MORE INTERESTING BITS

Here you will find stories, facts, folklore, and a sneak peek at the writing tips you may expect to encounter on Ireland Writer Tours . . .


Our third guest author/editor for July is McCall Hoyle, successful author of the young adult novel, THE THING WITH FEATHERS. Here, McCall shares the inspiring story of how she got her agent.

HOW I GOT MY AGENT 
by McCall Hoyle


If you’ve been writing very long, you know the road to publication can be long and paved with rejection. For many writers the biggest hurdle is acquiring an agent. It certainly felt that way for me. However, I achieved my goal, and if this teacher/writer/mom can do it, so can you!

For me acquiring an agent was all about perseverance and focusing on the things that I could control. I could continue querying agents despite repeated rejection. I could start a new manuscript to focus on so that all my eggs were not precariously placed in one basket, and I could enter writing contests, especially those organized by Romance Writers of America and their local chapters.

Back when I still thought of writing as a hobby, I read Janet Evanovich’s book, How I Write. In the back of the book, she mentions Romance Writers of America, explains that it is one of the largest writing organizations in the world, and encourages aspiring writers to consider joining even if romance is not their genre of choice.

Why? Evanovich says it’s a great resource for learning about the publishing industry, for connecting with professionally focused authors, and for improving one’s writing. And I agree, with a capital 'A.'
I started entering RWA sponsored contests as soon as I had twenty or so pages of my first manuscript. For approximately twenty to thirty dollars, you can enter these contests and receive feedback from published authors. To me the unbiased feedback was invaluable. When I noticed patterns in constructive feedback, I revised until my eyes crossed and then entered again.

Eventually, I started making it to the second round in some contests. When you make it to the final round, you frequently receive feedback from agents and editors. Sometimes if you’re in the right place at the right time and an agent or editor loves your entry, she or he will request to read the full manuscript.

It took a while, but I started receiving requests from agents and editors. Sadly, they all resulted in what I call positive rejections. The agents loved the protagonist’s voice but not the setting. Or they loved the concept but felt like the story was a little quiet or wouldn’t stand out enough in the market. But I did not quit. I started new manuscripts and kept entering contests.

Then one cold winter evening, I received an email from a friend saying that one of her published friends had read my entry in a contest months earlier and knew an agent who was building her line and thought we might be a good fit. Would I be interested in submitting to this new agent if the published author who I’d never met before made the introductions?

Uhhhh… Yes!
Signing books!
Long story short, I signed with said agent, and she’s a genius. She took one of the two manuscripts that were ready, out on submission. I’m not going to lie. We received lots more rejections, but eventually The Thing with Feathers, winner of the 2014 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award for excellence in young adult fiction, sold to HarperCollins/Blink. We have a second young adult contemporary, Meet the Sky, releasing with them in September 2018.

If I can do this, you can too. I love mentoring and giving back to writers the way so many published authors gave to me. If you’d like to learn more about publishing, improve your craft, connect with like-minded writers, *and* be inspired by the beauty of Ireland, please consider joining me on the adventure of a lifetime this summer.


Do you sometimes get stuck when you're trying to write? Hit a brick wall? Stare at a blank page and feel helpless? Our July guest author/editor, Serena Chase, has a cure . . .

THE WALL MEETS THE MULTI-GENRE AUTHOR

by Serena Chase
My first four published novels are categorized as speculative fiction, an umbrella term encompassing several subgenres of fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, paranormal, supernatural, and futuristic fiction. As with all other fiction forms, speculative fiction is meant to transport readers into the emotions of a place, time, and situation, giving us license and opportunity to be transformed along with the characters we meet along the way.

Trends may wax and wane, but all subgenres of speculative fiction share the commonality of projecting a reality other than the one we know. In that way, speculative fiction stories achieve the immortality of life without limits. It’s a rather empowering experience for an author, creating a world immortal. There are times, however, when I need a break from the fantastic, the strange; when I need to ground myself in a fictional reality more like my own. That is why, when focused on crafting a speculative fiction novel, I always have at least one non-speculative side-project going . . . and vice versa.

