2016—The Year in Review

In fine, it was a bowl of mixed nuts. 

But as the Daily Dharma for today points out—there’s no need to be afraid of having faults because knowing we have them can help us to improve. It means embrace and learn from them. So what’s the fault here? Mostly wasting time.

On the upside, the grant writing classes from 2015 paid off. I received the 2016 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers. With the award, I went to Algonkian Writers-NYC Pitch Conference in September 2016. This is a conference, more like a workshop, that teaches what is/isn’t selling and how to write a pitch. Here are the three things I took away--1) a pitch is sales copy, not deathless prose; 2) keep it short, sweet, and simple because you’ve got about five minutes to make your pitch, max; 3) agents and publishers say they want fresh and different; no, they really want same but different.

It does help to be finished before you go out on the market. I seem to remember that lesson from graduate school.

This brings me to the downside of the year--I didn’t finish the novel. I did make progress on it. I did use a Writer’s Digest Advanced Novel course to wing it past an author/editor who’d never seen it before. He was complimentary in a technical sense, telling me I controlled language in all modes--narration, description, dialogue. By reading sideways in my instructor’s language and hearing a few choice comments from my section leaders at the Pitch Conference, I discovered the real difference between commercial and literary fiction. 

Commercial fiction will stand little to no narration or exposition in the first fifty pages. It’s got to be go, go, go and screw much of anything else except character. So yes, commercial fiction puts a premium on plot. I stand more to the literary side because I want to create setting as character and to set scenes. I like more exposition--backstory--because it provides/develops motivation and aids in psychological intimacy (if the POV characters are mindful in any degree). This said, there can’t be too much of this, so really I lean toward the mainstream. 

Knowing where I stand helps in terms of coming up with comps, which is very important in the pitch department. John Lawton’s my guy as is Alan Furst.

I didn’t get the novella done, either. Fortunately, that’s a separate task and a smaller one. It’s for a contest, so the goal is to get it done, polished, and submitted by the deadline of 31 May 2017.

So what got in the way of finishing these projects--besides my own lackadaisical attitude. That one’s first and foremost, but it’s the easiest one change. I will set an intention--to treat writing as a job and sit down to my desk every day, Monday thru Friday, 8am to 4pm. 

The other big thing was travel, most of it directly related to my writing. I did it in big blocks, crossed several time zones, and pushed the body to its limits. Whilst I enjoy going to new place and seeing new things, the actual act of travel wears me out, especially if I do too much of it back to back. 

In April I went to the PCA (Popular Culture Association) conference in Seattle with a friend. Crossing three time zones and an unscheduled stop in Bismarck, ND for a spoiled brat who knew she had allergies but ate the forbidden foods without her meds all because she was in some rebellious tug of war with Mommy (Now, there’s a story in there somewhere--Murder at Angels 37.) really killed the energy to write. Besides the conference had panels about all kinds of stuff I’m interested in--TV history, film noir, SF & Fantasy. The Game of Thrones panel did a good job of tying HBO’s hit series to medieval tropes that GRR Martin and HBO are turning upside down. Always helpful to see.

The travel really took off in September. First, there was Bouchercon in New Orleans (separate, upcoming blog) followed by the Pitch Conference in Manhattan less than a week later, itself followed by a day trip back to the Big Apple in less than week. This last was for a symposium at Columbia on EQMM at 75. I don’t remember much because the room was too small, hot, and close. I was trying hard not to fall asleep. But Sarah Weinman was there as were several editors who followed Fred Danay whose papers were given to the library, some of which were placed on display.

Half of October was dedicated to the Film Noir Festival (DC Noir, another upcoming, separate blog). Trotting up and down I-270 and the Capitol Beltway for almost two weeks and taking in 15 films in 10 days is glorious and insane. Blew my brain cells and exhausted my body. Thank God it’s only once a year.

Last and least was the North American Conference on British Studies in Washington, DC. I refuse to go to any of the big history conferences unless they are in DC, Baltimore, New York City, or Boston. If I can’t get there by train, tough. And they’ve become less and less relevant to my work. That said, the best session by far was the last one I went to--”Legacies of British Slave-0wnership” which was held at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture (part of the Smithsonian). The discussion centered on the creation of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership at University College London. 

The fundamental reason for LBSO? Deliberate choice to study the slave owners (who, where, when, and how much money involved), the unequal relationship between metropole and colony--white privilege and persistent Caribbean poverty--and the question of reparations and reparatory justice. (I’m not sure that last and the moral judgment and activism that derives from it are things historians should deal in. I think it taints the scholarship. Just tell the truth and get out of its way. That’s hard enough. Sometimes, Truth is better freed by the poets and storytellers that the analysts. I need to think more about this.)

As the LBSO will help me with Dr. Jeremiah Naysmith, a Barbadian slave holder, and Amington’s abolitionist stance, so will SketchUp--I hope--help me build my settings. I got the lowdown for this historical architectural program from Susannah Ottaway and Austin Mason in a session entitled “The Cornice and the Arcade”. It covered digital reconstruction to see how people used buildings in different periods. Tim Hitchcock discussed www.digitalpanopticon.org a website that should go operation this spring, 2017.

All of this stuff was at least researched related. The call from the hospital right before Thanksgiving sent everything off the rails. I haven’t seen my own work since then. Only now, after my mother’s death and seriously focused house clearance and repair am I coming back to it. It’s hurry and wait for the State of Texas. So whilst I am still here in San Angelo and I still own the house, I can use the time to reorganize and reprioritize my writing. 

This year, I will finish the novel my mother did not live to read.

 Copyright KG Whitehurst
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