Is it possible you’ve queried too soon?

Are you wondering whether you are ready to query your novel?  You may be!  It’s always a good idea to take a hard look at your one sentence pitch and your first 5-20 pages before you hit send.  Sometimes, in our excitement, we query too early. When I was thinking about how to illustrate what happens when we query too soon, I thought about Joe Bob Briggs and his movie reviews.

Those of you outside of Texas, or who are too young, may not remember Joe Bob Briggs, a fictional persona who writes satirical movie reviews. He is actually still around…you can see one of his reviews here, and you can Google him and go find his home page if you really want to know more.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

In his heyday, he wrote a syndicated column that reviewed B-movies, usually, but not exclusively, shown at Drive Ins.  His favorites were horror flicks.  He had several signature phrases, but his most useful one for our purposes was about not allowing the plot to get in the way of the action.  He always included a count of various features of the films at the end of the review, which might list the number of dead bodies, body parts, and whether there was any one or several varieties of XX-fu, which was Joe Bob’s way of poking fun at the silly fighting in the movie. 

In homage to Joe Bob, I present a fictional satirical review of a fake book opening that might have gone on query too soon. 

NOTE: This review is snarky—it is also completely fake, and there is no intended relationship to any actual writer’s work. The review mentions common issues with opening pages.  If snark bothers you, please skip it!

The novel opens with a long description of the weather and what everyone is wearing.  Of course, it is in first person, and the protagonist describes herself, because she is aware of the reader. Don’t we all describe ourselves in our thoughts?

Nothing much happens for about ten pages or so.  It is just one long stream of consciousness and list of things that a person is doing that don’t seem to have any bearing on a story of any kind. And then, there is some dialogue, but it is unclear whether this is happening now or whether it is a flashback.  There are a number of convenient coincidences that the reader isn’t supposed to notice.  I noticed.

The next five pages are all backstory, because readers need to know every detail of the main character’s back story right from the get go. It’s important, so it has to be at the beginning. There are lots of names, but no connection to any action.  In fact, there is not much action at all.  So. Much. Thinking.  

There is not much story getting in the way of the backstory here.

Roundup: Twenty unnecessary adverbs, twelve uses of the verb wink, at least five body part drops and/or clenches, and four questionable metaphors. Six lines of dialogue. Zero scenes, zero decisions, zero stakes.

All kidding aside, does your opening need a little work?

Whether you are just starting your novel or  getting it in shape to query, consider coming to the Readerly Virtual Writing Retreat.  It will be a great time! You can use the writing time to work on your opening and get coaching on it, too.  🙂

Find out more, including the schedule at http://readerlyfriends.net 

The cost is $197 for the whole shebang, including the recordings and the  follow up session.  Best of all, you can attend in your PJs.  🙂

Book Review: The Fell by Sarah Moss

NOTE to writers: this book breaks a lot of the “rules” you’ve been told in good faith to follow. Please realize this is not her first novel, so she has more freedom to experiment. It’s okay to break the rules sometimes, if you can do it well, which she does. 🙂

This book is about the Pandemic without being about the Pandemic.  It’s about the choices we make and how they play out in our lives; how trying to do the right thing sometimes goes wrong; how occasionally what we need is acceptance without judgment and to listen to other people, really listen to hear them.

Kate is supposed to be quarantining at home, but she goes out walking in a moment of high frustration—a woman who is so left-leaning and environmentally conscious, it would be a struggle to find another as “righteously liberal.” She won’t be gone long, no one will even know, or will they?  

This tightly written, multi-POV novel reads fast, but it will stay with you and force you to examine questions raised about love, morality, community, and responsibility. When people think they know all the answers, they need a book like this to ask them more questions.

The Readerly NaNoPlanMo Virtual Retreat is Coming!

Do you struggle with finding time to write, because you have a busy schedule and no trust fund? Do you start writing a new novel because you have this fabulous idea, but then run out of gas about 30 pages in? Do you have a draft that needs revision, but you aren’t sure where to start?

You are invited to join me, guest authors, and other writers to stop procrastinating and get started with concrete steps. We will talk about using structure to plan or revise your novel and making time to write no matter what your schedule looks like;  we will spend time together in a small group writing community to support each other so we can make REAL progress. 

