For the past couple weeks we’ve been getting to know mentors on live chats on the Whiskey, Wine, & Writing site and by hopping to our mentors’ blogs to read their bios and wish lists. Today we have some mini-interviews with the mentors who couldn’t make the live chats. At the bottom of this post you’ll find YouTube links to some of the live chats. There are three more live chats happening this week. The next one is tonight. Check out the Whiskey, Wine, & Writing site for the schedule and list of mentors joining the chats and watch them live. And there just might be a surprise happening on tonight on the chat.
But for now, here are the mini-interviews …
We asked our mentors to answer these three questions:
1. What are you looking for in a submission and what would you forgive as far as issues in the sample pages? In other words, what do you feel is an easy fix and what would be a pass for you?
2. What is your editing style and do you have a game plan to tackle edits with your mentee in the two months given for the contest?
3. And lastly, what is your all time favorite book and how did it inspire your writing?
And here’s their answers …
1. In general I’m looking for adult fantasy. Something that keeps my interest flowing and has a high concept. A certain amount of line edits wouldn’t throw me off. I’m more likely to be scared away by big picture problems that require tearing apart the manuscript and starting over. Large amounts of info dumping in a first chapter are always a warning sign. Characters I can’t relate to or can’t like would also scare me away.
2. I like to start with the full manuscript and do a once through with track changes for big picture issues and line edits. Then I usually go over the full again through any number of revisions, making more notes and offering suggestions. Once that’s done I’d tackle the pitch and query letter with my mentee.
3. Books that inspired my writing. There are lots of those. I’d say Gone with the Wind inspired Kindar’s Cure. I added that whole love of the land component, like what Scarlett feels for Tara. There’s a bit of Kidnapped by Scott in Kindar’s Cure also with the Scottish rebellion to the crown. I tend to take from all over.
1. If you want an agent you should have a good grasp on English. That said I’d overlook a typo here or there. What’s most important is that I’m hooked, intrigued, I need to turn the next page. I want to see the story set up and get an idea of what I’m in for. If I’m bored or confused, I’ll pass.
2. I edit by color-coding, plot, character and world building—breaking them down into the three main story acts and making sure everything that’s needed is there, and that those items flow and grow appropriately. I can’t say what my game plan will be with edits until I know what I’m working with. I’ll customize a plan of attack for the manuscript and my mentees availability/writing speed. I know people have jobs, families, etc, and editing takes a lot of work and focus, so checking my mentees calendar and have them commit to scheduling in uninterrupted editing time is a must for me!
3. Oh geeze, you’re going to make me pick one! Can I give you my first born instead? (Ha, that’s a trick, I’m not sure I will have children). If I HAD to pick only one, I guess it would be Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. And no, not because the main character also has red hair, but because her writing is so poetically beautiful and not in a wordy, purple prose way. It taught me how to move people with words without pulling them from the story!
Julie Sondra Decker
1. I’m really strict on awkward exposition in opening pages. I want to know why I care more or less immediately, so anyone who opens with disconnected back story or contrived opening scenes that only exist to give me background are a no-go. And despite that it’s fixable, I just can’t deal with manuscripts that aren’t proofread. I am, however, pretty forgiving on books that don’t necessarily dive into an “action” plot as long as I feel like they’re diving into character.
2. My editing style will depend on what the mentee is comfortable with, but I do tend to provide line edits (including grammar, spelling, punctuation, and yelling at your characters). Previous mentees and I have had success with rolling revisions: they send me a chunk at a time and when I return my comments, they work on those while I work on the next chunk.
3. I really have no easy answer to “what’s your favorite book,” but fantastic
science fiction and fantasy authors like Octavia E. Butler, Joan D. Vinge,
and Shannon Hale have taught me that SF/Fantasy doesn’t have to be about fighting and robots and action sequences. Writing in a genre that still feels the effects of an overwhelmingly male authorship and readership can sometimes leave female and non-male SF/F authors feeling like their
imagined worlds are sillier, less serious, less important, and less awe-inspiring, but those ladies showed me the genre isn’t owned by one
gender–not to mention they did it without making their works *about* female strength as if it can only be an answer to or denial of male strength. (In other words, stories can be about ladies without being about fighting or beating men.)
Kristin B. Wright
1. What am I looking for in the opening pages/why would I pass? I want to feel I’m in good hands. That you have clear GPS directions at the ready and are prepared to take me on a really good trip without any annoying back-tracking and going home because we forgot something. I should have that feeling within just a few pages. We can fix plot holes, rearrange scenes, beef up characters. I’m not equal to doing a complete grammar teacher routine. If the pages are replete with errors, misuse of vocabulary, or a lack of understanding of sentence structure and paragraph flow, that might be a clue that you need a copy editor, not a mentor.
