What I look for in a manuscript critique

Writing is a lonely business. A critique group is the writer’s way to connect to others, to get feedback and discuss your characters as if they were real, without your sanity being questioned.

It takes courage to bring your manuscript to other people’s attention, even more so to receive their critiques with an open mind, without taking them as a personal attack and becoming defensive.

Yes, you love your story and you want everybody to love it too. But it’s rare the story that cannot be improved in a rewrite. The comments of other writers that see your work for the first time and come to it from different perspectives could be an invaluable help in creating a stronger piece.

This does not mean you must take all the advice offered. In fact, it may be impossible to do so, because sometimes the changes suggested by different members contradict each other. But if the majority agrees on some point, you may want to reconsider and change that particular part.

A negative critique can be overwhelming, especially for new writers. For me, the best critique is one that is balanced, one that offers both a positive evaluation and a carefully worded statement of the work weaknesses.

I like positive comments not only because I need praise, who doesn’t?, but because it is as important for me to know what is working in my story than what it’s not. A critique that only states what doesn’t work let me wondering whether there is anything at all I should leave as is, or, even worse, whether it’s worth to tell this story in the first place.

That is why I do not take a manuscript to be critiqued until I have a detailed outline and I know where I’m going with it. Too many opinions, especially negative ones, when the story is still a seed in my mind will break it for me. I take it when I have a first draft and want other people’s opinions to consider and incorporate, if I think them appropriate, in my next draft.

On the other extreme, if you believe your story is perfect as it is, don’t bring it to a critique group, as you will probably resent any suggestions for change. If you think it is ready, send it to an agent/publisher instead.

Carmen Ferreiro Esteban

Good writers borrow, great writers steal. T.S. Eliot

Vampires, angels, zombies and fairies have invaded the shelves in the teen section of the bookstores these days.

As a writer of Young Adult novels, I have read my share of them, and enjoyed reading them well enough, while calling it research. But after a while they all started to blend in my mind. The good guys were always young and beautiful, the bad ones, still young, but ugly. And not being either young or beautiful myself, this started to bother me.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to have a wicked and wise older woman as the protagonist? Something like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer with the mother as the slayer?

After bouncing the idea in my mind for several days, I presented it to my friends and fellow bloggers. They both liked the idea and even volunteer to co-author my story. Then, Mary Fran went to the bookstore and found a book which she thought had stolen our idea, and panicked. Wouldn’t we be copying if we wrote ours now?

I told her,”No, of course not. My story is different.” How could it not be when I had not read those other books?

It was only later that I remembered a surrealistic moment I experienced last year when reading Diane Gabaldon’s novel Outlander.

Both, Outlander and my young adult novel Two Moon Princess, involve time travel.

In Outlander, a nurse from 1945 England travels to XVIII century Scotland where she falls in love with a native.

In Two Moon Princess, a girl from medieval Spain travels to modern day California and then back to her world with the American boy she fancies.

But that is all they have in common, the time travel part. The story line, characters, voice and intended audience are totally different.

Yet, when I reached the last sentence in Outlander, I almost dropped the book. The sentence paraphrased eerily close the last sentence in Two Moon Princess. How could that be possible? I hadn’t read this book when I wrote mine.

So, maybe Mary Fran is right. Maybe my vampire book will not be totally original. But that won’t stop me from writing it. After all, according to Plato, there are only six basic plots, so any story we may tell has been told thousands of times already in a slightly different way.

We, writers are like children playing with dolls, dressing them with a new outfit and making them look new every day. And as long as we have fun doing it, why should we stop?

As I did in my previous blog ‘Rejecting Rejection’, I’m going to give you two sentences.—the two endings I mentioned above—and ask that you leave a comment telling me which one you prefer and why.

Please do, you’ll make my day.

#1. “And the world was all around us, new with possibility.”
#2. “Around us, the New World stood still, waiting.”

And in case you wonder which one was mine in the Rejecting Rejection blog, the answer is # 1.

So, congratulations to the winners. Oops, I said there will be no winners. So, I rectify congratulations to everybody that left a comment, and thanks so very much.

Carmen Ferreiro Esteban

If you are intrigued by the premise of my middle aged mom vampire story and want to read the first chapters, please go to  http://carmenferreiroesteban.wordpress.com

Shhh! I’m in the Library!

Yesterday, I went to the library.   Even as I write the words, it almost sounds quaint, as though I were writing a period piece.

With the advent of the internet and computers, libraries, with their stacks of dust collecting books, can seem antiquated to the casual observer.  After all, who wants to spend time wandering through aisles, paging through books, when the world is a few key taps away on a computer?

Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I couldn’t live without my laptop.  To be able to access all of the information available on the internet is a wonder indeed. But—and tell the truth now—how many times have you hopefully tapped a term into a search box, eagerly anticipating the answer to a burning question, only to spend the next half hour clicking through links, none of which was helpful?

Enter the ever-faithful library.   In the past few months, I’ve checked out books on writing, publishers and literary agents.  And though I didn’t always find exactly what I was looking for, I unearthed enough information to allow me to return to my computer and quickly find what I needed.

For some reason, to my mind, there’s still nothing like holding a book in hand, especially if it’s a reference book.  Being able to return to particular pages that I’ve marked with a sticky note is not only comforting to me, frankly, sometimes it’s just simpler, especially when I’m a dozen clicks away from the page on which I thought I saw something that interested me, but I forgot exactly where it was on my internet journey.

Granted, you may not find up to the minute information at your local library, but do yourself a favor and see if your local branch stocks books like Writer’s Market along with other writing/publishing references.  The info in the books changes regularly and most must be purchased; you can’t access the information online for free.  Borrowing a copy from the library saves money and allows you access to multiple sources.  Even if your library doesn’t have the latest version of the book, again, you’ll have access to some great information which you can then refine with a computer search.

On another note, most libraries have computer access.  You can use a library computer or bring your own laptop.  Take a few hours and work a plan to investigate publishers, literary agents or sources to send your writing.   Start with the reference books, then hit the library computer system to clarify info and develop a mailing or query list.  In addition, the library atmosphere will help keep you focused and on track.

In an age when instant information is all the rage, sometimes the key to getting things done is to simplify.  In that case, nothing beats a good reference book and the quiet, industrious atmosphere of an old-fashioned library.

Visit Mary Fran Bontempo at her website at www.maryfranbontempo.com.

Springtime Thaw on March 20

Bears aren’t the only warm-blooded animals to hibernate. It seems to me, after the Christmas holidays, my world goes into a short state of  hibernation.  Now some of it is of my doing—enjoying the cold weather, gray skies and fluffy, white stuff less and less as I get just a bit older. But some of it, for sure, is set into action by others. There are just these inactive periods when emails don’t get where they’re going, connections get lost because of winter sniffles, aches and pains, and the frenetic activity of ordinary days is lost, as the world slowly arises from its holiday slumber. At this time of the year, my world is the polar opposite of a great sports car—-it goes from 60 to 0 in an instant. Or so it seems.

So, not surprisingly then, our publishing seminar—-the really wonderfully attended event produced by MaryFran Bontempo, Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban and myself, has also gone into hibernation, and somehow that email to sign up for the spring semester, never arrived—-in any of our inboxes. So, just a little plug as we wind up once again to empower ourselves and others to get out there and ‘just do it’, we will in fact be offering another publishing seminar on Saturday, March 20th, from 10am-noon, somewhere in Central Bucks. As soon as we are assigned a location, we’ll let you know. And we promise to come, packing even more of experiences gained from the writer’s life with us.

Check the website for details as the date gets closer: https://www.cbcsonline.com/start_cbcs.taf.

Chrysa

Wrapping It Up

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? Wrapping it up seems like a good headline to sum up this seasonal time of wrapping presents, wrapping up projects, wrapping up another 365 days. 

So, let me leave you with a bit of end-of-year news and wisdom.

1. Book signings are tough. Without celebrity status or an incredibly long list of devoted friends and family members, book signings can be excruciatingly lonely, boring and disappointing. So, instead, why not come up with a way your knowledge can help others? A talk, a seminar, a workshop is much more rewarding and often a better use of time. When you offer people something, you always gets more in return.

2. Keep the most important things, the most important in your life. It’s easy to lose yourself in all the flurry of activity that writing and publishing books bring with it. But every so often, life comes along and smacks us in the face with the realities of how we spend our time, and sometimes a lesson on how we should.  A child leaves for school, a husband struggles in a business, a parent passes away, a friend becomes ill, couples get divorced, families with kids at home become empty-nesters. These life passages seem to run faster all the time, leaving us square in the path of the cliche, where has all the time gone? Lesson learned: time goes by quickly—-make sure you’re making time for what is truly important in your life.

3. Trust in yourself. Know when to listen to the outer and inner critics. Some are valid; some are not. If instinct tells you to keep plugging, keep plugging. Myriads of editors, publishers, agents and others have been proven wrong over the ages. Proper persistence often pays off.

4. Enjoy the journey. You never know where writing is going to take you. It has taken me to places I’ve never been—introduced me to people I would have never met—exposed me to topics I would never have known anything about. It’s a journey, not a marathon. Plan to enjoy it. If you don’t, take some time to think about your path. Maybe it needs tweaking or a complete makeover. Either way, it’s progress toward where you should ultimately be.

