Guest post: Rejections Slips and other Ciphers by Melodie Campbell

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of rejections, is brought to you by short story, humour author and novelist and interviewee Melodie Campbell.

“Much as I love history sex and violence…” Rejection Slips and other Ciphers

All writers share one experience in common:  Rejection.  Yes, that single three-syllable word can pack more punch than a swat team of grammarians in a first year college class.  I’ve known grown novelists crushed by the impact of a lone one-page letter in a returned SASE.  (You can tell by the thickness of the envelope that it ain’t holdin’ no contract.)  In New York, it is rumored that spurned essayists have been seen to (gasp) forgo imported and guzzle down domestic in their haste to heal the pain.

Rejection is the hurtin’, cheatin’ country song of the writer’s world.

We all know that tune.   Usually sung off-key, by editors who can’t do what we authors do, but have the power to keep us out of print.

Rejection slips serve only one useful purpose as far as I can tell: they prove to Revenue Canada and the IRA that we are indeed working writers and deserve all those measly tax deductions.

But wait – is there more?

In case you missed it, there is a hierarchy of rejection slips!  If you write for a living, or merely for the loving, you will undoubtedly have a collection that cries out for classification.

Keep them. Treasure them.  Devote a drawer to them.  (Better still, a steamer trunk.)  Make your own list of rejection translations and get to know the lingo.

Here’s my list, to get you started:

  1. “…unfortunately, it does not meet our requirements at this time.” This means No.  Allow yourself ten minutes to rant, and then try another market.
  2. “…does not meet our current needs, but we would welcome seeing more of your work.” Hey – you’ve reached them!  Maybe they can’t use this piece, but they like your style.  Send more.  Persist.  Be relentless.  That’s how I first got into Star Magazine.  I wore them down.
  3. “….if you would consider revising, I would happily have another read of it.” Go, go, go!  Whenever an editor gives direct encouragement, run with it.  Act immediately.  Revise and re-mail.  Invite her to dinner.  Walk his dog.  Do what you have to.  But don’t lose his interest.

I cherish personal replies from editors, not only for the time they take to write, but also for the hidden messages within.  Some are priceless.  Here are a few gems from my personal file (er…trunk):

“…not for us, but I think the ‘Idler’ uses satire.” That’s right, pass it off to the competition and hope it sinks ‘em.  The ultimate publisher power play.

“…we found your novel an interesting and compelling work, however…” Shucks.  I should have known they don’t publish ‘interesting and compelling’ works.

And my own personal favorite: “…much as I like history, sex and violence…” Well, gee, that’s interesting.  But exactly how does this relate to my returned manuscript? By the way, what are you doing Saturday night?

That was great, thank you, Melodie!

Melodie Campbell has over 200 publications, 6 awards, and was a finalist for the 2012 Derringer and Arthur Ellis awards.

She is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.

Library Journal says this about Melodie`s third novel, The Goddaughter (Orca Books)

“Campbell`s crime caper is just right for Janet Evanovich fans.  Wacky family connections and snappy dialogue make it impossible not to laugh.”

I then invited Melodie to provide an excerpt from The Goddaughter: We got through the border with no problem at all.  Of course, it’s much easier getting through borders without a semi-frozen dead body pretending to be asleep in the back seat.

You can buy The Goddaughter: Amazon.uk and Amazon.com.

And A Purse to Die For: Amazon.uk and Amazon.com.

Follow Melodie’s comic blog at http://funnygirlmelodie.blogspot.com and visit her website www.melodiecampbell.com.

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with fantasy novelist Ginny Atkinson – the five hundred and sixty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

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You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internetview my Books (including my debut novel!) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog you can now donate and receive a free eBook.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Guest post: Point of view by Rosemary McCracken

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of point of view is brought to you by journalist, short story author and mystery novelist Rosemary McCracken.

Before you keyboard your opening sentence, you will need to decide on what point of view your novel will take. I didn’t do this when I began Safe Harbor. I plunged into the story, writing it down from the POV of a third-person narrator. For some vague reason, I felt that the use of a first person narrator was way too prevalent in mystery novels, especially those by North American writers. The late Robert B. Parker used it in his Spenser series. Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky use it. I must say that I like the works of Parker, Evanovich, Grafton and Paretsky, but I was determined to be different.

