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Contests & Synopses

Yeah! I successfully entered my first literary contest, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. I say successfully because I know a lot of people want to and never actually do it. But I couldn’t have done it without the help of my critique group members Emily and Jessica. Together we worked for over six weeks polishing our entries together and I definitely know that my entry is much better because of their insight and thoughtful comments.

The finalists in each category (genre) will be announced some time in June and each entrant will receive feedback from at least two judges, one of which will include a literary agent or editor. It will be hard not to count the days until June. Finalists in each category receive several honors including a special colored ribbon on your name badge at the summer conference (like the scarlet letter but with an upside), as well as recognition at a dinner at the conference. In addition, the contest entry of finalists (which included a synopsis and my first two chapters of my memoir) is available to all agents and editors that attend the conference in a special quiet room for their review. I’ve never heard anyone say they found an agent or editor this way, but I’m not ruling it out (provided I am fortunate enough to be named a finalist)!

First and second place in each category also receive $500 and $200, respectively, as well. I’m certainly looking forward to the feedback.

I encourage every writer to enter a contest. Don’t wait until you’re completely ready. Instead, identify the contest well in advance and then plan for it. I think having the deadline out there helps push you along. I certainly worked harder on my first two chapters than I would have without it. Plus, those two chapters, now more polished, will improve the quality of my book proposal that I’ll be sending out to another round of agents in a month or two.

As I’ve blogged about recently here, I wrote a synopsis that I love for the contest and I’m sharing it with you now below. Please be aware that this synopsis may or may not be considered “a quality synopsis”, it’s just what I wrote for my contest entry. Thanks for reading.

EGG MAMA: AN EGG DONOR AND HER EXTRAORDINARY FAMILY, a memoir

Synopsis

The desire to be a mother washes over Nina like a slowly rising tide. A neurotic, single twenty-something fresh out of college, she wanders, exploring the sandy beach of life, the sea nowhere in sight. A shiny treasure catches her eye—an adventurous older man. Twinkling like a precious stone, he feeds her aching need for love, for life.

Water rises quickly, almost undetected, as Nina clambers over the now rocky shallows. He already has a child and doesn’t want any more. The waves turn cold against her legs. Should she climb out, into the sun’s indulgence? Or turn away in search of deeper water?

To calm her fear and indecision, Nina donates some of her eggs anonymously, giving another woman the chance to swim. When Nina learns of the fraternal twin girls born from her eggs, a surge rises to her chest. She meets Ruby and Raven at two-years-old, and is no longer afraid. She floats on her back, alive; and now she wants her own baby more than air.

But her man, who wades into the shallows slowly, cannot give her the baby he is now ready to share. They despair. Buoyed by a fertility doctor, they are rescued by a faceless stranger, the Frenchman, who bestows his seed.

Nina tests many different strokes against and with the current: aunt, stepmom, and Egg Mama, all training for the race that is parenthood, as her own twins grow inside her.

Storms blow in: Ruby and Raven’s parents divorce and Nina’s own twin boys arrive too soon. She can barely stay afloat and they all struggle to stay together. But as the storms subside, Nina rolls in the waves of motherhood, riding the natural rhythms. Water becomes her air and soon she cannot live without it. The flood tide crests and Nina no longer cares about the shore.

A New Way to Increase Fertility?

Saw this over at the blog Swimming In Circles by Michael and had to share. A scientific study has shown that laughter can increase IVF fertility. I’m assuming this is only true for those of us who aren’t deathly afraid of clowns….

Inspiration in Entertainment

One of my personal vices has always been movies and television. Although some writers think that indulging this habit is nothing but distraction, I’d argue that it depends on how one approaches them. Because there are so many choices and so little time, I’ve been relying for a few years on the wisdom of Entertainment Weekly (EW). When I discover my copy in the mailbox each Friday afternoon, I get a little thrill thinking about when and how I’ll squeeze in the hour it takes me to devour it.

Last week’s issue was particularly inspiring for me as a writer. Or at least I was reading the magazine like a writer, where every page held some message that called out to me.

Instant Fame

You’ve probably heard of the now infamous Ted Williams, the formerly homeless man with a radio voice from heaven who was discovered on a street corner while holding his cardboard sign. EW noted that his now legendary You Tube video first appeared on-line on January 3 and by January 5, Williams was on The Early Show and had a job with the Cleveland Cavaliers. On January 6, Williams appeared on the Today Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and on January 7, he reunited with his estranged mother and his first commercial appeared on-line. That was one busy week. As a reader, I was blown away by the pace at which TV moves. As a writer, I focused on the ideas that the media are just dying to find a sensational story and that if you happen to be part of that story, your professional career could move fast, and perhaps faster than you’d like.

 I’ve heard similar stories about authors who have been fortunate enough to get into the Oprah loop. I, of course, have entertained several fantasies of appearing on her show, and soon her new network, OWN. But I never really believed it could happen to me until the day almost exactly three years ago when I received an e-mail from one of her show’s associate producers. Although I didn’t end up on her show (she aired a show on Feb. 8, 2008 about sperm donors that met their biological children), I did do a 1-hour phone interview with the producer and I was sure I heard elements of our conversation worked into the show. I haven’t given up hope of appearing on her show someday, and that hope is reinvigorated when I read about the kind of story-book success that happened to Ted Williams.

Assisted Reproduction in the Mainstream

I recently blogged about the first mainstream movie with assisted reproduction as a major theme to reach financial success, The Kids Are All Right. Now, I’m happy to report that the film’s stars Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo have all been nominated for acting awards, the highest of which includes the coveted Oscar.  The film has at least 4 Oscar nominations, and as of today, Annette Bening is a frontrunner in the best actress category. Its considered a long-shot for Best Picture but to me that’s less important than the fact that the films critical success has helped it find a wider audience and increased awareness about families built with the help of (egg and) sperm donors. It can only help with reception of my book with mainstream audiences, if I’m so lucky to be in that position some day.

The movie’s success also gives me permission to fantasize about the movie adaptation of my book. I’ve met one Bellingham children’s book author, Royce Buckingham, who successfully penned and sold the screenplay and movie rights to his children’s book. Although it has not yet been made into a movie, he’s still enjoying the annual payments that go with that sale. To me, success as a writer takes many forms, and Buckingham has definitely earned his.

New Directions

Good bye vampires, werewolves, and wizards. Hello… refugee teenage aliens. The movie, I am Number Four, is an adaptation of a young adult sci-fi, due out Feb. 18. Hmmm, I wonder what kind of books will be getting hot deals at this year’s writer’s conferences?

The Beauty of Brevity

To me, good writing is often not about what is said, but how it’s said; finding the most simple and perfect words, as if there could be no better or clearer way to accomplish an idea. With that in mind, I really admire how EW can say so much in so few words. Case in point, last week’s EW presented the movies expected to be released in 2011. I will continue to strive toward this kind of succinct perfection: “Transformers: Dark of the Moon, due out 7/1. Cars are robots.”

I’m wishing you all overnight success, mainstream audiences, and concise prose.

Lorraine Wilde

Elements of a Great Synopsis

I’m entering the memoir category of Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest this year. A new addition to the contest is that each submission must be accompanied by a one page (double-spaced) synopsis. I haven’t written many of those so I got a couple books from the library to help me.

The other dilemma that I’m still trying to work out is that a synopsis usually talks about it’s main character, which in my case is me. But for this contest, the authors name cannot appear anywhere, so I’m either going to have to change from third to first person, or change my main character’s name for this submission. Any suggestions for my new name? Maybe I should just use my stripper name, Streak Illinois? I’m sure I can find something better, but right now it feels like an unnecessary distraction from the real goal: to get this thing polished and submitted by Feb. 18.

