch.”
I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by family and other writers that believe in me, that see something in my writing that I don’t always see.
In the hotel lounge, my second support group arrived in the forms of Sue Reynolds and Deepam Wadds. Together, Sue and Deepam helped calm me down and rebuild a pitch even if I felt in my heart the story was gutted of the spark I built it around.
The end result? I pitched the new version but when it didn’t elicit interest, I fell back on what the story was originally based on and the research involved therein. The more I pitched, the more I could see where the interest lay, the more comfortable I felt and the clearer my vision of the story’s direction became.
The agent wants to see the first 50pages. He called it a high concept and loved the history and fable elements modernized. The editor loved it. He asked for the full manuscript. The icing on the cake? A second agent asked for my Christmas story. Again, there is no guarantee here. My writing has to be strong, the story clear and they have to like it. But it is a whole lot closer than I was before.
What did I learn? In looking back on the lectures, the pitch work-shopping, the wonderful speakers – authors Terry Fallis and Barbara Kyle, and agents Sam Hiyate and Ali Mcdonald – I saw the brilliance of what Michael Neff was doing. He was making us aware of the pitfalls, the sometimes narrow view the publishing industry takes and he was trying to make our pitches bombproof. In the process, like I mentioned before, he made us look at our novels from a different angle. Maybe his angle wasn’t always exactly the right angle but he never claimed it was and he was never malicious in his comments. The key was to make us see, to take our blinders off, be passionate and confident and above all be open to change. Make the story strong first and foremost.
So for a story (Echoes) that was described over the weekend as Urban Fantasy, Psychological Thriller and even Literary Horror, I came away with the knowledge that it just wasn’t yet ready for prime time. I have a lot of work to do but I have a clear view of where I’m going.
Thank-you Michael, Gail and Lois for helping me clear that hurdle. I know there will be many more, but this one allowed me to get past the sparkle and dive deep into the gritty work of rewrites. And thank-you to Tom Colgan of Penguin Books, Caitlin Alexander of Random House and Anna DeVries of Scribner for being open, gracious and doing their utmost to dispell the myth that Publishers and Editors are akin to the giant head from Wizard of Oz.
My eyes were now open, truly open.