I completed the first drafts of Safe Harbor in third person, and early in 2009 I entered the manuscript in Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger competition, a contest open to English-language writers around the world who haven’t had a novel published. The CWA never got back to me, which meant, in a competition that attracts hundreds of entries, that I hadn’t made its shortlist.

I went back to Safe Harbor and applied more polish. Later that year, veteran Canadian crime writer Gail Bowen was writer-in-residence at the Toronto Reference Library and she read the first part of the manuscript. “This book needs to be written in the first person,” she said when we met for our discussion. “We need to know what Pat Tierney is thinking and feeling every step along the way.”

I felt like the carpet had been pulled out from under my feet. Safe Harbor is a murder mystery, but it’s also the story of Pat’s personal journey of coming to terms with her husband’s infidelity and getting on with her life. The story’s major events – Jude’s murder and the danger Tommy is in – affect Pat deeply because of her personal involvement in them. Jude was Michael’s mistress. Tommy is Michael’s son and a living reminder of his affair. I needed to get deeper into Pat’s head. And the best way to do that was to let her tell the story.

I rewrote the book in the first person. I knew Pat intimately, so I felt completely comfortable jumping into her shoes. And right from the start, I knew I’d made right choice. I felt an energy emanating from the story that hadn’t been there before. I showed several chapters to members of my writers’ group, and they agreed.

Safe Harbor had been written in the limited third person, a form of narration that lets the reader see events from the POV of a single character or of a few characters at the most. The focal characters in the original drafts were Pat and, to a lesser extent, Farah Alwan, her young housekeeper. Now with Pat as the book’s narrator, Farah’s role is much diminished. It’s limited to what Pat can tell us about her.

Early the next year, I entered the rewrite in the 2010 Debut Dagger competition. Same title (at that time it was Safe Harbour, with the Canadian and British spelling of Harbour; it was changed to the American spelling when the novel was released by Imajin Books), same story line as my previous submission, but this time told in the first person. That year Safe Harbor emerged as one of 11 novels – out of about 1,100 submissions from around the world – that were shortlisted for the award. I was astonished…and overjoyed. Being on that shortlist has been one of the highlights of my life.

I believe the intimacy created by the first-person narrator made all the difference in attracting the judges’ attention. I’ve learned that every standalone novel and every series demands a certain point of view, depending how far the writer needs to get inside certain characters’ heads. If you’re uncertain which to use at the outset, I suggest you write versions of your opening chapters from different points of view and settle on the one that is most comfortable for you as a writer and the most effective for your story.

Thank you, Rosemary, and congratulations!

Born and raised in Montreal, Rosemary McCracken has worked on newspapers across Canada as a reporter, arts writer and reviewer, and editor. She is now a Toronto-based freelance journalist, specializing in personal finance and the financial services industry.

Rosemary’s short fiction has been published by Room of One’s Own Press and Kaleidoscope Books. Her first mystery novel, Safe Harbor, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award in 2010. It was released by Imajin Books this spring, and is available as an ebook and a paperback on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Visit Rosemary on her website and her blog.

Synopsis, Safe Harbor

Safe Harbor opens when a frightened woman barges into financial planner Pat Tierney’s office with a shocking request: “Look after my boy; he’s your late husband’s son.” The next day the woman is murdered and police say the seven-year-old may be the killer’s next target. In a desperate race to protect Tommy, Pat’s searches for the truth and uncovers a deadly scheme involving illegal immigrants, trafficking in human body parts and money laundering.

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with non-fiction author Marlene Caroselli – the four hundred and seventy-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me. I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

St Hilda’s Oxford Crime & Humour Writers Conference Aug 2012 (part 2)

I spent last weekend (18-19 August) at a crime and humour writers’ conference and this is what happened… well, the beginning. There’s too much to tell you in one go, so more tomorrow…

Saturday 18th August

Having dropped my dog at my mum’s in Hertfordshire, I headed to Oxford, with Mrs Sat Nav taking me the last four miles. I checked in to the Lodge, left my car in the Meadow (and what a very pretty meadow it was) and headed to my room (typical student accommodation but nice large room with a very handy desk). After an English cooked breakfast (in which I always indulge when I go away) I headed for the Jacqueline du Pré hall and the first event of the day…

