I would love to write a book that had and has the impact of Flowers for Algernon.
Being a precocious reader with older siblings, I read this book when I was very young, sneaking it from my sister’s bookshelf. The story resonated with me and influenced my thinking. It’s one of the books I recommend for all highschoolers to read.
If you haven’t read Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, go get a copy! It’s not a long book. I would consider it easy to read, even though all of the topics explored may not always be easy to think about. It’s about a mentally disabled young man who agrees to engage in an experiment to increase his intelligence. His story is told through a series of diary entries.
In my experience, even kids who aren’t into reading all that much seem to connect with this book. The story brings up loads of discussion worthy topics.
Flowers for Algernon always makes me think about the memoir, Switched On, by John Elder Robison, the true story of a person on the autism spectrum who participated in experiments meant to increase emotional intelligence. Switched On tells about his experiences during the procedure and the aftermath.
I recommend both of these books.
The IG prompt made me consider my own work. I am often intentional about why I write the novels I do and who, in both a general and specific sense, I hope to communicate with.
I guess I could say I have written exactly the book I wished to.
One of my novels is about a family dealing with grief. I wrote it because there was a need. I could not find a novel addressing the issue of impending loss and grief against the backdrop of a family also dealing with autism.
As I spend time in the querying trenches, the ability to see how a particular manuscript fulfilled its intended purpose, at least in part, is a great encouragement to me.
I hope to see all my novels reach the readers who need to hear the stories. I hope to someday soon know hearts are being touched.
My life is divided into before and after. I’m in the after now.
Eight years ago, this coming April, my world turned upside down. Eight years ago, this coming April, I began the slow journey back. I hadn’t written a book then. Since that time, I have finished penning three.
When I got sick, my daughter became frightened. Who wouldn’t be? It was the summer before her freshman year of high school, and she spent her vacation taking care of her mother who needed assistance walking and bathing. It didn’t matter what I told her, or how many reassurances were held out, she was terrified. All the soft gentle words and reassurances never made it past her fear wrapped worry.
Sometimes you need a story.
I wrote her a book about a girl who was afraid her mother would die and leave her alone. In the book, the mother does die. The girl is not left alone, however. She has family and unlikely heroes to depend on. I wrote my daughter a book to make her laugh and cry, but most of all to help her see she was not alone and it wasn’t up to her to save the world. I think maybe it was both comforting and uncomfortable for her to discover how much I understood her.
She’s not a character in a book, and she is not this character. But young girls everywhere get angry with their mothers, at times think they’ve been abandoned, and generally feel treated unfairly by life. They’re often surprised when they discover their mothers were once girls and understand all of these deeply held, secret feelings.
Among the pages of this made up place filled with pretend people my daughter finally understood what I was trying to tell her. She wasn’t alone.
Sometimes you need a story.
A funny thing happened. Out of the story, two more grew. Each of these novels stand alone, and while they don’t lean on each other, they do rub shoulders, exploring the lives of the various characters in the same fictional small Texas town.
It’s quite a surprise to find at the end of these eight years I have three complete novels. I’d freelanced in my former writing life, and even written a novella, which resides in the dark recesses of my computer files, but I’d never attempted a novel length work.
As my health improved and my responsibilities shifted, I had more time to write books. With each novel, I learned better and went back, refining and polishing. I hunted down critique partners and entered contests. I was quite pleased with the feedback I got. Now I’m ready to start querying agents.
I’m telling you this tale because, as with all of my stories, I want to encourage and bring hope to the reader. Because sometimes you need a story.
Donna Jo Stone writes YA contemporary novels about tough issues but always ends the stories with a note of hope. She blogs at donnajostone.com.
PitMad is an opportunity for unagented authors who have complete novels. Writers pitch your novel in a tweet with appropriate hashtags. Agents search tweets for specific genres and if they like a tweet, the submission process begins.
If you’re on Twitter March 7th, please leave a comment or retweet my tweets to show your support at my twitter donnajostone. Likes are reserved for agents interested in my project.
I will be pitching all three of my finished YA novels. Last month I sent out a few queries for the first book in my series, but shifted gears with the intention of pitching all three at the next PitMad.
