Writers’ Mill Minutes, 16th July 2017
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- Send journal entries to firstname.lastname@example.org before the end of the month! Read on to learn more details
- Send 100th contest suggestions to email@example.com before the 1st of August!
- Send What If…? Contest entries to firstname.lastname@example.org before the end of August 6th. Read on to learn more details.
Sixteen members attended July’s meeting and enjoyed an amazing and informative talk from novelist and poet, Tim Applegate. Notes from Tim’s talk are below—if you missed it, you missed a wonderful opportunity to see into the real world of high hopes, dejection, rejection, and persistence that pays off.
We introduced ourselves to each other and to Tim by listing the genres we’re all working in. These included:
- Short stories
- Historical fiction
- Personal writing
- Young adult fiction
- Adult fiction
- Tween fiction
- Picture books
- Beach books
- Book reviews
- Book releases
Can you think of anything to add to the list?
Matthew hopes to release his Carl and June book in time for Christmas. Sheila’s next novel is due for release on August 1st. And Joe is still seeking submissions for his Inspirational journal—twelve stories of faith, hope and courage. He has four interviews set up with authors of inspirational pieces, and is seeking four more.
The first half of Tim’s talk covered his writing career from high school to the present day. After a question and answer session, he handed out a list of books that have influenced him and invited us to see what happens next after the contract is offered. See below for more details.
Jayne provided delicious snacks at the break, then Jean gave out delightfully appropriate contest awards for our “For Art’s Sake” contest. Richard, in first place with Art for Art’s Sake, received a bottle of sake (!). Judy, taking second place with Lisa’s Portrait, received a book on Leonardo Da Vinci. Robin, in third place, received coloring sets for the art of her poem, Slave. (But don’t worry, contest organizers. Not all prizes have to be so stunningly wonderful!)
Upcoming contests and deadlines are:
- Deadline August 6th, What if…, 1100 words or less. Karin offers us a chance to explore alternate realities – what if I hadn’t taken that job? What if he’d put an X instead of a 1… etc.
- Deadline September 3rd, Unattainable, 12000 words or less. Matthew invites us to trip up our main character over and over, leaving that unattainable goal still unattained by the end of the tail.
- Deadline October 1st, Hidden Deep Inside, 1200 words or less. Karen invites us to explore subtext, or just write about something hidden (physical, emotional…)
Details of all these contests can be found on our website at http://portlandwritersmill.org. If you’ve not been there yet, go now and see who we are.
- Then send you contest entries to email@example.com
- Please send your journal entries to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Please send comments, kudos and complains to email@example.com
And don’t forget to make sure you can receive emails from all these addresses—gmail users, look for them under promotions! Others, check your spam and deleted folders. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re not receiving our newsletters and notifications.
Current status on the journal:
- Inspired by…
- People and places
- Times and Seasons
- Just for Kids
- Kid-friendly animal stories, poems and essays (but note,Fred and Joe stories have already been published in Zeus and Bo and Fred and Joe and Co) 1 entry (Sheila)
- Other kid-friendly pieces (but note,Carl and June stories may be published separately)
Entries have been received from 10 members – don’t forget, we need at least 15 to make this worthwhile.
- Please note the ADDITION OF A HUMOR SECTION.
- Artists, please email email@example.com and let me know if you’re willing to be contacted for additional images as we put things together.
- The deadline is the end of the month, so…
Polish off your inspired, thoughtful, humorous and kid-friendly writings, and send them in BEFORE THE END OF THE MONTH.
LaVonna led the critique of Matthew’s remaining two Carl and June short stories, where we looked at:
- How do we/should we avoid excessive use of he said/she said? And what’s excessive anyway?
- How do we/should we avoid excessive use of adverbs?
- How do we style our writing so that readers want to read the next paragraph?
- When is predictable not a problem (see writing style)?
- What makes characters consistent? Especially, what makes characters shared over several authors consistent?
- What makes characters believable?
- How do we balance show and tell?
- How do we convey internal dialog of a pre-speech character?
- How might well-timed revelations (12-year-olds know best) add to character depth?
