ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

Retreat! Retreat!

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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Embracing the writer you really are

Colorado Gold with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers!  I laughed!  I cried!  I drank!  I met lots of really cool people!

Including an editor!  WHO WANTS ME TO SEND HIM THE BOOK!

So that was pretty exciting, but…let’s just say the rest of the weekend my interactions with him suggested that he wouldn’t like the book I was sending.  He told me that he didn’t see a lot of New Adult that wasn’t romance but he was intrigued by the sorority girls being the heroes.  So, after a whole lot of soul-searching and existential questions, like “Is it still art if everyone’s structures are the same?” and “Was it even art in the first place?” and a talk by William Kent Krueger who said that he was a much better writer when he stopped trying to be Ernest Hemingway…

I’ve decided that I’m a romance writer.  Or that this is a romance story, anyway.  Which I have to be if I want to write about this age group–and get the book into the hands of readers.  Because honestly, in the first drafts of this book the romantic story kept trying to take over.  Which doesn’t mean that I was falling into plot traps, or that I wasn’t as good with my characters as I should be.  It just means that I wanted to write the romance all along.

All my musings led me back to the question of why I wanted to be a writer at all, and why I wanted to write this particular story.  It was to tell the story, and it was to talk to young women.  Not in a preachy sort of way, but in a meeting of equals way.  The same way I parent, you know?  Parenting is a two-way street; it’s not something I do to them, it’s something parent and kid do together.  It’s not about imposing my needs on them; it’s about recognizing their needs and teaching them to be civilized people too.  I used to be a young woman.  And now that I’m a less-young woman, I want to explore the themes of making mistakes, and learning to trust again (including yourself), and in the end being who you really are.

So that means for the next few weeks I’m restructuring this manuscript, adding back scenes that I thought were too romance-oriented, and writing two serious (gulp!) sex scenes.  I’ve already written some serious foreplay scenes with these two, so how hard can it be to get everyone’s clothes off?

I know.  I just have to jump in and do it.

At least my shoes were comfortable this time.

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Rambles and Travels

Since my last post, nothing happened!

No, of course that’s not true.  I went to my parents’ 50th anniversary party, saw a lot of people I haven’t seen in 25 years, had a birthday, took my son on his first college visit, and had a nightmare flight on the way home.

I should warn that there are some things I find really boring myself, and one of them is the minutiae of the difficulties of travel.  Let’s just say that my flight out of Nashville was delayed, so I was late getting to Dallas and missed the Santa Fe connection.  I ended up going to Albuquerque, where the agent took almost an hour to set me up with vouchers for a hotel, taxi, and shuttle to Santa Fe.  Then this morning the shuttle was booked so I had to rent a car to get my children to where my car was parked in Santa Fe.  So, I rented a car for an hour for about half the amount I paid for having a car for a week at my parents’!

I’ve been trying hard to talk about writing as a job and not as a hobby since I left Jackson.  People who’ve known me only here in Los Alamos are a bit surprised when I say that I’ve been at a writers’ conference.  I suppose I seem too practical, too grounded in the reality of routine, to be an artist.  People who’ve known me for a while or are brand-new acquaintances are interested and ask me where I blog.  Today I met the lady who is teaching my son’s drivers’ ed class and she is a writer.  We talked shop a little, and it felt natural.  Normal.  I’m starting to feel like a writer who writes.

Speaking of, make sure to check out my “The Beginning” page today.  I’ll be adding the revisions I’ve made to the original post from a few weeks ago.  I thought I’d leave the original up so that anyone who is interested can see what my process looks like.  And later I’ll be digging into Scrivener to learn how to use it.  Before I went out of town I made it halfway through the tutorial, but now I don’t remember what I learned.  Hopefully it will all come back to me as I’m working.

Taking my son back to Sewanee was enlightening.  When my husband and I were there, we weren’t exactly slumming, but it was definitely less clean, shiny, and state of the art than it is now.  Night Study in the library, which always smelled like a thousand lit cigarettes, has been replaced by a 24 hour computer lab.  Students now need their IDs to access not just the dining halls but their own rooms, where I never locked my door even one time (although it must be admitted that this was because the keys were bulky and sometimes got stuck).  The gravel paths that ate our shoes have been paved.  The dining hall is open and food is accessible all the time.  Printing is free.  95% of freshmen return for their sophomore year, which made me wonder if the University is working harder to keep them and better able to help those in financial need or if admissions are just that much more selective.

One piece that I’m glad to see still operates is that the admissions counselor talked about the network, and Sewanee as a family.  I demonstrated that myself; our tour guide was talking about being a biochemistry major and at the end of the tour I gave him my husband’s contact information.  Because it’s not just about being in school, it’s about what happens next.  Buck’s own mentors have retired and passed away and the new professors in the department don’t really know him, so they don’t put students in contact with him.

I was surprised that our tour guide didn’t talk about the honor code as a way of life, although my son said his did talk about it.  I knew a couple of people who were thrown out on honor code violations.  The honor code really was ingrained and was a large part of who we were.  And are.  Although I wonder sometimes how much of it we already held when we came to Sewanee in the first place.

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Ever been to Jackson?

Wow, is all I can say.

I know I’m supposed to be writing about writing–and I will be, once the Jackson Hole Writers’ Conference gets underway.  The kinds of things I’m planning to post:  what do people wear?  How formal is the event?  How are the classes?  And, should I be marketing What You Stand For as adult or New Adult fiction?

But Jackson is so overwhelming.

To catch up a little:  we left from Los Alamos on Saturday and drove up to Aspen.  I didn’t like the condo in Snowmass.  It was expensive and it was hard to unload the car there.  Plus there were very few options for feeding kids in Snowmass.  Next time I’m bringing breakfast AND dinner food.  However, the next day we went out rafting with Aspen Whitewater (Paige and Chris) and had an amazing time!  Mom enjoyed it too, but forgot to lean into the boat when we went over the rapids.  So, she and I fell out of the boat.  I still had a great time and it was so much fun!  Also I had some thoughts about the symbolism of learning to paddle in sync.  The most interesting part of that is that I went for the most independent paddler in the boat (15 yr old son), because I reasoned he wouldn’t be trying to pace anyone else.  Funny to think that it’s not necessarily the leader that people follow!

That night we made it to Pinedale, where we stayed in the very cute Log Cabin Motel.  It was scrupulously clean, definitely from another era.  We LOVED it.  We got up that morning and trekked out to the CCC ponds looking for a mother and baby moose with no luck, but we did see several beavers, birds, and thousands of butterflies.  In the afternoon we drove on into Jackson.

I’m overwhelmed by how beautiful it is here.  The condo has crappy views but the mountains somehow dominate.  After we moved into the condo we went up the free tram to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, where we sat out on the deck and ate appetizers for dinner.  Then back to the condo, Mom and I went to the grocery store, and back to the condo for a good night’s sleep.

Then today Yellowstone.  Which I will attempt to write about tomorrow.

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