Tag Archives: Lynn Heitkamp

Dealing with Ghost Dogs: The Fine Art of Revision

31 Mar

by Lynn Heitkamp

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My writers’ group has decided that, collectively, we’re done working with animals — dogs, specifically.

This doesn’t mean we don’t love our furry friends.  Most of us in the group are devoted pet owners, and my own labrador retriever usually isn’t very far away from my computer when I’m working.

No, we mean fictional dogs.

You’ve probably heard the old saying that you should never work with children or animals and thought it doesn’t apply to fiction writers.  After all, we do most of our work in our heads, and with pens and keyboards, don’t we?  It’s not like we’re part of a live performance that can get derailed by a temper tantrum or an embarrassing scratch.  We’re the creators of our fictional worlds, and even the kids and the animals inside them are supposed to follow our lead.  Right?

Right?

Well…

Let’s just say my writer friends and I have had some issues with that.  We’ve discovered that projects that include dogs as characters tend to derail in very odd ways.

Our most egregious case of fictional dog misbehavior came in one of my own novels.  I had been writing and revising the project for nearly two years before I finally decided to print it off and let my family members read it.

The manuscript was riddled with errors, ranging from weird jumps in font types, to repeated chapters, but my family loves me and were willing to overlook them in their eagerness to see what I’d been working on in secret for so long.

And then came the evening when I was sitting across the room from my mother while she read my manuscript.  I was doing my best to ignore what she was doing.  I wanted her to experience the story on the pages, and didn’t think hovering over her shoulder, asking “What do you think?” every five pages would accomplish much.

But then she turned a page, and started laughing.  Out loud.

My heart warmed.  I fancied that there were quite a few amusing incidents in this story, and I was pleased to know that one of them had tickled another human being’s fancy.  I interrupted her to ask, “What part are you on?”

She laughed again and pointed down at what she had just read.  “He just reached down to pet the dog,” she said between chuckles.  “But the dog died in the last chapter!

Indeed.  I had committed one of the sins of cut-and-paste editing.  While rearranging the timeline of the novel, I’d moved an important conversation between my two main characters to a different point in the story, but I hadn’t remembered to account for all the changes that had happened between those two points — the most glaring of which was the tender death scene of said dog.  On my computer screen, scrolling up and down through pages, I’d never noticed the mistake, just as I’d never noticed my font issues or duplicated passages.

It has gone down in writers’ group lore as “the ghost dog incident,” and, though it was mortifying at the time, I did take away from it a valuable lesson.

Technology is great, but the human eye is better, especially when you’re editing.  Sometimes you have to actually have something in your hands to see what you’re doing.  Sometimes a Beta reader can save your story from a mistake that makes you cringe.

And some times, you just have to give up and say you no longer work with dogs.

~~~~

Lynn Heitkamp is the author of Thorn of the Kingdom, and several other novels on FictionPress.  She signed with Mandy Hubbard of the D4EO Agency in February 2010.  Despite her intentions, her characters still sometimes insist on keeping pets, but she’s learning to live with that.

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Exciting News!

4 Mar

Let The Words Flow is excited to announce that Lynn Heitkamp has signed with a literary agent for her historical romance, THORN OF THE KINGDOM!

We are so proud of Lynn for her hard work over these past months, editing and rewriting TOTK until it became a fantastic manuscript that was snatched up immediately!

Lynn is now represented by Mandy Hubbard of the D4EO Literary Agency. Mandy is also a contributor for Let The Words Flow, and we’re so glad these two were a perfect fit for each other, co-contributors aside.

Congratulations Lynn! We’re so excited to see where you go from here!

~~~

Lynn Heitkamp is the author of Thorn of the Kingdom, and several other novels on FictionPress.  She lives in Michigan, where she is a librarian and former journalist.

