Monday, December 7, 2009

Everything Can Change

Dear Readers, today you have another chance to win a free book. If you're unfamiliar with our simple-as-pie rules, please click here.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Seven swans a' swimming!

We have a winner of Latter-day Cipher by Latayne Scott--Karen Kukrak! (Latayne said this was so hard because she knew so many contestants -- so it was literally drawing straws!) So, Karen, contact us with a mailing address.

Speaking of winners, do you remember the Audience With an Agent contest we had last summer, in which so many of you sent in chapters of your completed novels? We received entries from a lot of talented writers, but in September we announced six finalists, and sent their chapters to agent Wendy Lawton, so that she could choose a winner.

Have you been anxious to hear who won?

So have we!

All this time Wendy has been reading, and thinking, and reading some more. But at last she has chosen a winning chapter and asked to see the entire manuscript. I am proud to announce that our winner is...

Lori Benton, for her novel, Kindred!

Lori, we are thrilled for you, and so pleased that your beautiful work will be considered in its entirety by one of the premiere agents in the industry.


There is more news.

The prize for this competition was an "audience" with agent Wendy Lawton, so the author she chose is the winner. But serendipity happens sometimes, and it happened here.

Wendy's partner, agent Janet Kobobel Grant happened to catch a glimpse of the chapter we sent from Jean Knight's novel, Broken Arches. Janet liked what she read so much that she has asked to see the rest of Jean's manuscript.

We at Novel Matters are over the moon - two authors have been blessed because of our competition! I hope many more will consider entering the next Audience with an Agent contest in the Spring of 2010.

Now I'm going to turn my attention to all the authors who didn't win, including those who didn't enter.

There's a special brand of discouragement made just for us writers. Before I was published, I didn't need to enter a contest to be disappointed. I only had to read my own work.

Because it was awful. I knew this, because I loved to read excellent fiction. I knew great writing when I saw it, and I looked at my own work and knew it didn't measure up.

When I say this, people sometimes try to defend me, because for a writer, that is a savage realization. They try to talk me down from that embarrassing mix of self-loathing and hubris that says if I'm not as brilliant as Marilynne Robinson I shouldn't call myself a writer.

It is so that all my life people have told me I had talent. But understand: there was something missing, and no matter how much I studied the mechanics of writing, when I read my work, I knew something important was missing! I just didn't know what it was.

I'm saying all this to give you hope. Because for me, that changed in a moment, the moment I read a short story in Walter Wangerin Jr.'s little Christmas book, In the Days of Angels.

The story was titled The Manger is Empty. (Please get the book and read it. And please watch as Wangerin tells the story aloud. When he's done, you will know it is Christmas.)

As I read (again and again over the course of several days) about chain-smoking Odessa Williams, who needed her teeth only when she was angry so she could enunciate each word, as I read about little Dee-Dee Lawrence whose voice could pierce Heaven itself, and about little Mary who triumphed over hard truths about life and death, as I read all of that, something turned over for me. Suddenly I knew what my writing had been missing. It had to do with loving - not intellectualizing - my characters. About deep honesty regarding the darkness of life in a fallen world, and a deeper sense of wonder over the God who created light.

Not the sort of stuff Writers Digest typically puts in its books about writing, but it was what I needed. The next thing I wrote was To Dance in the Desert.

I won't here expand on these lessons, because what I want to tell you today is that frustration can lift in an instant. It's like studying something hard, like Algebra: You don't get it, you don't get it, you really don't get it, and then one day the light goes on. (Okay, the light never did go on for me in Algebra, but you get my point.)

Roll your shoulders. Rejoice because it's Christmas, because the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Because shepherds and wise men and Joseph and Mary learned, and you can learn that everything can change in a moment.


Kristen Torres-Toro said...

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to Lori and Jean Knight! That is so cool!

"There's a special brand of discouragement made just for us writers. Before I was published, I didn't need to enter a contest to be disappointed. I only had to read my own work." I started nodding when I read this, Kathleen! There are times I'm convinced I'm that person on "American Idol" who's been told all her life she can sing when in fact, she makes people wish they were deaf.

I've learned so much about writing this fall from reading blogs, reading writing books, and studying my favorite novels. My story is already better. I can definitely tell that. And the new one I started writing has a strong beginning. I know that's because of all I've learned. Sometimes "failure" can be the best teacher. I want to keep learning--but hope to graduate from that class soon!

Lori Benton said...

You could've knocked me over with duck's down (as my character Seona would say) when I got the email about the contest results. Thank you so much for providing this opportunity. And THANK YOU Wendy.

Congratulations also to Jean! Huzzah!

