Monday, June 12, 2017

Re-Vision

Congratulations to Joan Edwards who won a critique from Gayle Krause from last week's blog.
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You pick up a book at the library or bookstore and start reading it. Maybe it catches your interest, maybe it doesn't. But one thing is for sure, if you're not a writer, you have no idea how much time and effort have gone into writing that book.

Maybe even years.

FEEDBACK

The last time I blogged about Half-Truths, I was excitedly sending my manuscript to beta readers. Since then I have received feedback from teens, adults, critique partners, and several sensitivity readers. I learned that Kate's character wasn't developed enough and there wasn't enough tension in the first half of the book. I was well into revision when I heard back from my last sensitivity reader. 

Here are some of her comments:


Since you are in the process of revising now, I wanted to take a few moments to share some macro-level thoughts you might take into consideration as you work. I know you have been working on this labor of love for more than 10 years and you probably feel that it is close to where you want it. If that is the case, I'm sure you're hoping to enter the submissions process sooner rather than later, so feel free to keep the following comments as reference material in the event that you don't find an editor for the manuscript. 
My first suggestion is to consider writing this manuscript from the perspective of Kate alone. Your grasp of Kate's life and voice are more authentic than your grasp of Lillie's and honestly, I'm not sure a sensitivity reader is going to be able to help you add the authenticity needed. At best, we can alert you to potential areas of offense--but even in that, it won't be full-proof because African-Americans are not a monolith and things I might not flag as offensive might turn out to be offensive to others. Which brings me to my next point....
Your writing HALF-TRUTHS from Lillie's perspective might not go over well in today's social and political climate. The movement for "own voices" (which I admittedly support) grows stronger by the day, and people of color are hyperaware of works being published by white people that star POC main characters. Yes you have two main characters, but Lillie is especially main. The book even opens from her perspective. The honest truth is that even if you got Lillie's story 90% right, you would likely get called out for the 10% of missteps. Because I know you personally, I know your intentions with this story are nothing but honorable (and I think your overall plot is interesting). I would hate for your book to end up the target of a negative campaign because of inadvertent missteps. For many reasons, today's kidlit atmosphere is fraught, and the cultural scrutiny/backlash of this moment is pretty unrelenting. There is no patience for mistakes of any kind. 
Her feedback stopped me cold.

I was shocked, overwhelmed and discouraged. I first wrote Half-Truths from Kate's POV and would never have considered writing it any other way if an editor hadn't suggested the two points-of-view during a SCBWI-Carolinas conference. 

Did I really have to start all over again? Did I waste eight years pursuing an unreachable goal? Were all these books and all of my expert interviews with African Americans a waste of time?




Even bigger, how was I going to face people in my family, like my brother who never failed to ask, "So, how is the book coming along? You ready to publish it?" And how would I tell you, my faithful blog followers?  I felt like a failure. 


ADVICE AND VIRTUAL HUGS

I shared my news with my writing friends who commiserated, advised, and told stories of their own not-so-smooth path to publication. Linda Phillips (author of CRAZY) said she had worried about me taking on the black POV but figured an editor would give me that feedback. Joyce Hostetter wrote, "Don’t forget that I have abandoned two books that I spent about 4 years each on.  And I have lots of other abandoned projects from back before BLUE.  That might be called failure but I learned tons while writing those books.  So I call it an education."

Augusta Scattergood said, "After almost eight years of writing, revising, and submitting, I was critiqued by an agent I truly clicked with at an SCBWI regional conference in Maryland. She eventually decided that novel (which would much later become my second published book, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY) wasn't for her. A year later, I dusted off GLORY BE, sent it to her, and the rest is my publishing history."

I chatted with Kathy Wiechman, author of the award winning book, LIKE A RIVER, on Facebook. After reminding me that this was an opportunity to make my book better she said,"Enjoy working on the revision. That is my favorite part of the process, and I do truly enjoy it. It was that love of doing it that helped me stick with it for 39 years of not being chosen."

Rebecca Petruck, who read multiple drafts of the story and loved the two points-of-view, checked with her agent to make sure I should follow this advice. She also suggested I ask an industry professional. We both received the same response: This wasn't a good time for me, a white author, to write from Lillie's POV. 





What was next? Should I trash this project and start something new? But I loved my premise and every time I shared the pitch with strangers, their eyes got big and they'd say, "Wow!"

While my brother was more empathetic than I expected, my sister, Barbara, advised:



  • You may need to develop a new way of seeing this story.
  • There’s not something wrong with you that you're starting over.  
  • The process is as important as the product.

RE-VISION

I took a week off--I had important family concerns to attend to--and then reread a book that a member of my critique group gave me. 


Published in 1957, the twelve essays were a response to the Supreme court's "edict" (as one writer described it) of 1954. The Brown vs. Board of Education decision led to school desegregation. This largely anti-integration pamphlet was written predominantly by white men (three women are listed in the table of contents, I presume all the authors were white because of the point of view they espoused). 

Suddenly, I realized that any of these anti-integration writers could have been Kate's grandfather. Growing up in rural North Carolina in the 40's with him, racism would have been as much a part of Kate's environment as raising goats and attending 4-H. 

Eureka! 


I spent another week re-outlining and figuring out how and what Kate would learn from Lillie and how Kate's backstory is going to impact Half-Truths and, voila--I'm back in business.




Whenever I teach writing, I use this graphic organizer from my previous book, TEACHING THE STORY: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8.

The  Writing-Revising Cycle

(Click here for your copy of this handout.)




