Webinar with Kat Brzozowski

As often the case with me, there’s a funny story in “Katja attends her first-ever webinar.” I’ve had, of course, heard of webinars before. But when writer friends at the last SCBWI meet-up in Stuttgart enthusiastically told me about time well spent and valuable lessons learned, I was determined to sign up for an interesting webinar somewhere soon.

The cool thing with the SCBWI is, they have chapters all over the world and naturally there’s always something going on somewhere. Given that I’m in the Germany-Austria chapter does not mean I don’t come across events hosted by other chapters, too. At least, I know that now – because when I went looking for something that might be of interest to me and subsequently signed up for the webinar “First Page Blitz with Editor Kat Brzozowski” I did not realise, that it was hosted by the Houston chapter. Only later did it occur to me, that the time of the webinar – 7pm – was 7pm Houston time aka 2am over here in Germany. Ohh dear….

Now, I am a person who can, if determined, raise to a challenge. I’ve had some good times with the #5amwritersclub and getting up early was nothing out of the ordinary, so I decided to pull through. And I am very glad I did. (Yes, I do know I could have just watched the recording later, but where’s the fun in that?)

Kat had given us attendees the opportunity to send in our anonymised first pages and many had done so. Going through the pages one by one, she pointed out what her thoughts on each example were, how the author could improve the beginning to make it better and more appealing to agent or editor. Between the pages she took the time to address general or follow-up questions of the authors and gave generous advise. Following are the points I regard as the most important recommendations:

  1. The reader wants to read about difference. Don’t start with the same old daily routine. Show something is special or peculiar – either for your character, or in contrast to what your reader would see as normal.
  2. Voice is important. Not just your author’s voice but the voice of the character telling the story. The manner in which the POV character starts out, sets the tone for the whole book. Try to avoid a tone that might put off readers. Who wouldn’t rather follow a funny and slightly sarcastic lad in contrast to an angry nagger? If you have decided on a tone – stay with it! Don’t change from funny to solemn mid-page.
  3. Pace is important, too. Shorter paragraphs create momentum and lead the reader into the story much more easily than large blocks of descriptive text will do. The reading flows better when the sentence length differs.
  4. Momentum comes from action, too. Not necessarily action in the sense of the character in a tight spot but as in a scene is happening. A scene is usually “stage-able” – you could play it with actors. As soon as you drop out of the scene to have the character remember events that happened who-knows-when, you halt the scene and the momentum is lost.
  5. The reader is smart. That’s crucial in more than one way. For starters: don’t spell everything out. Give the reader some credit to figure it out by herself. Don’t explain it all – write less, revise to write even less in the 2nd draft. If the smart reader does not know all connections from the start, she’ll be intrigued. Bet way to do that is to pose questions. If you do answer a raised question anyway, make sure you pose a new one before or right along with the answer.
  6. To convey how the character feels is more important than knowing why he is displaying that emotion. Of course the reader want’s to know it at some point – but figuring out motivation is one thing mankind is good at – we do it all day. So don’t spoil the fun for the reader and explain – if he works it out on his own, he’ll be all the more pleased.

Unfortunately, Kat did not have the time to go through all the submitted pages and while we were able to read many, mine was not among those. However, with the tips and tricks she explained I’ll be able to revise my first page and make it better.

I am glad I got up at 2am and I would do it again. So at this point I want to say: “Thank you, Kat!”, for giving us the opportunity to ask questions and clarifications from an experienced editor. ❤

Books on the Run

I recently learned about the idea of “Books on the Run” and I love it. I think I remember that Melinda once had copies of her books distributed in London’s public transport and the notion to share favourite books with others for free was appealing back then. I think it’s a nice way of promoting reading in addition to free mini libraries and such.

So, a few days ago I wrote an email to the team of Books on the Run here in Germany. They are located in Mannheim and I wanted to be a Book Fairy, too! Now my letter with stickers and instruction has arrived and I am ready to start. Now I only need another trip somewhere a bit further than the bus to the office…

Back from London

Last week I spent some days in London to attend the launch of Melinda’s last book in her Sin Eater’s trilogy. I also squeezed in a play – Hamlet, played by Andrew Scott ( ❤ ). And it’s been great – as always London did not disappoint!

But there had been some hick-ups beforehand. I had planned a 3 day/2 night stay in London in an AirBnB where five of us would stay and than the host did not answer to any of my attempts to contact her. The listing had disappeared. Negative reviews came in … and with less than a week to the trip and other people depending on the same AirBnB I got nervous pretty fast. As the host did not react, I called AirBnB and thankfully, the hotline guy was ever so helpful and promised to look into the matter. It took another two days for them to establish what they could not reach the host either. Nothing else to do but to cancel and rebook.

I need to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I got several suggestions for other flats from AirBnB’s team, the refund of the already payed flat went smoothly and I was able to get a very suitable replacement by simply switching the booking. Well done, AirBnB. With hopefully everything settled I flew over on Tuesday and yes – indeed all worked out fine.

The apartment was perfect. Andrew Scott’s performance was stunning and Mel’s book launch in the Crypt was a highlight all by itself.

Welcome to 2017

It’s a new year!

I have not, as planned, finished the first draft of my WIP in 2016. In fact, I’m not even close. Dang.

Still, I won’t write off 2016 as a total failure, because I have learned a lot during the past 12 month – especially in the “get to know your craft” department. I know there are thousands upon thousands of books on the craft from “On Writing” by King to “Bird by Bird” by Lamott – from “Stein on Writing” by Stein to “The Art of War for Writers” by Bell … I could go on and on and chances are high a copy found its way onto my bookshelf.

