I’m pleased to welcome Kaye George back to my blog. If you missed her earlier visit with the post, “Naming Characters, or How Imogene Came to Be,” you can click on the title link and get there in the blink of an eye.
Kaye George is a short story writer and novelist who has been nominated for Agatha awards twice. She is the author of three mystery series, the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas series, the Cressa Carraway musical mystery series, and the FAT CAT cozy series with Berkley Prime Crime. The last two will debut in 2013.
She reviews for Suspense Magazine, writes for several newsletters and blogs, and gives workshops on short story writing and promotion. Kaye is agented by Kim Lionetti at BookEnds Literary and lives in Texas, near Waco.
Writing Classes by Kaye George
Some people swear by them, some writers avoid them. I’m somewhere in between.
First off, I’ll say that there are some classes I’ve taken that have helped me immeasurably. My writing would be much poorer without them. I’ll add that others have done nothing for me, and one even threw me backwards. I think it took about a year to retrieve my manuscript from that one.
It was in another time and another place, and I’m not naming names. But I’ll tell you what happened so maybe you can recognize this if it happens to you, and recover more quickly than I did.
I was writing a traditional amateur sleuth, although I’m not sure I knew those terms back then. I just knew I was writing a mystery. In the terms I know today, I’d say it tended toward cozy. On the non-cozy side, I planned for the series to move around the globe. Other than that, it had the young female amateur sleuth, the trusty sidekick, the quirky local characters, and violence and sex either offstage or mildly stated. So, more cozy than not.
After a critique partner told me the pacing needed fixing, I took a class to help me out with that. My instructor latched onto one element, a former abusive boyfriend, and wanted me to ramp him up. I got excited. My pacing was being fixed! Publication was around the corner!
I could even have him show up dead (although I had no idea why anyone but the sleuth would kill him). I began the first scene in gritty Chicago instead of the lovely Illinois countryside. In fact, the action began in an echoing parking garage, shoes sounding a sharp staccato as bullets whizzed by her head.
My first scene came alive so well that, when it was randomly chosen to be read aloud at a small local conference, the attending publisher’s representative praised it and invited me to submit the whole manuscript. I read it over before sending it to him. Something was wrong. It didn’t quite hang together.
I found an editor who would look at my baby for $500. After she’d had my project for a couple of weeks, I came to her house for my evaluation. She gave me the verdict. My novel was schizophrenic. It didn’t know whether it was a thriller or a cozy.
After my initial disappointment (she didn’t LOVE my book???), I could see she was exactly right. I ripped out everything I’d done for that class and continued from there for a bit. Then I set it aside for a few years and wrote other things, short stories and more novels, eventually achieving publication for some of those.
Recently, I returned to that project, went through it with a much more experienced and dispassionate eye, and turned it into something. In fact, it’s now called Eine Kleine Murder and will be released by Barking Rain Press next spring.
I guess my overall takeaway from this is that I was green when I changed my story for every criticism. I needed to keep writing long enough to find my voice. When I was confident that I actually had one, and that, through my short stories, I knew that some people appreciated it, I could take classes and still hold onto my own voice, could develop my own style, and could know what to change and what not to change. I don’t know any easy way to get to this point. For me it was hard. I think it’s just a matter of time.
I’ve heard that the average time between starting to write seriously and getting work published is ten years. That’s about what it took me. If you’re unsure of what you’re writing, I guess my advice is, keep going for about ten years. Then you’ll be sure!
I don’t have a cover for that book yet, but we’ve shown the one for BROKE, the third book in my Agatha nominated Imogene Duckworthy series, humorous Texas mysteries. Try them if you need some laughs with your crime.
Thanks, Kaye. How much of our manuscripts to change for our critique groups and for instructor and freelance editor suggestions is a great topic. We have to be very selective about following all that advice, no matter how well-intentioned.
You’ll learn more about Kaye and her mysteries if you visit her website and blog (Travels with Kaye). She cal also be found on Facebook and Twitter.