Back to the synopsis. The suggestions below are straight from Ch. 18 The Novel Synopsis by Rebecca Vinyard in The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals (Moira Allen Ed.). Somehow, my synopsis is supposed to contain each of the following thirteen elements and cannot exceed one page in length, double-spaced! So the trick is to jam all this information together in such a way that it doesn’t seem crammed, choppy, or rushed. Simple, right? Unfortunately, this book only gives examples of synopses that are several pages long, single-spaced. But I found some shorter examples here compiled by Charlotte Dillon.

1.       Set up

Premise, location, time frame, main characters backgrounds.

2.       Why?

Explain everything, if your character is angry, explain why.

3.       Characterization

Describe your character, not their looks, but their background, personality, occupation. Only primary characters in synopsis.

4.       Plot points

The major decision faced by your character or something unexpected and outside the experience of the character. Stick with the main theme, mention all major plot points. Leave out subplots.

5.       Conflict

The obstacles the main characters must overcome in order to achieve their goals.

6.       Emotion

Include it whenever possible to keep it from being a dull summary.

7.       Action

In the story, this is very important. But in a synopsis, only include it if there are significant consequences.

8.       Dialogue

A few lines of significant dialogue at the most, if any.

9.       Black Moment

A moment of reckoning, when it appears that your hero will never reach their goals and all is lost.

10.   Climax

The moment when your hero succeeds or the bad guy fails. Your character reaches their goal.

11.   Resolution

In a synopsis, don’t be coy, give away the ending. Tie up loose ends.

12.   Basics

Use present tense, avoid passive voice, and focus on flow and forward motion.

13.   Formatting

Double spaced is usually preferred but check Writers Guidelines for each submission. For general synopses, include contact information and word count on the upper left corner of the first page. Subsequent pages should include title, your last name, and page number in your header. But beware, in this literary contest, no author names should appear anywhere to reduce bias.

I’ll post my polished synopsis on this blog in a week or two for your generous feedback.

“Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg (Part 1)

Whenever I talk to another writer about my current plans, they inevitably recommend that I read Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. I’ve had the book on my shelf for months and finally was in the mood.

The great thing about this book is that each chapter has a self-contained message. So, I have scribbling down her underlying message and I’ll share them with you here.

Goldberg’s recommendations:

1. Set up your writing system, whether its the right pen and notebook, or coffee shop and laptop. The goal is choose the method that least slows you down so those words can flow.

2. Turn off your critic on your first draft. (This also happens to be advice given by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird–the shitty first draft). Her advice seems to say we should NaNoWriMo all year long.

3. Practice writing every day, be in the moment with your thoughts, don’t try to control them. If you let go of control, your voice will come all on it’s own.

4. Compost! Let your ideas and thoughts spin and churn. Eventually, you’ll get fertile soil.

5. Trust the writing process, stick with it, and you will improve.

6. Keep a running list of writing topics so that you’ll never feel blocked. You’ll always have a place to turn for a quick start.

7. Write. Don’t argue with yourself about when you’re going to do it, or why you’re not. Just do it. Use rewards, deadlines, a buddy, whatever it takes to just get writing.

8. Learn to hear and recognize your inner editor so you can more efficiently ignore it. (my inner editor just asked me whether I should change this to “recognize and hear” instead–I just told the bitch to shut up. :))

9. Write about what’s in front of you and expand thereafter.

10. Don’t read about writing as a way to learn to write. Just write (no, I didn’t stop reading the book right there, but I did put it down to re-work on a chapter).

Goldberg’s approach is simple and I like that. This is a fast, informative read. It’s interesting that she uses a lot of examples from her life to color these themes, including Buddhist teachings, quotes, and a variety of poetry.

I’m a third of the way through, so there will be a Part 2 (at least) in the next couple weeks.

I will be working it in around my plans to enter my first writing contest since 5th grade (which I won!). By Feb. 18 I will enter the first 27 pages of my memoir, along with an amazing synopsis, in the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Literary Contest.  I have  a couple friends who were finalists in the contest last year and they very much recommend the experience, which includes feedback from at least two people, one of which might be a literary agent.