Whatever your genre, whatever your denomination, whatever your status in life—-enjoy this wintery, slow-down of life—this pause to reflect on what is truly important in this life, and focus yourself once again for another 365 days of lessons to wrap, unwrap and maybe even re-gift.

Chrysa Smith

Signed Books–The Perfect Gift!

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It’s hard to believe (and somewhat cringe-inducing, I know), but the holiday season is almost upon us and with that comes the dreaded buying of the gifts.

Hard as I try to maintain some Christmas spirit while searching for just the right thing to please my loved ones, the truth is that most of the time, I end up grumbling and muttering to myself while I wander aimlessly around countless department stores for hours on end, frequently coming home empty-handed.

If your search for holiday cheer leaves you feeling more like the Grinch than Clark Griswold, I may have a solution.

On November 27th, from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M., five local authors, including yours truly, Carmen Ferreiro Esteban, Chrysa Smith, Suzanne Zoglio and Sandy Cody, will bring their delightful works to the Doylestown Bookshop to ring in the holiday season in a Home for the Holidays celebration.

Signed books make thoughtful, inexpensive and personal gifts and the authors you’ll meet have scripted works for everyone on your Christmas list.

Each author targets a different audience with her work. For younger readers, The Poodle Posse series, penned by Smith, details the antics of three cuddly canines as they share their days with their loving but occasionally confused owner, Mrs. Flout. Young adults will enjoy Two Moon Princess, written by Ferreiro Esteban, which tells the fantastical story of a discontented medieval princess, eager to live life on her own terms, who lands in modern day California.

In Everyday Adventures, Or, As My Husband Says, “Lies, Lies and More Lies”, I laugh my way through the trials and tribulations of modern day womanhood, taking the reader along for the ride. Sandy Cody authors the Jennie Connors mystery series, Put Out the Light, Consider the Lilly and By Whose Hand, which explore the challenges facing a single mother as she learns to balance independence with family and career responsibilities. And Suzanne Zoglio will help both women and men Recharge in Minutes as she describes 101 ways to refuel any time/any place and how to Create A Life That Tickles Your Soul .

This year more than ever, we’re all in need of some good cheer. So get a jump on holiday shopping, find the perfect gift and do join us at the Doylestown Bookshop to say “Hello.” We’d love to meet you and start your holiday season off right. See you there!

Mary Fran Bontempo

Rejecting Rejection

Let’s start with the obvious: Editors and agents are people. They come in all shapes and sizes and have different tastes. Their likes and dislikes are their own. Their rejection of your manuscript does not reflect on your writing, but in their inability to fall in love with it.

Agents and editors are flooded with submissions. They have the prerogative of being selective. They will only represent the stories they love.  

And that is their right.

Yours is to keep looking for the agent/editor that will fall in love with yours.

So keep that rejection letter in perspective. Don’t throw the manuscript away, but send it again. Because what one editor/agent hates, another will love. You just have to find the right one.

You don’t believe me?

Let’s do an exercise.

Here are two versions of a description of a lake up in the mountains of Spain, a setting in a young adult novel I’m working on.

One of the versions is mine (not necessarily number one). The other is a rewrite from a person in my critique group.

Once you have read them, please, leave a comment saying which one you like best.

There is not right or wrong answer. If you choose the one I wrote, I’ll be pleased. If you choose the other, you’ll prove my point: not everyone has the same taste. And its corollary: not everyone will love your writing.

And that is okay. Who would want to go to a party where every one is wearing the same dress?

Version #1

The water was black like the boy had said. Black and still, like a piece of night fallen to earth. A perfect circle from where I stood at the edge of the ridge: a full black moon trapped in the mountains.

Version #2

Black and still, like a piece of night fallen to earth, the lake formed a perfect circle from where I stood at the edge of the ridge: a full black moon trapped in the mountains.

Carmen Ferreiro Esteban

Three Women. Three Authors. Three Different Approaches to Publishing

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I met Chrysa Smith at a book signing. We shared space and a blanket as the event was outside and the Pennsylvania weather unseasonably cold. In between talking with readers, we exchanged tips about writing and marketing and also our cards.

Mary Fran Bontempo I met later, a hot summer day at a Craft Fair. Together with Chrysa, we shared a tent and a good laugh or two, and by the end of the day, we were friends.

What we three had in common was a love of writing, and the determination to have our books known.

We had come to have our books in print by three different venues. I published my young adult novel Two Moon Princess through a traditional publisher. Chrysa self published hers, The Adventures of the Poodle Posse, for early readers. And Mary Fran used print on demand for Everyday Adventures a recompilation of her newspapers columns where she humorously ruminates about life.

As we talked with people that stopped by our tent, we came to realize that many would like to know of our experiences in the publishing world and thus the idea for our seminar was born.

