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09/12/08 | Genius Mode, Idiot Mode, Maui, My Writings, Procrastination | 3 Comments
[Please note that there is ANOTHER new post under this one as well!]
I suck. Honestly, I’m not kidding. I don’t know how I’m supposed to get published if I don’t write, and I haven’t been. Not for months now. I could talk about all of the stresses I’ve been having in my life lately, but they’d all sound oddly like excuses, which is exactly what they’d be. There have been many writers before who have kept going through tough times (*cough*Jo Rowling*cough*), so what do I have to say for myself? I suck.
Three weeks ago I made the 12 hour trip from Philadelphia to Honolulu for the Maui Writers Conference and Retreat (which was obviously on hiatus from Maui!). It was my second time attending the conference and retreat, and I just have to say… it was weird. I didn’t like having it in Honolulu. It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced the retreat in Maui, but there’s this sort of spiritual ambiance about that island, not to mention the fact that you are so secluded and are almost forced to interact with all of the other retreaters (which is a DEFINITE plus!). But that didn’t happen this year. Yes, I walked away with new friends (hi Edna, Kim, Ryan, Tracy and Linda!), but I don’t think we were around each other enough. Last year, I ate with someone new almost every meal, and had drinks every night. This year (as much as I love them!), I spent most of my time with my roommates, who I’d met last year. It was just off…
Besides that, the retreat itself was amazing. I studied alongside five other hand-picked students in a Masters Class with NYT bestselling author Steve Berry, who is a master craftsman himself. I had heard horror stories about him teaching a previous retreat in Fiji—something about half the class winding up in tears?—but I have to say that I welcomed the criticism. As he likes to put it, you don’t become a better writer by people telling you how amazing you are all the time. And Steve was nothing but honest, definitely giving compliments when necessary, but always keeping it real. Surprisingly, there were no tears (at least not IN class, anyway!), and I believe that we have all walked away better writers.
I was sort of shocked that Steve was fairly complimentary of my work. Keep in mind my abovementioned statement of him being a hard-ass when I say… I was the only writer in the class that he complimented TO THE CLASS. We were sitting there, going over my writing sample, when he actually said “This boy can write.” (I almost added an exclamation mark there, but Steve doesn’t really talk in exclamation marks and he would probably die if I ever used one in my writing, anyway… and yes, I can see the four I’ve already used! Five… Damn.) His biggest criticism of my writing was that I need to work on structure, something I wholeheartedly agree with. He even wrote a special dedication in the book of his I had him sign: “You’re going to make it.”
I hope so!
The thing is, I need to get back into the swing of things. I still need to rewrite the entire second half of my book (about 40 pages worth… it’s a short second half), and add three or four new chapters to the first half, which will help with pacing and character development. Plus, the general editing that needs to be done for tightening and strengthening my prose. I’ve got a bit of work to do, obviously, and it needs to be done soon. I’ve even given myself a deadline to finish all rewrites and edits by the end of October, which is 49 days from now. Now, I’ve just got to sit down and DO IT!
It was nice being able to see so many amazing writers. Not only did I get to sit in the presence of Steve Berry for hours a day, but I got to be around David Morrell (the father of RAMBO), John Lescroart, William Broadbent, William Martin, Ann Hood, and my retreat teacher from last year and personal friend, Gary Braver. I was hoping to get to see James Rollins again, who I met last year in Maui and actually had drinks with at ThrillerFest in July, but he had to pull out at the last minute because of an unfortunate family emergency. He and his family are on my mind every day.
Now, for any of you who know me, this next bit may come as a shock: I WENT SURFING. Yes, me, in the ocean, on a little board. I’ll let you get the laughs out before we proceed.
Not only did I go surfing, but I went surfing with THREE BESTSELLING AUTHORS! Steve, John Lescroart and Bill Broadbent joined me with Steve’s wife, Liz, a friend of hers and the woman’s husband, and another member of my retreat class, Kim, who organized our little expedition. That’s a pretty cool story to be able to tell, right?
(I’ll save the embarrassing pictures for myself!