Matthew is looking for anthology illustrations – black and white, maybe cartoon-style, 8-12 pictures – for publication by the end of the year. If you’re interested, please send a sample image or, say, 12-year-old June and 1-year-old Carl, to MatthewM@portlandwritersmill.org
Matthew is also looking for an anthology title. Suggestions at the meeting were:
- Carl and June—tales of two siblings
- A Juvenile’s Tedium
- Chrimiss and June (or Chrimiss in June)
- Chrimiss Presence
Please email Matthew with your comments, suggestions and votes.
Our next meeting is on August 20 (the day before the eclipse)
- Zita Podony, author of a historical book about Vanport included in the images of America collection, will be our speaker – learn about historical research, use of images, what being part of a collection implies, and more…
- Ria will bring snacks
- Jim will lead the critique of Ria’s story, and
- Jim will collect money in lieu of flowers for Minnie.
Tim Applegate on Being an Author
Tim Applegate gives around four poetry readings per year, plus novel presentations, plus speaking engagements at writing groups such as Writers’ Mill. We were delighted to welcome him to our July 2017 meeting, and he assured us that writers’ group engagements were pleasantly lowkey and fun.
Tim started his writing career in high school. He enjoyed the well-known romantic poets (Keats, Wordsworth…) and, encouraged by a friend, sent poems of his own to national literary journals. Two were published, and his career plan was made—poetry, short stories, novels, and then SUCCESS! But it didn’t work out that way. After seven years of writing poetry, short fiction, and even a novel (at age 28), everything had been rejected.
Writing can give us a huge boost, but it can also give us unpleasantly negative exposure. Writers MUST be able to accept constructive criticism. They must move from
- Denial – nobody understands me – to
- Acceptance – Tim says he was teaching himself to write with his early pieces, and they just weren’t very good (perhaps he’s his own worst critic) – to
- Learning to do better.
Tim did this by reading, editing professional poets (and beginners—learning in the process that we all end up writing bad imitations of our favorite authors), and continuing to write. In his 30s he finally wrote a poem that felt like his own voice (not a bad imitation), and told his wife he’d turned a corner (by writing a bad poem!).
Tim’s poetry is published in many journals. He sends poems out in batches of six or seven and feels thrilled if one or two are accepted. An editor who showcased Tim’s poems in a journal encouraged him to look for publishers of his own. Soon he was working with an editor, getting seriously involved with the Oregon poetry community, and lining up readings.
Tim learned from reading that at age 28 he didn’t know how to write a novel. There’s more to it than just setting up a scene and moving on to what happens next. After deciding he would never write a novel again, he got an idea 25 years later that just had to be written. It was much better than his first novel but he still won’t let anyone read it because…
- There are too many characters,
- The writing’s too dense
- It’s too deliberately literary…
So he head it to see what he’d done wrong. William Stafford tells poets they have to write many bad poems before they write a good one. Perhaps the same applies to novels.
It took two years to writer Fever Tree. 30 pages in, Tim knew he’d found his style and knew this one would work. Many revisions later, many rejections later (from the big publishing houses, whose slush piles are so huge the odds are inevitably stacked against you), he searched online for MID-LEVEL PUBLISHERS—ones with real staff and real offices. Amberjack publish young adult, suspense, and genre fiction. He wasn’t sure Fever Tree fit in, but they asked for non-traditional submissions with a personal stamp so he gave it a try. They asked for the first 15 pages. Then they asked for the whole manuscript. Then they offered a contract. So, at age 63, Tim Applegate became a novelist!
He showed the contract to lawyer and expert friends. He panicked about online scams. He asked “What if?”—what if a better contract might come along later—but no, he wouldn’t turn down a real contract (would you?). He did ask for a couple of changes. No problem. He worked with a great editor. The book went into the design stage and was published a year later.
So… if you know you can write, keep writing, keep improving, and never, ever give up!
We asked Tim about marketing
- His publisher helps—the books are distributed by Ingram, Bowker etc, so they can get into libraries and bookstores (distribution by Createspace/Amazon doesn’t get your book into stores, as Jean has learned in researching her blogposts: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9881421.Jean_Harkin/blog )
- Personal contacts help—he went to local bookstores, Powells etc
- Being part of a group helps—he is able to get readings in places where he’s read poetry before.
