And this is only half of them. Geary has myriad health problems, so I knew this WIFYR was going to be different than in years past, simply because I would be monitoring Geary's health and wellness the entire time.
We had received twelve manuscripts from our workshop group members, everything you can imagine from contemporary realistic to high fantasy to dystopian to urban fantasy to issue books. It was very interesting to see the huge variety in just the types of manuscripts. And of course you're reading a manuscript and then thinking, "I wonder what this writer is like in real life." It was fun to meet the writers and make friends during WIFYR week.
Another preparation for WIFYR: I applied for the fellowship award. The application process included submitting the first three chapters of my novel, a detailed chapter-by-chapter synopsis, two letters of recommendation from authorities in the industry, and a cover letter I'd written detailing how awesome I am. It was a difficult process and last year there were twenty-five people who applied, so competition will be fierce.
So Geary and I stayed up WAY too late on Sunday night catching up. We cried in the driveway when I ran out to meet her car. We were like, "OMG, we are finally together after a year." It's interesting, because the last six months, I have felt closer to Geary than I ever have during our six-year friendship, and those six months, we have been in different states.
We stayed up talking about... I don't even remember. EVERYTHING. And went to bed all tired out. We got up at 7am all groggy and regretful, and made our lunches. We got into the car by 8am. Registration ends at 8:30am so we knew we had plenty of time, since it would only take twenty minutes to get their from Sean and Cate's house in Holladay (instead of the 58 minutes it would take from Geary's house in south Provo).
So I had programmed the address into my phone the night before, but of course, in true technology fashion, the phone decided to reenter a past address I had gone to in the previous week, in the opposite direction from where we wanted to go. So I turn toward Sandy, and I'm driving south, and we knew it was the right way, but the phone was telling us to turn around. So I'm not going to lie, we kind of freaked out a little, thinking we didn't know what we really knew. And then Geary figured out the problem and we ended up finding it. Seriously. This happens to me every year. I feel like I'm lost, but I eventually find it and I think it's part of the whole WIFYR experience for me.
We finally got there:
Of course, I didn't take any pictures of the beautiful campus, but I will next time. WIFYR is hosted at the gorgeous Waterford School campus, a private school nestled in the foothills of Sandy, UT. Here are a couple photos I stole from The Waterford School website:
If you aren't sure whether or not to be jealous, don't worry, you should be.
We signed in and then joined the rest of the conference crowd in one of the auditoriums to hear opening announcements and general housekeeping from Carol Lynch Williams, organizer and creator of the conference.
Here is an author photo of Carol:
And here is our first conference moment:
We went around the table and introduced ourselves, including our interior age. Most of the people in the room were between 6 and 20 years old inside. Very interesting.
We went through ideas about children's genres, everything from picture books to new adult. YA is characterized by coming of age themes, sparser prose that is leaner overall, stripped of everything extraneous. Most of us in the class are writing YA, so this is good information to remember. Ann reminded us that:
"You gotta write the book that someone wants to read."
Since she does book reviews AND works in The King's English bookstore, she receives hundreds of free books every year. She doesn't have time to review them all, much less read them all. So she brought a stack of books for us to look through. She passed them out and had us all read the first line and then more if we felt like it, and then pass them to the next person. I was surprised how many of them I wasn't interested in continuing once I read the first line. Some of them were just not a genre in which I was interested, but I think a good first line in any genre will be compelling.
Then we got into workshopping the first manuscript. It was by Amy Wilson:
Just so you know, Amy's got the best smile.
Her manuscript is a modern fantasy. Well, it starts in a realistic place and then goes into more of a fantasy setting... well, a past setting with a fantasy twist. You know what, I'm not even really sure how to classify it. And I don't want to give anything away without her permission, but it was VERY interesting with a strong MC (main character) and nice voice.