This week I’ll be learning what qualities make a good synopsis. Will let you know what I find out.

Lorraine

“The Spirit of a Woman” Anthology

A friend of mine, who also happens to be a journalism professor at Western Washington University, Carolyn Nielsen, loaned me an anthology that contains an essay by one of my neighbors, who also happens to be a writer, Colleen Haggerty. The anthology of personal essays, The Spirit of a Woman: Stories to Empower and Inspire, includes stories of survival and strength by women from wide-ranging backgrounds.

Colleen’s essay recounts how she lost her leg in an auto accident at the age of 17 and how she came to forgive, some 15 years later, the man who did it. Her story was very well written and vivid without being gruesome.

I met Colleen some years ago but we haven’t talked in a long time. She probably doesn’t even remember me. Our town is small though, and I see her occasionally at our neighborhood school. Reading her story about her most intimate feelings around such a difficult subject has made me want to reconnect with her, to tell her everything I liked about her essay.

To me, the feeling that I’m getting to know the writer behind the story is part of the appeal of reading memoir and personal essay, and maybe even reality TV.

I’m going to make the effort to reintroduce myself to Colleen when I get the chance again soon. One of my own essays will appear in an anthology in October 2011, Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories. I’m eager to pick her brain about the process. I will be writing about my learning process as an author in an anthology here on this blog as we go along so check back often. I’m excited for the opportunity to learn more about its marketing and promotion, an area I’m just delving into.

Have you ever been in an anthology? What wisdom can you share?

Have a safe and wonderful New Year’s holiday.

Lorraine Wilde

“The House of Hope and Fear” by Audrey Young, M.D.

I just finished reading another memoir, The House of Hope and Fear: Life in a Big City Hospital, by Audrey Young, M.D.  My book club is reading it for January. It was a quick read because once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. The book follows the good doctor through her job as an attending physician at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, WA. She describes the medical cases that walk through the door on a daily basis, none of which are sensational like on a television show. They’re simply real people arriving with standard issue diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart failure. What makes this book very different than a TV show is that it covers with greater detail the fact that our health care system is profoundly flawed.

Harborview is a public hospital, meaning it is one of the few that takes people that certainly can’t pay, while the other seven hospitals within a 5 mile radius accept only a small proportion of those with no insurance. If you’re homeless, poor, or otherwise downtrodden, Harborview is your only shot at health care.

Before reading this book, I had no idea how ambulance services decided to which hospital one should be transported. This book explains that both where you go and the level of care you receive are very dependent on your health insurance. For example, even at Harborview, but also more so at the other hospitals, the emergency room doors can be closed due to overcrowding, with people turned away or transported to a different hospital further from their homes, all while people sit in large private rooms on the upper floors because they have great insurance that pays for expensive surgical procedures. There are big rooms with space for beds, the hospital is just not putting beds or people in them.

According to Young, health care in the U.S. is still about making money, even at Harborview. Departments that make the most money, like surgery, have the most beds, the most space, and well laid plans for expansion and remodelling, while departments that cater to the homeless, even when they are at capacity on a daily basis, like detox and dialysis, have no plans for improvement.

Due to cutbacks at my husband’s work during the latest recession, I have had only catastrophic insurance for over a year. The idea that I could show up at a hospital and receive lower quality, or less heroic health care compared to someone else seems criminal.

I’ve been a socialist at heart for some time (since birth?), but this book reinforced my feeling that health care should not be allowed as a capitalist venture.

I definitely enjoyed this book, despite my frustrations with the reality of the subject. It often made me feel one of two emotions. I either felt like a) our health care system is screwed up and I am not doing enough about it or b) that it was too overwhelming for me to fix so I was tempted to put my head in the sand. I’m sure Young was hoping for the former.

Since reading this book I’m definitely planning to spend more time looking into single payer health care, which means that there is basically one insurance company that everyone pays into and fees come out of. If used properly, it would eliminate the idea that the quality of care is dependent on your insurance or socioeconomic status.

