One of the many wonderful things about the Toronto Public Library system is their Writer In Residence program. I’d never heard of it until a friend pointed me in that direction last year, just in time to get an except of Carving The Light submitted to the woman who was the WIR that time, Elizabeth Ruth.
The idea is that, depending on what sort of manuscripts that particular author is willing to work with, budding writers can submit the first 10 pages or so of their work, and earn a conference with a published author to receive feedback and possible tips for strengthening their manuscript. There are usually several lectures, receptions, readings and such, as well, but I have yet to attend any of them due to time constraints and my work schedule. One of these days, hopefully.
Last year, unfortunately, I got my submission in so late that Elizabeth didn’t have enough conference slots to book me into before the end of her term. However, she decided to go through and make notes for me, anyway, then delivered the whole thing to me in person so that we could go over it all at least for a few minutes! Who does that? 🙂
Her notes were very helpful to me, actually, and I used many of them – along with feedback from Vine Reviewers – to re-work the entire manuscript for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award when I submitted it this year. Since Carving The Light was named as a Quarterfinalist in the contest this time around, and since the reviewer from Publisher’s Weekly who read it did not seem to abhor the entire submission, I’m thinking that all of that advice put me futher along on the right track! My plan for CTL now is to take all of the feedback I’ve been receiving, re-work the complete manuscript once again, and then re-issue the book in paperback and e-book versions again. I’m taking a break from it first, though, because I want to let it sit for a bit – and because I have far too many other things to focus on at the moment!
Anyway, THIS year, the Writer In Residence is children’s author Sarah Ellis. I was deciding between sending her Ebon Black and the Seven Dryads – which is already in print – or the rather new and untitled Ellie Skye story that I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year. I submitted pretty much right away this time, and then waited a few months before getting my conference time with Sarah booked. Which means that, by the time I got to her office, I really had no idea which manuscript I’d decided to send her.
Luckily for moi, Sarah Ellis is a lovely person, and we had a great chat about writing and indie publishing and choosing children as a target audience before we even bothered to get down to the actual submitted piece. I was pretty sure walking in that I’d given her the more polished Ebon piece to read, and was all ready to talk about possibly fleshing it out and making it more appropriate for young adult readers, rather than children. So it was kind of a happy surprise to find that I’d actually given her the first chapter or so of Ellie Skye, instead!
I had to change gears, but it all came back really quickly, and we started off with the things I’d done well, before moving to the things I could work on in the next draft. She loved Ellie as a character, and said I’d gotten her voice just right for a 12-year-old girl. She also loved Teddy the stuffed dog as a character, because I’d infused him with all the personality that he has in Ellie’s eyes. And some of my imagery was unique and well done, to boot, so apparently I am off to a good start.
We discussed narration, and I told her about how I’d written Ellie so quickly (50K words in 30 days) and that I’d done Ebon not long before, so I struggled with keeping Ellie’s close 3rd person voice throughout, rather than slipping into the sardonic omnicient 3rd narration of Ebon’s tale from time to time. We also discussed the infamous show-don’t-tell rule, and she showed me examples where I’d done each one, while giving suggestions for how to show more of the things I told. Oh! And she said I’d created Nana’s house so concretely that she felt it was an actual house I’d known in life. It’s not, but parts of it are based in reality, and I drew a floorplan for how I thought it would actually look before i wrote about it. That helped a lot, but I am pleased to know that the world I was creating seemed visual and real to the reader, too!
Sarah gave me the excerpt back with her typed-out notes to take with me when we were done. Then she sat back in her chair and said, “So…what happens next?” I spent a good 20 minutes or so going over everything that happens in the book, after which she asked detailed questions about different character motivations, how hierarchy in the alternate world was established, what the weather is like there, how time works between the two, etc. The funny thing is, I haven’t looked back at Ellie since I wrote its first draft in November 2011. But as we talked about it, everything came rushing back to me, and I was answering her questions with the knowledge of the story that is in my head. Now, whether that is all evident in the book, or not, remains to be seen. But as I shook her hand and left, I felt pleased with and excited about the story again. It’s back in my mind, and now I have both the bare bones of a first draft to work with, as well as the overall tips I received from my conference with Sarah to help me move through the editing and revising process. There is something important I think I need to write first, but Ellie is definitely still in there. Maybe now she stands a good chance of being seen in print one day soon, as well!
A fabulous experience, this Writer In Residence program. I’m so happy that my friend finally showed me the way!