Here’s what is included in the retreat:

  • Sessions to help you get organized and motivated to write
  • Dedicated Writing Time (four hours) with support
  • A copy of Seven Ways of Looking at an Outline workbook for your personal use.
  • Access to recorded sessions from the retreat for 6 months
  • Laser coaching session with Robin (15 minutes) around the issue of your choice
  • Access to a followup group coaching session on November 7 to keep your progress going through NaNo.

Find out more, including the schedule at http://readerlyfriends.net 

Click on the image below to reserve your spot!

The cost is $197 for the whole shebang, including the recordings and the  follow up session.  And, you can attend in your PJs.  🙂

Read Like a Writer Book Club Recap

We had a great July meeting and discussed Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty.  If you missed it and would like to see the notes, click below.

One thing that came up in the meeting was that we would all like to see a Story Grid/Bookmap analysis of this novel.  I am not promising anything, but I have added it to the list of possible future projects.  I do love a good spreadsheet.  🙂

Our next book is Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the master work of epistolary novels, IMHO.  It is available for free at Project Gutenberg and on Kindle, or you can get a paperback copy if that is your wont.  If you would like to join us for the August meeting, drop me a line at readerlybooks[at]gmail[dot]com.  

Mindset Shift: Is it a Cold Dark Night on the Side of Everest for you as a writer?

Writing a novel is hard.  If you’ve been writing for a while, you know this, it is not news.  But sometimes we scare ourselves out of doing hard things, because we think of stress as only a bad thing.  You are not alone; our culture embraced the idea that all stress is bad stress a long time ago, so you are getting constant messages related to reducing stress.

I understand that not all stress is good either and knowing the difference is key, but psychologists have been learning that stress and the use of it as a growth opportunity combined with our mindset around that can determine many of our outcomes.  I am sure you’ve heard of grit.  Well, mindset is a related concept that involves how we think about the things we do and the experiences we have.  The way we conceptualize something frequently determines the way we interpret it, which in turn affects our outcomes and choices as we go forward.  

Think about this for just a minute.  What if Marie Curie had thought, “You know, I don’t have to figure this out.  It probably isn’t important anyway.” Or Hedy Lamar had decided that she was just a pretty face.  Or Liz Cheney had said to herself, “this is going to cost me.”  Stress can be a limiting factor, or it can be fuel for growth.  

One of my favorite authors is Laura Hillenbrand.  She has a way of taking a historic moment and making it real.  She puts in the research, she interviews, she writes and she rewrites.  She does all of this, as some of you probably know, with a debilitating condition which limits her ability to work. What if she decided it was just too hard and the stress was too much?  We wouldn’t have Unbroken in the world.

If stress is something you are dealing with that is limiting your ability to write or revise your novel, think about reframing it.  A lot of the things that are most worth doing are difficult.  If they weren’t, everyone would do them. I listen regularly to the Hidden Brain podcast, and the title for this piece came from a recent episode (linked below) about reframing stress and using it to empower yourself to do hard things.  

The story goes that psychologist Alia Crum was in the lab working towards a graduate meeting with her advisor.  She was stressed and out of ideas.  The IT guy happened across her and when she told him how she was feeling, his response was, “Just another cold, dark night on the side of Everest.”  Then he walked out.  She says in the podcast that this was a turning point for her.  She realized that getting a Ph.D wasn’t supposed to be easy, just like climbing Everest isn’t easy, and I would add, writing a book isn’t easy, but it is a thing worth doing.

Your novel is worth writing, even if it is hard.  Even if sometimes you are stressed and out of ideas. Take a walk, call your coach, call a writing friend, go for a jog, get a cup of coffee, do whatever it is that lets you take a moment and breathe.  Acknowledge that you are doing something hard and that is okay.  It will challenge you, and that is a good thing!

Here are the links to the podcasts, listen to both, but the first part is the one that inspired this message.  🙂

Austenalia: Review of the new Netflix Persuasion

You knew it was coming, dear reader.  I could not call myself an Austen fan without at least taking a look at the new Persuasion on Netflix.  Honestly, I don’t have a lot to add that hasn’t already been said, but just in case, here is the skinny.