From far left: Liz, her friend, me, Liz’s friend’s husband, Bill, John, Steve, and Kim… muscle guy with no shirt is our instructor, obviously)
Okay, let’s just say that having long hair does not help in the slightest. And, being a rather bigger boy (*sigh*), I got tired REAL fast. I didn’t realize how much energy it would take just to paddle out to the surfing point! I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in such a short period of time. Did it help that I was in cold water? Not really. While all of the skinny people were having a blast, I was ready to just die. I fell off the board a couple of times (five), and it’s very hard to get back onto it when you’re not allowed to put your feet on the ocean floor. Why weren’t we, you ask? Because it was covered with such wonderful things as coral, broken shells, sea urchins, and all manner of lovely things that you can cut your feet on and attract our little friends, the sharks. There was one instance when I was having a particularly difficult time getting back on the board, when the instructor pulled up beside me for encouragement. I had my arms stretched across the board and the top of my chest on, but couldn’t manage more than that. “One chest at a time!” was his helpful tip. I could only look at him with an expression I’m sure would have killed puppies. Then he said, “One tit at a time!” Ah, now I got you, thanks.
By the time we were heading into shore, I was so exhausted that I could hardly move, let alone paddle. So, our instructor pulled up next to me, put his foot on my board, and literally “toe’d” me into shore.
Let’s just say that it will be a while until I get back on a surfboard again. Maybe next year, if I’ve lost 100 pounds and can bench-press a small whale.
Kyle W. Kerr
09/20/07 | Books, General, Genius Mode, Maui, On Writing | 0 Comments
Throughout the years I have looked for help in many different places: books, magazines, websites, from authors, workshops, the list goes on and on. I’m going to list a few of the things that really help(ed) me.
Half autobiography, half book on style, Stephen mixes up one of the best books on writing available today. Why is there a section where he talks about himself? Because you need to know where he’s coming from in order to know why he does what he does best. The story of his life, his vices, and the success of his first book, Carrie, are inspirational (something all of us novice writers need!), and the man knows what he’s talking about when it comes to writing. Read through the book, do the samples, and watch your talent soar.
Okay, who the hell would ever read a book on punctuation, let along write one? You guys, this is an amazing book. I don’t claim to be the end all of punctuation knowledge (in fact, I tell everyone who will listen that most of my knowledge is actually instinct based… which usually works, but not always). You couldn’t find a more boring topic, but Lynne handles it with grace and—dare I say it?—a little wit as well. (Also, if you’re in the mood to laugh, check out her book on rudeness, Talk to the Hand).
Both are monthly magazines, and both cover a wide array of writerly topics: from how to get an agent, to writing better emotion, to lessons on column writing, and so on. Also included in many of the issues are current markets out there searching for new material, information about contests and competitions (including some of their own), as well as first-time novelists’ success stories (which are always great to read).
I have had the privilege of meeting and talking to Tess on two occasions, but more importantly I am able to connect with her on a much more regular basis through the blog on her website. She actually reads every comment, and personally responds to them when necessary. Not only is she an immensely gracious author by taking the time to connect with her readers in such a way, but her blog is actually a very useful tool to novice writers like myself. Tess gives us the inside scoop on the publishing industry, both the ups AND the downs. Most importantly, she brings herself down to our level, reassuring us that we all have doubts and worries, and even she, after 20+ books and a level of über-success most of us only dream of, still gets nervous whenever she begins a new project or when her books go on sale. And, as shown by this entry, she really cares about us beginners.
This is a peer-to-peer critiquing site. Basically, in order to have someone critique your work, you need to do the same for someone else. Once you read and review one story (you write up an actual review for the author, as well as scoring the piece on several categories, including plot, theme, characters, language, etc.), then you are able to put your own piece up for review. This is a great tool for anyone who gets nervous presenting their work to groups, and it works out fairly well. The only problem I really have with this is that you can’t regulate who reads your story. It could be sent to someone who doesn’t like your genre/theme, and your rating and review will reflect that. Also, you lose a little when you’re not able to actually talk to the person about what they thought. All you get is a little snippet. Still very enlightening and useful.
Okay, I know I’ve talked about this a little in previous posts (considering I was just there!), but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate all of this. The conference is nice because you get to go to seminars and hear from some of the best authors in the world, including NYT and internationally bestselling and Pulitzer winning authors. They tell you their stories and insights about what has worked for them, including some tips and tricks they’ve picked up along the way.
