ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

Retreat! Retreat!

on March 17, 2016

No, not from Trump not being Hitler. He still isn’t. And, as my brother put it, this isn’t 1930s Germany either. Though I would like to point out that new scholarship in the field (which I’m reading, sadly) suggests that Hitler wasn’t possible without the deeply ingrained anti-Semitism of 1930s and before Germany as well as the willing collaboration of the common people. So. Let’s say Trump still doesn’t equal Hitler, but Trump might equal fascism.

No, what I’m really posting about is the retreat I went on last weekend. Specifically, the RMFW retreat at the Franciscan Retreat Center in Colorado Springs.

People always seem to come back from this kind of thing relaxed and refreshed and ready to keep plugging away, and I certainly am all of those things. It was great to take a mental break from all the obligations that sometimes seem to make up my whole life. Three times a day, I went to a dining room, and someone brought food I didn’t cook. There were plans and activities and talks and classes and, more than that, really wonderful people of all experience levels at writing. I’ve resolved that when I’m doing critiques I’m going to redouble my efforts at being encouraging. It was a little confusing because a few writers had brought brand-new, first drafts; others brought material that was all but finished, so it was hard to know how to be helpful since I didn’t know which were which. Anyway, we’ve all got different reasons for embarking on this journey in the first place, and being encouraging and complimentary is definitely part of being helpful, just like pointing out comma splices and run-on sentences.

I think the part I like best about going to these things is how easy it is to talk about the work and not sound like a pretentious jerk. It’s okay to be a kind of bookish introvert (although I’m 50/50 on the introvert/extrovert scale every time I take one of those surveys, and that’s been true since I was a little kid) and to talk about “This is what I’m stuck on” and “I need help with this” or even “I’m really good at,” which for me is and always has been characters. I can also be open that I try in my own writing to be an original, fresh voice, but still in the confines of the genre. For this New Adult project, for instance, the characters do tend to be snarky and judgmental, but it feels age appropriate. While there’s a strong romantic subplot, that’s not what the book is really about (New Adult books tend to be romances). But, rather than the usual five or so characters in a lot of New Adult, I’ve got about fifteen more-than-background characters, and the story is set firmly in the Greek world. Most New Adult work doesn’t even acknowledge sororities and fraternities, unless it’s to provide an easy villain.

The best takeaway information I got from this conference was from the inimitable Courtney Miller-Callihan, who is an agent. She told me that her clients are finding New Adult sales very difficult, and that I should plan to self-publish the What You Stand For books. I’ve kicked that idea around for a long time, so it didn’t come as a huge shock, but I had always planned to try to sell them traditionally first. Now I know not to waste time on that route, get the books finished, and start selling them.

What a steep learning curve there is in this business! Still, the other task I got done was to go through the manuscript of Book 2 and wrestle it into a plot. I wrote Book 2 during NaNoWriMo this year and thought it was awful, but when I went through it in Colorado it really isn’t that bad. Some of it’s even funny. Who knows, I could be finished with that one and drafting Book 3 in November, and putting up What You Stand For by January?

I thought I wanted the prestige of traditional publishing, and I still do for the Scouts project. But publishing is changing; writing is changing. I hope the quality of the work is going to help sell it, but honestly, I never started doing this for the money (if I did, I’d be an accountant). I started doing it so I could tell the stories. And, if this is how you get the story out, this is how you get the story out.

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