Algonkian Results

Loyal blog followers, I am returned. I won’t go as far as to say I’ve returned triumphant, but I will say enlightened and reinvigorated.

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.

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About Dale Long

Writing ambushed me from the shadows. At first I pushed it aside as nonsense, but luckily my wife and two girls saw the potential. Since then I have had an article published by Metroland, placed as runner-up and in the top ten in humour writing contests and various other contests. The icing on the cake was placing as runner-up in the WCDR's Wicked Words contest (130 entries) and having my entry published in the contests anthology of the same name. My entry was an exerpt from my upcoming novel, Echoes.
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14 Responses to Algonkian Results

  1. Lisa Llamrei says:

    Sounds like a valuable experience. So glad you stuck it out and that you haven’t been discouraged. That would have been a real tragedy.

    • Dale Long says:

      I’m glad I stuck it out too. It was a humbling yet great experience. Saturday more than made up for Friday’s self-doubt. Great parting words of encouragement from Michael on sunday too.

  2. Ruth Walker says:

    I agree Lisa. The heart of Dale’s book Echoes pulses with intrigue, terror, humour and good old-fashioned weirdness. Persistence, Dale. And patience. Yeah, yeah, I know. But it is true. And even more importantly, you are bound to this tale, to tell it true and tell it well. Take the advice and feedback and hunker down. See what you have at the end of this next phase of your journey as a writer. We’ll all be here, waiting for you.

    • Dale Long says:

      I am doubly armed. Great advice from Algonkian and even better edits from an editor that truely gets this whole business (thanks Ruth).

      Yes, I am bound to this tale and as such I won’t rest until it is the best damn story it can be.

  3. Dale – I am green with envy. Yes, even envious of the hard knocks part. A seasoned writer is willing to hear even the hard stuff in order to hone their craft – so pat yourself on the back! So glad you toughed it out and I can’t wait to hear about it in more detail!

    • Dale Long says:

      It’s one thing to be willing to hear the hard stuff, it’s another thing entirely to actually hear it. Kinda knocked the wind out of me but our writing group is also a great support group and I think I’m smart enough to understand. I just needed time to recover and process the info. Time and a couple of rye and ginger ale’s 😉
      Time for some coffee talk.

  4. What a wonderful experience you had, Dale. And I’d be saying that even if you came home with narry a request for more material. The message here, deep in the core, is to believe in yourself and in your story. You know what gives your story its pulse, what stirs the beast and brings it to life. And when you shrugged off outside influences, reached deep and curled your fingers around the bits that spoke to you – you revealed the heart of the beast.

    Well done!

  5. Dave Jones says:

    I had butterflies in my stomach when I read your blog. (It may have been from riding a motorcycle with my mouth open- but I think not). It seemed proper that you were throwing around names like Random House and Penguin and not Sneaky Pete’s House of Publishin’.

    More power to you as you scale the peak of publishing.

  6. Sandra Lee Stewart says:

    I think the hard-thinking and questioning of our own skill as a writer hurt at first but was absolutely necessary to make our writing better all around. I too have a lot of work ahead of me but it’s ‘good’ work as I love to create. I’m actually looking forward to it, glutton for punishment that I am! Happy writing, Dale!

    • Dale Long says:

      Absolutely, Sandra! After the initial hurt, our eyes opened. I had lost the path, so to speak. Now, I have a headful of ideas and a clear direction.

      It was nice to meet you Sandra! I look forward to seeing you in print.

  7. Hi Dale!
    Thanks for putting our Algonkian experience into perspective. I am sure each of us felt we were slipping over the edge or the abyss a few times that weekend, but worth it? You bet! I, too, came home with two excellent requests, one from an agent and the other from an editor. And my supportive husband, whom you met, acts just as your wife and daughters do. It’s all good.

    • Dale Long says:

      Hi Elaine!
      It was a pleasure to meet you and your husband over the weekend. It was a good bunch of writers there. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one facing the abyss. I think it’s the sign of a good writer to be able do that and not give, but to learn and tocontinue on.
      Congrats on the requests! I look forward to seeing you in print!

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