BUT, the best thing about the whole experience is if you go to the week long retreat before the conference. This is where you are able to learn, this is where you are able to delve into the depths of your writing and uncover what lies beneath. I can honestly say that the retreat changed my life—and my novel—forever and for the better. You learn about your weaknesses and try to improve upon them. You learn about your strengths and try to broaden them. You learn by doing, by writing, and rewriting, and rewriting again, because there’s no better way to learn than by doing.
EVERY BOOK I’VE EVER READ
This is something I can’t stress enough. Every time you read a book you are learning how to write; plot, structure, interesting and realistic characters, dialogue, theme, everything you would ever need to know about writing has been laid out for you for centuries, all you have to do is pick one up and read it. I am flabbergasted when wannabe writers tell me that they do not have time to read—they’re too busy! Well, how are you supposed to know how to tell a story if you never read one? Don’t know what to read? Go to the library, go to Barnes & Noble and browse, or even email me if you need some suggestions; I’ve read hundreds of great books.
Hopefully some of this information will help you can write one (and me, too!).
Kyle W. Kerr
09/11/07 | General, Maui, My Writings | 0 Comments
I’ll admit that it’s been hard these past seven days without my ‘Ohana of writers. I think it’s hard for anyone who hasn’t gone through a similar experience to understand the depth of the relationships that were formed over our week-and-a-half in Maui. At the beginning of the Retreat, the organizers spoke of this bond that grows amongst the groups and I remember scoffing at the idea. Boy do I sure have a big foot, let me tell you.
Over the eleven days that I was there, I got a lot of encouragement and praise from the group, almost to the point of embarrassment. The writer in me still doesn’t know how to take compliments, and they were being thrown at me left and right. Oh, it wasn’t all praise, you know. My group absolutely hated the ending of my book, as well as a few other crucial scenes (I was going for a modern day tragedy, and they want something a little more satisfying!), and I’m not even going to mention the title…! But it’s the compliments that I remember, because they were unexpected.
Don’t get me wrong, I have great faith in my work and my ability as a writer. As you may remember, though, I wasn’t feeling all too happy about my novel when I went into Maui. Yeah, I had decided on a restructure, but there was still something nagging at me. The group definitely showed me what was lacking in the plot, but they considerably boosted my feelings for the project by recognizing the work I put into creating a truly genuine voice for the main character. They really got what I was going for, and that thrilled me to no end. In part, mission accomplished.
Now on to the rest of the edits. There are a number of chapters that need to get completely rewritten, but I’m not scared of them anymore. I know that I have a solid foundation to build on and a strong support system in my fellow writers (who will make sure I never lose sight of my vision… As one of them put it, talking about the theme, “This is a huge book!”). I’m not scared anymore.
I’d like to thank all of my fellow group members, who I really do consider my ‘Ohana. (I’m going to go around the table so I don’t miss anyone!) So, to Dawn, Ginny, Carol M., Carol C., Jon, Roland (and Kathleen!), Rocky, Millie and Charles, thank you for all of your support and encouragement. You are all talented and brilliant, and I can’t wait to see your books alongside mine in Barnes & Noble someday. And a special Mahalo to Gary, our leader and mentor, and wish him all of the success he deserves and a thousand times over. We wouldn’t be where we are without you.
Back to writing...!
Kyle W. Kerr
09/5/07 | Genius Mode, Maui, My Writings | 0 Comments
...or should I say begins? The Maui Writers Retreat and MW Conference are officially over, but now the work truly begins.
I’ll start off with the great news, and you can decide if you want to read more or not. An agent requested my novel…! The bad news? It’s not finished… *smacks self on forehead*
Okay, here’s the deal… I “finished” the book about two years ago, and it’s sat since then. Recently, I picked it up again and decided to fix all of the things that bothered me about the original draft. A whole restructuring was going to happen, things were to be rewritten or cut, and everything was to be updated. That’s definitely still the case, but after talking it over (a LOT) during the retreat with my teacher (Gary Braver) and my fellow students, I decided to rework the ending of the novel. So, the book is no longer as complete as it once was. I’m not simply updating anymore, but writing brand new scenes.
