Maydays, Mayhem, and Maybes

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You guys! Is it really May?

April and May are two of my favorite months of the year because I love Spring. I like the idea that things that have been lying dormant all winter, seemingly dead, start to bud and blossom and come back to life. Renewal and hope, new beginnings and fresh starts, are everywhere.

The connection is especially potent for me this year. A story I thought was long dead has started to bud, as have many other areas of my life which flatlined during the long winter months. I haven’t done a goals post in a while, but now seems like the perfect time to do so. I need to set some goals for my writing again and work hard toward achieving them.

The first week of May, I spent some time exploring a few options for writing goals, and now I’m ready to commit them to writing. Here are my May 2017 writing goals:

  • Revise Always the Last to Know. I spent last week working on revisions to the first two chapters of this story and figuring out revisions to a few more chapters. I’m coming up with ways to make the writing stronger and work in some of the changes the Love Inspired editor suggested. I’m spending my days off and mornings working on this and enjoying the fruit of this labor.
  • Find the perfect beta reader/critique buddy for ATLTK. I need to find the right beta reader/critique partner for this project–someone who loves the premise and the characters but is able to offer constructive criticism of my execution, especially with regard to the Love Inspired line. I have a couple people who have offered advice and help, but no beta reader lined up.
  • Read GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon. This book has been suggested and recommended by countless authors I admire. I know I need a lot of help with internal and external conflict in my stories, and I think this book will help me better understand these areas.
  • Make a decision on finding an agent. I’ve wrestled with whether or not to submit to an agent for a while now. I’ve only tried to catch an agent’s eye a couple times through #pitmad and a blind cupid contest. I know an agent will open me up to more submission opportunities (especially in the Christian market) and I can benefit from their expertise, but I’m not sure if an agent is for me. I plan to do more research and make a firm decision whether or not to submit this project to an agent for representation.

I’m not rushing through these revisions. I’m letting the story and characters lead me this go round. I’m not paying too much attention to the suggested revisions right now. I’m fixing what I see isn’t working, with some of the revision suggestions in mind. Since I had to cut over a third of the book, I’m focused on getting a workable draft before I look to fine tuning. I’m giving myself the same deadline I had to submit for Blurb to Book. By July 15, 2017, I will hit the submit button on revisions to Always the Last to Know. I believe this is a scary but attainable goal. This gives me two months and one week to craft a story I love. It will also stand me in good stead to hear back on my submission this year. I’ll also have plenty of time to start the next book in the series and put together a proposal for the series while I wait.

What writing goals are you working on this month?

Tentatively dipping a toe back in fiction waters

Erica

The Long Day is Over…

Altered before the Altar As many of you know, I’ve been working on getting my Christian non-fiction book,  Altered before the Altar, finished and published through Createspace. It has been a  long and arduous journey, but I uploaded everything this morning and am waiting  for the file review to complete so I can begin selling it in Kindle and paperback. As I  sit here in the afterglow of taking the biggest step in my publication journey thus far,  I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you, my fellow laborers, on this  experience.

When I first began seriously looking to published Altered, I knew that I wanted to  write a good book that was relevant to single Christian women, easy to read, and that  looked as professional as possible. I didn’t want any developmental editing or  content editing: I wanted to say exactly what I felt led to say. I also didn’t want to pay thousands of dollars for a professional product, especially when I couldn’t be sure  I would sell enough copies to break even, let alone make a profit. It was more about putting the best book out there than anything else. I think that I’m doing that, but it hasn’t been an easy journey.

I did a lot of things wrong: I didn’t write the book in the properly formatted template from the beginning, which meant I didn’t give my cover artist an accurate page count the first time she asked (I also wasn’t finished writing the book and had to guess what the ending page amount would be–rookie mistake #2). I didn’t do a very good job of communicating what I wanted the cover to look like the first time around. I didn’t do much research into a cover designer. I thought that since I’d worked with a graphic designer before, it would be similar this time around. I didn’t know that cover design is a completely different art. I ended up choosing a designer who did a fantastic job, but that was due to God’s grace and not my ability to choose a designer.

