Friday, June 20, 2008


Continuing my tradition, I now present to you the second annual (or is it third? I lose count) Notes on Darlene’s Experience at BYU Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference!

Yes, I scrounged up the money (read: emptied my Writing Account to the bare dregs—money I had worked and sweated to earn by writing Friend magazine articles) and hit the conference again. I believe I said I wouldn’t. I think I felt done last year. But this year I had a novel manuscript, and I need to keep racking up credits for maintaining my now current teacher’s license, so . . . off I went. (Really, the decision was rather difficult. You see, I hate, despise and loathe my novel manuscript. What it got down to was that I felt I would always wonder if I didn’t give novel-writing a real try. It would be useful to really find out whether my ms was any good at all.)

So I went. And I am very, very, very glad I did.

First of all, I felt pretty darn good all week! I was so blessed! It was really a surprise to me. I remember being so darn tired last year, dragging myself through the classes. This year my energy held up pretty well, and my spirits just as high. I came home so happy at having had the chance, and also very happy to see my kids. I’ll never be one of those moms who goes around saying, “My family is better off because I work outside the home,” but I have to say that my psychological health really improves when I feel like I’m getting time to work hard at something I can control, and when I get away from home a little. It didn’t hurt that I had a FABULOUS caregiver standing in for me. She was so fabulous that I honestly think my kids wish the conference had lasted longer. It helps immensely to know that they are happy while I’m gone. (Thanks, Mom Y.)

So [and here I was going to say, “without further ado,” but I strongly suspect there will be much more ado throughout the report], here is my report. And since I have heard tell that some of my loyal readers do NOT like long posts, I will try to break this up a little.

Rather than going chronologically, I’ll tell you the most interesting part first. As you may recall from my report last year—or the year before—it is tradition that the teachers of the workshops are invited to pass along promising manuscripts to the visiting editors and agent. I knew about this because my ms. was passed my first year (in Rick Walton’s class). But this time I didn’t really care because, as I said, I hate my novel. And even if the idea is good (and, believe me, it is), and the first few chapters (which is all we workshop) are impressive enough for my teacher to pass it along, I have a lot of changes I want to make. So, really, having an agent or editor get excited about it while we’re at the conference isn’t much different than if I waited to send it to them in a few months when I think it’s ready. Either way, they ask for the rest.

So, as you have probably picked up by all the foreshadowing here, my ms did get passed. (And I spent an afternoon really stressed about preparing it for him. I hadn’t brought a clean hard copy to hand out, so I had to go print one up. Which means, of course, “tweaking” it a little. And then the printer ran out of toner. Much stress and panic.) Anyway, after reading it, the agent who was there invited me to meet with him. Here’s basically how the conversation went.

A Short Scene. Setting: Small Classroom in Conference Building at BYU.

Agent 007: So, I’m very intrigued about this. Tell me how the rest of the book goes.

Me: Well, as I indicated in the cover letter I [so cleverly] included [and you obviously didn’t read], I plan on making some changes based on what I’ve learned here. But here’s how it goes, generally. (Vague description.)

007: Is it done?

Me: Well, I do have a complete draft. Actually, this is draft three. But I want to change it.

007: I really like this first part. Will the rest of it be heavy and dark, or sort of witty and cool? Is it funny?

Me: [Really wishing I could say “witty and cool.” Wondering, suddenly, whether I would hate it less if I lightened it up and quit trying to make it some heavy newberry Literah-ture] Um, well, not really. It’s sort of heavy and dark, I guess. It sounds like you would like it more if it were the other kind?

007: Well, personally, yes. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t sell it if it were a different kind of book, if it’s good. I’d definitely like to see the rest of it, when you feel ready.

Me: OK.

007: So, do you have any other finished ms’s?

Me: Well, I have a whole bunch of ideas for chapter books, but none written. I also have several picture book manuscripts, a couple of which have received personal rejections or invitations for rewrites.

007 [really likes hearing “chapter book,” I can tell]: Can you tell me some of your ideas for chapter books?

Me: Well, one is (insert idea here).

007: And any others?

Me: Honestly, my mind has gone completely blank. I’ve been so full of this novel at this workshop, you see.

007: That’s OK. What about your picture books? What kind of books are they?

Me [very impressed with myself]: Well, I happened to bring some with me.

007 [panicking]: No, no, I can’t take any manuscripts with me right now. Just tell me what they are about.

Me [Calm down, dude, I wasn’t going to force them on you!]: Oh, I know. But I wanted to show you that they are all over the place in terms of theme and style. Like this one is a lyrical bedtime story in rhyme. And this one is about a girl’s first piano lesson. And this one is totally silly, about some monsters at a produce market—see, “jicama hiccup and celery slurp, [something and something] and broccoli burp.” [Yes, I did actually read this line to him.]

007 [looking excited--really!]: Actually, I will take this one. [Picks it up.] I can read it on the plane.

Me: OK [trying not to smile]. So anyway, you can see I’m all over the place in terms of what I’m writing. That’s why I’m interested in an agent, and I really liked what you said in your presentation about wanting to be able to help authors craft their careers. I could use some help with that.

007: Well, I’ll take a look at this and e-mail you next week. In the meantime, finish up the novel and I’d love to see it when it’s done.

The End.

So now I must sort out for myself whether I am tempted to rewrite my entire novel to be “witty and cool” because I am being blinded by flattery/the prospect of pleasing this particular agent, or whether I am tempted because I don’t like what it is now and might like it more if I did change it. Hopefully, I’ll get that sorted out in the next month or so.

That’s enough for today, I suppose. Stay tuned for more reporting.


Emily M. said...

You're on your way! And you totally deserve it.

Zina said...

You didn't get to the part about the free admission, or did I miss that? I'd love to hear you got your money back.

For what it's worth, you can count me as one reader who enjoys all your posts, however long they may be.

I hope he's a good agent. At leastt sounds like he knows good work when he sees it.

I actually got an idea recently for a novel that I don't *think* has already been done (or if so, at least not to death,) but it's a very heavy topic and I don't know if I would even enjoy writing about it, or whether it's worth writing about things I don't enjoy writing about. (As though I were even willing to make time for writing (other than blogging) in my life right now, anyway, with so many sewing projects calling my name.) But I love watching how you and Angie and others do make time for it.

Melinda said...

I'm so glad that we got to meet. I wish we could have visited more.

My advice (for what it is worth): Make your novel your own--whatever that is, so that you can love it and enjoy it. After all, isn't that why we write?

Good luck with 007.

Kristi Stevens said...

I agree with Melinda. I've been trying to reshape my novel into something someone else wants as well. I can't do it.

If we're not enjoying the process, what's the point?

Stephen Carter said...

Great job, Darlene. Maybe I should send my novel to you for a critique. You could use your connections to get me in.

Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury said...

If making the novel "witty and cool" would help you to like it more, I'm totally in favor with that.

I'm so excited for you. The interview with the agent sounded very promising.