Monday, March 24, 2014

"It's not for me" sometimes is the whole story!

I've evolved in my understanding of taste over my years writing.  I used to feel miffed when agents responded to a query with a, "Sorry, but it's not for me."  Why not?!  I always wanted to know.  I used to think that my stories must have some deep-rooted flaw that I couldn't see.

Yeah, they probably do.  But searching for critique partners has given me a new perspective on this.  When I first began writing, I connected with three other moms whose kids went to the same gifted magnet school as my daughter.  We were all stay-at-home moms and writers, and that critique group rocked for building my confidence, giving me an audience for my writing, and teaching me how to critique kindly yet constructively.

One other member is working on a YA novel, like me, one is writing a screenplay, and one is a journalist with thoughts of a memoir.  We still meet, and I still love it.  But I realized a while ago that I would never sign up for that sort of critique group again.  Now, I'm looking for something different than general support and encouragement.

I have some very specific tastes, now.

I want someone who writes about YA topics that interest me.  That usually means some kind of historical, sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery for me.  I don't care for straight-up contemporary--although I'll certainly answer the door if John Green or Rainbow Rowell come knocking--and too much hot and heavy romance makes me laugh.  And--hand-in-hand with that--I want someone who likes what I write.

Happily, I've found a few critique partners like this.

As I've looked for one more critique partner these last few weeks, I've softened into some sympathy for agents and editors.  I have read lots and lots of pitches that are well-written and publishable, but just don't catch my fancy.  Just this morning I got an email back from a potential critique partner who let me know that my story's premise just doesn't interest her enough to work together.  Fair enough!  I've thought the same thing about others and haven't had the guts to tell them.  And you know what?  Those manuscript swaps usually end up being a one-time thing, because neither of us is enthusiastic enough about the other's writing.

Now, I'm off to place a personals ad for a YA writer whose work could be described as Georgette Heyer lunches with Connie Willis and goes jogging every morning with Brandon Sanderson, who can both love my stories and put her finger on its deep-rooted flaws.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Names are so tricky for me!  Not coming up with them--that's a breeze.  All that fifth-grade practice drawing elaborate family trees full of K or L names has paid off.  Kendall, Kalliope, and Karousel are always there for me to draw on.

No, it's remembering names.  I read about four Harry Potter books before I heard someone pronounce 'Hermione.'  And it hadn't bothered me one bit.  She was the 'H' girl in my head.  I can't tell you how many times I've had to sit quiet at book club because I can't figure out who they're talking about when they use, you know, the character's NAME.  I need them to say, 'The one with the scissors' or 'The loud one' for me to follow along.  I read a fair amount of Russian literature growing up, and what with the crazy nicknames and the patronymics, I was never quite clear on whether we had six characters in a scene or one.  Not quite sure why I kept reading without clearing that up.  I'd like to think that now it would bother me.

But probably it wouldn't, because I can't keep names straight IN MY OWN NOVELS.  Yes, that's right, characters that I dream up and stuff with aspirations and hopes and loves are basically nameless to me.  I can't tell you how many times my sister (my first and most enthusiastic reader) or a critique partner will make notes in the margin saying, "Wait, this character is here?"  Nope, usually not.  Usually I just grabbed one of the female names in the book and stuck it there, and it was the wrong one.

Why, oh why?  I'm great with names in real life.  They're important.  I even take pains not to misspell someone's name when I enter it into my phone (because Lindsey and Lindsay surely care which spelling I'm looking at when they call).  But in my OWN BOOKS, I'm toast.

I'm writing a mystery set in the early twentieth century now, and it's mighty slim pickings for male names.  They hadn't hit our modern creativity of rhyming names with 'Aiden,' so the ones I picked are fairly generic.  AND THEY ARE ALL THE SAME IN MY HEAD.  I keep writing John's scenes with William's name and sticking Walter into the middle of Roy's conversations.

I bet my sister will clear them up one day.