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Mandy Hubbard is a literary agent with D4EO Literary Agency, and the author of Prada and Prejudice. You can follow her at her website: http://www.mandyhubbard.com/, or at her bBlog: http://mandyhubbard.livejournal.com/

~~~

Soul Searching at the Start of a New Year

11 Jan

by Lynn Heitkamp

I am my own worst critic.

I’m forever seeing the flaws in my work and wondering how it will ever measure up to really great writing. Have you ever had the experience where you’re reading a passage that really speaks to you, but while part of your soul is singing, the other part gets depressed because you’re convinced nothing in your latest manuscript even comes close to being that good? Well, I certainly have.

It seems like every time I think I’m almost done with Thorn of the Kingdom, and print off a “final” copy to review for grammar errors and other minor edits before sending it off to an agent, I find something else that “needs” to be changed. I never realized how ridiculous I was being about this until I noticed I was changing things back on my next go-round of edits. I’d be flipping two words in a sentence one time, then changing them back to the original order on the next. In essence, I was writing myself in circles.

I guess I’d taken all that advice about not sending off queries on half-baked material to heart. I wanted to Revise! Rewrite! I wanted my manuscript to be perfect before I sent it off.

However, I’m beginning to realize that another thing they always say about writing is also true. There is no such thing as a perfect novel. Charles Dickens didn’t have one. James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t either. Jane Austen might have come close, but even she left us with novels that could have been improved.

As human beings, we’re all miserably flawed, and so is our writing. And so much of what is considered “great” is chalked up to personal taste and opinion. Trying to come up with a manuscript that is without fault seems not only impossible, but a tad egotistical.

So, I’m setting a new goal for myself in 2010. I am going to try and silence my inner critic when her voice becomes self-defeating. I’m going to query my manuscript because I know it has merit, even though I also know it also has flaws.

And, if all else fails, the next time this whole publishing dream seems hopeless, I’m going to pull out my trusted copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and realize I’m not the only writer who’s ever gone through this insecurity. She calls perfectionism “a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.” That’s a lesson I mean to take to heart this year.

Lynn Heitkamp is the author of Thorn of the Kingdom, and several other novels on FictionPress.  She lives in Michigan, where she is a librarian and former journalist.

Currently Reading: Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

Building a Readership on FictionPress

16 Nov

By Lynn Heitkamp

 

One thing my blog collaborators and I have discussed amongst ourselves is how unfair the favoriting and reviewing system on FictionPress can be.  It sometimes seems like the stories with lots of reviews are the only ones that anyone pays attention to.

Now, I’ve never read a story with hundreds or thousands of reviews that didn’t deserve the recognition it was getting, but I am sure there are also lots of stories out there that are absolutely wonderful and never generate any buzz.

In some ways, this isn’t so different than the publishing industry as a whole.  Bestsellers beget bestsellers, and it’s a lot easier for an author with name recognition to move books.  People who never set foot in bookstores buy titles from the New York Times Top Ten while they do their grocery shopping, then recommend them to their friends.

That’s great if your book’s on the Top Ten, but doesn’t do much for mid-list authors, who often get little to no help with publicity.  However, just as there are little things any author can do to promote their books, there are also a few tricks to increase your FictionPress readership.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m one of the lucky ones who has benefited from the FictionPress system.  I’d like to think that some of the reason my stories collected a lot of reviews and came to the attention of readers is that they’re interesting and written well, but I have to admit some of it may have been sheer luck or good timing.  I can’t make any magic promises about these tips and tricks, but I think they did help people find my stuff, and they might just help you too:

1)  The Summary Box is Your Friend — It’s not enough just to write a great story and come up with an intriguing title, you also get 255 characters, and 255 characters only, to tell potential readers why they should choose to look at your fiction.  Make the most of it.  Try to get the flavor of your story across as succinctly and professionally as you can; make it sound like a book cover.  Whatever you do, don’t beg for reviews or preface your summary with something like “This isn’t very good, LOL”.  You want your summary to entice readers, not turn them away.

