Tuesday, April 30, 2019


We’re in good company J

There are articles on the process of digesting rejection, that badge of participation in the walk we walk.
Speaking for myself, I can only say that few of them affect me. The form rejections say nothing, (other than “not for us”) and the others are often too cryptic or contradictory of one another to be of help. The only personal rejections that still sting are those that follow an enthusiastic full manuscript request or a Revise & Resubmit request, (R&R) and giving feedback indicating a fatal flaw that resonates.

{I do, however, choose to take acceptances very personally. Thank you, you know who you are!}

But the point is that even the greatest greats have gotten rejections, and in hindsight, the specific reasons given suggest the flaw may lie with the rejecter, not the rejected. This article has been around for some years for a reason. It’s a compilation of just such.

Only here’s a new one for you, fellow veterans of the rejection battles. After seventy-three years, on February 7th 2019, the British Council issued an apology to the no-longer-able-to-receive-it George Orwell, regarding a rejection of a commissioned article.
I post the original rejection letter below. Keep in mind that, at the time, Mr. Orwell was already regarded as one of England’s greatest living men of letter.

Mr. Orwell didn’t live to get the apology. Not that we are owed a thing, but let’s not hold our breaths for any.
Do your best work. Make it better.
Keep trucking. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Passover Confession

Passover, the holiday of eating Matzos and telling of the Jewish people's exodus from ancient Egypt and from slavery to being a free if roaming tribes, is in full swing. It began this year on April 19 and will culminate on the 26th.

We're supposed to eat only unleavened bread, the famous (some may say infamous) matzos, because our ancestors had to leave in a hurry and couldn't wait for the dough to rise. I somehow doubt that in their hurrying to bake unrisen dough they got such wonderful crispy results as the modern Matzo. But that's not the point. It serves us as a reminder. A visceral note for the body to acknowledge that this period of time is different.

But I eat matzo every single day of the year. It's part of my breakfast, (with cheese) and lunch, (with hummus or peanut butter) and just about anytime. I do this because I really (really, REALLY) like it. Just ask DH, who lives here. Mirka's matzo is a staple, always on the counter.

So sue me. I'm cheating Passover. I would probably note the difference more if I eat bread on passover, perish the thought.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Taking a Story from Picture Book to Novel

If you’ve been writing and submitting stories to editors or agents, eventually you might get a personal suggestion to take that short story you considered a picture book text and make it a novel for older readers, or take that chapter book and expand it to a novel for young adults.

This is what happened to The Voice of Thunder, which began as a short story I mistook for a potential picture book. This is also how many of the subsequent novels for middle grade readers I have written began their lives.

What does the suggestion to “expand” a story and re-fashion it for older readers mean?

Obviously, it must be longer. Not twice or thrice the word count, but ten to a hundred fold. A five-hundred-word story becomes a fifty-thousand-word story. But this tells of the size of the box, not its content.

Expanding means going both wider and deeper.

Wider pertains to the cast of characters, (more enter the scene) and plot, (many more twists and turns) and adding descriptive passages that the illustrations would have done in the picture book, even as the same arc is essentially already there. You already have the beginning, middle, and end. It’s all the stuff in and around the middle that the writer must conjure.

Deeper means extra layers of character exploration. This applies to all the characters, the ones who were there before and the new ones. They all have a past and wonder about the future. They all have layers of ambiguity where the various forces that drive a character operate, sometimes at cross-purposes.

Writers are advised to make sure the age of the protagonists match the intended readership. This, though a technical detail, also helps navigate the deepening of the characters.

Every time I undertook this challenge, I became ever more appreciative of the art of Picture Books writing. I marvel at how it was all in there in the short version. Longer takes more time, but shorter is harder, believe me.

©Chris Brecheens 2012

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The In-Betweens

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
Copyright 1944 Johnny Mercer

Mr. InBetween turns up again in this Australian TV series. He’s big again, that Mister.

But I’m mulling over a different In-Between. I’m in between two projects. Different revisions, different stories, one done the other about to begin.
This is necessary In Between time.

I know writers who work on different manuscripts simultaneously. I know writers who jump from one to the other without any down time. I know writers who plan one, draft another, and revise a third and a forth in the same week.

I tried some limited version of this when I was in the midst of a first draft and a requested revision to a different novel manuscript came, with some time sensitive matter. I worked on the first draft (practically sacred time for me) during the week, and revision on the weekend. That sort of worked. Sort of, because it would have been better to separate the narrative voices by more than a day in each direction.

So, at least for me, In Between Time is part of the process. Call me Mrs. InBetween without worries about my taking it as messing. It’s the exact opposite. It’s a way of assuring clarity and creative purpose that is not messy.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Writers as Liars

April Fool’s, and it got me thinking about spy stories.

“Heh?” I imagine you’re saying. “Why?”

April Fool’s is a day of sanctioned pranking, deceiving, and let’s just say it, lying.

Spies, too, are sanctioned to lie by professional code. They lie to their loved ones about what they’re really doing. They lie to people they meet on assignment because they are spying on them. They even lie to their superiors about the small infractions they may have inadvertently committed on the job. They are trained to lie all the time. Don’t ask me how I know because I know it for a fact and I am not lying about that. But maybe I am.

I’ve only written one story (a novel for MG) with spies in its center. The theme of the story is lies, deception and betrayal. Not your usual glamorous depiction of brave action for a great cause, around which most spy novels are centered. Betraying people you know or meet is not noble.

Writers are constant liars also, even as we couch it as fibbing or stretching the truth. We conjure stories and insist none of the characters have relation to living or dead people. That’s a lie. We write memoirs and insist it is as it was, which is a lie because a good story needs to mute or enhance and also mainstream the telling.  We conjure and make believe and become so adept at it that we occasionally confuse ourselves.

It’s all in service of humans' endless fascination with other humans.

But one day a year, we do this openly and rejoice at this life art.

I hope your April Fools is worthy of its delightful possibilities.

Not even what I wrote here.