So in retrospect, 2016 has been great for learning. I’m positive that’s important, too.

In the meantime the ideas for my WIP have been growing and evolving along with my steadily raising grasp of the craft. With the next SCBWI meet-up ahead I’ll go ahead and get something ready to send out.

 

January 2016, in hindsight

I wont deny it. I think 2016 is starting out great.

I ticked a couple of tasks right off my 2016 bullet list early in January. If of interest you might go and read the posts from earlier the year.

Two more things happened in January that make me really happy. First. One of my characters manages to surprise me big time. And second, even more important, I made progress with my writing habits. Hugely so.

It turns out 4:30 am is just the right time to get up an write. Well ok – its 4:51 by now but one needs to get the eyes open and some coffee into the belly, no?) However. I am sitting. very early in the morning and I write. Without kids interrupting, without husband searching some misplaced item and calling for help. If someone had told 2 month ago I would get up this early I would have laughed. Very loudly. Seriously – late riser and all what I used to be…

But, I had to do something about a meagre output I had at the end of 2015. I had to find some hour I could reserve for nothing but writing and plotting and honing my characters. Turns out, the only time I can possible manage writing in a reasonable reoccurring and stable way are the early hours of the day. Family is still asleep so I can spent time with my “imaginary friends” as my husband has started to call this whole endeavour. (haha, he is not wrong I guess)

I have started the experiment “become an early riser” in the 2nd week of January. And I am not just a little proud to report: it worked. It still works! Other than going to bed at 22pm instead of midnight it was the easiest thing. I cut myself some slack at the weekends – 5am is still good enough on these days. I kept it up for the rest of the month. By now it is not even an ordeal anymore. Guess there is a grain of truth in all this “form a habit in 21 days”- programs.

So.. yay me! I will go ahead and tick off another point on this bullet list.

And yes .. there was this wonderful moment a few days ago I wanted to share. The moment one of my characters kind of … surprised me. I was writing along happily at a scene where she had to draw a lot from a case. A very importand draw. We are talking life changing draw. And what does she do? She takes two. That little b*tch took two lots instead of just one. Cheater! Ha! I loved it. Still do. Worked it into the plot smoothly. I am still smiling when I think about it.

I attribute this headway, one might even call it a success, to one of the advise books I have been reading lately. J.S. Bell introduced me to the method of Voice Journaling to flesh out important characters. Works like a charm.

So … in hindsight. January 2016 has been a blast. If the year goes on like this it will bound to bring more surprises. Let’s see where February takes me. Spoiling us with with 29 days this year! Now more coffee… and back to the blank page.

First test with Critique Circle

Few days ago I wrote about me picking and joining an online critique group – among the many available I chose Critique Circle.

Right after joining up and getting through the confirmation email process I started their “Welcome to CC” routine which left me with enough credits to submit my first piece of writing. It was up for its one week critique timeframe starting 6th of January. After submitting it all I had to do was wait and browse the forum. And of course – critique other writer’s work.

What can I say? This is fun and help at the same time. I like reading those bits and pieces of other writers. We are all just trying to hone our skills, advance our word-smithing and learn to put onto paper what we think someone else might enjoy reading. After a few days of critiquing several stories in different categories I have noticed that I do learn a lot – from the mistakes of others. Usually, when you buy a book there has been done some polishing going on with the original manuscript. Whatever writer, agent, editor, and publisher possible could do they did to make it as good as it gets. You don’t really get to see writings fresh from the author, let alone examples of the first rough draft.

So sometimes it is (at least for me) a little intimidating because as reader I don’t get to see all the work that went into the manuscript to make it smooth like it is when finally printed. But now I could (can!) see exactly that. And be part of it.

Whenever I notice something off in my fellow writer buddies texts, I learn. May it be a switch in POV, seemingly endless overuse of adverbs, weird dialogue tags, warped sentence structure … If I can spot it in their work, I might stand a chance to spot it in my own one day. I have since realised that spotting these things in the writings of others is a lot easier than spotting it in my own. But I figure writing is a craft like any other. The more you learn, the better you get.

During the week following Jan 6th I got seven critiques for my first submission. These helped me to come to a decision regarding my WIP. Apparently my English skills are good enough to justify me proceeding in English language. This was one of my major concerns.

Happy.

 

Critique Group Search

With yesterdays achievement a rather easy task I figured I might as well tackle the next item on my list. This time it was 1) not so easy to solve and b) involved some internet (re)search. Latter quickly blew my mind and the number of open tabs in my browser as well. This is what happened:

I had been searching for a critique buddy in 2015 – without success. Turns out I just searched the wring thing. Originally I was hoping to find a native English speaker here in town who would sit and talk with me, drink coffee, point out critique worthy things in my WIP and I would return the favour. Like a real-life-writer-friend. BUT, living in Germany lowers the number of native English speakers. How to find someone among those few who lives near enough for personal meet-ups and who is interested in investing the amount of time necessary? Not an easy task, if not downright impossible.

Dismissing this plan of action I pondered the possibility of an online critique group (CG). Imagine my surprise … there are thousands! Good start.

Now, how to choose one? I found a blogpost, more like 10 blogs, dedicating a post to CGs. I clicked all the links. Open in new tab, open in new tab, open in new …… Browser got slowly lagging and I quickly lost overview of all the tabs. I scanned through the different websites, bookmarked a few and dismissed others.

In the end I signed up with Critique Circle. Their website looked friendly enough. The system of credits they use seems ok. So I just went ahead. It won’t cost me money but time to help others by critiquing their stories. In turn I will get feedback from different natives on my language skills. And on my writing as well.

This is a big step forward and makes me happy.

Second item on bucket list done. Yay!