That being said, I told the agent I could have it done in two months. Oy. I will get it done in two months or die in the process, whichever comes first (hopefully the former!).
BUT, that also being said, the agent sounded genuinely intrigued by the work. A couple of the other retreat students (who stayed for the conference as well) and I noticed that a lot of people were having what looked like successes with various agents and editors. However, we realized something else. Those people were only asked to send the first 3 chapters, or the first fifty pages, or the first chapter and the synopsis, things like that. These are very general submission guidelines for any agency, things they tell everyone to send them for consideration. Few people seemed to be getting much more than that.
So, how do I know that the agent I talked to is actually interested in the work and not just trying to placate me? She asked me to send her the whole book. That’s the difference, and something I am very proud to be able to say for myself. Oh, I got one of the above requests, too, but it only takes one person to take special interest to get your foot in the door. And I’m proud to say that most of my Retreat ʻOhana (that’s Hawiian for ‘family’) have had similar successes. Hoʻomaikaʻi ʻana, ʻōlelo hoʻomaikaʻi! (I don’t really know if that means ‘congratulations’ or not, but the dictionary website told me it was!)
I don’t want this entry to be insanely long, so I’m not going to talk about everything I WANT to talk about in just one post. So, I’m going to talk about my week and a half on Maui over the next few entries, and I’ll go into further detail about my experiences during the retreat, and even share some really important information I picked up along the way.
The bottom line, though… would I ever come to Maui again? Absolutely. It was the best investment I’ve ever made, and I can’t wait to be back next year (which I will).
One note before the end of this post… You’ll notice that I have ONCE AGAIN changed the name of my book. It started out as A Life, Less Living, but I decided to change it once the overhaul began. It became A Song of Sad Lamentation. Guys, my group absolutely HATED that title! I could have died laughing (and not even to keep from crying… I thought it was really funny!)… They said it sounded too sad, and real life is sad enough. No one would ever pick up a book that said it was going to be sad right in the title! Two people in the group (I say two because they literally blurted out the title at exactly the same time) suggested Simon’s Song… which—erm—I hated. Did not like it at all…! (Sorry Carol and Charles!) So, after a lot of soul searching, I have finally come up with a title I think fits perfectly with the plot of the book, and has a double meaning to me as well (which I love doing). The new title of my book is:
Kyle W. Kerr
09/5/07 | General, Idiot Mode, Maui | 0 Comments
This was my Monday:
Woke up around 7AM Maui-time, took a shower, and packed up my hotel room. This included going through a weeks’ worth of retreat papers (copies of my chapters and synopsis with notes on them), and attempting to stuff all of my clothes into the suitcase without it dying. Then I met a few friends who were doing last minute agent/editor consultations to show some moral support (what can I say, I’m a good guy that way!)… From 11-12 we attend the closing ceremonies for the Maui Writers Conference, where my friend Dawn won third place in the Rupert Hughes Writing Competition (which is a big deal, because it is judged by some very big name authors, agents and editors, not to mention the $500 prize money [add another 0 to that for first place!]).
Noon rolls around and it’s time to check out of the hotel. I’m supposed to get a 1:45PM shuttle to the airport for a 4:30PM flight.
As I’m checking out, the girl behind the counter says, “Are you sure you’re checking out today? We have you scheduled until tomorrow.”
To which I reply, “Of course I’m leaving today. I have a 4:30 flight!”
She nods to placate me, though was surely inwardly scoffing (it’s all in the eyes!)… She checks me out anyway, being sure to radio someone to say something about an “unexpected departure.”
I go to lunch with my friends Dawn, Jamie and Rocky, where we end up inviting big wig St. Martin’s Press editor Charles Spicer to eat with us, since he was going to eat alone. The conversation was really great (I wasn’t nervous to be around him because he doesn’t represent my genre… I didn’t have to worry about impressing him), and the food was good (though expensive! $18 for a cheeseburger, fries and can of Coke!).
Finally, we realize it’s 1:30 and almost time for me to leave. No one’s really talking because we’re so sad that we’re not going to be together anymore.