I also learned from this book as a writer. Young included technical descriptions of medical conditions and their diagnosis and treatment. In my memoir, I have included technical medical descriptions of procedures related to assisted reproduction including egg donation, artificial insemination, and in vitro fertilization. I noticed that my descriptions of medical procedures tend to include more detail or elaboration, but in a way that helps the lay person compare it to every day things, whereas Young simply states that she ordered a CT scan and blood cultures and hopes (or assumes) that the reader understands why or how those will help in her diagnosis and treatment. I am very comfortable with medical terminology and don’t need much explanation, but I’m curious to hear how the non-technical members of my book club feel about the technical medical aspects. Maybe TV shows like E.R., Grey’s Anatomy, and House have made it easier for the everywoman to understand this stuff?

This is Young’s second book on the subject, her first covering the life of a medical student. I’m very tempted to read her first as well. This book did a couple of things I aspire to: it kept me interested despite it’s technical nature and my desire to avoid reading about the travesty that is the U.S. health care insurance system, and it was written with a voice that would never be called literary. Sometimes I worry that my voice is not flowery enough because my background is in science instead of literature, but this book proved to me that not every successful book has to sound like it was written by an English poet.

There was one aspect of the book that I noticed so I’ll be careful in revising my own. Young uses (fake) patient names throughout the book and occasionally, because there were so many, I would forget who she was talking about. I’ve read and heard from other writers that characters should only be named if they are significant enough, if they are worth remembering. But now I’m wondering if those names need to be reinforced when they recur. Young occasionally would write something like, “Jason Smith, the patient with the blood clot in his leg,…” to jog the memory, but at other times she would leave off the condition, and for those I’d have a hard time figuring out the context for that person.

Reading this book made me want to investigate and possibly send my manuscript to her agent, Max Gartenberg. His web site says he only takes query letters, so I need to work on my query. Check!

Check out this book and let me know what YOU think.

Lorraine Wilde

Year End Inventory

One of my writing mentors, Christina Katz suggests cataloging your accomplishments before setting goals for the new year. Give this a try before setting your New Year’s Resolutions.

Here are my writing-related accomplishments during 2010:

  • I published 10 articles in local and regional publications
  • I have 12 articles already written that can be circulated as reprints and published elsewhere
  • I took two classes: Writing & Publihing the Short Stuff and the Dream Team
  • I completed edits for a personal essay, Finding My Way, that will be published in the anthology, Bless Your Heart, due out in Fall 2011
  • I wrote ~70,000 words of my memoir, and polished about 10,000 more
  • I blogged at least 3 times a month right here on my own blog all year long and converted my old blog to WordPress (highly recommend it)
  • I joined my county writers and publishers group, Whatcom Writers and Publishers, and attended two meetings
  • I joined a critique group and connected with at least 4 other writers in my town. Some of them are in my blog roll to the right.
  • I opened a separate bank account to hold earnings from writing
  • I started telling people that I’m a writer when they ask what I do
  • I narrowed down the kind of writing I’d like to do in the future to two niches: assisted reproduction and environmental conservation & toxicology

I’m sure there are a couple that I missed but that feels like a lot of success for one year.

Looking ahead, I came up with these goals for 2011. Please let me know if you would like to help me acheive any of these aspirations.

  • Publish more than ten articles this year, hopefully at least one will be in a national publication
  • Finish the draft of my memoir and revise it until I am satisfied, and then submit my proposal to at least 10 more agents
  • Earn some money writing this year
  • Increase my blog readership, and explore blogging strategies, such as guest blogging
  • Consider taking a personal essay class and/or a class on platform development
  • Start publishing small stuff in my newer niche: environmental conservation & toxicology
  • Attend two conferences this year, Pacific Northwest Writers Association meeting and Chuckanut Writer’s Conference
  • Meet and get to know the owners of my local book store, Chuck and Dee Robinson at Village Books
  • Publish a personal essay or short story in an anthology—I’ll check out Chicken Soup for the Soul, Cup of Comfort through Adams Media, and Seal Press

I hope that your year has been as productive and rewarding as mine and that you will achieve any goal you attack in 2011.

