Sunday, February 10, 2013

Chautauqua and Holly McClure's editorial suggestions for more powerful writing

Ann Robinson, Michael Morris, Joel and Sharman Ramsey at Bogey's Bar in Defuniak Springs















Chautauqua in DeFuniak Springs turned out to be everything we had anticipated. The beautiful setting drew visitors from near by and far away. Members of Chautauqua as distant as New York enjoyed the lovely setting. Joe and I enjoyed supper with my friend and one of my favorite authors, Michael Morris. Unfortunately Michael's beautiful wife Melanie, an artist, had to attend a show and could not be with us for supper at Bogey's Bar in the historic DeFuniak Hotel. Michael's new book, The Man in the Blue Moon, once again demonstrates his remarkable gift for storytelling. The novel takes place in Apalachicola.

Ann Robison, once owner of the DeFuniak Hotel and a visionary behind the revival of the DeFuniak Chautauqua, joined us for supper.

I want to share with you some of the best direction for improving a manuscript that I have ever received. Holly McClure (http://www.HollySullivanMcClure.com) of Sullivan Maxx literary agency generously offered this advice. Perhaps some of you will find this as helpful as it has been for me.

I sent Holly the manuscript for the first book in the Partyin' on the Plantation series Deja Vu All Over Again. Michael Morris dubbed the series "Murder She Wrote meets the Ya Ya Sisterhood."


Dear Sharman:
S. J. B. Ramsey

Prologue

[I removed the passive start because editors put the ms down when they see that]
The theory of genetic memory confronted me in a way that made me pay attention when I experienced it myself. This strange story remained locked in my subconscious until the FedEx truck ran into Kevin and me at the intersection. It killed my husband of 38 years and and passed me through every day of our lives.
[pov issue. She was unconscious so she could know what was happening with the funeral so I suggest something like this.] I regained consciousness after my children cremated my husband and held a memorial service in his family’s plot at the city cemetery. They poured his ashes into the hollow marble obelisk I described to them long ago, requesting that it hold all of our ashes with our names and the dates of our death inscribed on the side. My name was already there below “Beloved wife of Kevin” awaiting only the date of my death, which they had anticipated would be soon. The bagpiper they had engaged to play “Amazing Grace” at their father’s service was on retainer to play at mine.
Then I surprised them and woke up. But, from that point forward, my life was totally changed.


Chapter 1

His voice stopped me dead. as I rolled my cart down the pansy aisle in the garden center at Home Depot. He spoke in a It was one of those deep Johnny Cash voices that compelled me to follow it to the next aisle. I knew that voice.[suggestion, make him part of the memory, or relate to his role in the colonoscopy. . Compelled to follow the voice to the next aisle, I nonchalantly maneuvered the corner to the next aisle caressing an aspidistra. And then, my eyebrows shot up and my eyelids popped open. I forgot to breathe. His jeans were so tight I could see the bulge of his wallet. A faded Creedence Clearwater t-shirt stretched snugly across well-developed pects. My eyes continued upward to note his silver hair. I sighed. The man’s assets were of Richard Gere quality… clearly a gem of the first order as any Regency romance writer would clearly recognize.
Probably just eye candy, I thought, dismissing the man, and I started to push my cart down another aisle.
In that distinctive gravelly voice he said, “My late wife used to do all the gardening. But she died a year and a half ago Lately, I have discovered gardening. Working up a good sweat in the sunshine is great for producing endorphins and makes you feel so much better.”
Late wife,” he’d said. The garden lady looked appropriately sympathetic. My heart fluttered. A widower who still loved his wife. I knew how lonely that could be. And I was a Master Gardener in need of volunteer hours. So I plucked up the courage to offer suggestions.
Besides being a gardener, I discovered that Gavin Crenshaw was a genealogist --just like me -- and owned Annie Crenshaw’s (eighth cousin, twice removed) cookbook and family history book - also just like me.[reveal this in conversation. Show, don't tell.] You can find out a lot about a man eating hot dogs outside the automatic doors at Home Depot. It wasn’t until then that he told me that he had been the anesthesiologist for my colonoscopy and as soon as I started giving the Latin names for the flowers I suggested, he remembered me because I talked about flowers while under the anesthesia.[[ all this could be very effective in conversation. Use it to build your characters, show sense of humor, paint a picture of your people, and advance your plot.]
I returned home girlishly giddy from Home Depot after giving Dr. Gavin Crenshaw of the Crenshaw County Crenshaws my phone number. My heart pounded just remembering! I had been going with the romantic Fabio type - a pirate, a soldier, an alligator wrestler -- as heroes in my novels. That was the fatal flaw to my writing I now realized. What an epiphany! Write about what you know, the How To Write book had said.
With Kevin’s death, our hospital bills, and the precipitous drop in the economy that ate away at our savings and investments came the pressing need for me to bring in some income.[again, something you can show. have her get bills and worry or something like that. Stating facts doesn't get us into her mind so we care.] That had forced me back to my computer and another try at the career I had always dreamed of having but always took back seat to my husband and children’s needs. I no longer had the family health insurance that Kevin had always provided and I still had recurring headaches as the result of my concussion.[something like, my head throbbed, the lingering result of the concussion that rendered me unconscious for weeks] Each of the seventeen romances I’d written I wrote before Kevin died had been rejected. Perhaps eighteen was the charm. Surely I had all the losers out of my system. 
 My corrected manuscript now reads:
PARTYIN’ ON THE PLANTATION
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
S. J. B. Ramsey