The shuttle comes at 1:45 on the dot, but the driver says he doesn’t have my name on his list. “What do you mean, you don’t have my name on your list?!” I say. “I have the voucher right here… It’s already paid for!”
He calls his dispatcher, asking about my reservation. I hear her voice come over the cell’s speakerphone.
“Pick-up for Kerr is scheduled for the 4th.”
“Today’s the 4th,” I exclaim.
“They’re saying it’s the 4th,” the guy says into the phone.
I really hope you’re laughing, because I still wasn’t getting it at that point.
Thinking quick, I look at my phone. It’s September 3rd. Guys, I checked out of my hotel a day early! I packed up my room, defied the girl behind the counter, and was close to yelling at the driver for losing my reservation. Can anyone say dumbass…?
As I shuffled back up to the front counter with my best impression of a puppy dog grin on my face, I could see the I-told-you-so smile the girl behind the counter was wearing. I try and laugh it off, and in the process learn that I am the first person to EVER do that at the Wailea Marriot Resort in Maui. Go me. Oy vey.
(For those who care, Wailea is pronounced Why-Uh-Lay-Uh.)
This is what I make of the situation, though: Had I not been a complete moron, then we would never have had such a great lunch with über-editor Charlie. So, I’m not that miffed about it. (Who am I kidding? I was mortified when it happened! Charles is just the nice spin I like to put on the situation to make me feel better.)
Oh, and here’s a taste of what I saw in Maui…
And, yes, I did take them myself!
Kyle W. Kerr
I just wanted to throw out a quick word to say that I made it to Maui in one piece (though I think I left my butt in Fort Worth, Texas!)...!!!
It’s the end of my second day on the island, and I couldn’t be having more fun. Yesterday was a traveling day (like I said in another entry, about 14 hours!), and settling into my room. Maui is SIX hours behind Boston, so you can imagine how tired I was. I actually wasn’t able to fall asleep until about 9:30 Maui time, which is about 3:30AM Boston time… Ouch! But, that meant I was able to wake up at 7AM this morning and enjoy a full day. I’ll definitely have to post some pictures when I get back, because the ocean here is absolutely stunning. I’m not a sun guy, at ALL, and yet I laid on a beach chair for about an hour and a half today, just watching the waves. Sounds sort of cliche, but it was so relaxing.
At about 5:30 we had our Retreat Orientation, where the organizers told us about the retreat and introduced us to all of the “teachers”. They even had a native Hawiian come in and bless the retreat for us with some beautiful chanting. Then they served us dinner up on the roof of one of the sections of the resort, and Gary actually invited me to eat at his table. I had (surprisingly) already made friends with two other writers by that point and brought them over to Gary’s table as well, where he had assembled a number of people who are going to be in his class. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I had. Being writers, it was a little awkward at first, but then the wine started to flow and everybody opened up real nice!
So, tomorrow begins the retreat, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Gary was complimenting my work at dinner, and made me blush considerably (which was an accomplishment, considering my cheeks were already red from the sun and the wine!). The other writers seem like a really enjoyable bunch, and I can’t wait to get started.
I’d love to write more, but it’s costing me $.65/minute to write this, so I have to go...!
Kyle W. Kerr
08/23/07 | Maui, Movies, Procrastination | 0 Comments
There’s about 20 hours left until I leave for Maui (7AM flight, 14 hour trip, oy). I have so much stuff to do before I leave, too. Do you guys know that I haven’t started packing yet? Do you know that I still have laundry to do before I CAN pack? I also have to go to the bank, to the post office, the store, start rereading The Silence of the Lambs at Gary Braver’s request for the retreat portion of the trip, and call a cab company to make sure I have a way to get TO the airport at 4:30 tomorrow morning. Fun… Yeah, yeah, I know. Does “Professional Procrastinator” not mean anything these days? I’ll get everything done. I hope.
One thing to keep me in high spirits on my long flight (besides the booze, that is)? This message by Gary Braver:
I’m looking forward to working with you on your story, which I think has potential. You have a smooth and engaging narrative style.
Can you feel the heat coming off my face right now? I’ve gotten compliments before (as well as scathing reviews), but to hear that from a bestselling author?