I also didn’t pay for formatting, which turned out good and bad. It was bad because I spent weeks trying to figure out how to integrate all the elements I wanted without things shifting around on me. I didn’t know how to format the headings to alternate between the book title and the chapter titles. I couldn’t figure out how to create an automatic table with the elements I had. I didn’t realize that Times New Roman wasn’t a good font to choose for a professional looking book, or that the Georgia font’s size 8 was larger than the Times New Roman 8, etc. I kept getting pages that looked wonky and refused to be fixed. I didn’t realize that I had to buy Adobe Acrobat in order to edit a PDF document. The things I didn’t know about formatting could fill another book.

I didn’t know the rules for permissions for using non-KJV scriptures, either. In short, I knew next to nothing about publishing.

But here’s what I did know and what I learned along the way. I knew I had conducted great interviews and studied extensively enough to write a great book. I knew that I needed a professional cover designer. When I couldn’t afford to pay for formatting, I knew that if I could find instructions, I could teach myself how to do it. I studied traditionally published books to see what elements I needed. I enlisted the help of beta readers. I took as long as I needed to take to make sure each element was exactly as it should be. I tested quotes social media to see if they made sense. By learning to format, supplying my own cover image, and using beta reader response to revise, I saved myself a lot of money, learned new skills, and still ended up with a book I can be proud of.

I’m still not the best social media marketing maven, and I still don’t know if my book will sell well, but what I do know is that everyone who does end up buying a copy will be getting a quality book. I’ll be sharing the back cover copy and purchasing information soon. I can’t wait to show off my book baby.

XOXO,

Erica

First Page: Always the Girlfriend

Happy Friday all. This past week, I entered into a contest for Harlequin Heartwarming called “Write From the Heart.” I submitted my first page for evaluation by the Heartwarming editors. If you make it past the first round, they request a synopsis and the first three chapters; after that, the full manuscript. Unfortunately, my entry wasn’t chosen. There wasn’t any feedback present on the page, so I’m not sure why it was a “no” for them. I wanted to share it with readers and fellow writers here and get a bit of feedback. I’ll share my own thoughts on why it may not have been selected later, but I want to know what you all think. OAN: You can read some of my non-fiction samples by clicking on the (Untitled) link. 

Always the Girlfriend

This was the moment she’d been waiting four years for?

Peyton Hayes shoved her hair out of her face as another strong gust of wind pushed her farther along the sandy shore. The skirt of her dress whipped around her slender frame and her heels sank into the sand with each limping step.

“Peyton! Peyton, wait!”

Peyton kicked off her heels and gathered them hem of her dress in her hands so she could run barefoot to the pier. She wouldn’t look back. She wouldn’t. She swiped a tear off her cheek, sniffed loudly. She increased her speed in case Dane had decided to follow her.

This wasn’t the romantic scene she’d imagined when the day began. It wasn’t even close to the life defining moment she’d been expecting. When Dane said he wanted to do something special this weekend, she didn’t let herself get too excited about it. After four years of dating, she’d lived through enough false alarms to understand that every “special” date Dane had in mind didn’t equal a marriage proposal. Even when he mentioned the name of an expensive restaurant along Lake Serenity, she fought back all fantasies of Dane on bended knee. It wasn’t fair of her to presume that Dane knew the restaurant was on the list in her head reserved for birthdays, anniversaries, major promotions and marriage proposals. For once in her life she would be sensible.

Sensible? Ha! She grabbed the handrails and raced up the steps to the boardwalk. If Dane was following, he wasn’t close enough behind to be on the boardwalk. She heard nothing but her bare feet slapping the planks and the rapid beat of her heart. Still, she didn’t slow down. The fall of her feet took on a rapid-fire accusation. Stupid. Fool. Stupid. Fool. Stupid fool. Stupid fool. Stupid fool.

Peyton skidded to a stop as she came across the horse and carriage. Tears blurring her vision, she turned sharply to the right and resumed her flight. What man in his right mind follows dinner at a swanky restaurant with a tour of the city in a horse drawn carriage with no intention of proposing? Dane Ashton, that’s who! Only the most oblivious man, or the most practiced torture artist, would do something like that to a hopeless romantic like her.

