Friday, August 7, 2020

A Long, Fruitful Journey

Every writer's story is unique to that person, and that is one of the reasons I love to talk to different writers and find out how they got started, how they succeed and what they love about becoming a writer. It's one of the reasons I enjoy this blog so much, because i not only love to find out about the different books coming out, but I also like hearing those wonderful, individual stories.  Today's guest in My Writing Corner is author Barbara Kroon and her personal story touched me because I not only love writing conferences, but I have also always been interested in writing stories with a sports backdrop.  

 Welcome, Barbara! Please tell us about your road to publication and your new book

Trap Play. 
Writing and publishing turned out to be a longer journey than I expected. Soon after I began work on Trap Play, I began meeting with a writer’s group in Portland, Oregon. The group is small, four to six writers. We work on mysteries, YA adventure, memoir, and literary fiction. We meet every weekthanks to Zoom, we’ve been able to continue that schedule despite coronavirus. Group members are expected to bring five to ten pages to our meetings, and so I did my best to have new or rewritten pages each week. That pressure to produce and the weeks of “draft, critique, rewrite, critique, tweak” became my process for writing Trap Play. Once I felt satisfied that I had a solid first draft, each group member took a copy home and did a complete read-through. A month later, we devoted meeting to discussing the draft, identifying what needed clarification, what was missing, and/or what perhaps could be eliminated.

Once I finished the edit that addressed my group’s suggestions, I thought my manuscript was ready to get to an agent. The group had given me an idea of the steps involved in finding representation and encouraged me to attend writers’ conferences, so I registered to attend the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association’s annual conference in Seattle, and the Willamette Writers’ Conference in Portland, Oregon. To be honest, as I headed for Seattle, I was hopeful that I would find an agent and be done with that part of the process.

Silly me. Once I showed up in Seattle, it didn’t take long to see that I wasn’t ready. I had only the vaguest of idea of how to pitch my novel, I had no idea of how to write a successful query letter. The good news, the conference had great information on query writing and pitching. So just to gain some experience, I pitched my book. I got a few nibbles and some really helpful feedback.

I spent the next year editing and polishing my manuscript. And when the PNWA conference came around on the calendar, I signed up again. This time, several agents asked for pages. Ironically, an editor I did not pitch to turned out to have the most influence on my book.

Melissa Singer is a senior editor with Tor Books. Like the other agents and editors at the conference, Melissa gave a talk about what she wanted to see in a manuscript. She was terrific. Afterward, I approached her and thanked her for her great suggestions. “Send me your book,” she said. I said my book wasn’t what Tor published. She said, “Send it to me anyway.”

It took five months for her to get back to meamazingly quick considering she was receiving in excess of 300 manuscripts a week in queries. Her email comments were so thorough, it was clear she had read my whole my manuscript. She praised the structure, praised the villain, praised the writing…and very kindly, very gently, said my hero was boring.

Melissa Singer was soooooooooo right. The good news about fixing that boring hero was that I had written Trap Play in three points of view. So, I only had to rework the chapters I had written from my hero’s point of view. It took five months. And the result of that rewrite is a more interesting and complicated hero.

Year three and I was back at PNWA. By this time, I had a really good pitch plan and I knew how to make the most of the conference. In total, I pitched to five agents and to four editors. Every one of them asked to see some part of my book. During my pitch, one editor immediately asked for the whole manuscript.

When I returned home from the conference, I wrote “requested query” letters to the agents and editors I’d met and included whatever part of my manuscript they had requested, plus the extra information their company submission requirements identified. Once I was finished with those queries, and in case all nine of the conf people rejected my manuscript, I spent one day a week for several weeks querying other agents who were seeking suspense thrillers.

The PNWA conference was in September. In early December, I heard back from Ally Robertson, the editor who had asked to see my whole manuscript. Ally emailed me on behalf of Wild Rose Press, saying they were interested in publishing Trap Play but… The selection committee felt that the manuscript needed another touch from an independent editor (meaning not Ally, because Ally would be working with me at the press if they took the book). Ally recommended independent editor Tammy Jeffers, who did a splendid pass-through of my manuscript. When Tammy pointed out a chapter near the middle of the book which seemed to stall the action, I got the message loud and clear: drop that chapter. After all, she knew more about story than I did. I sent the revised manuscript back to Ally and four days later I had my contract with Wild Rose Press.

How do you come up with your characters?

The Ben Leit series was born out of my interest in football. I started out thinking I would write about incompetent officiating and the damage that players suffer because of it. I made a bunch of starts on my story which went nowhere. Then, finally, I took a different angle for the story. Think of starting the story as finding a loose thread on a sweater. I took hold of that loose thread and pulled. The sweater unraveled and out popped Ben Leit, his murdered father, and the question of what the killer was like and why had the killer had targeted Ben’s dad.