2. What is my editing style and do I have a plan? I edit for three critique partners. I read the manuscript, make in-line notes, and then send an over-arching edit letter. It hits on plot, structure, characters both as individuals and as to how they interact with each other, pacing, the speed of the beginning, and the satisfaction of the end. I try for complete honesty without being unnecessarily harsh. Flattery has never improved a MS, though I also point out all the ways the MS is awesome. I try to point out all the strengths (because the worst is when a well-intentioned revision damages the genius parts). Then we exchange lots of emails where we discuss thoughts for revision. I’ve read CP MS as many as four times each. I love watching it go from drafty to shiny!
3. My all-time favorite book and its influence. I’ll give you two – a classic and a contemporary classic. I love Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The relationships between the characters, the incremental shifts in those relationships, the dialogue, the wit. It still gives me a thrill every time. Austen was so aware of all the tiny nuances of ordinary social interaction. I love that. I’d be satisfied with a tenth of that ability. The contemporary classic is Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline. His description and language are nothing short of miraculous, without in any way sacrificing a riveting page-turner of a plot with a hell of a twist at the end. I love both of these books and re-read them often, hoping to learn anything I can.
1. I’m looking for a voice that pulls me in immediately and a first chapter that makes me desperate to read Chapter 2. For me, things like telling and passive voice are easy to fix if it’s just a little bit. I can overlook a few mistakes if the voice and the story are there. If it’s the entire first chapter, then I worry that the entire manuscript needs another editing pass and I’d probably say no. A super low or super high word count is a pass for me (this should be no surprise to anyone who reads my blog or follows me on Twitter). There’s just not enough time to add and edit or scrap tens of thousands of words.
2. I plan to send an edit letter first with the major issues, then read and give detailed line edits after I read through a second time. I’m extremely thorough, I probably will nitpick some stuff, and I will ruthlessly make you eliminate passive voice. But I also give a lot of reaction comments and make an effort to point out things I like.
3. How can anyone pick just ONE all-time favorite book? Ok, it’s probably The Awakening by Kate Chopin, which showed me how doing the unexpected can elevate a book to something truly amazing. Or The Likeness by Tana French. I still think about that book years after I read it, and I want to write books that really resonate with readers. And I adore the Shopaholic series. Wanting to write something fun like that is what ultimately caused me to create the manuscript that led me to my agent. Sorry, that’s like 7 books. I have a lot of favorites.
1. I’m looking for lovely prose, voice, and a great opening line. As for grammar and spelling, I can forgive one or two but the more polished the better.
The issue that I think is crucial and I won’t be able to tell unless I read further is if the writer is starting in the right place but this can be fixed.
2. Developmental edits first then one more look through. I hope to get all the big picture items tackled first before the final polishing.
3. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is an amazing inspiration. It’s a great foodie standard of writing I aspire to with great characters and a compelling narrative.
1. I’m looking for smart-but-flawed main characters, interesting hooks and, most importantly, distinct voices. Plot holes can be fixed. Typos can be fixed. Dialogue can be polished. But you can’t teach “voice.” The book doesn’t have to be perfect, but you need to be willing to do what’s necessary to make it as perfect as you can. I’m going to work my butt off for you. I just ask that you be willing to do the same.
2. Lots and lots and lots and lots of back and forth. You’ll get extensive notes (including line edits and overall story notes) on the entire book but we’ll really focus on making sure that the first 50 pages are amazing, since that’s what a lot of agents request. I’m never mean, but I’m going to be honest if something isn’t working. You don’t have to take my edits, but I do expect you to at least consider my suggestions.
3. I don’t have an all-time favorite book, but, being a mystery buff, I have re-read Sue Grafton’s B is for Burglar several times. That book especially has everything I want in my own writing: a smart, sarcastic main character, smart writing, and smart— but not unnecessarily complicated—plot twists.
1. I’m looking for a manuscript with an unforgettable voice and a vibrant sense of urgency. Whether it’s humorous or serious, I want to be introduced to a character I’ll follow through anything.
Small grammatical issues and scenes that could use tightening or cutting aren’t a problem for me; frequent grammatical errors and an unclear sense of the protagonist’s goals would be a pass.
2. I’ll provide detailed Track Changes commentary, as well as an edit letter highlighting the manuscript’s strengths and areas that need further attention. From there, I’ll communicate with my mentee for brainstorming, seeing how certain changes pan out, and supporting/cheerleading throughout the process.
3. One of my all-time favorite books is Fires by Raymond Carver, a compilation of essays, short stories, and poems. I learned the power of succinct sentences coupled with the freedom of stream of consciousness. Years after initially reading them, I still have several lines of his poems memorized.
Thank you mentors for your fabulous answers! Everyone else, check out the following recorded live chats to get to know some of our other mentors.