If there had been a proposal on the beach, it would have been the crowning moment to a picture perfect day. The weather was perfect. Not one cloud marred the deep blue beauty of the sky or hid a ray of the warm June sun. Dane had driven into Serenity Cove’s historic downtown and they’d wandered through antique shops and boutiques with her small hand tucked into Dane’s much bigger one. He drew circles around her wrist with his thumb while his free hand tapped the pants pocket of his loose fitting jeans. She caught him staring at her at odd moments, a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.

 

It’s a Process…

CAUTION: LONG POST AHEAD!! I highlighted for your convenience.

One of my critique partners and I were discussing our latest critiques this morning when she suggested that I should write a post about my editing process. I LOLed and my editing process is a big puzzle and promised to write a blog post about it before dashing off to work.

To explain my process, I have to say some things that may make you think I’m crazy or just plain lying, but I promise I’m being as truthful as possible. Before I tell you my editing process, I have a few confessions to make:

  • I don’t actually have a process. As someone who has been writing a long time, you’d think I had a full formula to lay out, complete with charts and graphs and formulas for success, but I don’t. I’ve written mostly for myself. I’ve only been actively pursuing publication since September, so I’m still figuring out my process editing wise. 
  • I’m what some would  call an English prodigy. I never tire of saying that. I have to remind myself of it constantly when I can’t seem to write well to save my eternal soul. I got a nearly perfect score on the English portion of the ACT, which was mainly saying whether or not a sentence was wrong and fixing it. My brain is hardwired for copy editing and proofreading. I enjoy it. Red pens make me happy. Feel free to hate me.
  • I never revised before my senior year of college Creative Writing class when we  were required to revise an earlier work. I didn’t revise for years afterward. I liked to think I was the Jay-Z or Lil Wayne of writing–a one take wonder. Of course, the quality of the material the two of them have put out over the years is debateable enough for me to rethink my writing role models. 😀 My stories benefit greatly from revision. I was an arrogant little prodigy (see above), so it took me a long time to figure this out.
  • I have never written a complete first draft. I’ll explain this one later.

Now that you know I am no expert (but kind of am), I’ll share my process. I am a person who edits/revises as I go. I know this is anathema to some, but it’s the only way I can function. I HATE rough drafts and never write them. When I finish a first draft, it is more like a third or fourth draft. I usually write in the mornings and revise later in the day. I print out the day’s writing and take it with me to proofread and make revision notes in the margins. At the weekends, I will read the week’s writings for content and continuity across chapters, development, etc. I perform the most pressing revisions here. About every other week, I try to read through everything I have from a reader’s perspective and make a few more notes.

Once I finish the first draft, I go through chapter by chapter, polishing and making sure all the revisions are completed. I sit down with the entire thing and read it as a reader would once more, addressing anything I feel needs changing before my critique partners get a look at it.

There are times when myprocess is different. When I entered So You Think You Can Write with Pleasure’s Payne, I learned that the Harlequin Love Inspired editors do not like prologues. They want to jump into the story and see the hero and heroine on the page together as quickly as possible. They like larger sections in one point of view without head hopping. They were looking for everything my entry wasn’t. 

I wrote until the announcement of the top fifty, then set it aside. When I returned to the manuscript, I scrapped the first 7-10 pages. It was heartwrenching. I hate major revisions, and I loved that prologue, but I had to kill my darlings. I found a spot where the action began and began from there. I set up the heroine’s internal conflict and inciting incident, then got the hero on the page. I sprinkled in expressions of her grief and other important information from scrapped pages. I changed areas of head hopping to one perspective and showed the other character’s feelings through dialogue and body language wherever possible. I hated every bit of it and did it with one eye open and the original tucked away on a flash drive just in case.

And I came out of it with a much stronger story. I proved to myself that I can revise and make my manuscript even better. I don’t have to get it right in one take (that is made up of tens of takes!). I have to step back and let things marinate for a bit before I wade in, but I can do it.

How do you tackle editing and revisions? 