It’s a bit unusual to have three completed novels at the same time. The drafts were all finished around the same time primarily because I dictated them while I was waiting to recover from my cipro injury before I started editing. Hiring an editor was not an option for me at the time. My typing isn’t as good as it was before I got sick, but it is passable. Currently, I’m doing my best to reduce a 93,000 word manuscript to 80,000. I’m well on my way and hope to complete the edit before the 7th. It’s a pity I can’t take all those discarded words and put them on another project.
Besides editing, I’ve been writing synopses and working on tweets. Condensing an entire novel into a single tweet can be challenging. You only get 280 characters, including spaces and hashtags. It’s an excellent exercise in being concise.
NOLASTARS/RWA is having a Spring Writing Retreat Saturday, March 9th. Check it out. If you are local and are looking for a group, it’s a great organization. See how friendly we are?
In other news, this month I begin my new position as the YA columnist over at Almost An Author. Woot! My first Almost An Author post is scheduled to go up on March 21st. I’ll share a link on the home blog right here, so come back and visit, or you can subscribe to get posts in your mailbox, or visit Almost An Author.
Do you have any topics you’d like to see me cover in the blog? Leave your comments below.
Please consider signing up for the blog and/or my newsletter to keep in the know.
I’ve got contests on the brain. There’s no point in entering unless you are in it to win it . . . except when you enter for feedback like I did. I wanted some uncensored examination of my work before I submit this book to agents.
I’ve always wondered what the judges were looking for in novel writing contests and I had the opportunity recently to volunteer as a judge. The coordinator provided a score sheet and directions. I had not done a great deal of research into writing contests, but I have discovered many of the contests have their score sheets published.
It’s a good idea to look at the score sheets before you enter to see if your novel is a good fit and fulfills the requirements to score high. Score sheets are also useful for doing a self check of your manuscript before you submit it anywhere.
Pick the Best Contest to Enter
Aside from choosing a contest that fits your novel, here are a few other things I’ve learned along the way.
If there is a fee, make sure the contest are entering has a good track record. Even then, you may not get the feedback you desire. I was discouraged by the first writing contest I entered because the judges did not provide a great deal of feedback, and the comments I did get directly contradicted each other on two of the three evaluations! The third person gave minimal feedback.
The second contest I entered was not well known, but the entry fee was either nonexistent or negligible. I received valuable feedback from three different judges. Many contests keep the judges anonymous, but this one did not. in that contest I tied for third place. It was shocked to find myself in good company among the winners.
The contest should have multiple judges. Both of the contests I entered had three judges look over every manuscript. I prefer a contest that allows the participant to have information about the judges’ qualifications. This might help an inexperienced writer to know how much weight to give an opinion that feels off.
Best advice for choosing a contest to enter? Ask around.
Follow the rules
Whatever contest you choose to enter make sure you meticulously pay attention to the rules. If you choose to enter a contest without checking out all the boxes, you probably won’t place well.
Edit your work
Even if you’re entering a contest for feedback only, edit your work. Make sure you’re presenting the best manuscript you can. Use a spellchecker and a grammar checker.
Have a critique partner look over your work. If you’re going to shell out your hard earned money for a chance at the golden ring, it makes sense to enter the best version of your work you can. Critique partners can help you polish that manuscript.
Learn From Feedback
Keep in mind that all the judges have their own particular areas of expertise and opinions. Even if you get contradicting advice as I did, chalk it up as a learning experience. Try to find the commonalities and take the information you can use to apply to your work. The judges spent time and effort trying to help the participants improve their writing. In every contest I entered, the judges have been volunteers. I appreciate the time and energy they give to the writing community.
Contests are about more than the big prize. Uncensored feedback is good. Perhaps painful, but good.
Don’t Take a Loss to Heart
Contests are funny things. There are a plethora of variables. Who you get as a judge is the luck of the draw. The score sheets may be slanted towards a criteria your novel does not fit into. An individual judge may determine that your novel does not fit into a specific standard while another judge may find it perfectly acceptable.
You can’t take negative feedback to personally. For both of the contests I entered I submitted the identical manuscript but received vastly different evaluations. Which brings me to my last point.
It’s All a Matter of Opinion
There are certain parameters and requirements if you want to have your novel traditionally published, but in the end, follow your heart. If you have a story to tell, tell it.
You only fail if you stop trying.
Do you have any advice about entering a writing contests?