As I re-vision and rewrite Half-Truths as Kate's story, I'm back at the "Start", but yet I'm not. All the information I've gleaned and all those previous drafts aren't worthless-they will enrich my story. 

Thanks to all of you for your support. Your encouragement on my journey means more to me than you can imagine. 

Stay tuned!









26 comments:

Melodye said...

How lucky we are, to live in a diverse culture with myriad voices and perspectives. How fortunate you are, to work with writers who show us how to reflect that, in a way that's authentic and true, and to hold up a mirror to best & worst of everything in our writing.
Your story--your vision--is important. Keep going!

Rebecca Petruck said...

You've got a great story--both on the page and in your writing life! I'm so glad you've found a way to tell Kate and Lillie's story, from anyone's POV!

Linda Vigen Phillips said...

Wow, my friend, what a testimonial on the value of persistence, faith, hard work, and dogged determination! You can't help but succeed with all that going for you, plus all of us who believe in you and your work!!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Linda, Rebecca, and Melodye. All your comments make me smile. I appreciate each one of you so much!

sheri levy said...

I am so impressed with your determination to make this story happen- It sounds like you've found a new perspective, and I know you will pull this off! You are amazing!

Kathy Wiechman said...

I am proud of you, Carol, for beginning this stage of your journey. A new revision can be a daunting challenge and many would not have taken it on. I am certain that your final draft will be proof of your hard work and will garner you a just reward. Wishing you strength to get through it, and remember to enjoy the process.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol, I am excited that I won a free critique from Gayle! You are an inspirationby sharing your writing and your passion for good books with us! Thank you!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

I am amazed that you could even write this. I am so impressed with the way you take feedback - not defensively but always learning. Writing is so hard. Getting is right is such a challenge but you keep rising to the challenge! Thanks for letting me be part of the process!

Rosi said...

Wow. You have some amazing writing friends advising you. Holy guacamole! With all that good advice and your wonderful, honest readers, I'm sure this will pay off in the end for you. Keep on keepin' on, Carol.

Clara Gillow Clark said...

I know this sounds like an echo, but WOW! It must have taken a lot for you to share this feedback, but you've already proven yourself to be a true writer and never more than in the moment you decided to keep going, that you could re-vision this work of ten years. I just bet you'll sail through it this time, because you've learned so much and you know the time period, the situation, and the main character so well. I believe in you and I just know you're going to succeed!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks friends. This was a hard post to write, Joyce, but I did it for myself as part of my chronicling my journey and for others who might need to know. I had a moment of panic in the middle of the night about making this all public--but all of you know what I've gone through and I wanted you to know the next chapter (JOan, I was picturing you reading this blog as I wrote it!) Now...back to work!

Connie said...

Thanks for sharing and I pray that you will finish this book. I am sure that it is a story that needs to be read!
Blessings!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Connie. I need the support and prayers!!!

jilannehoffmann.com said...

I am so in awe of your perseverance and the gumption it takes to ask and answer these difficult questions. I'm so glad you figured out a way to make it through. I'm thinking this version is going to be the one!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Jilliane. This is definitely been much tougher than I ever dreamed it would be. And I hope you're right that this is the version that will work!

Sandra Warren said...

Carol...soldier on girl! I am so impressed with your determination and devotion to this story. I believe that wrenches are thrown into our process to make us better writers.

Thank goodness for that last critique. That writer, who dared to tell you the truth, will be one of the major reasons your final draft will shine, grab an editor's heart and roll of the presses to acclaim.

Write on!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Sandra. Another good image for me..."Soldier On!" Thanks for your support.

Kathleen said...

Carol, I can definitely see how such news at this stage in your WIP would stop you cold!But I'm so glad that this particular sensitivity reader, thought so much of you, and respected your work and your writing to give you her honest concern. I agree with your author friends, that all you did will not go to waste. The research you had done can also help to shape the world around Kate and her friendship with Lillie.Kate's voice will be richer and geniune because of all your past research. I'm so glad that you had a Eureka! moment and have another path you can take. This all makes for an interesting writing journey that you can later discuss in your interviews once you are published! I'm rooting for you and supporting you every step of the way! :)

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Kathleen. I know you are behind me and that means a ton!!!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
I am glad that thinking of me reading this helped you accomplish revamping your mind's focus and your story's focus. I am praying for you...that God lead you to the words and vision that tell the story that set your heart on an unquenching thirst for this story. Remember only make changes that you agree with 100%.

Linda A. said...

Carol,
I admire you so much. You're not starting over, you're starting stronger! You can do this!

Carol Baldwin said...

Joan, thank you for praying for me. That's the best anyone can do! And yes, to your advice about taking other's advice only if I agree 100%. That is sometimes hard for me to do.

Linda, Thank you for reframing my new start!!!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
You are welcome. God has a plan for you and your story. Listen to him. I have been and will continue to pray for you. I want to see your book in print.

You can do this.
Believe in You
Never Give Up

Love you
Joan

Carol Baldwin said...

You are so sweet, Joan!

miriam said...

Carol,
I just saw this post and I know it must have felt like a punch in the stomach when you received that feedback! But, all the work you have done getting to know your characters has not been a waste of time--you have become a much stronger writer along the way and knowing the other main character will help shape this next draft. I'm predicting it will be a much quicker process this time around and your strongest effort yet. Good for you for listening to honest constructive feedback and not letting the criticism keep you from pursuing your dream. I'm rooting for you!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Miriam, for your support and I hope you're right!