While writing my first two fantasy novels, The Ryn and The Remedy, I also finished full first drafts of two contemporary non-speculative novels, one of which, Intermission, finally published in 2016 after many revisions—and the publication of two additional fantasy novels. It’s a practice I plan to continue. At present, my main work-in-progress is a contemporary romance taking place within the entertainment industry. But while working on that contemporary non-speculative novel I’ve also completed a fantasy novelette (which may be expanded into a novel at some point), have begun revising a Regency-esque fantasy novel I began during another project, and have dabbled with a contemporary sci-fi paranormal. From the outside, this probably sounds like a chaotic blend of creativities; but within this chaos, I’ve discovered a calm by which I’m enabled to feel more productive—and that’s half the battle of wanting to sit in the chair and do the work again tomorrow, isn’t it?
I’ve found jumping between genres and worlds to be an effective impetus toward enhanced creativity. Not only do my side projects provide a much-needed break when my organic writing path hits a dead end—or has gone too far down a particular rabbit trail—but I’ve found those breaks can actually jumpstart my creativity, allowing me to scale ‘the wall’ after I’ve hit it.
Serena Chase
Allowing my imagination a holiday from one genre in order to write in another has formed a symbiotic relationship between my story worlds. By writing within the world I intimately know because I live within it, I can return to the speculative world I intimately know by having created it, refreshed—and with a renewed grasp on what makes that world worth sharing. Whether it’s the discovery of sensory nuances that, when tweaked to fit my unique world, can bring my setting to life . . . or a “Eureka!” solution to get out of a corner I’ve written myself into, switching gears to write other characters in another reality recharges my creativity.
Ireland Writer Tour Participants 2017
Have you ever written yourself into a corner? Hit the wall? Experienced writer’s block? Next time, save and close your document, open a new one, and try free-writing in another genre. Do you write speculative fiction? Try non-speculative contemporary. Do you write contemporary romance? Try historical or contemporary with a speculative element. While this exercise may not lead to a publishable book—or even a story you want to continue—it could be the key you need to unlock the door in that dreaded wall, allowing you to return to your manuscript, refreshed.



TOO MANY CASTLES TO COUNT


In Ireland, castles are like hiccups. One pops up every few minutes when you’re driving across the countryside. Some have been painstakingly restored, but many are crumbling yet still beautiful ruins. Most are located on bodies of water, which made them easier to defend, and now makes them positively breath-taking. Unlike fairy tale castles, these are the genuine article, with most of the structures dating back to the 12th through 16th centuries. That means the castles were usually tower houses or keeps, built so that the people inside could be protected.
The renaissance period in Ireland was fraught with peril, and overrun by a bunch of angry white dudes greedy for land. The Normans swept across the country to the west, defeating the High Kings of Ireland; the War of the Roses created a wave of trouble beyond British shores; rebelling Anglo-Irish and Gaelic families wacked off heads and asked questions later; the Battle of Kinsale was a total nightmare; and then there was that whole Cromwellian load of crap. All this fighting meant that castles were a necessary practicality.





Consequently, a real castle doesn’t usually look like Cinderella’s Magic Kingdom digs at Disneyland. That structure is a hollow façade (so Hollywood) based on the Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria. Neuschwanstein was built by wacky King Ludwig in the late 19th century when people no longer needed to live in castles for protection. To put it in perspective, Ludwig was more or less deposed for spending too much of his subjects’ money on his castle.

This coming summer, Ireland Writer Tours, will include multiple castles in both the late June, and the July tours. In addition to countless drive-byes, where ruins will be visible, and stories told, we’ll also be spending private time with specific famous castles.
One magnificent structure dates as far back as the 12th century, complete with a moat and a Rapunzel tower. Though we’ll be touring the grounds, the interior is off limits (unless you want to be sneaky!) Another castle is a privately-owned 14th century tower house that is so haunted, a psychic medium used to travel from Scotland to teach classes there. We’ll be having dinner in the tower room and visiting the haunted bedrooms. Sometimes the toilets even flush themselves.

In addition to drive-byes and photo op castles with brief visits, these structures give us a chance to share stories about the way people used to live in them, including everything from what people ate, where they slept, how and why they bathed (infrequently), to the oddities involved with going to the loo. We’ll also cover harrowing defence and battle practices, as well as architectural details and building methods, so if you’re looking for historical inspiration for what you’re writing, you’re sure to find it.
If you join us this summer, you discover there's nothing quite as spiritually enlightening as travel to a new place, learning how other civilizations lived, and walking a few miles in a real, or imagined, ancestor’s shoes.


This week we have Part 2 of successful author and editor, Bethany Kaczmarek's post on writing a compelling hook.  Bethany is the author of STRAINS OF SILENCE and will be teaching and editing next July for Ireland Writer Tours.

The First Line, Page, and Chapter - Part 2
by Bethany Kaczmarek
 
Look at these two first paragraphs. The author voice is distinct, the character someone we want to know more about. And there are clues to the setting, though one states it outright and one uses clues. The first is from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. 

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, flesh and bone, fiber and substance – I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by hard, distorting glass. When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed everything and anything except me. 

Now, Leif Enger's Peace Like a River.