And yet... even on a day like today I can relate to this post, and I wonder, do writers ever stop feeling like there's something missing from their writing, or do they ever silence that niggling voice that says I could do better, if only I knew how? I can't imagine it. But most of the time feeling this way isn't discouraging. It's a hunger, and like physical hunger I want to feed it. Like you did, Kathleen, with good fiction that will shine a light by example, often better than all the classes and books on craft could do.

And the understanding that helped click into place what was missing for you is awesome; love your characters, whatever their imperfections. I'm thinking you mean the antagonists too?

Nichole Osborn said...

I too can relate to this post. I feel I have grown by leaps and bounds since sending my MS in for the "audience". I'm totally rewriting the story and planning to send it back in for the next "audience". I personally want to thank everyone involved with NM. You all have helped me grow!

Patti Hill said...


Patti Hill said...

OOPS, I wasn't finished yet. I wanted to thank Katy for her amazing post. I'm listening to Wangerin's The Book of the Dun Cow right now. If you're interested in the use of rhythm in a story, listen or read this story too. Dun Cow is like a story beaten on drums. I want to get up and dance to its rhythms. He's a master and a must-read for serious storytellers. Now, I'm going to listen to his Christmas story.

Yes, Lori, being a writer is a hunger-driven art. I'm ravished!

Carla Gade said...

I am doing the happy dance for Lori and Jean. What a wonderful opportunity!!

And Kathleen, that was such a beautiful post! I was so moved. Thank you so much for lifting our hearts today and giving us hope. I didn't enter the contest, but I plan to next time. I think we are all encouraged today.

Unknown said...

Congrats to Lori and Jean - I couldn't be happier for you both - well done and well deserved!

I well know it was NOT an easy choice for us or for Wendy.

Don't forget, we will hold another Audience with an Agent contest in the New Year (YES- keep working to finish that novel!! It's coming up SOON!!).

When does a writer stop feeling that sinking feeling of rejection or possible rejection?

I'm newish to this industry, but I've talked to many writers and I think the answer is: never. It's part of the ebb and flow of creative work.

I'm holding fast to the scraps of my ego and hope as my editors read the new manuscript and work on it. Am I nervous they will hand it back to me and say, "Try again, and be serious this time." ?
This is a difficult industry to get into, and an even more difficult one to stay in.
It will ask for everything you have and then say, "Yeah? What else you got?"
Truly writers write because of love. :)

Kathleen Popa said...

Kristen, that's exactly the feeling, isn't it? And every editor is Simon Cowell.

No Lori, the hunger doesn't go away. Take a guess who it was who said, "Do I have the talent to compare with our modern Russian writers? Decidedly not."

That was Leo Tolstoy. Flaubert once wrote, "I have never been so conscious of how little talent is vouchsafed me for expressing ideas in words." I think that's French for "Whatever made me think that I could write?"

It makes me happy to read that we've inspired so many to keep going in the craft, to rewrite, to enter the contest.

The hunger runs deep. Here's something else Flaubert said: "Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."

Samantha Bennett said...

I also want to give a shout out to Lori and Jean! Congrats! Whoo-hoo for success stories!

I too relate with the hunger to improve my writing, to reach that next level, even though there's a bazillion levels after that. It's crazy to think experienced writers feel the same way, and also encouraging.

Laura Frantz said...

Congratulations to both Lori and Jean! I wanted to say I'm privileged to know Lori and love her work. I knew it was just a matter of time (and prayer) before it was recognized. Bless you for such a wonderful contest and having a heart for new authors.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Lori and Jean! This is a well-deserved honor. And those of you who finaled in our contest, and those of you who didn't, I hope you take heart from what Katy wrote today.

Katy, this was a wonderful post. Honest but encouraging. There are no easy steps to get where we want to go. It's a rough journey, all uphill, but the ONLY way to get there is to keep taking one step after the other.

I really love that we're on this journey together.

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Congratulations to Lori and Janet for a job well done. And thanks also to Katy for this encouraging post.We need to remember that if we're writing for Him then He will be with us on this writing journey.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Great post, Katy. I read over some of my old stuff today, too. Pew! Stinky stuff.
Congratulations to Lori and Jean! Well done.

Patti Lacy said...

Kathleen, what a BEAUTIFUL post! I so love reminders of why we celebrate Christmas and love them to come when (1) someone asks if my shopping is all done (hasn't started) and (2) I hear a silly Christmas song for the 20th time that day.

May God's peace descend on you for the entire Advent season!!!

Janet said...

Thank you, ladies, for the opportunity. I'll be looking forward to reading Wendy's feedback. :o)

With fear and trepidation, of course.

Lori Benton said...

I've just watched the Walter Wangerin video. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that. Beautiful.