Writing From the Brink

Before we get into the meat of this post, a swift recap on my April goals:

  • Get (more) feedback on Delivering Justice. Nothing yet, but I’m hoping that’s a good sign. Tomorrow marks three weeks since I sent in the manuscript, and as this wasn’t a fast track contest submission, I’m settling in for a longer wait. I’ll diary ahead to check on this once the normal window is up, fourth of July weekend (which seems SO FAR AWAY).
  • Finish judging my contest entries for Touch of Magic. I judged them, but have to make a few tweaks to formatting and labeling and send them back in tonight.
  • Finish rough draft of Love Thy Enemy. I’m over 15k words in and finally able to devote some real time to this manuscript. I lost my way with it for a while, but now I think I’m finding my groove again.
  • Continue Mr. Last Name Basis. Still haven’t done this actively yet. I did, however, come up with an idea for a better beginning than the one I currently have.
  • Create a page for my WIPs for the site. Doing this right after I finish this post.

The past couple of weeks I have been completely off my writing routine. I got a new bed that inspired me to sleep in instead of dragging myself to my writing corner. I’d be more motivated to go to said writing corner to work if I had a desk and office chair where I could work, or at the very least a comfortable papas an chair, but I don’t. So getting myself to write has been a bit of a struggle. But Quentin and Annabeth, my hero and heroine from #LoveThyEnemy, have been giving me insights into their characters lately that have spurred me on, so I’ve been diligently working my way through parts of their story.

Another thing that got me back into writing was getting the victim disposition from the prosecutor in the case of the drunk driver who hit me. He was sentenced on a lesser charge and received probation. There doesn’t appear to be any prohibitions or restrictions on his driving, however. I could feel a bit of helplessness creep in. I may be driving down the road with this guy again. In another year, he will be completely free of any ramifications of his actions if he doesn’t violate probation, and a year after the accident I still can’t drive without being nervous. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

I’m working out my own issues with #LoveThyEnemy. This story hinges on Annabeth not only forgiving Quentin of what he’s done to her family, but learning to love him in spite of what he’s done in the past for the man he is now. Writing from Annabeth’s perspective brings up a bad memory or two, but stepping back and examining it artistically helps me to put it into perspective. Writing from Quentin’s perspective is helping me to understand that even when we are responsible for causing so much pain to others, it’s not necessarily because we are bad people. All of us are in need of grace and should be given grace if we ask for it. The way that Annabeth clings to the wrong that Quentin has done to her has stopped her from moving forward, not him. Quentin has had to fight guilt and shame every step of the way, but he’s in a much better place when the book starts than she is. Hopefully I’ll be in a much better place when I type “The end.”

How is your life informing your writing and vice-versa?

XOXO

Erica

ATGGT…

When I was in high school, I got a scholarship to attend a private school along with several other kids in the Horizons-Upward Bound program. One of those other students was a musical prodigy who played several instruments and was a talented singer. She wore a leather bracelet on her wrist like they make at Cedar Point at that leather making shop that read “ATGGT.” Given her interests, it didn’t take me long to figure out what it meant: And the Grammy goes to… It served, I believe, as motivation for her to keep pursuing her dream of becoming a recording artist and getting that top industry honor.

As I’ve watched her journey through websites, the occasional IM chat, Facebook & Instagram posts, I’ve often thought about that little scrap of leather and whether or not she still looks at it for inspiration. Is it still like a talisman, a physical reminder of her dreams, or is it just a piece of leather shoved into a drawer and forgotten? Is it even the phrase she dreams of hearing her name attached to anymore?

With the recent Oscar ceremony (that always falls around my birthday) and Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest brush with the golden trophy, I’ve been thinking about success and almost getting there but somehow landing just shy of the mark. Someone I follow on twitter said it best: even though Leo has four Oscar nominations over twenty years, he still has the same number of Oscars as I do. Ouch. It must hurt to have worked so hard and end up with the same result as the girl sitting home on the couch whose never even made the attempt.

Well, I can say assuredly that it does, in fact, hurt. Yesterday I received a very lovely rejection letter from the editor I submitted Delivering Justice to a couple weeks ago. Even though she had many positive things to say about my writing, she didn’t think it was a good fit for them. Even though I had crafted a good enough pitch to get an editor’s attention and wrote well enough to garner a few points of praise, I was still just shy of the mark for closing the deal. I now have the same number of manuscripts purchased as the person in living in the jungle who’s never seen a book. Ouch.