The format of the workshop: Someone (not the writer) would read the first few paragraphs aloud and then we would go around the circle and present our thoughts. Things that we liked, and then things that we thought would help strengthen or improve the manuscript. The writer is not to respond to any critical points, because really, if what you mean to bring across didn't come across, you should really be taking note instead of responding. The way to get the most out of the workshopping experience is to take everyone's notes and then objectively use them to improve your writing.
Amy was very open to our critical review, and she was a pleasure to meet.
We walked slowly back to the main building (because Geary needed to take it slow), and had lunch in the main foyer of the auditorium. After which we attended the plenary presented by Kristin Ostby, an editor with Simon & Schuster, on first pages.
Here's Kristin (in the middle), along with John Cusick (NY based agent with Greenhouse) and Michelle Witte (agent with Mansion Street):
Kristin's plenary was very informative. She shared first pages and first lines that worked for her. She reminded us not to make our readers work too hard. She also shared her expertise regarding pitch letters. They should never be longer than one page, there should be a quick intro, a one sentence elevator pitch/hook. A popular format for hook sentences right now follow the model "________ meets ________." We thought long and hard about it, and Geary decided that a good hook for my book would be Speak meets A Beautiful Mind. Right? Those of you who are alpha readers for The Angel Room will know how good this is. It made me happy. Kristin also said a good pitch letter will include what the book is about, and communicate why someone would want to read it. She said that a backstory or creation story for the book should not be included. And no marketing plan should be included.
Can I just say that I love seeing so many bibliophiles in one room?
Writers, as they are considering the opening of their book, should remember that 1st impressions are essential, and the first line should catch the reader's eye. The first sentence should make them want to read the next sentence.
The first page should develop tension with a strong voice (this is style), captivating language, compelling narrator. It should also have character development, mood, voice, setting, tension, and an original approach.
Then we separated for breakout sessions. I went to Shawn Stout's: The Great and Terrible 1st Draft or: The First Pancake Never Turns Out Right.
Here's Shawn's author pic from her website:
She talked about the science of pancake making, how the griddle has to be the perfect temperature, and greased exactly right, and how the first pancake never turns out perfect. The first pancake prepares the griddle, soaks up the excess grease, etc, and makes the pancakes that come after turn out great.
She started with this quote from Ann Lamott:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.”
The average manuscript takes 14 drafts.
Throwing away your words takes belief in yourself and in your work.
She mentioned the rough drafts of Walt Whitman and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
So in preparation for writing here was some of her advice:
1. Gag your inner censor. (This is the voice that says, You're not good enough. You shouldn't write. Your mom will think it's about her. etc.) Telling truth that matters is frightening! Shawn draws a portrait of her inner censor with a word bubble and his words and then crumples it up and throws it away.
2. Send your internal editor on vacation. The editor is very skilled and useful, but not for first drafts. Resist the urge to peek at the pancakes before they're done!
3. Remind yourself and you are the blind man touching the elephant and trying to conjure up the image of the beast.
Then start writing. Do not go back and read what you've written as you go. No editing. Keep the pen on the page, or your fingers moving on the keys. Give yourself permission to write terribly.
In Carol's Sense of Place class, we learned the importance of the five senses in creating setting. Every sense should be used to bring setting vividly to the reader. We read examples from Ann Dee Ellis' book The End Or Something Like That (READ THIS BOOK), and a few examples from Carol's books. Then she gave us writing exercises. We wrote our home town, a place that we loved, and a place that we hated. Luckily, my hometown and the place that I hate are the same, so I went back and edited the first segment to inject it with heart.
Carol's main reminder: A setting needs to be filled with heart.
At the end, Geary and I regrouped and drove back home, where we made food and Geary played some on her ukulele to decompress.
Then watched some of Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate.
It's set in the 80's.
No, I'm serious. Could there be anything better?
We went to bed early. Or earlier. We wanted to go to bed early, but our brains weren't ready yet. But it was definitely earlier than the night before. And the first day was over.