What does he do at a reading?
- Poetry is different from novels
- It lends itself better to short readings, and the audience if often made up of interested poets.
- Portland is saturated with readings, so novel readings might be very sparsely attended
- Tours can lead to amazing audiences outside Portland, especially if you’re the only show in town.
- He would read a group of poems at a poetry reading – a group of work poems, or hiking poems, or…
- At a novel reading, e.g. at Annie Blooms’, he would take about prose style, humor, suspense, romance… and pick short passages to illustrate each point.
- Typically a fiction audience wants to know how you write and publish, whereas a poetry audience just wants to listen.
How did he decide that his second novel wasn’t going to be published, or his “bad” poem wouldn’t be sent out?
- He might go back to rework parts, but not the whole.
- He might take pieces from the novel to reuse elsewhere.
- He might write a new poem.
Tim Applegate on Genre
Fever Tree wasn’t initially a mystery. It was a story, that might become a series, chronicling the outsiders of his generation—hippies, artists, Vietnam vets, priests who’ve lost their faith, the woman who leaves a perfect marriage… The idea and the characters came first.
Then came reading. At the start of a writing career, every chapter an author writes might read like a homage to the author they’re currently reading. Eventually you find your own voice. But other author influence, have influenced and will influence you. Sometimes it’s useful to make a list—if half the books on your list are mysteries, you’re probably interested in mystery and might write mysteries. Tim Applegate handed out his list.
Flannery O’Connor’s Wide Blood was on influence—the stranger shows up in town and becomes a mystery character. Okay, may Fever Tree was becoming a mystery.
Location’s important—Tim knows the South and wanted to set his novel there. He knows the town where he imagines is happening, except the town might not be exactly how he remembers, so he imagines a nearby similar fictional town.
So now, with location and character, Tim started writing literary fiction, realized he was heading into mystery, and had a literary mystery on his hands… with room for humor, action, sex, romance and more. Genre shouldn’t bind you; it should free you.
If you read a lot of mystery, you might end up writing mystery. But get the details right. With no background in law enforcement or gun use, Tim needed to ask questions and find out the answers. Also, don’t copy someone else’s mystery style. There are already lots of good books in every genre field; you probably can’t write “better” so write “different.” Tim’s style is literary. Fever Tree is a “non-traditional” mystery: non-traditional because:
- There’s no traditional protagonist—no Miss Marple, no Private Eye.
- There’s no traditional antagonist—no Hannibal Lecter. Even the bad guy has heart.
- Shifting points of view—traditional usually sticks to one or two.
- Shifting time—flashbacks are usually a no-no
- Poetic style—because Tim is a poet.
Of course, there are problems with a non-traditional style:
- The “traditional” segment of the market will reject your novel after the first three pages
- Your story’s not going to be light and fun—the reader has to work at it.
- When people ask “What’s your book like?” there’ll be no simple answers.
Find your own style. Choose your own audience. Don’t try to be all things to everyone. Be yourself and be a writer!
Tim took questions from the audience again:
Is writing hard?
- Going down a mineshaft every day is hard. Getting shot at in Vietnam is hard.
- Writing is meant to be fun. We should be grateful we have time and opportunity.
- Sure we’ll get negative reviews, but be grateful we have a book to be reviewed.
- Don’t dwell on your own success or failure. Want everyone else to succeed.
What are some book tour venues?
- You might travel—he might travel with his next novel (Farewell Angelina)
- Your publisher might have suggestions.
- Get invitations from people who know you
- Visit bookstores, coffee shops, libraries
- Use all your contacts, and enjoy the fact that Oregon is very author-friendly
Does he have an agent?
- There’s no money in poetry so no.
- It’s hard to get one as a novelist unless you’ve already been published
What does he put in a poetry collection?
- About ¾ previously published work, ¼ new poems
- Publishers want you to be previously published – it proves you have a track record.
- A short book might include poetry and short (poetic) fiction.
What is he doing now?
- Researching a third book while the second one “rests.” (Leave the manuscript alone for 3 months before looking at it again.)
- Enjoying his website designed by his daughter.
- Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want her to design yours!
Thank you so much Tim for a wonderful talk, and for sharing so much of your writing life with us!