09 June 2014
by Jan Grape
by Jan Grape
Today is June 9, 2014. How did it get to be half a year so quickly. We just had Christmas last week, didn't we? No, that was Valen...no, my birthd...no, Mother's Day. Man time flies when you're having fun and even when you're not.
Never really thought I'd like to be a writer, particularly, but I always liked to write and always made perfect grades writing essays or stores for English classes. But I decided to be an X-ray technician when I was about 12. I started to X-ray School on Monday morning after I graduated from high school on Friday night. I enjoyed my career of diagnostic x-ray and radiation therapy. But after kids were almost grown, I began writing mostly for myself. Eventually, I thought I'd write a book.
Guess I wrote about half of a novel before I realized I had no earthly idea how to write or complete a novel. My late husband, Elmer and I lived in Houston, think this was about 1980, and were fairly close to a library. So I got myself over there and checked out an armload of books to How To Write, mostly how to write a mystery. Oh, yes. Always knew it would be a mystery and it would be a female private eye book.
The book was titled, April Anger and my main character was Jenny Gordon, P.I.
John D. MacDonald had books with color in the titles. This was just before Sue Grafton came out with "A is for Alibi." Someone else had numbers, don't remember who, but just thought months would be a good take. After I read Sue's Alibi and the "B is for Burglar" was on it's way, I still felt that months would be the way to go.
After studying the how-to books and following as many directions and tips as I could cram into my brain, I completed my first novel. This was written mostly in long-hand on a yellow legal size tablet, then transferred to print with my electric typewriter. If I'm not mistaken, I had managed to acquire an IBM Selectric. Some of you may remember it had a print ball than danced around as you typed the words.
One of the Houston TV stations did a little news story about a writing conference held at Rice University. It was a two day event and I could stay at the University's Hotel college. The cost was something like $80. Right then I didn't have the extra money to attend. I was really upset but, I saved my money for a whole year and then registered for the Southwest Writing Conference. In the meantime I kept writing.
It was a great conference, featuring a number of editors and agents from New York. They held classes and gave great advice and the main thing you were networking. These editors and agents would pull your book or story from the slush pile once they got back to NY because they had met you in Houston.
I remember an agent from Avon paperback books telling us a story about going to conference after conference and aspiring writers asking for the secret to getting published. She said they wouldn't believe that you had to write well and write a different and intriguing story. We all nodded, more or less believing that it was true, that there had to be some magic formula or some magic answer to getting published.
Finally, she asked someone in our class to check to see if anyone was standing outside or around our door. Someone checked then she said, in a hushed voice, "I'm telling you all the secret. But you can't ever, ever let anyone know I told you because I'll get fired."
In a voice, barely above a whisper, she said, "When you sent your manuscript in to me, put the stamps on upside down." We laughed a bit and realized she'd been putting us on. "You'll never know how many envelopes full of manuscripts I got that year with upside down stamps on them." Of course, these were the days when you sent a full printed copy of your manuscript to an editor. But only after you sent a query letter and they responded yes, you may send your mss in to me.
At that time, there was another way, if you didn't have an agent to send your mss to an editor and that was to send it in cold 'over the transom'. In the very early days, an editor's room had a door with a small window that could be opened for air circulation. Supposedly someone could throw an mss over the transom into what was called a "slush pile." The slush pile continued but it came from the mail room and a pile of opened manuscripts were put on the editor's desk. Every so often the editor would go through that pile and for one reason or the other, interesting title or great first paragraph and
on this rarest of occasions the editor would find a manuscript they liked and would buy it. A few years after that an editor told me, she once had to buy a mss because it had too many coffee stains on it where she had placed her mug and she was too embarrassed to return it in that condition. Take that statement with a grain of salt. It could be true, I knew the editor fairly well and I could see her doing something like that.
I wound up attending the SW Writing Conference three years, they were held in August. An editor from Wichita Falls City Magazine greeted me and we discussed a short story I wanted to send to her. In December, she called me and said she wanted to publish my story. In fact, it had already been published and she was sending me copies and a $100 check. I was thrilled to say the least. A couple of months later, another editor I had met published a humorous article in a little magazine that went out all over the country to be local businesses magazines. I got a check for $85 for that. Neither of these were mysteries but they were publications. I was sure I was on my way.
