You remember the conference I said I wasn’t sure I could attend? The one that took place in the Piney Woods this past weekend?

Well, I didn’t get to go.

Hubby absolutely refused to drive me, and he and Mama didn’t want to go on Friday night and stay in a lovely little B&B that they have (it has a railroad car you can stay in! But we would’ve been in Aunt Bee’s cottage for $130 a night, and it has cable TV, internet service, and a kitchen and three bedrooms and all that stuff that they could have enjoyed on Saturday!), and my eyes were acting up such that I didn’t feel at all confident driving 90 miles on I-30 at 70 mph (and you know I would have had to go fast alongside all those long-haul trucks.) Some of you may recall that I have bilateral visual field defects that resulted from the little problem I had some years ago (cured by brain surgery twice and radiation therapy for a month after the second time–keep believing and it’s gone for good), and I’ve been having a few problems with my diabetes as well. In bright sunlight, my eyes tire and they can play tricks on me (and I never drive 70 on the freeway anyhow, and I’d have had to do that.) I didn’t want to risk driving alone in the storm (although not a drop of rain materialized until this morning.) So I just moped around all weekend and did a bunch of housework and slave stuff to try to make the family happy. I keep forgetting they’re not like Regular People. And the house doesn’t look that much better.

But!!! I titled this “breakthroughs” for a couple of reasons.

First, I got a phone call around noon today from the conference organizer. He wanted to tell me that my story HOME CHURCH had won an honorable mention. Also that my story THE TRUTH ABOUT HANSEL AND GRETEL had won second place. And furthermore, that my story JEEP, BUDDY, AND PIERCE (a Southern gothic literary sort of thing that I never heard back from the New Yorker about). . . .

. . . had won first prize in their manuscript competition and would be published in The Storyteller, a literary magazine out of Arkansas. I exclaimed appropriately, all the while getting ANGRY (not at HIM, but at circumstances in general.) He laughed and said thank goodness that the third place winner had attended so she could go forward at the awards banquet and get her applause. He said he’d put my check in the mail (there were cash awards, including $150 for first place) and my certificates. I thanked him and explained how devastated I was not to have been able to come, and said I hoped to see them next year (ha! but I always THINK delusional shit like that, as my regular readers well know.)

Guess who was lying in wait to find out who the caller had been? Yes, my mother said she’s thrilled. Of course she couldn’t possibly have been thrilled had I gone off and left her alone here (she really can’t stay alone any more, and I couldn’t get her to go to my aunt’s unless Hubby said that he’d take me to the conference–and he absolutely refused because he needed to be on his laptop all weekend working and said “that would be boring for me.”)! But anyway, she was nice about it and called my aunt to brag. I called Hubster and he said that was good, and I told him he could tell the guys he was out at lunch with. The saints only know what he might have said. Perhaps nothing, but he DOES love to brag, so who knows. *grin*

All of this is a preamble to asking: do you think it would be of any use to e-mail the agent and perhaps query the editor (Tor’s Melissa Frain)? I would mention that I hated to miss that conference, and that I had won several prizes in the manuscript contest, and therefore perhaps Melissa would like to see CAMILLE (the novel) and the agent (Joanna) would like to tell me what I should work on next (which is what she said by e-mail that we could talk about at the con, after she turned down three novels I queried her about.) I mean . . . perhaps not, as they probably got a snootful of just how hicky East Texas can be, and they probably are laughing to themselves about how silly that contest was and how there probably were only four entries anyway (for all I know, that’s all there were.). But I thought it might be worth a shot.

Or would that just embarrass me further? I mean, the worst they can do is say no. But would that be an appropriate thing to lead off with in an e-mail? Do people do stuff like this?

I don’t know any more. Everyone promotes themselves so aggressively now everywhere and it turns ME off, so it would probably turn off a professional that much more. I just wondered if that gave me a reasonable hook. (If I’d seen them at the conference, what I would have hoped for would be to get an OK to send a query/partial anyway. I had “audiences” with both.)

I also had a breakthrough as far as doing some work on LITTLE RITUALS. I was thinking about the topic of “focus” after Coney posted on her journal, and I was zoned out on the sofa on Saturday, so I thought, okay, I’ll page through the manuscript and I’ll check off every scene in which the focus is on Daphne getting rid of her curse and doing the growing that she needs to do to get to enlightenment (of a sort). What else was there to do that could be so useful, when I was stuck at home? I printed out a new copy and started paging through.

The opening is really pretty good now. In fact, the first four or five chapters needed only a bit of tweaking. (I see why one of the reviewers mentioned the pop culture thing now–back when I was mailing this around to everywhere, they wanted chick lit, so I made it more chicklitty by putting in comparisons to various pop culture icons. The ones that really didn’t need to be there came back out.) I was rolling along pretty well until I arrived at the SECOND one-night stand that she “accidentally” has. Hmm . . . the first episode taught her something, namely that it only made her feel worse. She’s already learned what she can from that. The second episode was there because in most chick lit, women made several of the same mistake. But!! This ain’t chick lit!! So the entire chapter (a party at which the only outcome is her going to “see this guy’s new stereo setup” and etc.) went away, saved off for some possible future use. We cut directly to the following chapter, during which she is actively doing things to get rid of her luck problem. That was cool. I had been thinking it was a good scene for character development, and it was, because she revealed several things (get your mind out of the gutter . . . well, I suppose she DID BOTH), **but** the ultimate thing she learned had already been learned, and since this isn’t chick lit, there wasn’t any reason to have this happen. I also found a couple of sections that were funny to me when I originally wrote it, but which just aren’t even amusing any more. So zap!

Therefore, THAT was worth doing. It doesn’t completely make up for missing the dumb stupid Girl Scout Meeting, I mean conference, but it is something that vastly improves the manuscript’s chance. It so happens that the first hundred pages is sitting on an agent’s desk–and these changes were all well after that–and now I’ll be sending her an improved version.

The Marfa Lights mystery doesn’t have any scenes that do not have at least one clue in them and/or don’t lead to the solution of the mystery. Maybe I did go on a bit during the chili cookoff scene, but she IS with the murderer (without knowing it) and she DOES hand him the info he needs to do more of his nefarious work, so I think that can stay. But I’ll probably go back to see if I can scene-check it, and will definitely go back to scene-check the other three mysteries. It’s worth doing, if only to stave off accusations of lack of focus . . . at least for a while.

I still don’t think those other two contestants in the Amazon contest had the problem of losing focus. Here’s hoping they’ll go on to find success elsewhere, anyway.


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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