Pitch Wars!

“Nobody wants to read women over thirty.” So Becky Masterman learned when she sent her first Brigid Quinn novel out to agents. That changed a few years later, at least for Masterman. She’s now published four Brigid Quinn crime novels, and I am hooked. Also, Masterman inspired me to try to write my own older character.

My current publisher has never said no to any of the six books I’ve published with them. I’m not sure how they will like Jane’s age (55). I would sure like to read more smart and strong older female characters like Brigid. I can’t find any. I wrote Jane as much for myself as I did for anyone. Since I’m almost finished with her story, I’ve decided on a pain-free way to show the manuscript to agents and editors.

Pitch Wars is new to me. Another member of Michigan Sisters in Crime sent out a call for someone to partner up with for this competition and I responded. It’s been a long time since I wrote a book proposal, which is what you do for Pitch Wars. I want to know, for better or worse, what the reaction will be to my older heroine. Is there still resistance to older female characters?

If so, I don’t get it. Baby boomer’s average age is 57. Many boomers are retired. More time for reading. We already know women out-read men by a wide margin. So the target audience for older female characters with grit and grace seems to be ready and waiting. I know I am. If you have any favorite older female characters (I already know about Miss Marple :)) please let me know in the comments.

Am I just quirky and out there? Or are other baby boomer readers also longing for main characters closer to their own age?

I’ll let you know what I hear about my older heroine from the publishing sector after Pitch Wars ends in late September. I’m interested in what they have to say about Jane. Interested and a little nervous.

How To Get Published

When my writing group came over Saturday for breakfast and critique, I showed them the book stack photo I’d posted on Instagram. The book stack was all the books we’ve published since we’ve been together, but I had a feeling there were a few I’d missed. Turns out yes, there were even more books.

What I was right about is that none of us had published any of the books in the stack before we became a group eight years ago. And now we’ve got 15 books of fiction published between us, with four more on the go. Two of us had published a few books before, but the other two had not published anything, although they had lots of novels in manuscript form. We accomplished the getting published part together. Our monthly Saturday morning meetings have made me (and I hope, each of them) a better and more prolific writer.

Maybe because I knew I needed them, I started the group. It went through a few iterations before it became the firmly committed four of us, two women and two men, novelists all. And look at what we’ve done together. Everyone in the group seemed as stunned and satisfied as I’d felt when I had gathered those books into a stack and snapped that photo. It’s real, it’s tangible proof. Writing groups help writers get published.

I’ve been in many writing groups though the years, and all of them have had benefits, but this small group is the one that I count on when it comes to publishing a new novel. It took me a long time to find these folks, or rather, they found me. And I’m endlessly grateful. My life has been enriched by each of them, and not just my writing life. We’re all married forever types and the spouses are an extended part of our circle. They join us for breakfast before we get down to work. We see each other socially with our partners, too.

They stick by me, loyal even as I absent myself from Michigan for a few months these last few years. I can always count on them to tell me the truth, even when it hurts. None of us is a cruel critic, but we are honest. We are not simply cheerleaders for each other, although we are that. Our highest priority is to help each other write the best books we can, and sometimes that means saying the difficult things. In our favor is the fact that we all understand our core function: to help each other get it right, and get published, again and again.

Writing is a lonely job. You really won’t understand that until you’ve spent the time required to write and publish a book or ten. And that’s another key ingredient to a writing group: friendship with others who are committed to the writing life. I value these writers so highly. They get it, the writing thing, like nobody else, not even a spouse, does. I’m grateful to have them in my life. They help make being a writer less lonely. And they absolutely are the reason I have published such a satisfying number of books.

Wanna get published? Join a writer’s group. Or start one yourself.

What’s Next?

The writers sit around a kitchen table. There are four of us and we take turns hosting. The host provides breakfast and then we get to work. We are all novelists and have been together for 7 or 8 years. In that time, all our members have published, most of us several times over. And as Bob remarked at Saturday mornings’ meeting, we’ve all become better writers in the process.

Luck played a part in the four of us coming together, because we each have different strengths. It’s helpful that we are two women and two men. Also helpful that our spouses all encourage us in our meetings. Indeed, Tom at one point was working long hours, didn’t have much time to write, and considered quitting the group. His wife would not allow it, telling him he needed us. We are grateful because we need him too.

We have a routine with the coffee and chat at 9 am, then breakfast, then work (we go through a chapter or scene received a week prior page by page). After we’ve finished the critiques, which include side discussions of plot or other big picture things, it’s noon or later. This past Saturday we got into a writerly conversation after the critiques. Basically we went around the table with the question “What’s next?”

When we started only Bob was retired, now everybody is except Tom. We write books, yes, but that’s our pleasure. We are doing what we couldn’t wait to get to. But things have changed through the years and we’re each facing new challenges. Vernie is on the last of her four book fantasy series and she’s near the end. Tom has begun a promising novella, but work stops him from writing as much as he’d like. Still, with each session, he moves the plot forward an inch. Bob is revising an old manuscript we’ve all read before, and I’m revising my St Pete novel. None of have any idea of what we’ll do next.

I know a few things. 2019 will be the last year I’m able to meet regularly with my group. In 2020, Al and I hope to spend six months in Florida and travel, too. We have two houses: one too big and one too small. So we’ll be looking to sell both and buy something just right.To my surprise, I am fine with ending my book writing career, if it proves too difficult to continue in this next chapter of real life. Writing a novel takes several hours a day for several months in a quiet place. I’m not sure I’ll have that when Al retires. He’s worked at the same place for 47 years, so retirement will be a big adjustment for him, too.