Good thing I didn't quit my day job because I didn't sell anything else for five more years. I did have two mystery short stories published both in small subscription magazines. The first was in Detective Story Magazine and featured my private eye investigators, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn, titled "Kiss or Kill." In fact, the story was chosen for the cover. I looked in my bookcase and found a copy of the magazine and hope I'll be able to put them at the end of this article.
The second story was published in Dark Starr, "A Friend To Remember." Also found that one in my bookcase. And guess what I had forgotten the story so I had to reread it. Both stories were published in 1989.
Those all really are some of my good old days as an aspiring writer.
05 May 2014
by Jan Grape
RANDOM THOUGHTS ON WRITING
by Jan Grape
Random thoughts running thru my head today. Both are good subjects, I hope. The first is, do you let an idea jell or percolate in your head before you start writing? I try to do that but have certainly been guilty of not letting the idea jell long enough. And to be honest, you can also take too long to let an idea come out of your head and onto the computer screen or on to the paper.
I don't think there's a specific amount of time that one should use. No right or wrong way here. Sometimes a story demands that you sit yourself down and write while the idea is fresh on your mind or when the muse says, do it, just do it now.
It's always possible you'll have an idea, maybe make some notes so you won't forget it. Then you set it aside. Perhaps you might need to do some research on the subject. On the location or on the character's life or on some part of the idea. Somewhere your creative muse says, whoa, slow down here, we need to get this right. Or maybe you've written about half-way through and you're not exactly sure where to go. Place it on the back burner and let it percolate. Most likely it will come spilling out when you least expect it, but it will solve your problem.
Most writers I know, write both novels and short stories, but I once was editing an anthology and asked an Edgar winner if he would write a short story to be included. He declined by saying, sorry I only have one idea a year and I need to use that for my next novel. It was a strange response but perhaps it's true. I don't recall seeing many if any short stories from him through the years, but he does write terrific novels.
Personally I seem to do better when I have a deadline so I don't let my story or idea simmer too long. And I have on occasion had a story come pouring out and finishing a decent short story in a day. I do try to set it aside then and jell at least a day or two then reread before I edit. If I have the time, I think I'm mentioned before that I like to let a story sit for three or four days before I start on editing or rewriting. But each writer does things differently and each story or book demands different actions.
I do think it's a good thing to be easy going and do whatever works for you in the long run.
My other random thoughts are about mentoring aspiring writers. How many of you have done that? I enjoy doing it and actually do it every year for my Sisters-in-Crime local chapter. We have an event every year in May which is to honor our good friend, Barbara Burnett Smith who had a fatal accident in 2005. Barbara enjoyed mentoring and her son, W.D. Smith set up this event with our Heart of Texas Chapter. The authors who agree to participate, are sent the name of an aspiring writer. The author contacts the writer and the writer sends along 500-750 words of their work in progress. A very short synopsis is also included.
The author reads and critiques and spends as much time as the author wishes. Then on the scheduled date for the S-in-C meeting and event, the author and writer meet. The regular meeting occurs and the participants are recognized. Usually a portion of the aspiring writer's work is read. Also one author is usually chosen as being an outstanding mentor. At the end of the meeting, the mentor and mentee have a few minutes to discuss the mentees work and hopes. The author gives the aspiring writer a couple of their books and autographs them.
One major thing I enjoy about being a mentor is when I read the new writer's work, I can see myself with my early work. I can usually see where they might be going wrong and do my best to set them on the right path. However, you might find an outstanding aspiring writer and decide you want to introduce them to your editor or agent. That hasn't happened to me yet, but I've had a couple come close and hope I'll see them published soon.
I also enjoy the idea of giving back or paying it forward is really the right term. I had so many wonderful writers help me when I was getting started and I remember telling one that I'd never be able to repay him. He said, don't ever even think about it. But to pay it forward. That he'd had great help when he started and someone had told him to pay it forward. It was something that he always tried to do. And it's something I always try to do. It's such a wonderful feeling to see the growth of an aspiring writer and know that you were able to help them get to complete their goal.
Happy Spring, Happy May, and Happy Cinco de Mayo.
Like my partner in crime, Fran, always says, until we meet next time take good care of yourself.