Friday, May 6, 2011

What sets your novel apart?

Having recently a conference, I have been doing a lot of thinking about how a novel needs to stand apart from others in its genre. It is really unsettling, when you read a book and realize that it has such similar elements to something you have been slaving over for a few years and showing to only your writing group. But that's how it goes. Ideas tend to trend, or so it seems.

So, I made a list of some books I've read in the past years or two that had something that set them apart, in hopes that I will find something in my novel that is not in theirs and be surprised I do have something, or perhaps brainstorm some ideas, not like theirs, from see what others have done.

Not in order of reading or release - all somewhat in my genre - some closer than others:

      • Her Fearful Symmetry - Audry Niffenegger - told from the ghost's perspectiveHorns - Joe Hill - the devil is the hero - a familiar character in a new way
      • The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters - the end has a twist - don't want to give it away
      • The Lace Reader - Brunonia Barry - the end also has a twist - a psychological one - similar, but different that The Little Stranger - in both - what you think is happening all along is not what is happening. I think it is masterful when an author can trick the reader.
      • The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe - historical narrative interlaced with a contemporary story
      • The Dead Path - Stephen M. Irwin - a fairy tale witch in a thriller style narrative
      • The Tooth Fairy - Graham Joyce - uses a familiar character in a completely new way
    That's only some - I know there are more - and I would love to hear about books you have read that have something that sets them apart. WIP.
    It is daunting and intimidating to set out to think of something new and original. Isn't it true that there is nothing new under the sun. I think those authors who have snatched up surprise should be applauded. A MS one has started at for too long, looks like old socks after a while, and I know that is why distance is important. But sometimes, if you look again, you just might find there is something unexpected in there. If not, you too might consider what isn't out there and how you can bridge the gap.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

6 Reasons Why I Love The Muse...

Yesterday, I went to Grub Street's The Muse and the Marketplace writing conference 2011. It runs for both Saturday and Sunday, but this year I only went for only one. Conferences are expensive and they can be somewhat intimidating, especially if you are shy. But they are so worth it. I have actually never been to any other conference besides the Muse, and this was only my second year going, but I hope to go to more in the coming year. There is Write Angles conference that happens right here in the Pioneer Valley and it is affordable. I want to go to more because going to conferences is the best way to exercise your writer muscles, beyond writing itself that is. Yesterday, I had an amazing time. So here are 6 reasons why I love this conference, and why I think all writers should find away to go to at least 1 writing conference a year.

1) You meet other writers. You have all heard before, and know first hand, that writing is often a solitary endeavor, that can in fact be lonely if we don't reach out. The writing group is an important remedy to this, as is social networking on line. But at a conference, you get to meet folks who write in other genres, who share your hopes, dreams, and frustrations, and who are just as excited as you to learn more and stretch their writing skills. I met some really great people yesterday, and I admit I was a bit shameless with the business card thing. Anyone who uttered more than a sentence in my direction got a card. Hey - why not? It's a great way to get people to remember you and check you out. So if you are here because of that card - THANKS for stopping by!

2) You meet published authors. One of the best events for me this year was meeting one of  my writing idols: Alice Hoffman. She was lovely. She led a seminar of brainstorming for a linked story collection and it was so fun just to hang out with her. And, being the Lisa Simpson that I am, when she needed someone to write on the board and take notes, my hand shot up. So, I got to be her assistant. Yay! What fun. She was great.

3) You learn things. The Muse and the Marketplace is great because it does exactly what it's name says, it presents opportunities to spark the muse, and to explore the marketplace - two different aspects of the writing life, but each equally important, depending on where you are in the process and what your current goals are as a writer.

Last year, I was getting ready to query DISTILLATION for the first time, so I focused a lot on the Marketplace aspect. I went to seminars with "agents on the hot seat" talking about what they do, what they like, don't like, and how they view the industry right now. I also went to query sessions and met with an agent for the purpose of getting feedback on my query. It was so helpful all around. This year, I am working on revamping my story a bit, and so I focused more on the Muse aspect. I learned about the elements of thrillers and mysteries, and I got some insight into the essentials of structure.

4) You get outside your comfort zone. This may seem like the most terrifying part of the conference, and it fits into a number of the other reasons for going to the conference. You can't meet people if you sit on your phone checking your email the whole time, or if you won't strike up a conversation. But when you do go out on a limb, it is rewarding.

One risk I took was submitting my first page (anonymously as required) to the "Author Idol" seminar, in which a panel of 4 established writers listen to a professional "reader" read first pages one at a time from the submission box. If they hear something they don't like, they raise their hand. At two hands, the reader stops reading. SCARY. The conference also offers a version of this with Agents, which I watched last year, but did not submit too. That is even scarier, because they have much more critical ears, as is expected.

When the reader get to yours you tense up and stop breathing, hoping your face is not turning red, and that it's not obvious they are reading your piece. The anonymity is important because the agents or authors can be more open about their reactions. This may make you think: "No Way! Why would I put myself through that?" And yes, it even says in the brochure this exercise is not for the thin skinned. But it is great. You get so much insight into your writing. Which brings me to #5.

5) You get honest feedback on your work. This, for me, is the most important aspect of going to a conference. Whereas some conferences do the speed dating style pitch sessions, The Muse allows you to sign up (at an extra, but tax deductible, cost - it does not go to the agents - it supports Grub Street programs) for a one on one, twenty minute session with an agent or editor of your choice. Here is a reason why The Muse and the Marketplace is such a high caliber conference. Amazing authors and agents volunteer their time to this event. Of course, authors do get to sell books, and agents may just find a submission they are interested in, but overall it is so generous of them to do this.

6) You feel like a professional. Last week I wrote about having a business card, and about how they help boost your sense of self as a writer. Going to a conference does the same thing. The Muse is at the Park Plaza Hotel is Boston. It is really nice. They serve a fabulous lunch. The presenters are top shelf. The attendees are serious, just as serious as you. What a great way to affirm: I am a writer. I am willing to work (and perhaps invest a few Benjamins) to further my career as a writer, and this is because I am serious about my craft and want to learn, network, and invigorate my writing practice. Going to a conference validates your goals as a writer - whatever they may be, whether you want to write your family memoir, get your work accepted in a literary magazine, publish a novel, or just express yourself.

I'd love to hear about other conferences out there that people think are great and anyone who did go to The Muse and the Marketplace (some of you are there right now!) tell me what you loved.