From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and the air to fill them with—given circumstances, you might presume, for an American baby of the twentieth century. Think about your own first gasp: a shocking wind roweling so easily down your throat, and you still slipping around in the doctor's hands. How you yowled! Not a thing on your mind but breakfast, and that was on the way.

When I was born to Helen and Jeremiah Land, in 1951, my lungs refused to kick in.


Both these examples fill my mind with questions. And—this is a crucial differentiation—not the kind of questions which come from confusion, but questions fueled by curiosity.

As the first page and first chapter unfold, curiosity and confusion become enemies. Ideally, your readers will feel anchored and invested and curious enough that they'll begin participating. They'll want to figure things out, solve the mystery, remember details for the interrogation, understand and SEE the invisible man, get to know this character who very nearly died at birth.

But if readers are confused, they feel paralyzed. They stand, if in the story world at all, on the fringes, thinking "Wait. What just happened? Was that a surprise, or does that happen here all the time? Should I feel afraid? Angry? If I laugh, will that be awful and awkward? What am I supposed to think about this person? I can't care, because I feel lost."

First Chapters
What can we writers do to help readers find and keep their footing?

  • Conjure images in readers' minds, but give them freedom. Ultimately, it will help them connect if they imagine a place familiar to them. Give them important or unique details, but don't draw a map. If they're in a cathedral, perhaps mention the Gothic architecture, the echoes against the stones, the uncomfortable pew.

And with characters, don't necessarily try to create a verbal portrait. No matter what point of view you write from, readers have a gallery of faces they can assign your characters. They watch TV and films, read magazines. They live around others. Let them cast the character as they imagine. Describe a striking or unusual feature or two. Dark and dangerous eyes, callused hands, and three days of stubble describe a very different man than the lean partner in the tailored suit, checking his Breitling watch for the fourth time.

A few other helpful hints for a first chapter that will keep readers engaged:

  • Give them a reason to turn one more page. Readers need to know what's at stake for the character. They need to care enough to keep going. Does your character have a relatable goal? What could keep them from it? Is there danger? Is their enemy an assassin or a board of shareholders? Maybe a dark secret from their past?
     
  • Pacing is key here. And this doesn't apply only to stories that begin with action. Whatever is going on, move the plot forward.
  •  Stay away from backstory. While you might want to hint that things are not the way they used to be, drop breadcrumbs throughout the story. Avoid the dreaded info-dump. No one likes to feel as if they're being pulled aside to listen to an explanation.
  • Leave them wanting. When they get to the end of the chapter, don't tie it up nicely for them. Make them pull their hands back, away from their bookmarks for just one more page, one more scene. You can do this by cranking up the conflict. Have the character make a decision. Make the antagonist step back to watch the evil plan play out. Whatever you do, always, always, move forward.
 Take a look at some of your favorite books again. What's the best opening line? What makes you want to keep reading? Is there an author who keeps you reading until the wee hours?

Join us in Ireland for some intensive looks at your own firsts. Serena Chase and I will be sharing what we've learned about writing books that grip readers from the opening scene until the last—the kind of books that create fans.

Thanks to Ray Bradbury, Sharon Draper, Zora Neale Hurston, Steven James, Jan Karon, Markus Zusak, Hugh Howey, Ralph Ellison, and Leif Enger for the exceptional first lines.



PART ONE -


The First Line, Page, and Chapter - Part 1
by Bethany Kaczmarek

First Lines
What makes you decide a book is worth the hours you'll spend reading it? Imagine yourself in a bookstore, surrounded by literally thousands of options. You walk to the section of your favorite genre. Do you look for a favorite author's name? Let your eyes wander the covers? Read the back?
Think about the moment you crack open the cover. Find that first page. 
Kirk Tyler turned the computer monitor to face his captive.

No one promises hours to get wrapped up in our story. Readers (and agents, editors, publishers) need to know it will be worth their investment first. So the hook is crucial.

After a while, the car started to sway, but I wasn't sure whether it was me gettin' dizzy or if 
the car really was weaving across the expressway. 

As readers, we know how quickly we'll put a book back on the shelf.
First line. First page. They've got to pull readers in.
And they're your first shot at setting the tone.
Each first line in this post gives a distinct impression of the book it begins.

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.

(*Hangs head in embarrassment*) I remember sitting at my first writing conference across from an agent I admired, and I actually said: "The main character is in a bad place when the story starts, but after the first couple chapters, you really want to cheer for her and the pace picks up."

Spare yourselves my pain, people. I didn't need someone to read past the beginning. I needed to make the beginning better. Way better. Thankfully, the agent told me that. My craft needed improvement, plain and simple.

Serious thinking and crossing the street, he once said, shouldn't be attempted simultaneously.

The firsts have become a major target for me, in both my own work and in my clients'. Here are some things I've learned: 
  • Make your first sentence killer. Maybe it's an action beat. Maybe it's funny. Maybe it's dialogue that yanks us into the story. Whatever it is, it ought to hint at the conflict that is already affecting the character. Yes. Already. 
It was a pleasure to burn.
First Pages 

  • Ground the reader in the POV. Whether you've chosen to write in first person, third person, or third person deep, the reader should know immediately who they're connecting to. And they better connect. Whatever the character is experiencing, whatever they need, the readers need to know it. Fast. 
The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear
them squealing as only happy children do.

  • Anchor the reader to the story world. Who is in the scene? Where are they? When does it take place? Use sensory details to describe the scene as the character sees it. Include era-appropriate tools, fashion, and technology to reveal the time period. Name something that hints at the location. 
 Come back next week when Bethany delves into another important first - First Paragraphs. 

If you're interested in joining us next summer, remember to book early. These tours are limited to 12 people to ensure individual attention, so they'll fill up quickly. 



If you join us next June for Yoga, Myth, Magic & Writing, you'll have the pleasure of regular yoga practices with this gifted yogini. Here, she explains a bit about her teaching style and a few of the benefits you can expect to gain from the "yoga buffet" she'll be offering . . .


FINDING YOUR INNER DIVINITY IN AN EMERALD LANDSCAPE
with Katheryn Helms

Yoga gifts me with peace, brings quietude to my thoughts and emotions, and imparts a feeling of space, lightness, and freedom within my physical body. As the yoga instructor for the Yoga, Myth, Magic, and Writing retreat next summer in Ireland, I look forward to sharing all those positive aspects of the practice with you.

During our tour we will explore up to four different types of yoga, based upon your input; as a retreat participant you will receive a questionnaire in advance of our tour, so you can specify your preferred type(s) of yoga from the four offerings described below. You can also select the progression as listed to sample all four kinds of yoga I can offer you. Each class that we have will always build upon the session preceding it, will be tailored to each student's level of experience and current state of being, and will include a different shamanic journey to close.

All of these classes offer benefits to a yoga practitioner of any level. (Even if your only previous exposure to yoga is wearing yoga pants!) In every class I will provide options and adjustments for each asana for those seeking deeper, more intensive work, or for those who wish a gentler release. Here are the four different yoga practices for you to consider:

Restorative yoga calms the central nervous system (perfect for all of us recovering from long travel days!) and begins to invite alignment of the emotional body with the physical. Asana (poses) are held for longer periods of time to enable the release of connective tissue elements of the body.

Iyengar-inspired yoga focuses on correct physical and energetic alignment of the body. Minimal props will be used. The mind is actively focused on the poses and the adjustments given, in order to create the structure necessary to support the lightness of the body in asana; a feeling of space and freedom in the physical body is the goal as well as unifying the mental self with the physical.

Flow or Vinyasa yoga supports the movement of energy through the physical body. The physical body itself is the focus of this class, as we move from one pose to another in a flowing pattern, releasing whatever tension or energy is stuck in our physical bodies, and grounding the self in the
physical body.

Our final class is Kundalini-inspired, concerned with the flow of energy through all of the bodies. Patterns of postures, breathing (pranayama) and sound invigorate all aspects of self and are designed to release blocks within the energetic structure of each student.

I hope that gives you a taste of the yoga buffet we will enjoy together as we explore the beauty and magic of Ireland!

Namaste - the divine in me honors and greets the divine in you. 

If you join our July 2018 tour, you get not only a fun week seeing sights in Ireland, you’ll also learn from two professional author/editors who will edit part of your manuscript. One of those editors, Serena Chase, explains how valuable a professional edit can be . . .

The Importance of Being Earnest(ly) Edited
by Serena Chase
Serena and Albus
Whether you choose to be an independently publishing author or you’re an author seeking a traditional publishing contract for your debut novel, hiring a developmental editor is the key to discovering what might limit your story’s success.

As authors, we know our stories inside and out; but that intimate knowledge can make us blind to flaws that could be cured . . . if only we would seek a second opinion from a qualified source. It is the purpose of a developmental (or substantive) editor to point out the weaknesses in your manuscript and offer guidance toward making necessary improvements.

Psst: Editors who are also authors and hire developmental editors for their manuscripts, too! I wouldn’t dream of sending one of my stories out into the world without it first passing through the rigorous screening of at least one trusted developmental editor.

“But I have critique partners and beta readers willing to read my manuscript for free,” you might argue. “Why should I hire a developmental editor?”