Kate Charles welcomed everyone then handed over to Conference Chair, novelist Andrew Taylor, who introduced Marcia Talley, whose speech entitled ‘Comic Relief: Or What’s So Funny about murder’, she said, she was reading for the first time from her iPad! A lady after my own heart. 🙂

A big fan of Shakespeare, Marcia said William used humour in many of his works and mentioned the Night Porter scene in Macbeth. I did Macbeth at school but can’t remember that – I have it on DVD so I’m going to re-watch it. Then she mentioned ‘Always looked on the bright side of life’ from The Life of Brian and Stephen King’s Tommy Knockers where a condemned patient was offered a cigarette but said, “No thanks, I’m trying to give up.”

Marcia talked about various characters including Star Wars’ 3CPO, Holmes & Watson, Miss Marple and Poirot, and also ‘The Thin Man’ which, coincidentally, last weekend’s interviewee Michael Murphy mentioned. That made me smile… and more determined to find it on DVD. 🙂

Although, she said, serious crime has overtaken humorous crime, there are numerous humorous crime stories out there.

Sometimes in her own writing she has been gleeful when a nasty character dies. She has killed off (in her fiction) a “former boss, ex-brother-in-law and the woman who married her father after her mother died” and said that because they’re all on paper it’s kept her out of jail. I loved that as I often say that bumping off characters is the only legal way of killing someone I don’t like.

Janet Evanovich was the next author listed, followed by Donna Andrews (We’ll always have parrots’ and ‘Stork raving mad’). King of caper novel, Marcia said, is Donald E. Westlake and his character, John Archibald Dortmunder. She then went on to mention two of Lawrence Block’s humorous crime novels and said that Carl Hiaasen books have been translated into 34 languages. Other authors talked about included David Martin (‘Pelican’ published in 2000, set in New Orleans), Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty etc.), Joel & Ethan Cohen (Burn after reading, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, True Grit etc.) – all with strong characters.

Marcia then talked about the film Fargo and said that if you read the plot you wouldn’t laugh, however the film ended up being very funny – the comedy being in the sly dialogue, acting etc.

Comedy adds variety, she said, lightening the tone especially when the description derives from banter, consists of satire; poking fun at people, events etc. It needs to grow from the plot, theme, setting… needs to be logical, not something that’s thrown in just to produce a laugh. It can come from minor or walk-on characters, and some authors choose animals for this, or young children / teenagers but when overdone or try too hard then they can stop the story dead. Put seemingly serious characters into an absurd situation and see their reaction to it. Playing characters against each other works well as do characters with quirky habits. Marcia said she writes about south Texas and has quirky characters and said that area of the US have exported a few to politics, which made the audience laugh.

Continuing the theme of killing off characters (or “kick the bucket”, “singing for the choir invisible”), she said we know we’re all going to die so it’s fair enough that we can be a little depressed. Laughter is another way of dealing with life… reading comic crime fiction is good for your health and quoted “Support your local Medical Examiner: die strangely”, which I loved.

***

The next speaker was Alan Bradley with ‘The Undertaker’s Jest Book: Or, I Want Some Red Roses for a Blue Lady’.

Andrew introduced Alan and said he used to read in a cemetery as a child (which, he said, explains a lot).

Alan’s novels have been optioned for TV by Sam Mendes and Andrew said that Alan will tell us how we can get our novels optioned which made the audience laugh.

Alan started by talking about a book he read and nicknamed ‘The Undertaker’s Jest Book’, the ‘I Want Some Red Roses for a Blue Lady’ had been annotated in pencil in the margin.

Alan then told us a story of a young man who proposed (to a grant panel) renting a premium theatre holding 2,000 people – then on stage having 13 ordinary straight-back chairs. As the house lights went down 13 men in tuxedoes and tails would walk on and sit on the chairs, followed by a number of stagehands who would wheel out cages of live chickens. The tuxedoed men would the strangle the chickens.

When the panel asked the man what the underlying theme was, he told them ‘the cheapness of life / death in plush surroundings’, reminiscent of 1920s detective novels.

Needless to say he didn’t get the grant – it was felt that the performance wouldn’t attract the numbers of people to make it worth it!

Alan then mentioned DH Munro, Darwin (the subject of humour being extremely complex) and John Buchan then talked about tragedy and comedy being two sides of the same leaf, quoting the following dialogue (which I’d heard before, or certainly a variation of it)…

My brother won a competition to go up in a plane
Oh great!
The engine cut out
Oh no!
He had a parachute
Oh great!
But it didn’t open
Oh no!
He had a second parachute
Oh great!
But that didn’t open either
Oh no!
There was a haystack underneath him
Oh great!
But there was a pitchfork in it
Oh no!
He missed the pitchfork
Oh great!
He missed the haystack.

Humour depends upon viewpoint, Alan said. If you’d been reading this as a sketch in a newspaper you might find it funny but if was front page news or happened to someone you knew that it would lose it comedy.

When Alan lived in Canada he started writing at 4.30am because his character Flavia (who lives in the UK) would be awake and raring to go. He now lives in Malta so is an hour ahead of the UK but still starts at 4.30am and researches first thing then starts writing after Flavia’s had breakfast!

Alan explained how Falvia was created: he wrote about a young (11-year-old) girl taking down number plates but stalled because he didn’t know her name. Suggested Margaret du Marchon but she shook her head. He reeled off a few named but it wasn’t until he said Flavia de Louth that she nodded. He then learned to listen to her, taking a back seat and letting her tell the story. He has written five books with her and she stays at 11.

On one occasion he said, she sniffed as a coffin walked by and said that death smells of wet bread. Flavia loves a good corpse.

Alan then moved on to punchlines. In a mystery, the story usually begins with the tragedy, pull the rug from under the reader’s feet and finally reveal the murderer – the punchline.

Alan was given The Busman’s Holiday as a child – his first introduction to crime and humour.

Mentioning Sherlock Holmes, Alan said he tells many jokes but they’re said with a straight face.

Going back to The Undertaker’s Jest Book, Alan referred to the marketing of coffins. He said they’re lined up in the funeral home in a ‘T’ with the most expensive coffin placed first. The family would ask if there was something cheaper. The most basic (and poor quality) coffin would then be next to which they’d ask if there was something of better quality. They’d then be shown the highest profit (mid-priced) coffin, which they would accept without hesitation.

***

The session was then concluded with a Q&A. Alan was asked whether readers had ever picked up on errors where Alan was right? He replied that he’d been told that poison ivy didn’t exist but he was able to prove it does. He was then asked if Flavia will ever stop talking? He said that she’s always there and sometimes they’ve disagreed with some of the suggestions, saying, “oh no, you can’t do things like that”.

A member of the audience (who had read his books) said that his family interaction very accurate. Alan explained that he has two sisters, had a most tormented childhood but that both had sadly died before his books comes out, which was a real shame.

When asked whether Flavia will grow up, Alan said that when he started the books she was almost 11, he’s now at the 5th book and almost 12, the timeframe being 1950 to 1951.

When asked a favourite word, Alan said he’d found in a 1896 Encyclopaedia the word “crinkle” which he loved and said isn’t used enough.

Marcia was then asked about the appeal of antagonists, between gruesome and comic, why more are gruesome. She said that readers enjoy thrills and know it’s not going to happen to them.

I then asked Marcia who her favourite character is and whether she had had plans for her characters but they’d refused to let her carry them out. She said she’d had a character who had put his arm around (married) Hannah which Marcia hadn’t expected.

Marcia and Alan were then asked at how titles can hint at the comedy within.

Marcia explained that when she started out, her titles were all going to be from Shakespeare but for her fourth novel she was with new publisher and they overrode her ‘Killing Frost’ which RD Wingfield had used she they didn’t want Marcia’s readers to be confused so it became ‘In Death’s Shadow’.

They were then asked whether translations of humorous crime were successful?

Marcia said that one-liners wouldn’t translate well and Alan explained that a Polish translation of one of his book’s titles was ‘herring’s ear in sour cream’, although added that it was perfect! 🙂

Like most writing events, the atmosphere was very down-to-earth and friendly, this being added to by microphone issues although when the roaming mic had its batteries replaced the audience cheered!

Part 3 tomorrow with Barry Forshaw and L.C. Tyler, the second panel of six!

Part 1, by the way, was just me last Sunday mentioning I’d been and would type up my notes and blog about them.

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You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.