Here’s the thing: I can choose to drown in the negative, put DJ away and never submit a manuscript again, or I can focus on the positives of the situation. Since the latter is the only choice that will add to this entry’s word count, let’s go with that one.

During the last six months, I’ve entered three writing contests, wrote and revised a full manuscript, wrote three successful pitches, learned to write a query letter and synopsis, made a ton of writing friends, joined some writing groups, found critique partners, and written more than I have in years. In less than six months of taking this writing thing seriously, I got a full request for a manuscript for an imprint of my dream publisher. Instead of getting a form rejection, I was complimented on having a great premise, snappy dialogue and a well done heroine. I think I’ve found my voice; now I have to find my place.

I told the online writing community of my rejection yesterday. Twice a week we share ~100 word flashes from our current WIPs dealing with a specific topic. I suggested that we do a flash on rejection. The group agreed and the flashes have been pouring in. What I realized in reading and commenting on the flashes is that a) everyone experiences rejection b)rejection comes in many forms, and c) our characters suffer far worse rejections in our stories than we do of our stories.

I’ve decided to put DJ in a drawer for a while and not look at it (although I may allow my beta reader to read a copy of the version I sent out to the editor; she’s earned it for reading through the awful first attempts) until I’m ready to try it again. I’m stepping away from writing new words this week. Instead, I’m unearthing old words–words from when I was a teen and pre-teen and just wanted to get the story on paper. Words from when my classmate’s bracelet set off dreams of NYT Bestseller, Pulitzers, and the Nobel Prize in Literature for me. Words from when nothing was out of reach.

How do you deal with rejection? What keeps you going in the face of rejection?

XOXO,

Erica

February 2014’s Progress on Publishing World Domination

This is going to be quick and dirty because I have to get ready for work. February was no less great than January for achieving some writing goals. In February:

  • I went to my second Central Florida Romance Writers meeting, where we studied pacing and emotion.
  • On my way to said meeting, I had an epiphany about a story in the Christian series I’m planning, and throughout the month, I wrote character profiles for the main characters and an outline of the book, along with doing a bit of research. This shall be known as the Enemies story.
  • I joined Romance Writers of American and Central Florida Romance Writers. Yay! I’m a card carrying member–or I would be if I had a card. I do, however, have a member number. 😉
  • I entered Cupid’s Lit Connection’s Blind Speed Dating competition to try and get the attention of an agent but wasn’t chosen. I was disappointed, but I was OK with getting the news because the same day…
  • I entered the Second Chance Carina pitch and got a request from an editor! I sent my manuscript for Delivering Justice in on February 14th, Valentine’s day. I should receive feedback of some sort by March 21st. I basked in the achievement of getting a query letter, synopsis, and manuscript submitted for a couple days before I began obsessively checking my email.
  • The sequel to Delivering Justice, known on social media by the hashtag #MrLastNameBasis, started to come together when I added a pint sized motivator to the mix who broke my emotionally distant hero wide open. I love this little boy in this story and the dimension he adds to the suspense. I’m trying to figure out where this story is going while I outline the others in the series in case I get a bite on Delivering Justice and someone is interested in the other three books.

I crossed off two major  writing goals–I submitted to an editor and I joined RWA and CFRW. Not only did I submit to an editor, I submitted a requested manuscript, not to the slush pile. It’s a fast track entry with a quicker than usual turnaround. So why do I feel as if February was a slow writing month for me? Probably because I didn’t get as many words on the page as I would like. I didn’t post as many reviews as I meant to post. I’m a little behind on reading my craft books and such.

But what I’m trying to embrace is that all forward movement is important, that what I’ve accomplished this month is huge. True, I spent a lot of time doing revisions, writing and revising a query letter and synopsis, and not getting new words on the page. But doing those things are what got my submission out the door.

March is about moving forward even more. What are the goals for March?

  • start getting the Enemies book written.
  • finish most of #MrLastNameBasis.
  • get feedback from Delivering Justice submission.
  • work on marriage kit book and get it ready for publication.
  • further develop my writing routine.
  • Start and finish at least one writing craft book.
  • Get all of my March reviews done.
  • Work on one super secret project.
  • Get materials ready for Camp NaNoWriMo in April.
  • Finishing outlining and start Luka’s story before Beta Reader kills me.

How was your February? What are some of your goals for March? Be on the lookout for more reviews and a few special writing posts coming this month. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any.

XOXO,

Erica

Avoiding the Kanye Effect as a Writer

I’ve seen many quotes that speak to the confidence, the perseverance, and the will that it takes to reach publication. Some tell you not to listen to anyone’s criticisms when you believe in your story. Others tell you to be jealous of your time. Still others tell you that you have to know your writing is the absolute best there is. All of this “writer’s arrogance” advice makes me think of Kanye West, and how one can avoid becoming the literary Mr. or Ms. West.

I used to be a Kanye West fan. When Kanye West debuted, while I thought his albums were unique and had good content, I was more interested in and intrigued by his story. He was this curious mix of grateful and entitled that was almost charming. He spoke about how hard it was for him to be taken seriously as a rapper and about deals that fell through. He also talked about how no one believed in him and how he had to convince everyone of what he already knew. He famously wrapped about using his self-esteem to power his dreams. That’s the good part.

Then things took a turn from grateful and arrogant to just arrogant. He became a jerk. This is the Kanye Effect: when all of the confidence and arrogance you’ve used attract an audience and publishers tips over into entitlement, arrogance, and a major superiority complex. When you stop feeling grateful for what you have been able to accomplish and start spending more time proclaiming how great you are than writing your next book, you may want to reevaluate your writing life.

There’s a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance, and creative people are some of the biggest line straddlers and crossers the world will ever know. Americans in general have an issue with entitlement and a desire for instant gratification, and creative American can really tip the ego scales, both published and unpublished. There’s something about creating, having to prove yourself, and the need to be your own biggest cheerleader before anyone joins the team that makes a creative heart the perfect breeding ground for the Kanye Effect.

My solution to this growing epidemic is simple: realize that no one owes you anything. While you have to believe in yourself and your craft, never stop being grateful that you’re able to do what you do–whether you’re languishing on Unpubbed Island, seeing dismal sales, seeing moderate success, were able to quit your day job and write full-time, or are on the level of the Nora Roberts, James Pattersons, and Steven Kings. While querying and marketing involve selling yourself as well as your work, it’s ultimately the quality of your product that will determine your future success.

As sensitive, creative types, we may feel the need to insulate ourselves from harsh criticism and judgments. People make judgments about our art all the time, and some of them are spiteful, hurtful, and unfair. But arrogance is not the answer. Be grateful for those who believe in your art and support it while understanding that everyone won’t. Screaming “I’m the best to ever do it” from every rooftop won’t change the fact that someone somewhere will disagree. A popular saying of today is what you focus on will grow. Focus on the people that adore your work, on honing your craft to put out the best work you can, and on the things you know you were called by name to do.

That’s my two cents, anyway. Feel free to leave yours in the comments section.

XOXO,

Erica

We Had a Good Run…

The results are in, and your illustrious writer…did not make the top 50. 😦

Although this news was disappoining, I wasn’t exactly shocked. I’m glad that the contest brought me back to this story that I love so much, and got me up at 5am to get words on the page. I’m glad I was able to add nearly twelve thousand words to my manuscript in just five days–and quality words, at that. I received some very encouraging comments that confirmed my strengths–characterization, description, dialogue–and made me more aware of my weaknesses–shifting POV at random times, not starting the manuscript in the right place, etc. I’m grateful for my personal cheerleaders who are STILL proud of me and are still sure they will be getting an autographed copy of my book when it’s released someday.

I still have hope that maybe one of those editors saw something in me that has intrigued them, that they will reach out to me once the competition is over and ask for a full or partial. The editors have gotten the email addresses of people they want to follow up with from whom they were strongly considering requesting a full manuscript. The major takeaway for me was that I put my work out there to be seen by 50 editors and I didn’t die. I wrote my first pitch and I didn’t die. I don’t know how far I got in the selection process before I was cut, but editors sat around somewhere discussing my story, my characters. Hopefully the story and characters stick with the right person and I hear something, but if not, I have gained a few tips for revising from some of the tweets and posts of the editors in the last few days.

Another great takeaway from this experience is to follow my instincts. I wrote in my last post that I wanted to have the manuscript start somewhere else, but I didn’t have time to revise it before I posted it. I wasn’t as confident in where it started, and I knew I needed a couple of days to make it the best I could. I even contacted the contest help people to see if I could revise the first chapter if I was picked to submit a full because I knew that the opening this book needed wasn’t the one it received. I was right. I now know that I should listen to my instincts. I’m a really good writer. Years of awards and A’s on English assignments can’t be wrong. I can be impulsive and occasionally get somewhere because of it, but I know that revising wisely is what takes my writing to the next level.

Yesterday in the shower (where all the best thoughts/ideas originate), before the finalists were announced, I remembered something my favorite English teacher Mrs. Jackson said to me about a paper that was eventually published in Prize Papers. I gave her my initial paper to critique for me, and she laid into it. I had never seen so much red in all of my life. I was so dejected. She wrote on that paper “this is good, but you’re a better writer than this. Go deeper.” She said that I was holding back and wasn’t being honest. I walked around with a sour face for the rest of the day, but I knew she was right. So I rewrote that paper and not only received an A, but the teacher asked if she could share it with the class, and encouraged me to submit it to Prize Papers. In the shower, I realized that there were still some depths to plumb in this story. I needed to go deeper. Now I have that chance.

I say all of this to say, I am not giving up hope. I’m using what I’ve learned to make my manuscript better and I’m pushing forward. I hope that anyone else who has experienced rejection or didn’t make the cut will do the same. Revise. Rewrite. Start over. Go deeper. Do whatever it takes. Just keep going.

XOXO

Erica

The Help & the Assigning of Authority in Literature

I haven’t yet been able to read The Help, nor have I seen the movie, but I’ve definitely seen and heard the backlash from everyone from bloggers to the Black Women Historians. What people say most often, alongside the inaccuracy of what the consequences of these women telling their stories seems to be, is that here is this white woman telling our story…as if she could ever know what it was like. How dare she?

This topic is a touchy one for most writers, I would imagine, as it speaks to our rights as writers: who gave us the authority to write about people who belong to cultures and races other than our own? Can I ever write a story with all white characters as an African-American, historical stories that portray racist characters or characters who I would never interact with? What about rich people or people in extreme poverty? Where can I get permission to write about an experience that is not my own?

This issue of who has the right to tell a story of a shared past is part of my one literary novel attempt, the Southern Gothic Novel.  I wanted to write about the power of voice and who has authority to tell history, and should they have that right. I write about people who, on the surface, aren’t likke me: some are white, some are affluent African-Americans, some are addicts. But I choose to focus on things I believe are universal to all of us.

I don’t know if Kathryn S. did her research thoroughly, or if she wanted to be historically accurate. I don’t know if she expected this backlash at all. I know she had a story she wanted to tell and kept trying to sell rejection after rejection. I hear the book is well written. Just because many of the characters are African¡American and depicted in a time of segregation doesn’t mean I should have been the one to tell the story. Just because a white character publishes the thoughts of Black women doesn’t mean she stole their voice.

As an English Literature degree holder, I’ve read pieces by both women and African-Americans in which an introduction by a reputable white male had to be inserted to vouch for their veracity, that the author actually wrote it, and that the author has the authority to tell the story. I heard how Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography may have been changed to suit white publishers. There’s no doubt that as women and African-Americans, our voices have been stolen, regulated and co-opted throughout history. However, as a writer and an African-American woman who knows this legacy, I can’t authorize or take part in an effort to strip anyone of their right to try to write and explore the world from a different perspective, especially one that doesn’t seem to be demeaning or disrespectful.

I’m interested to hear all of your perspectives on this issue of voice, authority, and writing across the racial divide. Leave me your thoughts.