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Writing can be a lonely occupation. Writing groups give encouragement, direction, and a place to commiserate when the inevitable rejection comes. For the past several years I’ve been limited to online support groups for writing, and those are wonderful, but there’s just something about meeting face to face with other writers.
I’ve been blessed to have access to a local group, NOLASTARS, in nearby Shreveport. They are affiliated with RWA, Romance Writers of America. While the focus is on romance, membership in NOLASTARS is open to serious writers in other genres. NOLASTARS is a well established group and has events throughout the year. It’s a wonderful group! RWA offers a long list of benefits accessible online to members.
I’ve found online friends and help as well. The amazing Sarah Tipton edited my YA I wrote for National Novel Writing Month, NANOWRIMO 2017. Sarah was a godsend. I could not have managed without her. Her website is www.sarahtiptonbooks.com.
It’s good to have friends to help you along the journey.
Where do you find support for your creative pursuits?
It wasn’t the first time Rain had kissed a boy, but it felt like a first kiss, warm and tender with just enough spark, the hint of electricity letting her know she should be careful. She pulled back. The wonder on his face, the naked adoration, goose-pimpled her flesh. If he had told her in that exact moment she was beautiful, she would’ve believed him.
I hoped to have this first draft finished by the end of January, but guess what? I was so near the end I could practically taste it. It was right there. Then, in a flash of sudden insight, I discovered a fatal plot flaw. My main character’s inner goal was not quite enough.
This is frustrating. Back tracking is the pits, but I console myself with the idea that it will be a better story in the end. I know how to fix it. The solution came to me as soon as I recognized the problem. It will take time, though.
Another funny thing about this book is that the closer I think the end is, the further away it gets, like one of those telescoping scenes in a movie where the end of the hall stretches far into the distance. I am committing to get this draft done by the end of February. When the dust finally settles, I suspect the story will need massive cuts but I’m trying not to think about that. I lost two weeks to migraines, but still managed to crank out the words on the other days, albeit slowly compared to previous months.
The amazing Diana Sharples has been advising me, and I appreciate her so much! I was a bit scared to approach her when she posted looking for a reader for one of her current works in progress. I read her book, Running Lean while researching eating disorders for one of my previous young adult novels and liked it. Diana has five, yes five, books coming out this year. She is a busy woman. And she is fabulous. Check out her site here.
My To Be Read pile is growing to prodigious proportions, but that’s fine with me. So many good books and zero calories! Slated for this month’s Book Breaks, posted Wednesdays on Instagram and the blog, are When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen, The Secret Life Of Sara Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner, and Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford. I’m undecided about my fourth selection. If you have a suggestion, please post in the comments.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” said Rain. She wished they could go back to just sitting in the quiet, not saying anything.
Will stood, fists clenched at his sides before he visibly relaxed, and let his arms hang loosely. Rain expected him to come and sit beside her, or look at her, or say something. Instead, he turned on his heel and walked away into the late afternoon shadows, leaving her sitting there alone on a cool concrete bench in his dead mother’s garden.
At 40,000 words, the rough draft of this novel is about half way through my plot outline. Hmmm. May need to trim a bit. I usually write short and then add. I’m not good at math, but even I know at this rate the story would be way too long.
Last month I took advantage of nanowrimo fever to try and keep up the momentum I established a few weeks earlier after reading Finish by Jon Acuff. One of his suggestions was to cut your goals in half, so at half done I feel pretty good about my progress. Except when I don’t feel good about it. Ha! Do you ever beat yourself up for not being as good, as fast, or as brilliant as someone else?
This morning I told my daughter I was a bit sad and depressed for no apparent reason. I wondered if it was because I wasn’t cranking out the high word counts I saw others producing.
Obviously, I was feeling a little sorry for myself and enjoying some sour grapes when I said, “Other people are getting to be all fabulous because they won nanowrimo and here I am still poking along.”
She said, “But you’re already fabulous, mama.”
We laughed. So much for whining about not winning. I guess maybe I don’t need to “win” at everything. As long as I stay fabulous.
Time for me to quit belly aching and get back to work on this novel.
Stay fabulous, y’all!
By the way, what do you think of the new mini book break reviews I’ve been posting? Do you like them?
“Mother,” Rain said, “did you really grow up here?”
Rain knew the answer to the question, but wanted to feel her mother out. She wanted to ask her mother what was she thinking and when could they leave, but it was better to not approach the topic directly. You had to take your time. Mother could be skittish and ornery, especially when her back was pushed up against the wall of unrealized hopes and tattered dreams.
“Yes, I did,” said Mother, letting the sheet she was spreading on the daybed fly out with a snap. It caught the air and bellowed before settling onto the mattress. She had chosen to stay in what Aunt Linda called the sunroom, an old converted porch now walled in, the open end graced with windows all along the backside.
“I have history here. So do you.”
If there was one thing that Mother had plenty of, it was history. Rain was a little too acquainted with particular chapters of Mother’s history, or at least her version of it, which seemed to be subject to varying interpretations and in a constant state of revision. History was not Rain’s favorite subject.
“How long do you think we’ll stay here? We need to find a place before school starts.” In case her mother forgot, she added, “And where you can get a job.”
Mother wouldn’t stay long in this kind of place. That was stone cold fact. It was much too tame and boring. It was no wonder she had wanted to get out, and the small shabbiness of the town also explained why she had never brought them back here.
“Why did you bring us here?” The question popped out before Rain could stop herself.
“I wanted to show you where I came from.”
“That shouldn’t take long.”
Mother laughed and snatched up a crocheted throw pillow, bopping Rain on the head with it. Rain grabbed it and returned the favor. Before long they were squealing and jumping on the bed in a full out pillow fight. They tussled and rolled, laughing until, exhausted and happy as puppies in a pile, they flopped back onto the bed, arms entwined. Doran Bea favored Mother in looks, but Rain could always make Mother smile, at least for a little while. Sometimes a little was enough. Sometimes it was all you were going to get.
Rain listened to the quiet of the house, and to their breathing, until the two separate exhalations matched up.
Her mother said, “I know what you’re doing.”
Rain kept her focus on the ceiling joists above her head. A string of spider webs clung to a crossbeam, and bits of dust were caught up in the construction, the edges of the sticky gossamer creation lose and floating.
“You don’t have to try so hard. You know I love you, right?”
The automatic, expected response tumbled from Rain’s lips, reassurance her Mother wanted to hear. “I know,” she said. “I love you, too.”
There was not the slightest doubt that her mother loved her. She told her so every day. But then, Mother always gave her love away easily.
Taking advantage of nanowrimo fever, I am busily working away on a brand new book, the third in a series. So far, I am liking this one. A while back I started a new and productive writing routine that seems to be working for me. Perhaps the atmosphere in the writer community will help me keep the daily practices I have established over the last several weeks. It can’t hurt, right?
Before I started on book three November 1st, I finally finished the rough (very rough) draft of my second book.
It was a tough one, but I did it. The subject matter was hard for me to write about but I am glad I did. It feels good to finish.
I sped up my writing quite a bit after I read Finish by Jon Acuff. I did a Book Break review of Finish here.
I read some good advice about dictation and realized I have not been doing it wrong and that freed me up tremendously. Tech still frustrates me from time to time, but that’s part of the package.
You might have noticed a few changes to the blog. I’ve been enjoying Instagram, and decided to post my instareviews here as well under the title of Book Break. My super awesome technically gifted son did that magic code writing thing so it does it automatically, if I remember to tag it properly. Tell me what you think. I love the nifty little coffee cups he put in the titles. I will try to post the longer book reviews from time to time, but needed to streamline things and spend more time writing.
Any changes in your life lately? Have any tips on how to succeed and make it to finished?
While I wait to hear back after submitting my first book proposal, I’ve been working hard on a second book for the series. I did a character interview for this second novel some time back. Skimming through the materials, I got that little heart squeeze of emotion. Here’s a peek into what my character had to say about herself.
“You are only as good as your last failure. I hate fake, but sometimes, a lot of times, I am that fake person. Most of the time. I don’t know any other way to be. If I wasn’t what they wanted, then no one would be happy with me.”
My heart already hurts!
I am, once again, crying as I write a book draft.
I use my phone and dictate my stories, quirky though my iphone is at recording, because it is small and portable. This isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do at the moment. I still struggle with writing by dictation. On the rare days that I find typing physically comfortable, words flow with ease. Am I the only writer who thinks through their fingers?
I am planning a series of three novels. They are not a continuation of one single story, but stand alone as individual stories of friends.The teen characters from my first young adult novel make an appearance in this second book. As the teens grow, paths diverge. For a time.
