Monthly Archives: October 2011

Fan Letter to a Write Star

This is the closest I come to being a crazed fan. It is not for a Movie Star, or Rock Star, but for a Write Star. This goes back a few years, so let me start at the beginning.

 Before I begin I must say that if you have not read the book Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde, I highly recommend it. Even if you have seen the movie, which was fabulous by the way, you still should give the book a chance. There are more characters in the book, which makes the Pay It Forward movement deeper and more far-reaching than they could accomplish within the constraints of the film. The ending is much different, but equally as powerful as theHollywoodending.

 I forget now how I heard about the book, maybe it was on Oprah, but I remember that hearing the story about what she went through to get published intrigued me (she actually got the movie deal before the book deal if memory serves). I bought it as soon as it was available and it is still in the top five of my favorite books.* I cried through the entire last quarter of the book which I had not done in recent memory. (This was prior to reading anything by Nicholas Sparks, which do it to me every time, but for different reasons) I was so moved by the story, I felt changed in a profound way. Such is the power of words.

 I did not have a computer yet, but I remember closing the book after reading the last line and saying to myself, “The minute I get a computer, I am going to find a way to let this author know how much I loved her book.” A few months later, when we purchased our first computer, the first thing I did was search for Catherine Ryan Hyde. I found her email address, and sent her a short note about how her story affected me, and asked her how she felt about the movie adaptation. If you read my post on my distaste for adaptations, you already know that I was leery of this one.

 Much to my surprise, she wrote back! This was before the instant Twitter communication of today, so I was stunned that she replied, telling me that she was okay with the changes that were made, and explaining some of them. She said that she hoped I would see it and let her know what I thought.

 Wait…she wanted my opinion??? But I am nobody, and she is, like, a REAL WRITER!

 So I did see the movie, and I loved it. (Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment? Who wouldn’t love it?) I recognized the differences from the book, but since they worked, and I knew that the creator of these characters was okay with it, I embraced it as a different entity from the book I loved. I emailed her again, to let her know. And then I read the book again.

 Flash forward to a few weeks ago. Now I have hopes of becoming a published writer someday, which was not even a fraction of a thought back then, and I found and followed her on Twitter, @cryanhyde. And guess what?

 She followed ME back!

 I shouldn’t have been surprised, as she was so gracious towards me years ago before she had multiple books published. But now she was way more successful, and I thought I would be lost in the shuffle of thousands of followers.

 One day I visited her blog and there was a contest to win a copy of her latest book, Don’t Let Me Go, which was not even available in theUnited Statesyet. High on my win days earlier of a bookmark and signed bookplate from Victoria Schwab, I entered the contest. Then I read that she had recently had a contest to give away an ARC of Pay It Forward. Oh how I wished I had visited sooner! I would have loved to win that!

 But instead I wound up with a signed copy of her book, and a cool bookmark to go along with it, which was even better. I read it in two days, and it was fantastic! Once again, I contacted her (on Twitter this time) to let her know how much I liked it, and we had a conversation about the characters. Once again, I was virtually speaking to one of my favorite authors. I could have continued that conversation all night, but I didn’t want to seem like some kind of deranged nutcase who thought she had nothing better to do with her time than talk to me.

 I couldn’t stop yapping about it for the rest of the night. The Husband was excited for me.

 I wanted to share this today, to illustrate how writers can connect to their fans through Twitter and other social media. We as writers and as fans, have an obligation to be nice to one another. Maybe not an obligation per se, but we should, because it is the right thing to do. The publishing world today relies a lot more on word of mouth than it used to, and if we can help each other out by Paying It Forward in the way of encouraging each other, and reading and reviewing each other’s work, it makes that world a little more fun to live in. Also, being able to communicate with people who have navigated the often scary and brutal business of publishing makes it seem less daunting to someone that is not yet in print. I am just one person who seriously had my day made by someone I considered to be an idol taking the time to connect with me. It only takes a minute, only 140 characters at a time, but it made a difference to me.

 So to Catherine Ryan Hyde, I say THANKS! And to the readers out there, I ask you to take the time to let your favorite authors know that what they are doing is appreciated. Write a review, tell a friend, but mostly, tell the writer.

 Even if you think they already know.


*FYI, the other four are: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving; Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, The Bridge Across Forever, by Richard Bach; and Left To Tell, by Imaculee Ilibigiza



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Writers on Writing

Every year, I looked forward to the National Writers Workshop in Hartford, CT. It was one weekend in April, packed with lectures by writers, agents, and journalists, who came to share with us their expertise in this business of writing. It was inexpensive and close to home so no matter how broke I was each year, I would put off paying the electric bill or something minor like that, to come up with the 100 bucks. I was going to the workshop. It was my one annual indulgence.

At the time, I had not even begun to write my novel. I was still just entertaining the dream of being a writer. But I loved being around 800 other people who had a similar dream. These were my people. Even if I didn’t speak to anyone, as I was both in awe of them and intimidated by them, I still learned from them.

Three years ago, there was no National Writers Workshop. It ended without warning and I was heartbroken. I had finally started writing, and I was ready to open my mouth and speak to these people, make connections, you know? But now, my chance was gone. The Hartford Courant evidently could not afford to organize this anymore, since no one was reading newspapers.

Recently I found my notebook from one of these annual conferences, and thought that I would share some of the insights that warranted writing down. Some of them are quotes from the speakers themselves, but some are quotes from others that they shared:

“Make your writing more compelling than the TV.” – Sebastian Junger

“Always retain the movie rights – you never know when Kevin Spacey may come knocking on your door.” – Ben Mezrich (author of Bringing Down the House, which was later adapted as “21”, starring Kevin Spacey).

“Boring things don’t sell.” – Tanya McKinnon

“Just waking up or about to fall asleep? Write it down. You WON’T remember it.” – Elizabeth Berg

“When you hear that voice telling you you are NOT a painter, by all means PAINT.”- Vincent Van Gogh

“Trying to write in a gender other than your own is like skating backwards.” – Toure

“Put yourself at risk…go to a place where you feel shame and embarrassment and work it out through writing. Also, write something fun. This is what pen names are for.” – Garrison Keillor

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“Editors and agents are looking for a reason to reject you. If they find a typo in your query letter, you are rejected.” – Ben Mezrich

“Every single day you wake up, your life gives you a reason not to write.” – Claire Cook

“When an agent speaks to you for the first time, they are assessing whether or not you are a psychopath.” – Tanya McKinnon

“I think I did pretty well considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.” – Steve Martin

“Always keep your laptop where you can see it.” – Garrison Keillor

“Really, just try not to get rejected.” – Ben Mezrich

I hope you enjoyed these snippets from my lost weekend! I will revisit this in a later post about how I discovered new books by hearing the authors speak at the National Writers Workshop. A benefit that has now been replaced by Twitter….thankfully!


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