January 31, 2010


A week or so ago I received a editor's rejection of my mid-grade historical novel. It was a positive rejection. "We found the quality of your writing excellent, with original and lively characters and setting." What writer wouldn't enjoy reading those words?

However, (there always seems to be a however) the editor had decided not to publish the manuscript at this time, but indicated that she'd be willing to look at it again if I revised the ending. She felt it closed in "an awkward place."

I'm, of course, willing to revise. But what specifically is awkward about the closing? Is it inconclusive? Up in the air? There was no clue in the letter. I've written to ask for more details and am waiting for some direction. In the meantime, I'm pondering how to make the story's ending less awkward. Should something more happen to Hannah, the main character? Should her Blackfeet friends leave? Should more sheep die in the mountains where she's been charged with their care? This coming week, I plan to dive back into Hannah's world and figure out what needs to be added or changed. I hope to emerge with a better, more satisfying conclusion to her story.

January 30, 2010

Critique Group Extraordinaire

Among the many things I've been thankful for in my writing life, I have to say that the critique group to which I belong currently ranks as #1. I have the opportunity to meet once a week with a group of women who are dedicated to writing for young readers--from pre-school through young adulthood. The members have a remarkable ability to critique firmly and wisely and provide support and encouragement at the same time. Citing flaws or weaknesses is always balanced with suggestions for change. Everyone is there to learn from one another. I have never left a meeting without having gained an insight into marketing, effective use of dialogue, creating a unique voice, etc.

The group celebrates successes (of which there have been many lately--see heartlandwriters.com/) and commiserates with those who've received unexpected or rude rejections. We keep one another abreast of market news, editor and agent moves, and good reads.

No matter how difficult my writing week has been, for two hours on Wednesday morning I'm inspired by the writers around the table who come to read and be read. I go home, determined to keep at my writing with enthusiasm and a positive spirit.

January 22, 2010

The Better to See Life with

A few days ago, I sat with my sister and mother as we waited for our mother's cataract surgery. When the surgeon came in to talk with her about the surgery, she expressed some doubts about whether, at her age (97), she should go ahead with the procedure. He apparently hears this quite a lot and gave her time to ask questions, tell him how she felt, etc. He said it's never too late to replace cataracts and reminded her that he'd done the procedure on a 102-year-old man--someone considerably older than our mother.

He also related a story that impressed me even more than the 102-year-old. A man had been told that he had terminal cancer and was given 8 months to live. Just before that diagnosis he'd learned that he was a candidate for cataract replacement surgery. He decided to go ahead with the cataract procedure because, even though he might have only 8 months to live, he wanted to be able to see everything clearly--places he would travel, books he would read, people he would visit, etc. He didn't want to just live out his remaining time; he wanted to live with his eyes wide open. He wanted to look at life through a clear lens.

It's a choice we can make every day, with or without cataract surgery. We can open our eyes to life. We can see everything and everyone we encounter and revel in the wonderful variety and beauty of it all. Or we can look through a lens clouded with our own distortions and preconceptions of how life should be.

January 15, 2010

It's in the Mail?

I've just finished reviewing my marketing data for 2009 and noticed again the number of submissions to editors and/or agents for which I received no reply. The policy of not returning a manuscript unless interested in developing it as a project leaves writers in a quandary. Did the manuscript arrived safely at the agency or publishing house? Did someone actually look at it? There's apparently no way of knowing. Those who follow this policy advise writers not to send an SASE because no answer will be forthcoming unless "we're interested."

Now that more and more houses are accepting only agented material, this no-return practice narrows even more the field of submissions.

Rejections are never what a writer wants to receive, but it's helpful to know that your work arrived and was looked at before being turned down. It seems just common courtesy to acknowledge the writer who's waiting to hear something. How hard can it be to tuck a rejection letter into the envelope that's already addressed and stamped?

January 9, 2010

A Helpful Agent and Her Blog

A fellow writer recently put me on to an agent's blog that offers sound advice and reflects an understanding of a free-lancer's life. Mary Kole reflects on the wisdom of following up on a ms rejection by asking an agent for a referral to another agent. I found her latest post on exclusive submissions very helpful. The question of whether to submit to one agent/editor at a time has long been debated in the writing circles I hang out in. I've vacillated over the years between sending out one at a time as an exclusive; mailing mss wholesale as simultaneous submissions; or some combination of the two. Mary's advice makes it clear that the choice is the writer's; but she points out that, if you've chosen ten targets to send out your work on an exclusive basis, you're running the risk of losing several months or years waiting for an acceptance.

Mary's running a contest this month for MG/YA mss. She'll look at your first 500 pages. Check out this link for more information:

January 7, 2010

Can She Be like a Tree?

I have a great view outside my workroom. A giant oak dominates the scene, along with several other trees up and down the street. Right now, they're all unadorned. No leaves. No blossoms. Seemingly not bothered by winter's cold and wind. It's occurred to me that, whatever their outward appearance, they remain true trees. They retain their inner "tree-ness" in all kinds of weather, in every season.

Which makes me wonder about a character I'm developing for a middle grade novel. She sometimes reacts to situations in ways quite inconsistent with her inner self. Is it realistic for her to maintain her internal "me-ness" while acting in opposition to what she believes is right or proper? If so, does this create a tension between her interior character and her outer behavior? Should she be aware of it? Try to change it? And is this enough to involve a middle grade reader's interest?

So many questions. So few answers.

January 5, 2010

Global Warming

This morning, even though it was only 3ยบ out, I went to the YMCA pool for water aerobics. As every conversation does these days, talk among the four of us who showed up for class turned to the weather. The amount of snow and ice plus temperatures below freezing for two weeks led most to agree that the global warming theory is false. It's easy to feel this way when one is homebound by unusually frigid weather and when the past summer in Kansas City was cool and rainy rather than extremely hot and humid.

It's also easy to forget that we're talking about GLOBAL warming, not Missouri warming or US warming. It's been documented that polar bears are losing their icy habitat because of global warming.• That's hard to grasp here in the middle of America. No polar bears around here, although the KC Zoo is due to welcome one in April. Maybe its new habitat will include some education about what's happening to his counterparts in the wild...and how that might eventually affect all of us.


January 4, 2010

The Key Search

As soon as my bangs begin to impede my vision, I know it's time for a haircut. Saturday I ventured out to the neighborhood Great Clips for a trim. Things went well. Loretta was my stylist and we chatted about the changes the weather had made on our holiday plans. I paid, donned my hat and coat, and reached in my pocket for my keys. Not there. Not anywhere. Not in any pocket nor in the car nor under the car. Several customers joined in the search, both in the shop and the icy parking lot. When I removed my knit hat to call for help on my cell, I heard a faint jingle. "Are those your keys?" a customer asked, pointing to the floor. Yep. There they were. They'd caught on the yarn inside my hat and hid out there while I searched for them.

How did those keys get in my hat? I'm blaming it on the subzero weather.