Gosh, where did the week go? I was going to post an update on the goings on at the Big Sur Writers Workshop as soon as I got back, I promise, but, as usual, other things took priority. The ‘other things’ this week were more like one big thing. Emma Dryden, until ten months ago v-p and editor of Atheneum Books and Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon and Schuster), opened her own editing company, drydenbks, and kicked it off by joining me on #ScribeChat to talk about flawed characters. I was so keen to write a worthy introduction for The ScribeChat Review that I fidgeted about getting down to it, and the nerves mounted with every day that I procrastinated.
I’m beginning to learn one thing about procrastination. The more I dread something I have to write, the better the end result tends to be. How screwed up is that? I have to go through hell every time to produce good work? Why, why, why did the powers-that-be make me a writer?
The chat went well, of course. In fact, it was the most well-attended chat yet and I hardly had to do any hosting, as the participants kept the tweets flying without my input. You’d never have known it was Emma’s first time at a live Twitter chat, either. What a quick brain and lively intellect she has. The writers who came to hear her take on how to write flawed characters certainly appreciated it—the topic intro post and the transcript post have been retweeted and shared on Facebook more times than any previous posts at The Review. You can read the topic intro here and the transcript here if you’re curious.
Now that it’s over for another week I can relax and relive the highlights of the Big Sur weekend. I enjoyed the seven hour drive almost as much as the time I spent in my rather roomy suite with a view of the ocean, writing; but joining the rest of the Big Sur gang for meals was what I loved the most. I get so much done away from home, without all the usual responsibilities and distractions. I didn’t pay for internet access. I stayed in my room. I wrote. And at the end of the day, there were writers to play with. It was blissful and just much, much too short.
I can see why some writers book themselves into a hotel for the last few weeks before a submission deadline. As I sat there being effortlessly productive, the idea grew in me to gather some writing friends for a week of writing that would follow the same format. I’d invite writers who didn’t need feedback or teaching, who had reached a level of proficiency where all they needed was time to write. There’d be wine, good food, and the occasional flop on a beach towel with a good book or stroll through a redwood forest. No television, no internet, no shopping, cooking or laundry to do.
So there I was in Monterey, thinking these thoughts as I whipped through the pages of my manuscript, making decisions about which scenes should stay and which ones should go into my “may be used later” box. I was using my synopsis as a map, even though my weekly critique group told me it was confusing, but that made me uneasy so I decided to get some comments from one of the faculty editors. My son, who was supposed to have come with me but chickened out at the last minute, had been allocated a private chat with an editor to discuss a synopsis or query letter. So I appropriated his appointment and was relieved when she told me that mine was just too complex a story, being fantasy, to squeeze on one page. Once she gave me permission to let it flow into two to three pages I could see clearly what needed to be done. What a relief.
That night, as I was wining and dining with the other Big Sur Workshop writers and listening to my agent’s husband, thriller writer Barry Eisler, share his social networking secrets, I chatted to an editor from Grand Central Publishing (Hachette Group) about the difference between historical mysteries and historical thrillers. There’s a supernatural historical series that’s been simmering on the back burner for a while now which I shared with her, asking her which camp it fell into, and then the conversation moved pleasantly on to, of all things, hair products (hey, we’re girls) and sundry other things having nothing to do with books. At the end of the dinner I thanked her for keeping me company and she leaned in and whispered “Send me that manuscript” and gave me her card.
There’s no surer measure that you have a good idea for a story than when a couple of minutes of story description garner that kind of response. Excitement bubbled within as I said my goodnights and headed back up to my room to finish the synopsis. I didn’t just have one story in me. I had two. And both have series potential. You see, it wasn’t the request for the manuscript itself that was important. It was the fact that this means I may, just may, have a career as a writer. I’m not a one book wonder. That last night in Monterey was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages.