Missy, here. I'd like to introduce my good friend (and my go-to person for grammar questions!), Maureen Hardegree. Though Maureen has published several short stories with BelleBooks, her first full length novel, Haint Misbehavin' (a YA paranormal) was released from Belle Bridge Books in June. I'll be attending her book signing later this month, so today I'm offering one SIGNED copy to a lucky winner from among commenters. To enter, please tell me you want to be entered and leave contact info. We'll announce a winner this weekend, and I'll send the book at the end of the month.
Welcome, Maureen! We look forward to hearing from you.
Can You Hear Me Now?You’re probably wondering what that Verizon catchphrase has to do with writing and the Seekerville blog. Easy. After years in the trench of almost selling, I had an epiphany about why I’d been in there so long. I’d worked hard to learn the craft of mass market fiction. I took comfort in understanding that for many writers selling was often about having the right manuscript at the right publishing house at the right time. I knew perseverance was important, and I hadn’t given up. But had I really been listening to what editors wanted? Or had I been so focused on a particular path to full-length publication that I wasn’t hearing the message inherent in the sales I had made in the short story market?
By Maureen Hardegree
By Maureen Hardegree
Sure, I made changes to my work based on contest judge comments (as long as it didn’t mess up my voice). I looked for publishing houses that I thought might be a good fit for me while I kept writing what I wanted. My theory? If the story and the writing were good enough, some editor might overlook the setting. For years, I wrote historical romance set in a time period that few houses were interested in—19th century Louisiana. I loved writing these stories, which, once my novels became polished enough, finaled in a few contests. Ultimately they never sold because I didn’t listen to what the publishing houses wanted—a different setting, more romance, less extraneous plot. Believe me, I thought I was writing historical romance. I wasn’t. My stories evolved, or devolved, into something I now call paranormal historical women’s fiction.
When I realized the disconnect, I decided the time had come to analyze what I was doing right with the short stories I’d sold to BelleBooks and perhaps try to emulate that success in a longer format. One difference between the short stories and the historicals was that I I gave the BelleBooks editors exactly what they wanted for the Mossy Creek series and the Southern story collections—humor, Southern small town contemporary settings, family relationships and conflicts, first person protagonists. My next novel would be a first person, humorous, contemporary novel that centered on family relationships with a little paranormal thrown in because with me it always creeps in. Since my daughter had suggested for years that I write something for her, I finally listened to her, too. I had nothing to lose. The YA market was fine with first person and humor, and paranormal was getting hot. I wasn’t through listening though.
Because I listened, I was able to better develop my ghost character, which enriched my story. A contest judge rightly pointed out in an earlier version of Haint that ghost Amy needed a more distinctive speech pattern than the protagonist Heather. I read through the chapters and agreed. As much as I wanted to believe I’d developed Amy to the fullest extent, I hadn’t. This character needed to sound more country. Luckily, I have a close
relationship with my husband’s ninety-five-year-old grandmother and modeled Amy’s speech after hers. Another contest judge suggested I change the title because the first title didn’t fit the story, even though it was cute. Originally, Haint Misbehavin’ was A Ghoul Just Wants to Have Fun. But Amy wasn’t a ghoul; she was a ghost. After some pondering, I came up with Haint Misbehavin’, which fits the book so much better due to the Southern setting. Haint, by the way, is Southern for ghost.
My critique partners know my strengths and weaknesses, and your critique partners should know yours. If not, you need to pow-wow with them and figure it out, then heed their advice. When my critique partners tell me they need to see an emotional reaction on such and such a page, I don’t argue. I add it. When they find a misplaced modifier, I fix it. When I use language a teenager wouldn’t, I change it. I recently turned in a chapter with the word “soupçon,” and was immediately informed that Heather wasn’t the kind of kid who would use that word. Why did it even get in my chapter? I don’t know. Sometimes I just write and words like soupçon come out. Bless my critique partners for calling me on it.
Thanks to contests and to submitting on query after finishing the first and second drafts of the book, I received helpful feedback from a few editors that ultimately led to the sale of the third draft of Haint Misbehavin’. One editor suggested I develop the sister relationships more, and I listened. A different editor suggested I pare the book down because it was too long and the pace was too slow. So I revised and cut before I queried Bell Bridge.
Should you listen to every bit of criticism? It depends. Here’s the formula I use. I always listen to editors. I always listen to critique partners but I might fix the problem in a different way than they suggest. I weigh critiques from contests. If more than one person mentions something being problematic, I fix it. If the criticism immediately resonates with me (I have an “Oh, yeah, I should have done that” moment), I fix it. If the criticism makes my inner writer shout NO, then I give it time and return to the criticism later. Sometimes those inner writers are needlessly defensive; sometimes they know certain changes will hurt the work, and we should listen to them.
It seems pretty simple—listen. I know you think you are. But are you really?
When has listening helped you improve your writing? What aspect of your writing could benefit from you listening more intently?
http://www.maureenhardegree.com or better yet chat with her in person at Eagle Eye Bookstore in Decatur, Georgia on Saturday, August 21st from 1:30-2:30 p.m. or at the Marietta Farmer’s Market on the square in Marietta, Georgia on Saturday, August 28th from 9 a.m. to noon. She’ll be signing Haint Misbehavin’ at both venues.