Critique partners and beta readers are awesome. Keep them. When you become the client of a developmental editor, however, your manuscript goes under a microscope of critical professionalism. The professional editor is able to separate their perspective as a reader from the friend/fan aspect that might influence the critique of a partner or beta reader. An unpaid reader is rarely able—or willing—to provide your story the same level of critical attention you can receive from a paid professional.

A professional developmental editor devotes fully-focused time to reading your manuscript with an eye for story, specifically seeking areas of plot and character development, setting details, pacing, tension, reader engagement or lack thereof that need improvement. A professional developmental editor can also identify “bad habits” and habitual errors you—and those in your usual circles—would otherwise overlook, helping you to not only become aware of those habits and errors, but to learn to avoid them in the future.

But it’s not all “fix this” and “don’t do that.” A good professional developmental editor will also point out what you’re doing right—what makes them laugh, cry, and worry for your characters. If you do your research and hire an editor with experience in your genre—and recommendations from other authors—it can be the most important investment you will make in your book—and your writing career.

Over the years, with several different editors on several different books, I’ve received manuscript comments highlighting one particular passage or another, offering some version of, “This is a beautiful passage. Truly lovely. Cut it. It’s slowing the pace and not moving the story forward.” And you know what? They’ve always been right—even though it usually takes me a while to admit it! For most of us, developmental edits are not easy to receive. This is our story. Our baby. We are so proud of it! Or we were . . . until we receive our edits back and realize it isn’t as perfect as we thought.

Trust me, we’ve all been there. Time and again, I’ve sent a manuscript to a developmental editor, expecting that sweet soul to note one or two minor errors . . . but assuming the majority of their other comments about my masterpiece will consist of raving about how “this amazing piece of literature is going to become a bestseller and change the world!” Oh, the dream.

Riiiiiight.

Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet. And I’m pretty sure it never will. Why? Because I am too close to my story; I’m too protective and enamored of my new baby to see its faults. I need a developmental editor.

I want each of my stories to fulfill the potential for excellence I’ve believed they’ve possessed all along. For them to do that, I need outside input. That’s why I submit myself to the often-painful process of professional developmental editing.
It’s become easier, over time, to recover from my first glance of oh-so-much red ink on my precious manuscript pages. Now, even though a tiny part of my idealist personality still hopes for that elusive glowing critique (riiiight), I actually look forward to receiving those bleeding-red pages back from my developmental editors. Now, after having been through numerous developmental edits for my own work, and having provided that same service for other authors, I know—I know—that when I attack those revisions, my book is going to be better and truer and nearer that bar of excellence in the next draft.

It can be scary, investing in a developmental edit for your book. But once you’ve recovered a few ounces of courage (you will) and you’ve made sure your vanity and pride are put on the shelf for a bit (difficult, I know), approach the developmental editor’s evaluation of your manuscript with an open mind and heart. Read it. Soak in it. You may agree with every suggestion. You may not. That’s okay. Work through the critique points you know have merit first . . . and then reevaluate. You may just realize the task is not as mammoth as you originally thought.

Seeking, hiring, submitting to, and recovering from a developmental edit is not easy, but it is absolutely worth it. Chances are, not only will you discover you had a deeper, tighter story within you all along, but you’ll become a better, more confident author for having worked through your developmental editor’s comments.




“The great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.”

― G.K. Chesterton


Two centuries ago, Celtic tribes dominated Europe from the Black Sea to the British Isles, from Galicia in northwest Spain to Galatia in modern-day Turkey.

Eventually, three main Celtic groups were dominant: The Gauls lived in what is now France, Britons lived in Great Britain, and Gaels lived in Ireland.

Naturally, these different groups of Celts had different dialects and practices, which probably made for some pretty confusing conversations.

One thing that united all these different tribes of Celts was their belief in life after death. In ancient Ireland, you were born, you lived, you died, and you came back. Then you repeated the whole process over and over and over again. So strong was this belief that you could take out a loan and promise to pay it back in your next lifetime. People spoke to the dead just as they did to the living. And if you died in the middle of an argument, well . . . It wasn’t over ‘til it was over.
If you join us for an Ireland Writer Tour next summer, you’ll likely encounter some interesting aspects of the Irish language. Since both tours are based in the west of the country, you’ll see road signs in Irish: Go Mall - slow down. An Gaeltacht – a region where Irish is spoken. And if you’re looking for a public toilet (NOT called a restroom), it will likely be labelled Mná for Women or Fir for Men.

Even more fun than the road signs will be the people you meet. At least some of them will have names that either frustrate you or make you laugh. Lee Mack explains it far better than I can: