Friday, May 27, 2011

The Not-So-Easy Part

Hello, Persevering Purveyors of Prose!

I finished a rough draft of the first book of  "Brother's Keeper" when I was still at Sears back in the late Nineties.  When I came to this natural stop, I picked up the manuscript, straightened the pages and then  stared at it for while.  What to do now?

"You should bring it to the Nova Scotia Writer's Federation!" someone at work enthused.  "I'm sure someone there would be willing to help out an emerging writer!"

I gamely took my little embryonic tome down to their offices, which used to be in a high rise on Barrington Street in Halifax (I understand that they're now in a well-appointed suite in the Seaport Market area next to Pier 21).  I remember taking the elevator up to their floor, going inside the office and speaking to a put-upon secretary.

"Hi!   I've written the first third of a book and I was wondering if I someone might be available to to go over it with me and possibly give me some feedback and advice."

She gave me a once-over as if I was about to start acting out parts of the book with sock puppets.

"Yeah, just take a seat for a moment and I'll see if someone's available to speak to you," she replied absently.

About twenty minutes later I met with a gentlemen who sat me down at an expansive desk and then took a seat in the opposite chair.  Now, at the time I was still just a skinny, shy, nervous kid and I really didn't have a lot of what might be called "presence".  Or "confidence".  Or "self-esteem".  So, when this guy smiled at me it seemed totally disingenuous as if he was barely concealing the thought: 'Well, let's hear what this twerp has to say!  It could be hysterical!'

"So, what can I help you with?" he asked, looking vaguely like the Cheshire Cat.

" wrote the first third of this book and I was wondering if someone could take a look at it and maybe give me some feedback or advice?"

"You said it's not finished?" he interjected.

"Well, yes.  I've got about two-hundred pages done..."

"Finish it first," he said abruptly.

"Um, okay," I stammered. "But I was kinda hoping that someone could read it and tell me if I'm on the right path and give me some kind of assurance that I'm not wasting my time here.  Maybe offer a bit of guidance..."

"No one is going to read it until it's finished," he barked, knitting his hands behind his head and leaning back in his chair.  "Finish it and bring it back when you're done."

"But, you see, that's just the point: I don't know if I ever will finish it," I railed.

"You will," replied the literary sensei.  "If you're motivated enough to write two-hundred pages, then you're  motivated enough to finish it."

Looking back, this was actually some pretty good (if not completely stone-cold) advice.

"Oh...okay," I managed, wriggling in my chair like a suspect trapped in an interrogation room with a busted security camera and only Vic Mackey for company.

"When I've got the book done, then can someone look at it?"

"Yes," replied the adviser.  "We can have one of our in-house published authors take a look at it.  Their rates are actually quite fair: $100.00 for the first two-hundred pages and then two dollar for each additional page beyond that."

I distinctly remember almost choking on my gum at that point.  The really weird thing is that I wasn't chewing any gum at the time.

"Oh, wow, really?  Yes, yes that's quite fair," I stammered.  I stood up and began to gather up my things like a madwoman in an attic.

For the first time, the Federation Commander finally started to betray a hint of concern that he'd said something wrong.

"Let me assure you that their services are invaluable.  Our stable of published writers will go over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb.  They'll root out spelling, grammatical, continuity and formatting errors.  They'll critique your characterizations, dialogue and plot.  It's quite extensive..."

"Yes,"  I said, leaning over the desk to repossess my ream-shaped baby, which was now sitting  uncomfortably close to the tin-plated Junta leader seated across from me.  "I'm sure it is.  Thank you...thank you for your time."

As I fled the office I could hear him calling after me:

"Good luck and happy writing!"

I clutched my book to my chest as I descended back down to ground level in the elevator.  Just when my fellow passengers in the lift were about to pat me down for nitroglycerin pills, the door opened and I hurried outside.

I couldn't believe it.  This "Federation" wasn't about fostering new local literary talent at all!  All it seemed to exist for was to act as a cottage industry for already-published authors.

So, after ten plus years, I never did go back to the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia.  Maybe it's changed.  Maybe it's better now.  I don't know, but my brief experience there really left a sour taste in my mouth. 

I went back home that day feeling quite depressed.

But not three days later I started work on Book II.  

EPIC   My Dad sends me emails periodically from the Writer's Alliance of Newfoundland.  Now these guys really seem to know the meaning of support and encouragement:

FAIL   Sci-Fi author A.C. Crispin exposes the bloodsuckers in the industry:

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