2) Update Regularly — What stories are at the top of the screen?  The newest ones.  And they’re the ones most likely to catch the eye of someone who is just trolling the site looking for something exciting to read.  I can’t say it enough —  the more potential readers you have, the more chances you get for people to review or favorite your story, and that kind of publicity can snowball quickly.

A lengthy piece of fiction is almost always going to wind up with more reviews than a short story or one-shot.  But, if you can train your readers that you’re going to update your novel on a certain day or days of the week, the faithful will be looking for it.  I followed a pretty regular schedule while I was writing Thorn of the Kingdom, and I definitely heard about it if I posted late — which really is a good thing.

3) Don’t Tease — This kind of ties in to Tip #2, but readers won’t sit around waiting for your muse to strike.  They may love the first two chapters of your latest work, but if you don’t give them more story within a reasonable amount of time, they may never come back to it if and when you do decide to post again.  Sometimes real life or writer’s block intervened, but I always tried to keep at least a chapter ahead of where I was posting so I could keep as close to my schedule of posting three times a week as I could.  There have been FP stories that I have really loved that were left hanging and I know how frustrating that can be to a reader.  I never wanted to do that to someone else.  (This is the part of my review where I ignore the sad, incomplete statuses of The Beaufort Legacy and The Crazy Grad Student Who Thinks She Has Time to Write a Novel.)

By the same token, if your story’s complete, make sure people know it!  Make it part of your summary, so potential readers know they won’t have to wait to read the next chapter.

4) Be a Good Neighbor — Part of the fun of FictionPress is the interaction and the community.  I may not have responded to every review I ever received.  But I did try to respond to everyone who took the time to e-mail.  To this day, when I get an e-mail from FP saying I have a new review, I will immediately check out the author page of the reviewer to see if they’ve written anything interesting, or have anything on their favorites list that I might want to read.  You might be surprised at how much reciprocal reviews can add up!  And, the added bonus is, you get to read stuff that people who like your stuff, like!  Now that’s what I call social networking!

5) Be a Good Reader — Back in the days when I was really active on FictionPress, I wasn’t just posting material, I was reading a lot of it too.  Some of the stories I read were friends’, or from people who had reviewed my story, but a lot of them I found simply by browsing the site.  I tried to read and review as much as I could, because I enjoyed it, but I did realize a benefit from it too.  A lot of people I found that way, would review my story after I’d commented on theirs.  As I said above, reciprocal reviewing really does work!

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Currently Reading: Rumors (Luxe, #2) by Anna Godbersen

Welcome!

30 Oct

Hi, my name is Lynn, but I’m probably better known to FictionPress and FanFiction.net readers as “poohba”.

My biggest project lately has been working on a master’s degree in library and information science, but previous career incarnations have included stints as a graphics production assistant, a legal secretary, and a newspaper reporter.  I now work for my hometown library system, where I occasionally get to spend other people’s money buying books — which is always fun.

Like many of you, I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to have a book of my own on the shelves.  I’m not there yet, but I think I’m closer than I ever have been.  I’ve spent the better part of six years polishing Thorn of the Kingdom, a manuscript of a novel that had its origins on FictionPress.com and I’m about to enter the scary world of querying agents to try and get it published.

I feel a bit like Santa Claus; I keep making lists of literary agents and checking them twice.  The whole querying process has me feeling kind of intimidated.  I get hung up on Publisher’s Weekly articles about the health of the industry.  I dither over my book’s commercial appeal and what genre to submit it under since Thorn of the Kingdom doesn’t fit into any neat, little categories.  I keep wondering if the growing popularity of e-book readers means the death of my lifelong dream of seeing my words between two shiny covers.

Some of these worries start to sound ridiculous when I write them out like this.  I know I need to get over them, and I intend to.  Classes are keeping me busy right now, but I expect to graduate in December.  My current writing goal is to send out my first round of queries before the end of the year.

I’m sure I’m not the first would-be author to get cold feet at this stage and I probably won’t be the last.  That’s what Let the Words Flow is all about: sharing the journey to publication together.  If we can encourage, if we can inspire, if we can even say “Hey, I’ve been there,” then this blog is worth it.  So, welcome, and thanks for joining us on the ride.

Lynn Heitkamp

Currently Reading: Wicked Weaves: A Renaissance Faire Mystery by Joyce and Jim Lavene