It seemed logical to me that the killer murdered Ben’s dad in order to hide an earlier crime, something where the threat of exposure might be serious enough that the killer would do anything to prevent it coming to a prosecutor’s attention. ‘Serious crimes’ left me thinking about the corporate messes I’d encountered during my law firm days. And the idea of a corrupt corporation left me thinking about the power struggles that can go on inside large organizations. And that led me to (surprise) a second protagonist: Mimi Fitzroy.

Two protagonists meant I needed to build a real contrast between Ben and Mimi. Where Ben is a big, physical man, suffering from everything life has stripped away from him (career, his father, and the possibility he’ll die in roughly ten years thanks to his head injuries), Mimi is tiny, exceedingly smart, and she has sacrificed an academic career to satisfy the demands of a father who doesn’t understand her, doesn’t appreciate her, but is completely comfortable with using her talents and abilities to make himself into an even bigger wheel. To make things worse, he is stepping down and putting Mimi’s lifelong enemy is his place as corporate CEO.

As you know by now, the villain is killing to prevent Ben’s dad from exposing blackmail, arson, securities fraud, and nearly a decade of antitrust violations… I needed a villain who was smart enough to commit the underlying crimes, clever enough to manipulate the people around her, and physically capable of accomplishing the seductions and fights the story required. That led me to the villain’s backstory, most of which is tragic and barely suggested in the book, but which was important for me to work through.

How do you come up with your plots?

I talked above about the connection the Ben Leit series has to my fondness for football. What may not be clear is that the Ben Leit books are not about the game of football, but rather, about the long-range consequences of head injury caused by helmet-to-helmet collisions. Those injuries hang like a ghost in the Trap Play story. Trap Play is about power, greed, and what it means to be a hero. The second book in the Ben Leit series (working title The Beek) is about revenge. Again, with that undercurrent of the impact of brain injury on the family of the injured player.

But not everything I’m working on is connected to sports. I’m also working on a literary novel.

The Truth of It (working title) involves three generations of a once-affluent family, a Ponzi scheme, and lawsuit brought by the victims of the con artists. Portia’s discovery of her husband’s lie about a Ponzi scheme and that he has lost all their money is like the tree falling on your roof. In the process of fixing your roof, you discover that the house has been falling apart for years. The more you fix, the more you find is rotten.

Chronologically, The Truth of It begins with that Ponzi scheme. But the arc of the story rides on the idea of deceit—how the deceit of the con game leads to a string of lies that damage three generations of a family.

Tell us about your latest book.  What made you write it?

I started out writing as a poet. One of the things poets do is work out their concerns on the page. Since I kept getting so annoyed with the officiating at our team’s games, like any poet, I decided to write around the subject and see where it took me. Writing around bad officiating led took me to a whole bunch of questions. What happens to the guys who are forced out of the football game (and their really, really big-deal careers) because of those head injuries we read about? What if one of those guys with a head injury discovered the loss of his career and even the possibility that he had CTE was not the worst thing that happen to him? What if someone he loved was murdered?

How did you decide on the sports background?

Add it up. (1) America’s sense of heroism certainly extends to its athletes. (2) I’m interested in exploring the ideas of heroism. (3) Sports are wonderfully physical and you need a sense of the physical in suspense/thrillers.

But as I’ve said, sports is simply a background for the action in Trap Play. The story focuses on the protagonists’ willingness to risk their lives in order to expose a murderer. It has something for pretty much anyone: a former football hero, a brainy computer geek, and a power-hungry former beauty queen.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

1.    In particular (and maybe first of all), read “Save the Cat! Writes a Novel.” The strategies and advice in those pages will likely save you weeks, months, maybe even years of wasted time.

2.    Read well-written books, including ones in your genre (if you’re doing genre writing). Then re-read them and pay attention to how the author has put them together.

3.    Attend classes or symposiums, and the nearest writer’s conferenceall those venues will help you get going and hopefully give you a chance to connect with other ‘young’ writers.

4.    When you begin your book, think about your characters and what they would do in a particular circumstance and why. That way, your story is driven by what your characters want and what’s blocking them from achieving their desires.

5.    Connect up with a group of writers who meet regularly. You can get a lead on groups in those classes, symposiums and conferences I mentioned above. And a word about writers’ groups: you will grow more as a writer if you steer toward groups that actually give you the bad news and don’t simply pour on the praise. It may be difficult at times to get that tough love, but your work will grow and improve because of it.

6.    When you think your book is ready, send it to an independent editor and ask them to give it a hard look. Consider their advice seriously.

7.    Don’t let rejection get you down. But do listen to those agents, editors, beta readers and others who talk with you critically about your book. Remember, your job is to keep your reader engaged.

What is you next project?

I’m mid-way through book two of the Ben Leit series (The Beek). When I complete a first draft (I expect to finish that first draft by this fall), I will let it rest for a few months and shift back to my literary novel (The Truth of It).

How can readers get in touch with you?

Here are the links to her books:

BUY: Amazon also available at NookKOBO,

Thank you, Barb, for being my guest.  Any comments or questions? 

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