Friday, April 10, 2015

Writing for Charity Experience 2015 Part One: In Which I Learn My YA is MG!

So, awhile back I went to another writing conference (it's the year for that you know!) and learned a lot! Let me tell you all about it. . .

First of all, this was a one day conference put on and supported by tons of our local authors, with all proceeds going to charity. It's something Shannon Hale started years ago and something I've supported quite a few times, but only just this year and last year as an actual writer and not a mere author stalker.

Last year when they came to the part about organizing everyone into critique groups I said to myself, next year, you are doing this. So gear up now, because it's going to happen!

So when this year rolled around and they added a new thing, a private critique with one of our local authors, I pushed the button, even though it still scared me to death. (It totally helped that I talked Kathy into doing this all with me! Yay for friends to suffer with!)

After all the info was gathered and emailed and figured out here's what I was to expect that day:

1. A private 20 minute critique on my first five pages with an local author
2. A group critique on ONE page (the first page we assumed) with a local author.
3. Lots of classes
4. Lunch!
5. Hanging out with Kathy! (And as it turned out, with Jessica and Maren too!)

We were able to request our authors, with no guarantee who we'd end up with. I landed with J. Scott Savage as my group critique guy (an author I'd been following for years) and Amy Finnegan as my private critique gal. (An author with which I was completely unfamiliar!) Kathy ended up with Amy as her group leader and Sara Larson as her private one. Cool. (Though that ended up changing that day and she actually had Courtney Alameda instead of Amy.)

I was happy! I was scared. I was excited. I was ready to do this thing!

Kathy and I worked together to spiff up our first chapters, and especially our first five pages. I changed a bunch of stuff and deleted a bunch of stuff because I wanted a certain thing that happens in the first chapter to happen before those five pages were over! Not sure if this is actually how one should go about editing, but that's what I did for this particular event. We were told how to write a sort of practice query letter and we pepped talk each other through it and finally, hit the button and submitted our work!  This gave the authors (as far as we knew anyway) several days to read our five pages. The one page thing would be read on the spot that day.

The day arrives. Right after the conference begins, I'm on for the group critique. Mr. Savage gathers us around him. He decides to read our one page out loud to the group. Cool. Scary. Oh my gosh. Two people go first. Their pages are awesome. I'm like, digging deep to figure out what to mark on them to give some sort of feedback. They're really good. Jeff, as I'll call him know because I think of him as my buddy, tells them, "These are publication worthy. I see nothing that will stop them from being considered."

My turn. He reads it. He laughs at the first sentence. Which is a good thing. I wait. I hold my breath. He looks at me and says. "So, what's the plot of this story?" I'm like, "What?" Because, you see, we'd been told not to go all into detail about our stories. "I know," he says, "you aren't prepared to tell the whole plot, but I need to know." I stammer only for a second but then I remember the summary paragraph I'd just written for the pretend query we'd done.

"Yeah, so, it's about this girl who spends a summer on her grandma's farm. and then she finds an old diary and suddenly, the stuff that's happening to her there on the farm is mirroring the stuff that happened to her grandma (great great) more than 100 years ago. And...." and I don't remember what else I added, but I do remember there was lot of hands flying around in the air and stuff. I may have mentioned the connection to the Native American legend, I have no idea. Probably. Because that's cool and I wanted it to sound cool of course.

And he said. "yeah, this sounds like a great middle grade story. And you have a great middle grade voice going on here."

And I was like, "Really?"

And then he went on to tell me the difference between MG and YA and I was thinking, um, yeah, I know this. And then when I said, so what needs to change to make it sound more YA? He said, read some YA and you'll see. And I was like... dude. Sigh.

I think he asked me if there was kissing. I said, um yeah, there's totally kissing!

Ah!! I was sad, not because I have anything against MG, but because I totally think this story is a YA one and made me think that my my writing style is way more juvenile than I wanted. Which really wasn't surprising to me and I totally should have predicted this. My writing is pretty juvenile sounding.

I went straight from there to the private critique, which as it turned out was with another person. So two of us at the same time with our author. So, let's say it was semi private! After we sit down Amy seems a bit flustered. "Um, I had you down on my schedule to come in the afternoon. I'm so sorry, I haven't read your pages yet! We got them just last night and I have four people and since I thought you were later, I planned to read them during lunch."  I'm thinking in my head, okay, so now what.