This second novel is a story about friendship, deep struggles, and learning to love yourself. This story is particularly difficult to write. My MC battles an eating disorder and poor body image, echoes of my own teenage years.
I got a pleasant surprise as I worked on filling out the plot for the second book. A character walked on for a bit part and took over the third book in the series! I love it when characters decide to show up almost fully developed. It only becomes a problem when they take over the whole story, but that’s another blog post.
Originally, I planned for the third novel to be the story of my aspie boy character’s foray into romance. Then his girlfriend came on stage and made the story her own. It’s the same story, but told from the girl’s perspective. Having a boyfriend with asperger’s makes her already complicated life, shall we say, interesting. Only the barest of a skeleton for the third book in the series exists so far, but it’s coming along nicely considering I’m not even supposed to be working on book three yet.
The day to day difficulty lies with the project I’m supposed to be working on. Isn’t that always the way? But I am committed and slogging away. The stories must be told and cried over, even if I’m the only one to shed a tear.
P.S. The first book dealt with the grief of losing a parent while navigating the ups and downs of the teen world. The family dynamic including a teenager with high functioning autism added to the story line. I cried buckets.
Are you working on any projects? What characters make you cry?
I was ready. My book was finished, revised, and edited. My book coach encouraged me to go to this year’s writers’ conference and make an agent appointment, so I did.
I bought shoes, got a bad haircut, and actually ironed clothes. This was serious.
Months in advance, I did the research and prepared myself to meet a literary agent or publisher. I wrote a one sheet, printed my first four chapters in correct format, and had lists of questions to ask for the ‘extra’ time left over after my pitch. After reading about the available choices, I listed three, understanding I would get one of them. Since I registered early, I would probably get the first one I listed. In case I didn’t, I continued to read online a bit about each person so I could easily bring up topics to chit chat about. Pleased, I realized I had plenty of conversation fodder. I had this.
Then I got there.
Things were going well at first. Arriving early, I had plenty of time to spare. I felt fine, if tired. Sleep had eluded me, but no worries. Instead of sleeping, I listened to relaxing music and did deep breathing to Paul Cardall’s Be Calm. Who needs sleep? I’d faced bigger challenges on less sleep and succeeded. I could probably even get a blog post out of this experience like other writers do, sharing wisdom I garnered from the meeting.
Finding out I had three appointments threw me for a sec, but no problem. I had planned to meet with anyone, remember? I was prepared.
Another poor soul who was waiting to pitch her book looked as if she were about to come unglued. I felt bad for her. I traded business cards with the other writers in the waiting area. We reassured each other that we would be fine. This wasn’t so tough.
My name was called. Even though I had done my homework, I did not recognize the agent I was directed to. After a few seconds, it became apparent this was the one person in the room who I did not have an appointment with that day. No problem. We exchanged pleasantries and exited the room. It turns out I had been confused with another Donna. No big, I didn’t miss anything because I was early.
My actual turn came. I floundered at the beginning, but I was sure to find my footing soon, right?
My brain emptied itself, thoughts completely scattered. My hands flopped around on the table as if I could gather those thoughts back somehow, but every coherent speck of intelligence was gone. Poof. I was tongue-tied, stammering. This from the lady who talks to people in the checkout line and has long conversations with telemarketers.
The agent was exceedingly gracious and kind.
I did not throw up or cry. I did not dump hot coffee on her. So that was good. As a friend told me, the encounter probably wasn’t as bad as a sharp stick to the eye.
I don’t know why I was so anxious, unless it was because my little subconscious was screaming, “This may be a pivotal moment and the next ten minutes is likely to have an impact on your ability to deliver the message God has given you to share with the world of suffering children and the timer is running right over there, numbers flying by.”
Now, I realize this was overly dramatic, but it was my subconscious whispering. It’s hard to reason with such a thing. Realistic Donna understands that my ability, or lack of, in any given situation is not capable of derailing God’s plan. I am simply not big enough to have that kind of impact. To place such importance on self displays an arrogant lack of trust and faith.
I made it through this rite of passage. No one was injured. And she asked to see my work. Maybe she will like it. All I can do now is wait and see.
In the meantime, I plan to trust in the process knowing it will all work out while I happily dig into my next project.