Happy Holidays!

Lorraine Wilde

End of Round Two

Well, I’m a bit disappointed, although I knew it was probably coming. I received a rejection (which agents and editors sometimes call a pass) yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so glad they actually reply with one or two sentences of feedback, but it’s hard to accept the finality of it.

Yesterday I “was passed over” by Kit Ward of Christina Ward Literary Agency. Kit was one of ten agents and editors I submitted my book proposal to of those I met this summer at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association meeting. She was the last of the bunch to reply. One success of round two over round one is that everyone in round two actually replied. Not so in round one.

I had the pleasure of actually getting to know Kit a little at the meeting. That hardly ever happens, so I was really hoping she’d identify with my work and be excited about having me.

Turns out though, that from that meeting, Kit discovered my wonderful writing friend, Kim Kircher, and Kit has been helping Kim through her book deal for The Next Fifteen Minutes. Kim’s book chronicles how her job as a ski patroller and avalanche expert helped her through her husband’s battle with liver cancer. I’m so excited to read it when it comes out next year. I’ll be following Kim’s journey vicariously and hope you will too through her blog (on my blog roll to the right).

I was first drawn to Kit when I discovered that she also represents author, Karen Fisher, who wrote the novel, A Sudden Country, which my book club read and loved last year. Karen also happens to live in the Pacific Northwest.

So it is sad for me to see this potential opportunity go by. I try not to get my hopes up, but it’s hard not to when you meet people you could actually picture yourself working with.

I’m so very happy for both Kim and Kit, and their publisher, Lynn Price of Behler Publications.

When I look back over the feedback I’ve received from agents and editors during round two, it seems clearer that the voice or content of my sample chapters are where I should focus my future efforts. I feel great to have written 90% of my manuscript now, which is 60% more than I had in October. I’m going to spend however long it takes to polish it before heading into round three. I don’t know how many rounds I have in me, but those who know me would probably say I have excellent stamina. My persistence is what makes my hubby love and hate me at the same time!

But I’m going to make sure to take the advice I’ve heard in many places and try not to rush it. I’ve read and personally know authors who have submitted to and been rejected by more than fifty agents before landing their book deal. I’m only at around eighteen.

I am currently working with a critique group and plan to enter my first writing contest in the new year. When I feel like my manuscript and proposal are significantly improved, head back into the ring for another beating. I’ll be sure to put in my mouth guard and cup.

Here’s the actual gracious e-mail I got from Kit for your voyeuristic reading pleasure:

Dear Lorraine,

A thousand pardons for this tardy response to your proposal for EGG MAMA, which I asked to see at the PNWA conference.  Your story is an extraordinary and touching one, there’s no doubt about that.  But the reading experience here hasn’t compelled me as the idea did originally, I’m afraid.  Given my reservations, I’m going to pass, with regret.  But I hope another reader will see the opportunity here.  (Perhaps you’ve gone ahead without me in any case.)

 It was lovely to meet you at the conference.  I hope our paths will cross again sometime.

 Best,

Kit

Christina Ward

Yeh! I’m a Winner!

I passed my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal today at 51,009! It feels fantastic!

I wasn’t sure I could do it, but now I’m so glad I did. But the journey isn’t over for me yet. I still have about 6 chapters of material to finish an entire rough draft of my manuscript. So, I’m going to try to continue my 2000 words per day until I finish those chapters. I would feel remiss if I didn’t.

I’ve truly enjoyed turning off the editor and just getting it all out on the page. But I’m also looking forward to working on some polish of those chapters and am excited and thankful to have help from my fellow writer friends who will read my more polished work: Jen Schile, Jessica, and Emily.

Thanks for your support in this journey. I’m excited to see where it will lead to next.

Lorraine Wilde