What a time it has been! I’ve gone from tentatively sticking my toe back into publishing waters to swimming in the whirlpool of anxious possibility…
Ah, but you have no idea. Let me explain.
I finished my latest novel, Pasture of Heaven, at 10:30 PM on June 26 while my family watched a noisy shoot-em-up in the next room. Even as I hit “save” in at least three locations – my computer, external hard-drive, Dropbox and a couple others just in case – I opened an email that swept me away into the riptide of The Writers Circle’s Summer Intensives. I didn’t have a moment to think about my own work again until the end of the summer when I mentioned at the last class of my beloved Wednesday morning Adult Writers Circle that I was finally looking for a new agent.
Not wanting to draw attention to myself, which is my usual pose in the teacher’s chair (this blog post notwithstanding), I didn’t mention who or what I was planning beyond what would be useful to my students when they were ready. But one of our circle, Maude, finally said, “Let me see your list.” She was quite insistent, so I finally did.
“I know this person, and this one.”
I stared at her, astonished. In fact, a couple of people in the class knew others who might help me. I graciously and somewhat breathlessly accepted their offers of introduction, realizing that this is exactly what The Writers Circle was meant to do. I just hadn’t expected to be one of the recipients of our communal largesse! I always thought it would work the other way around.
A few days later, a message came through inviting me to send a query. Which I did – from my family vacation in Maine. Of course, we had to choose a place off the grid! But after several trips to a wireless hub, I managed to send an appropriate query letter not to one agent, but two. Within 24 hours, requests came from both for the manuscript. OMG!
Not long after, I was meeting my brand new agent in NYC, feeling the first tentative tendrils of hope growing into sturdy roots as I discovered that what I’d been struggling with and nurturing for so long had a champion.
All this was about a month ago. Right now, my former editor at Viking – who, by contract, has first option on this book – has my manuscript in hand. Or someone does in her office. Hopefully it’s made it past her assistant. Maybe it’s making its rounds through the marketing department by now? Maybe finding its way to the final arbiters of a reasonable (dare I hope!) deal? Or is it simply languishing, waiting for a response that will send me searching for the courage and endurance that I’ve preached about so often in these blog posts?
I’m told that, if Viking turns it down, there are lots of other options. In fact, there are more options than ever before. I’ve said it myself, I’ve said it to you, and I know – I really do know – that it’s true. But the brass ring for any author is still to find a traditional publisher who will stand behind their book, or at least get it into the stores across the nation and some attention here and there where it counts. Before and after that, trust me, there’s lots to do. But for now, I can wait.
I’ve waited this long. I can manage a little longer.
As an addendum to my last post, I just heard from Words Bookstore in Maplewood that Pitchapalooza is coming on October 27. You can get all the details at Pitchapalooza’s site, but here’s a brief intro to what they do. I hear from friends that their events are well worth a visit.
“Five years ago, we created an event that has drawn thousands of people into bookstores, writing conferences and book festivals all over the country. It’s called Pitchapalooza, the American Idol for books (only without Simon) and it works like this: Anyone with an idea for a book has the chance to pitch it to a panel of judges. But they get only one minute. Eckstut and Sterry team up with two guest industry insiders to form the judging panel. The Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Whether potential authors pitch themselves, or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, Pitchapaloozas are educational and entertaining for one and all. All attendees come away with concrete advice on how to improve their pitch as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry.
“At the end of each Pitchapalooza, the judges come together to pick a winner. The winner receives a half hour consultation with Eckstut and Sterry. From Miami to Portland, from LA to NYC, and many stops along the way, Pitchapaloozas have consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors.”
Check out these great happenings at The Writers Circle and in our broader, connected creative circles.
First, we’re officially launching our monthly Writers Circle Speaker Series with a talk that goes beyond writing to all aspects of creative thinking.
Join me and TWC Associate Director Michelle Cameron on October 2, 2-4PM for “Tapping into Creativity” at Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange. We’ll be talking about how to bring creative thinking to the classroom, the workplace, and yes, into your own creative work, with hands-on exercises that will challenge your imagination. Tickets are $25/session if pre-registered, $35 at the door, and only $20/session for TWC students and parents (former and current). Students should’ve gotten an email with the discount code, but if you didn’t, just let us know. Register online and, while you’re at it, check out the entire schedule of ten great events. (It’s only $150 for all 10 sessions!)
