Be Prepared — My Writing Journey

By Sherry Harris

In northern Virginia where spring has arrived in all of its glory

My writing journey is a long one but I learned some things along the way.

IMG_4390I went to my first writers retreat at Asilomar while we were stationed in Monterey, California. It was sponsored by the Cambria Writer’s Workshop — a small group perfect for a first timer. I signed up to read from my mystery featuring a gemologist. It was something like read the first five pages or for five minutes. I got up, faced fifty some strangers and started to read. I’d like to tell you there was a lot of applause, praise for my creative genius and people begging to represent me.  But as I read, I realized I’d brought pages of description and backstory.

I really can’t believe I’m going to share what is probably the worst opening paragraph ever written but here goes:

On Friday morning, the June sun almost blinded me as I walked downstairs into our shop. It radiated through the faceted glass of our antique front door. The walnut and glass door was one of two French doors from a mansion in Magnolia Bluff that succumbed to a mudslide. The doors were heavily damaged when we found them at the flea market in Fremont but we managed to restore them with a lot of hard work and good luck. The second door leans up against the wall of our office waiting for a chance to be useful.

WAKE UP! You can’t say I didn’t warn you it was awful. (If you ever need a detailed description of french doors, I’m your gal.) When I finished reading I said, “Thank God that’s over.” At least people laughed. Fortunately, they were kind, said I showed some promise. The keynote speaker told me I had talent (she must have nodded off during my reading) and would love to hear more of my rousing story about two sisters. Um, that’s not what the story is about.

IMG_4560After Monterey we were stationed in northern Florida. There I attended Florida International University’s Writers Workshop. It’s a wonderful conference run by the MFA Creative Writing professors and I kept listening, writing, and revising.

This is the opening from the same novel I turned in there:

Most of us go through life without ever being truly, gut-wrenchingly terrified. Usually we experience fear in little jolts cause by near misses on the highway, turbulent airplane rides or phones ringing in the middle of the IMG_4561night.

Not much better, but again just enough encouragement to keep me going.

Next came our assignment to the Pentagon. That led me to Malice Domestic, which is a fan conference, not a craft conference but it was a great opportunity to meet authors and agents. One year I checked in at the same time as literary agent, Meg Ruley. As we commiserated about our reservations being messed up, she asked if I wrote and  told me to send her my manuscript. She loved it and signed me immediately. Not — that was the fantasy version. I received a lovely rejection letter. Back to the drawing board.

IMG_4566Next we were stationed at Hanscom AFB outside of Boston. I’ve talked before about meeting Julie Hennrikus at Malice and how that meeting eventually led to this blog — read all about that at How We Met. I attended New England Sisters in Crime meetings and went to Seascape Writers Retreat. I kept working at the craft and the latest version of that novel goes like this:

I didn’t want to tell Camille her diamond was fake. I studied the necklace for the third time with my loupe, willing the damn thing to change. Maybe one of Seattle’s triple threat natural disasters–earthquake, tsunami, volcano–would occur so I could yell: duck, swim or run instead of what I had to say. I paused a moment, then two, but no luck.

IMG_4558When we moved back to northern Virginia I joined the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Like the New England chapter, their support and friendship has been phenomenal. I haven’t sold the gemology novel. I hope to some day. What I did was continue to work on the craft of writing. I met people. I pitched at every opportunity. I collected rejection letters — I have them filed by year. So when the chance to write the garage sale series dropped into my lap (thank you Barbara Ross) I was prepared.

23 Thoughts

  1. You’ve just made me feel oh, so much better about my decision to rewrite the opening of my first novel and do some other work on it before submitting it anywhere again. It needs work, yes, but thankfully, not a complete overhaul (at least, according to the author I was in ms swap with).

    Thank goodness we have Sisters in Crime, the Guppies chapter, and other chapters (thank you, New England) to guide us on our amazing journey.

  2. That first opening wasn’t as bad as you think it is. It all would depend on where you want to go from there. The paragraph indicates a book with a slower pace than we’re all perhaps used to these days, but that’s not necessarily a terrible thing.

  3. I can’t wait to read your book when it comes out in December! I think I have saved all of your Christmas card letters…they always told the happenings of your family with humor and a story. Xoxo

  4. The first one was a little clunky, but do I lack taste and discernment if I say that I kind of like it? I have an immediate sense of place, and already have a little idea of who the narrator is.

    My first novel opened up with a description of a sky. The vision of the sky was in the main character’s dream sequence. Win! Doublewin!

    1. Thanks, Martha! Maybe that is why I got a bit of encouragement! Unfortunately the description continued for several more paragraphs!

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