Prologue

The theory of genetic memory confronted me in a way that made me pay attention. I experienced it myself. This strange story remained locked in my subconscious until the FedEx truck ran into Kevin and me at the intersection we passed through every day of our lives. It killed my husband of 38 years.
I regained consciousness after my children cremated my husband and held a memorial service in his family’s plot at the city cemetery. They poured his ashes into the hollow marble obelisk I described to them long ago, requesting that it hold all of our ashes with our names and the dates of our death inscribed on the side. Already engraved on the obelisk “Beloved wife of Kevin” awaited only the date of my death, which they anticipated soon. The bagpiper they engaged to play “Amazing Grace” at their father’s service remained on retainer to play at mine.
I surprised them and woke up. But, from that point forward, my life changed.
Chapter 1
His voice stopped me dead in the pansy aisle in the garden center at Home Depot. He spoke in an oddly familiar, very deep Johnny Cash voice that compelled me to follow it to the next aisle. Drawn by the voice, I maneuvered the corner to the next aisle caressing an aspidistra. My eyebrows shot up and my eyelids popped open. I forgot to breathe. His wallet bulged through a rip in his worn jeans. A faded Grateful Dead t-shirt stretched snugly across well-developed pects. My eyes continued upward to note his silver hair. I sighed. With assets of Richard Gere quality, this gem of the first order could inspire any Regency romance writer. I recalled the cover of the novel I purchased for inspiration at the thrift store that lay on my bedside table.
Probably just eye candy, I thought, dismissing the man. I rubbed my temples to ward off a headache. I started to push my cart down another aisle.
Then, in that distinctive gravelly voice he said, “My late wife used to do all the gardening. She died a year and a half ago. I discovered gardening out of necessity. I found working up a good sweat in the sunshine is great for producing endorphins and makes you feel better.”
Late wife,” he said. The garden lady looked appropriately sympathetic. My heart fluttered. A widower who still loved his wife. I knew how lonely that could be. And as a Master Gardener in need of volunteer hours, I plucked up the courage to offer suggestions.
He set the flowers I recommended in his cart, but when, embarrassed by my boldness, I turned to leave, he invited me for a hot dog outside the sliding doors.
“I don’t eat these often,” he said. “I just bought a cookbook written by one of my cousins and, now that my wife is gone, out of necessity I have learned the joy of cooking.”
“Annie Crenshaw, right? I also bought the cookbook you’re talking about. I’ve got Crenshaws in my genealogy files, as well. Annie is my eighth cousin, twice removed.”
“Much closer than that for me,” he said with a smile that could make a girl’s knees go weak.
Then he said, “I must tell you that we met before, though you won’t remember it. I administered the anesthesia for your colonoscopy.  As soon as you started giving the Latin names for the flowers, I recognized you because you named those flowers while under the anesthesia.”
I returned home embarrassed but girlishly giddy from Home Depot after giving Dr. Gavin Crenshaw of the Crenshaw County Crenshaws my phone number. I decided hearing him speak during the procedure accounted for the familiarity of his voice. My heart pounded just remembering! I wrote romantic Fabio types - a pirate, a soldier, an alligator wrestler -- as heroes in my novels.  I now saw the fatal flaw in my writing. What an epiphany! Write about what you know, the How To Write book said.
The mail box at home contained more hospital bills. With Kevin’s death and the precipitous drop in the economy our savings and investments plummeted and with that decline came the pressing need for me to bring in some income. That forced me back to my computer and another try at the career I dreamed of having but always took back seat to my husband and children’s needs. With Kevin’s death, the family health insurance ceased yet the recurring headaches as the result of my concussion that rendered me unconscious for weeks remained.
Seventeen rejected romances lined my shelves. Number eighteen promised to be the charm.
Man in a Muddle in the Middle of the Mums,” I typed.
“It took Edison six-thousand different tries to find the right filament for a light bulb,” I said aloud to myself, looking at the title of my newest effort on the computer screen before me. 
 As I sat plotting an imaginary world for a certain best seller, I noticed the red light flashing on my answering machine. I pressed the button and heard the pain in my sister’s voice.

My heart clenched when I heard her say, “Gil died an hour ago. Heart attack. The funeral home will take him to Palmer for a funeral tomorrow at 2 PM.” For a moment I felt the same paralysis as when they told me Kevin died.
She held the line open for a moment longer saying nothing and then clicked off. I tried to call her back. Tears cascaded down my face, for her loss, and for mine. I’d been there myself not that long ago.

 _____________________________________________________
Using Waverly, their grandparents’ plantation house, as a gimmick, Dabney and Sophia finagle their way onto the Dishing It Network as a lark and wind up stars with their very own show, Partyin’ on the Plantation--though they cannot cook! On top of the world with her successful show and new multicultural group of friends, trouble stalks Dabney presenting mysteries that this dabbler at much master of little must survive long enough to solve. Start with Waverly plantation in central Alabama, season with a multicultural cast of friends and family, add a dash of the paranormal with the ingredients of a genetic memory, toss in drug dealers and a psychotic serial killer in this and a previous life while spicing it up with gentlemen friends in shades of gray and you have Book One of the Partyin’ on the Plantation series: Déjà vu All Over Again, a mystery of 90,000 words.





No comments:

Post a Comment

I would love to hear from you!

Post a Comment