Second, my good friend, novelist Christina Baker-Kline, shares this terrific mini-retreat for creative women. (Sorry, guys. I’ll find something for you next time!)
Rejuvenate Your Writing Life!
A Restorative Mini-Retreat for Creative Women
with authors Christina Baker Kline and Deborah Siegel
Friday, November 4, 9:30am – 3:30pm, Montclair, New Jersey
This one’s not just for writers. As Christina says, “it’s for anyone who may have a story (or stories) inside but needs a little inspiration and encouragement.” Christina and Deborah are both professional writing mothers who believe that writing is vital — even when it has to happen in the crevices of our lives. (How true!) They held this workshop in Park Slope, Brooklyn this spring with wonderful results. Find out more at Christina’s blog and take advantage of these great women’s wisdom and a day of creative community.
Finally, this from one of the participants at my workshop at the Maywood Library last week. Katie O’Connell writes:
“I have a website, SocialJersey.com which is an event listing site and blog for young northern NJ professionals in their 20s and 30s. I’m updating the site and would like to update it monthly with new content. If you are interested in gaining clips, please email: SocialJerseyEditor@gmail.com.
Thanks, everyone, for spreading the word, sharing the talent and networking around. Now get to writing! I promise I’ll have something substantive to contemplate in the next post. Till then, see you at The Writers Circle.
Just thought I’d share another lovely repost of one of my recent blog entries.
Check out Backspace: the Writers Space. It’s another great community for writers that I’m privileged to be connected with.
Guest blogger and author Michelle Cameron has shared her thoughts on The Writers Circle Blog before. This past weekend, she visited one of The Writers Circle children’s classes at Luna Stage. Michelle and I are working together to introduce The Writers Circle to the Chatham, Madison, and Florham Park, NJ area this spring. More on that in the weeks to come. Meanwhile, here she shares her impressions from her visit.
It was a small, warm cocoon of a space, with a single rug in the center of the floor. The kids walked in, each one clutching a well-thumbed notebook. Coats were slung over chair backs, boots left akimbo on the floor. The children sat, knees drawn to their chests or folded under them, or they kneeled at the edges of the rug. A striped, snowman-and-snowflake box in the center of the rug held pencils; there were large pads of paper and an enormous selection of markers. The kids were noisy and excited, anecdotes about their week and their writing tripping over one another as they settled down. They knew this was a creative space, a place where they could bring forth fantastic ideas with confidence, could tell the stories that were clamoring to emerge from their imaginations to spill onto the page.
Judith played the role of Pied Piper to these third through fifth graders, who started the session by sharing their work. “Louder, slower,” she said when shyness or softness made a child hard to hear. “Time out,” she’d call, bringing her hands up in a T-symbol when the thoughts flowed too fast and furious. “Who has questions?” she’d ask, and then point her way around the waving forest of eager hands.
In every case, some principle of writing emerged from the young work. Point of view. Conflict. Too many characters. Evocative description. Realist vs. fantasy stories. Judith never talked down to these kids. She shared technical concepts many adults struggle to master. The youngsters absorbed what they could and stored the rest to access later.
A fifteen minute writing prompt ― the hero being faced with a challenge ― didn’t intimidate these young minds. Many lay on their stomachs to write. Some left the circle and found chairs to sit on. An initial rustle of movement and the flapping of paper gave way to the focused silence of pencils moving across the page.
As the session ended, parents waited in the lobby while the kids collected themselves and reluctantly left the warmth of this creative cocoon. A few parents lingered, talking to Judith about their son or daughter’s progress. “This class has grown so popular!” said one. “It’s been a godsend for my son,” said another.
Could anyone who loves writing and creativity witness this and not be moved and excited? Any parent of a curious, inventive child knows the difficulty of finding a warm, supportive, and challenging outlet for their son or daughter. I’m thrilled to be invited into The Writers Circle and to have the opportunity to bring such an inspired venture to my own community this spring.
Michelle Cameron’s The Fruit of Her Hands: the Story of Shira of Ashkenaz (Pocket Books, September 2009) is based on the life of the author’s thirteenth-century ancestor, Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg, a renowned Jewish scholar of medieval Europe. Michelle lives in New Jersey with her husband and two college-age sons.
I love Backspace’s STET! And why shouldn’t I? They seem to like me, too.
They shared another of my blog posts on their site, this one from just a couple of weeks ago: The Meandering Plot, or How to Figure Out What’s Next.