I’ve been writing novels for a long time too. Several practice novels and then the published ones. I feel like it’s okay to stop now. I’ve written my share of books. If I include my poetry chapbook and the writing manual, plus this novel I’m going to polish before Al retires, it will be an even dozen. I’m satisfied, ready to move onto the next chapter of my real life. I know writing will always be there, even novel writing, if I want it. I plan to keep blogging and the website will be here. I may write flash fiction and just publish on the website. That’s my idea for “what’s next?” right now.

Anything can happen, and it will. Life is an adventure. Everything I think I know, every plan I ever make, shifts in some ways before it ends. Adventures, like novels, are always unpredictable. That’s the fun of it all.

Crisis of the Writing Soul

When I cut 140 pages of my most recent manuscript, I had a crisis that led to a startling revelation. I’d been revising for awhile and knew the problem with the manuscript was a really boring subplot. At first, unwilling to do the necessary radical surgery, I tried to fix it. Much cutting and pasting later, I realized I was mostly deleting those subplot scenes while layering in a new point of view character.

Excited about the new character and what she brought to the story, I decided to chuck the rest of the draft. It had been helpful to write, but trying to fix it was becoming tedious. I gathered up my courage and cut. I didn’t trash those pages, I just put them in their own document. I knew I couldn’t use them, but saving them felt less radical than sending them to hell where they belonged.

The next day I had a crisis of the writing soul. I wondered if maybe the whole book had been a mistake. If it was simply one of those manuscripts that didn’t quite come together and should thus be abandoned. The idea of abandoning a story I’d grown quite attached to made me miserable. I was scared. Unsure. Defeated? Not quite. I couldn’t give up. I had to try a little longer.

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I had a deadline. It was a firm deadline if I wanted a book out in 2016, and I did. That I wanted it so much was a revelation.  Writing has always been a vital part of my life, but why, now, did it feel so much bigger? Why did my life, in the day-to-day sense, seem like a huge blank without writing and publishing? That writing has taken on such importance  is a scary thing to admit, but there it is. Writing and I had a nice friendship for a really long time. Now writing wants my soul. Without realizing, I already handed it over.

I love my family and friends. But my current situation is this: my family are, for the most part, unavailable in real time. My kids live across the country and my husband works every day, even weekends. I see him maybe two or three hours a day. I see my kids maybe two or three times a year. Maybe once or twice a week, I have lunch with friends. I volunteer a bit. I cook dinner and do the homemaker thing. Lunch and shopping and cooking and cleaning and being a Good Wife take maybe half my time. The other half, now that I don’t teach, is invested in writing.

Once I realized and accepted that writing is the joy that takes the biggest chunk of my time, I felt a bigger responsibility toward it. Like, I can not let it down. I cannot let the opportunity to publish this book this year pass. Even if it doesn’t happen, I need to know I did my part to make it so.

The crisis was not about giving up, but more wondering if I had it in me to pull off this particular book this particular time. And the only way to know was to try. So I did. I took it bird by bird and rewrote that long section of the book. I finished a few days ago. Yesterday I read the completed manuscript. It was good. I will meet my deadline. Crisis averted.

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PS After four months of intense work, I’m due for a break. Happy to say my husband agrees and we’re leaving snowy Michigan for a nice, long vacation in sunny Florida. I’ll even being seeing my son, who will be there for work! Will post a new entry (maybe I’ll hear from my editor) when I return. 

 

Plans & Dreams

I’ve been dreaming up ideas for my new position as Program Director with Detroit Working Writers. One of the things our President asked me to do was facilitate some workshops myself. Once a teacher, always a teacher, so this was an easy YES.

In addition to planning events, hiring speakers, and scouting locations for the next 18 months or so, I’m also figuring out what kind of workshops I want to teach. I’ve got two lined up, one in July and one in October. The great thing is these workshops are not just for DWW members, but for the entire local writing community. Anyone can sign up. Including you.

I’m designing a new web page that will include a registration form (with some tech help) and that should all be in place in a week or so. But you can look at what I’ve got so far on the Events & Workshops page. I did that myself, with easy-peasy Word Press. I think it looks pretty good.

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Big ideas for 2016 don’t stop with teaching workshops. The other idea is something a bit more outside my comfort zone, but I’ve decided to do it, because it will be good for me and for my books. I’m taking my Blue Lake series on a long dreamed about tour of Lake Huron bookstores this spring/summer.

What stirred this idea up again was a phone call. The folks running the Alpena Book Festival (Alpena is a little town on Lake Huron that has a passing resemblance my fictional town of Blue Lake) emailed asking me to participate in the festival this fall. And I thought, wow, I should get my books in stores around there.

So I ran the idea by my road manager, ah, my husband Al, and he said sure, let’s do it.

When your publisher doesn’t have brick and mortar distribution, you can still get your books into stores. Simply order from your publisher and distribute the books yourself. Author friends of mine have done this two ways: one is to set a price and sell stock outright to the bookstores. The other is to take a commission when the books are sold.

Not sure what method I’ll try yet, just sure that I’m going to do something about getting my Blue Lake series in stores this spring.