First, go read this review in The Spectatorhttps://www.spectator.co.uk/article/everyone-involved-should-be-in-prison-netflixs-persuasion-reviewed  

I completely agree with everything she said.  Fourth wall broken egregiously, check.  Wooden Wentworth, check.  Ridiculous reconception of Anne Elliot who did NOT need reconceptualizing, check.  In fact, the only thing that kept this from being a complete and total waste of time was Richard E. Grant, who delivers the only performance worth watching in the whole thing.  And even he cannot save it.  

It is horrible in every way, whether you are a purist or not. And I write this as someone who enjoyed the new Emma, which was a little offbeat.  See that review here.   

Anne Elliot is not some wine-swilling smart *ss in a Regency gown.  She is a heroine of the first order and reducing her to a heartsick featherweight is a travesty.  Frederick Wentworth wrote what is perhaps the most beautiful letter in the history of literature and here, you will just want him to go to sea and be gone.  I am not sure, nor do I think the director was sure, what he is supposed to be doing.  He tries to look soulful, but he just looks like he needs new glasses to keep his eyes from crossing, really.  

Perhaps while they are in prison, they will read some Austen and understand what the story is actually about, but I doubt it.  HINT: It is not a modern rom com in dress up, it just isn’t.  If you haven’t watched it yet, don’t feel like you need to.  If you want to watch it and discuss how terrible it is with your friends, definitely do.  

Book Review: The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

A novel written with book people in mind, this is a delightful examination of how reading can change lives and bring people together, which is, of course, a topic near and dear to my heart.  I will not tell a lie, the analysis of the titles on the list is surface at best, but the book isn’t really about the books, it is about the people reading them.  

Mukesh is a widower who is struggling with his loss.  He eats the same thing every week, he hardly goes out, and his daughters and grand children can’t seem to connect with him the way they did with their mother.  Mukesh’s beloved wife was a reader and he decides in an almost desperate attempt to remain close to her to go to the library after reading a library book he found while tidying up over a year after her death.

There he meets Aleisha, a library employee (not a librarian, as she is referred to in the book.  This is a bone of contention for librarians who have advanced degrees, but I digress…).  She is not a reader, and she is having a bad day.  After her mistreatment of Mukesh and the subsequent berating by her boss, she calls to apologise and make a peace offering—a book recommendation from a mysterious reading list.

The list cycles through several people.  Some characters only appear for a scene, but the list binds them all together, and it is a good list, though the connections between titles are not evident at first. Through the course of reading the books on the list, Aleisha and Mukesh become friends, grow, and are able to cope with the difficulties life throws at them.  As Mukesh says, the books are not just an escape, they teach us things.  Indeed, they do.

There is plenty here for bookish types.  Favorites are read and loved by characters, geezers get second chances, a young girl learns that she doesn’t have to handle things on her own. This book is like a warm cup of tea.  Comforting, familiar, peaceful, and enjoyable.  Sure, there is a little bitterness near the end of the cup, but that just makes the next cup sweeter. If you are a book person, you will want to add this to your reading list (pun definitely intended).

Save the Date:  October 21-23 for the First Annual Readerly NaNoPlanMo Virtual Writing Retreat

Do you dream of joining in with others during NaNoWriMo, but run out of gas about half way through? Do you have an idea for a novel, but you are not sure how to get started and make real progress? Do you struggle with finding time to write, because you have a busy schedule and no trust fund?

Join me, guest authors, and other writers to stop procrastinating and get started with concrete steps.  If you have already started your novel, you will benefit from learning different styles for outlining, which will work for drafting or revising, and the strategies for finding time to write so you can meet your goals.

What writers get:

  • Time with other writers!
  • Inspiration for finding time to write your novel
  • Dedicated writing time
  • Practical help outlining your novel
  • Everything you need to outline your novel, set writing goals, and get started on your book in the run up to NaNoWritMo

If you are looking for inspiration, practical strategies, and dedicated time to write, the Readerly NaNoPlanMo Virtual Retreat might be for you. Details coming soon!