She proposes that I read them out loud, and then she'll give her first impressions and then I can send her more stuff by email and she'll work with me a bit that way.

Sounds fair. I'm game. So she talks to the other writer about her pages for awhile and I find it interesting to just listen in. I'm curious about her book, it sounds good. She is pretty quiet and looks even more nervous than me. Ha. Then it's my turn, I read all five pages out loud. This is a very strange feeling, and quite eye opening. And awesome practice for Storymakers coming up in May when we have to read 15 pages out loud!

Anyway, the sound of my voice kills me, but I get through it. And she says, "Really good, awesome descriptions. And you have a great middle grade voice! Is this a YA story? Maybe you can make it middle grade? Are there boys? Is there kissing?"

YES, there are BOYS! And there is KISSING! YES YES YES! Sigh. I wanted to die. Seriously? Why does my book sound un-YA? Why? So I asked her that. She said, if there's boys you need them to appear right up front. Let us know that! And this character needs to sound more like a teenager, she sounds barely 13 maybe. I'm like... really? Why? And she says, go read some good YA books and you'll see what I mean.

GAH!!! If I'd had a desk I would have bashed my head on it several times. Or at least wanted to. But I was pretty composed. Yes, I was. And truly I wasn't that upset, I was just like. . . seriously? But this is not a MG story!

And so I went to all the other classes and learned a bunch and had a great time, but in the back of my head I kept thinking:

I guess I need to write an MG book. I wonder what it's going to be!

There's more stuff I wanted to write about this day, but I think that will be in a Part Two because this is already way too massively long . Let it be said though, that we (Jessica, Kathy and I) won a complete book club set of Amy's book at the silent auction that day! She signed them all for us, and she plans to come to book club in August! I'm so excited! I can't wait to read her book and get to know her better, because I do plan to send her my revised first chapter and maybe even a bit of chapter two. I'm totally taking her up on that offer, even though it wasn't her fault they messed up our time slots.

Meanwhile, besides thinking of what MG book I should write, I'm trying to turn my current project into a YA one, just as it's meant to be! Because dang, there's kissing! And I could add more if you want! :)


  1. Oh gosh! It sounds exciting yet terrifying! Heck I barely let you read my writing let alone let a published author read it, and then to read it out loud oh HECK No! You are definitely brave but it sounded like a great way for unbiased feedback. It sounds like the conference was a little unorganized too. I feel like MG and YA have moved so far away from what they were originally when I was those ages, the YA seems way more mature now and MG has almost started moving up into YA territory. I don't know if that is right but that's what I feel like is happening.

    1. Ang: The conference was a little unorganized, and yet, for what they had going, it went of amazingly smoothly. Interesting, your idea on the shift of YA and MG. I think it's probably true for the most part.

  2. I'm sorry the experience was so frustrating. I'm glad that you had a good time, though. I wish they said more than just read YA books and you'll see what I mean because you read a ton of YA. Maybe you need to read MG and see what the difference is? I don't know.

    1. Jenni: The experience was overall very good. I just was floored by the results! And I do read MG, just not as much. We'll be reading MG for book club in June! At least I think that book is MG. :)

  3. I wonder now if it was just in those first pages? Because your ms is definitely a YA novel! But what a great experience overall - and maybe you should make your next book a middle grade book!

    1. Belle: And I'm redoing those first few pages, hoping that's the case. And hoping I'm not over doing it trying to get a YA voice going on! I will be on the look out for MG ideas for sure.

  4. Wow! The whole thing sounds so scary. You guys are awesome for going and putting your writing out there. Now I seriously need to read these five pages. MG? Maybe they don't know what they're talking about or maybe it just needs to get further into the story. Hmmm.

    1. Jenny: It's the year of putting my writing out there and learning once and for all if I can even do this thing! I think they totally know what they are talking about! But yes, further on I think it would be pretty obvious it's YA. But I guess I need to make it feel that way very fast. I've redone the pages. You want to read them. For really? SCARY!!!

  5. Wow! The whole thing sounds so scary. You guys are awesome for going and putting your writing out there. Now I seriously need to read these five pages. MG? Maybe they don't know what they're talking about or maybe it just needs to get further into the story. Hmmm.



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