Three Women. Three Authors. Three Different Approaches to Publishing is for all of you that have a manuscript finished but don’t know what to do next. It is a step by step guide to get your story into print by whichever venue you choose.

So if you are ready to start on the publishing trail but need a little push, this seminar is for you. Just check our sidebar to find out the one that better fits your schedule, or drop us an e-mail. We’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban

An Unexpected Gift

See full size imageA friend once told me that he never got disappointed because he had no expectations. That’s an interesting theory and one I’ve come to adopt myself in light of certain unpredictable situations like cocktail parties and book festivals.  So, I wasn’t completely disappointed that sales were lower than low at the Collingswood event this month. And although I had gone there with some desire to sell books,  I came home with  empty pockets and a blessing—a bit of grace and wisdom which tends to show up in my life (and maybe yours) at the most unexpected of times, in the most unlikely places. This day, it showed up in the person of Thomas E. Pierce.

Pierce is the author of The Last Rose—A True Celebration of Eternal Life.  I was captured by the kindness of Thomas and his wife Lillian, as they offered to share their tent with me if the skies opened. But I was truly captivated as the author explained his book to me. Five years ago, you may remember the news story about the Baltimore Water Taxi that was struck with an unexpected gust of wind that flipped the boat over in Baltimore Harbor.  That day, Pierce lost his wife of 37 years and his 35 year old daughter.  As he so bluntly put it, “What’s an overweight, bald man in his 60’s supposed to do now?”

One of the many things he did was to write and write and write. He wrote about the events, his feelings and finally, what led to the publication of his book, his faith trail, which led him through the darkest of times, the unknown and the unexpected, as his life began to take on a whole new direction. He met with priests, old friends and with a ‘medium’ who brought Pierce visions of the past, the future and an uncanny  foreshadowing of names, numbers, coincidences and connections which seems to invisibly guide us to the place where we need to go.

So Tom, who brought his wife one yellow rose each month on the date of their anniversary, for 37 years lost her unexpectedly, in a most tragic way—and his daughter too. Yet today, he is happily remarried, to the first girl  who caught his eye as a school boy in Philadelphia—-the girl the ‘medium’ brought to his attention during their session. Lillian, who had moved west many years earlier, was newly widowed herself. She lost her husband after many years of marriage, and returned to New Jersey. The two reconnected, and Lillian actually had to leave early that day, for a school reunion with ladies she’s known for decades. Tom’s other daughter  Kathy, is married with two young girls—-seemingly, the lights of Tom’s life which keep him going and laughing.

So, Tom gave me a copy of his book and a reality check that day—something we all need when we tend to get caught up in the minutia of our lives. And I gave Emily and Kayla—his young grandaughters,  copies of my children’s books. Tom’s message is summed up in the line “All the kindness a person puts out into the world works on the hearts and thoughts of mankind.” He’s right. It worked on me that day, and reminded me to pass it on.

 

Chrysa Smith

Starting Fresh

j0439450So here it is September again.

I find myself in an interesting place this year. For the first time since my children began their educations, I have only one child attending school this year. Unlike in the past, however, this time it’s not because two of them are too young to attend, it’s because they’re too old.

Actually, that’s not really true. The fact is that two of my children have graduated from college and my youngest is a sophomore at a local university. The two who’ve graduated haven’t yet found their niches, however, and going back to school is still an option for them.

Sometimes I wish it were an option for me. As I’ve watched my kids go off to college, I’ll admit I’ve been envious. Oh, to have nothing more to think about than reading, studying and what I’m going to eat for dinner–a dinner that, for better or worse (institutional meals aside), someone else made for me.

But for now, at least, going off to college and living in a dorm isn’t in my immediate future. (I really think someone could make a mint off of a university for adults; we would actually appreciate it.) So I’ll have to settle for pretending and once again tapping into the feeling that I get every September–that is, the feeling that a fresh start awaits.

When my children were young, we marked it by purchasing new school supplies and uniforms. They may not have enjoyed the process, but I did. Even as a kid I loved the smell of new copybooks and pencils. (I was weird, I know.) As a writer, the feeling has only intensified.

But it was always more than that. It was the sense of expectation, the knowledge that new and exciting possibilities were in store. And new challenges as well. I was always the type of kid who looked forward to learning new things. I still do.

This point in my life is fraught with different challenges–many which I never dreamed I’d have to tackle. But there is still a sense of possibility. Possibility that things will get better and that exciting, interesting challenges lie ahead. Once again, I find myself eagerly anticipating a “new” year.

Now, I’m off. I think I’ll go out and buy a new notebook and some number two pencils. A little inspiration couldn’t hurt.

Mary Fran Bontempo

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