On a side note I went to see the movie Stardust yesterday.
It was surprisingly well done (not that I had any notion of what to expect… I just knew it hasn’t been doing too well at the box office). Claire Danes is glowing as usual, and relative newcomer Charlie Cox plays an all around good performance as well. One of the real surprises of the movie was Robert De Niro’s cross dressing, tea making, piano playing (and swashbuckling?) Captain Shakespeare. Totally unexpected, totally hilarious. Pretty good special effects (though sometimes a little cheesy, but always worth it), and I wish the witch duel could have lasted a little longer (you’ll have to watch it to know what I mean!). Definitely worth the time and money to see.
Okay, I must get back to my Maui checklist. Next time you hear from me I’ll be roasting!
Kyle W. Kerr
08/16/07 | Maui, My Writings | 0 Comments
Okay, there are roughly 7 billion people in the world, right? Now, even if one half of one percent of those people are trying to be writers, that still equates to about 35 MILLION people.
I want to be published. Now you know the odds.
It may not be nearly that many people, but the numbers are definitely up there. You look at publisher or agency statistics, and they reject an average of 99% of the unsolicited submissions they get a year (meaning, people who send stuff in without the agent/publisher/editor requesting it first). And publishers are even worse than literary agencies. In fact, most publishers now REQUIRE submissions to be sent via an agent; they won’t even look at it if it’s sent directly from you, the writer.
Think of agents as St. Peter; they are the Guardians of the Gates, Keepers of the Keys… and rightly so, if you think about it. Would books ever get published if publishers had to sift through all of those submissions themselves (remember my above statistics?)…? So, agents are necessary in today’s publishing world. (Not to mention that they are able to negotiate the best deal possible for you.)
Agents HAVE to be very picky about the clients they take on. They have to really love the work if they are going to spend their time trying to get your manuscript into the hands of the right people. They also have to like YOU if they plan on working with you for however long your relationship lasts (I know of authors who have had the same agent for 20+ years!).
So, how do you get to one of these elusive agents? Well, there’s the most common way of sending them a query letter, possibly with a few sample chapters and a synopsis of the piece (about 1 page per every 25 manuscript pages). But, if you want to get some actual face time with these people, you need to go to a writers’ conference.
That’s what I’ve decided to do. So, in one weeks’ time, I will be boarding a plane and flying out to Maui. First, I will be attending the Maui Writers Retreat, a 6-day Skulls session with me, about 10 other writers, and one bestselling author (Gary Braver). All of us are working on novels, so Gary will be facilitating a roundtable discussion about our pieces, which the other group members will offer critiques on, we will revise our work, and then go for a second round. At the end of those six days, we are supposed to walk away with first (and possibly second) chapters worthy of bestsellerdom. Should be interesting.
However, when the retreat is over, that’s when the real work begins. The next three days will be the Maui Writers Conference, attended by us (published author wannabes), actual published authors, and agents, editors and producers alike. This is where the all important face time comes in. We actually get to sign up for sessions with these industry professionals, pitch our ideas, and hope for the best. Talk about skipping the slush pile!
Even before the conference has begun, I’ve already had two agents get in contact with me about my work. One is interested in my novel, A Song of Sad Lamentation, and the other is interested in my story collection, The Price of Innocence (look for stories that say: “Part of a collection of stories, The Price of Innocence."). They have both received my samples (believe me, I sent them out the SECOND I knew they wanted the samples!), and so now I pray.
Then, during the conference, it’s important to mingle and make contacts. Talk about your ideas and projects with people. All you need is your toe in the door, for them to say the all powerful words “Why don’t you send me a sample,” and then the whole trip has been worth it. It was so empowering to be able to write “Requested Material” on the envelopes I sent to those two agents. It’s some vindication that people are at least interested in seeing a sample of the work, it’s at least good enough to get out of the slush pile.
I will be making some Journal updates as the retreat and conference go on, so you can get an insider’s look into the Maui Writers Conference!
Hopefully the conference and retreat will be worth it. But hey, like everyone has been saying to me, if I don’t get an agent out of this, at least I’ll have been to Maui.
Kyle W. Kerr