Thanks to Amy Sue Nathan, Karen Dionne, and Christopher Graham and everyone at Backspace. I’m honored to be a voice in such a great organization.
Check out the lovely article about The Writers Circle for Kids on .
As they did about a year ago, Backspace‘s blog STET! has graced me by re-posting one of my early summer pieces, We Are What We Read.
Backspace is a great online writers community with plenty of wise advice, both online and to be had at their conferences, often held in New York City.
Thanks, Backspace! I love being a part of what’s going on.
Our community of writers is growing exponentially lately. This summer, besides our lively and vital face to face sessions, I’ve reached beyond the tactile into the virtual world. We’ve had visitors to The Writers Circle blog from as far away as Istanbul and Australia! (You know how I love to experience “other worlds”, both real and imagined.) And I made a new friend, Maria Clara Paulino, who discovered me – and all of us – through the Internet. Here she writes about the value of our community and our fledgling personal connection. Clara, welcome. I am honored to have you join us.
Guest Blogger Maria Clara Paulino
A writer’s work does not blend easily with community building, yet community is vitally important, particularly one of peers who understand the conflicting need for loneliness in which to write, re-write, stare at the tree outside the window and at the blank page. Oh yes, the blank page, the space we fill as quickly as we can with characters connected in multiple configurations of relationship. So, even in the lonely writing process, we fulfill the primal human need to create bonds.
The communities we create on the page are virtual ones; they live only in our psyches and that of our readers. And, as I prepared to write this post, I found myself wondering whether they are fundamentally different from virtual communities like The Writers Circle.
Howard Rheingold asks us to “be careful to not mistake the tool for the task and think that just writing words on a screen is the same thing as real community.” Indeed, if the virtual world excludes the physicality of others, can any virtual community genuinely fulfill the need for relationship? But perhaps the question is misguided. Perhaps The Writers Circle is an environment generating what Todd May calls “relationships of consumption,” primarily dedicated to providing useful information – a worthy goal that I, for one, am very grateful for – but, is that the whole story?
Mitch Parsell writes about the dangers of “narrowly focused virtual communities,” yet I think of how SheWrites gave me a “place” to test my wings as a creative writer in English, a language that was not my own, as well as links to sites such as the one I am writing for at this very moment. On another very personal level, I am grateful for the technology that helped me keep “my” community of friends and family alive as I zigzagged between countries: Portugal and England as a student; then Portugal for a long time; and the US since 2003 (though I am writing this in Portugal, where I will be teaching for the coming academic year).
Every time I moved, even when I went back to my birth place after years away, I felt like a cultural orphan. Everything was “other,” and everything I had left behind was put to the test, relationships most of all. Technology and virtual communication – by phone, e-mail, Skype, and yes, Facebook – helped me in more ways than I usually give them credit for. Before these were available, other technological means of bonding, like pen and paper, came to the rescue, and some of my strongest friendships were forged through letter writing (yes, I am that old). Come to think of it, even soldiers were sometimes comforted by letters from strangers (though I suppose they get e-mails now). The question is, was all of that so different from online virtual communities and the possibilities they open up?
Possibility, I think, is what it is all about … which is why Judy and I tried to meet at Newark Airport while I waited for my connecting flight to Portugal. The now usual airport delays and shoe inspections stood in our way, though, and when I finally made it to the gate I was not a little upset that I was leaving just as I was beginning to make connections with other writers. But, why was I upset? Surely, Skype works fine anywhere in the world. Tucked in my narrow seat waiting for take off, I had plenty (and I mean PLENTY) of time to reflect on this. Here is what I thought: 1) there is generally hope, sometimes conscious, sometimes not, sometimes acted on, sometimes not, that virtual acquaintances will become three-dimensional relationships, more complex and more rewarding too; 2) our brains tend to connect such relationships with physical presence; and 3) an ocean is a rather large obstacle when it comes to meeting the people you’ve been e-mailing, Facebooking, and so on. So, in the meantime, and against distance, I hope virtual communities like The Writers Circle will keep its members going, keep connections strong.
Thank you, Judy.
Maria Clara Paulino is a writer and art historian. Her essays, articles and translations have been published frequently in her native Portugal. She teaches art history at Winthrop University, South Carolina and will be a Visiting Professor at the University of Porto in Portugal this coming year. Visit her blog, Writing In The Margins, to sample some of her first creative efforts written in English.