Surrey, Friday Morning

Back to Surrey. My third day there was actually the first official day of the conference.

I’ve watched conferences for several years and most of them leave me wondering if it’s really worth going because the agenda is fairly slim pickings for classes I think will be useful. Surrey was the opposite. It was difficult, extremely difficult to choose classes I didn’t want to attend.

We all clustered for breakfast. Lisa forgot her monitor and had to drive back to Washington to get it. The border guard asked her what her business was when she returned so she told him about the conference. He was very interested and asked if she was a writer. Then he asked her what her book was about.

She got a chance to pitch her book. She also made a detour to the store and bought some little boxes of cereal. Yay, Lisa! So, even though we had breakfast, we met up with the crew in the restaurant and discussed who was going where. I was very careful to keep my money under control this time, in case you are wondering. Lisa was still convinced I had pilfered no tips, but I wasn’t taking chances and tipped generously for my cup of coffee.

I had three classes picked out for the 10:30-noon session.

The Role of Self-Editing in the Writing Process
Speaker: Don McQuinn Time: Friday 10:30am
Tips on the ways you can improve your work from the inside.

Write the Good Fight
Speaker: C.C. Humphreys Time: Friday 10:30am
How to write great combat scenes – from duels to battles.

PLOT: The Events of Your Story
Speaker: Bob Mayer Time: Friday 10:30am
Best-selling author Bob Mayer will discuss types of outlines along with techniques for efficiently developing the strongest possible story.  From the exciting opening that grabs the reader through the escalating conflict to the climactic scene and ending with the resolution – the entire structure of the novel will be covered with emphasis on hooks, building suspense, and having satisfying endings.

I chose to go with C.C. Humphreys. He described filming something and the camel wrangler turned out to be an expert with a sling. So he learned how to actually use a sling for the movie.

Then he described a fascinating battle, apparently not fascinating enough for me to remember the name. I think it was the battle of Quebec. Chris went to the sight of this battle and hired a guide to help him climb this cliff the soldiers had climbed in the dead of night with weapons and packs.

You’ll never guess what the secret of writing great fight scenes is.


I was disappointed there wasn’t more about actually writing the scenes. Battles and fights are my weakness. Well, behind grammar, but that’s a given for anyone who reads my floundering on these blogs.

I still have no idea how to write a good fight scene, but I know it needs details.

I will most likely call the armor maker and see if he is still giving sword fighting lessons. It seems that is the only real way to handle this.

I also had my pitch appointment with Paul Stevens, he of the pleasant smile and endearing plaid. Unfortunately, he wasn’t wearing his tan plaid shirt like he had in the picture or any plaid shirt for that matter.

I thought I would be really nervous, but I wasn’t. I commented about his lack of a plaid shirt. Yes, I’m serious. Pitched the book. He asked me how long it was. I told him it was 165,000 words, but I had just finished Barbara Rogan’s workshop and was paring it down. I thought it would be 135,000 words when I got done. He nodded and said I was going in the right direction.

We discussed some of the plot points and he said I obviously knew horses so that was a plus. He nodded at my buckle, which was actually my son’s reserve champion bronc riding buckle.

I didn’t really think he was interested, but he handed me his card and said to send him a cover letter, synopsis and the first fifty pages when I finished it and he looked forward to hearing from me.

He was a very polite, easy to visit with man. I came away thinking he was just being nice, but was assured later editors and agents don’t invite you to submit if they aren’t interested.

Looking back, I probably would have gone with the self-editing class, but hindsight is always 20-20.

And now it’s 2:30 in the morning and I am exhausted so I am going to haul my hiney to bed and hope I can wake up early enough to do some writing.

One the subject of writing, I am almost done with one of the final chapters. I figured out a way to cut two chapters and condense some things. The result is an entirely different setting and some new characters, but wow. I love it. It’s a solid chapter with a good cliff hanger and leads very nicely into the climax.

All this means the beast is actually getting close to being done.


  1. Write the Good Fight sounds interesting. Did Humphreys say to include battle details like the specific names of weapons and armor, or how much blood flowed from particular wounds? Something else?

    I sent you an e-mail concerning conferences, but your spam filter probably caught it. Where do you go to find a list of conferences in any given year, state, etc.?

  2. Justus, per writing conferences. I’ve always tracked them in the Writer’s Market, which I buy every year. There is also a Shaw Guide online I think and Writer’s Digest has some listings I believe.

    One thing I would do is find out which conferences agents and authors you like attend.

    Pike’s Peak is a conference I would like to go to if I can arrange it. It’s in April.

    One problem with fantasy or historical is including the details in such a way that the reader understands what you’re talking about without making it sound like a lesson.

    That being said, sometimes I just add in words that might not be familiar and assume the reader will look it up if they are interested. If you do too much explaining, you jump your word count unnecessarily and it does start to sound like a text book.

    Chris described details like the feel of the sling and the sound as he whirled it above his head. He also described climbing the cliff and the feel of the loose shale under their feet. Details like that are hard to come by unless you can do physical research or find journals of people who were there.

    I was a little disappointed because I really came away with no concrete ways to improve my fight scenes. I’m already a detail disciple so this didn’t help me much.

    I think one thing that helps is focusing a pov in the fight. That makes the details more intimate.

    This is a question you might ask on the Books and Writers forum I have linked on the side. There are a lot of experts as well as fantastic authors there who are very happy to share their knowledge.

    I noticed in one of your posts you are receiving some rejections. If you can, it might be a good idea to take advantage of Barbara Rogan’s get acquainted offer. She will give you a good critique on your first 5,000 words. The first pages are the ones that make or break you so they are crucial. Plus, you can take the information she gives you and apply it to the rest of the work. The offer costs $50 and is money well spent. I am going to send her mine next week.

    Welcome to Julie’s world.

  3. That’s quite a reply, and you sent an e-mail response too!

    I’ve considered subscribing to Writer’s Market, so I’ll see what the wife thinks about that. Yes, you heard the sound of a cracking whip.

    I’m sure there is room for improvement in my first 5,000 words. I had hoped an agent would tell me the same, but that hasn’t happened. Hmm…

    Well, I’ll look into all your suggestions.

    Thanks, Julie.

  4. Justus, $50 for a good critique from Barbara is a bargain.

    I recently contacted her about doing a complete edit of Paladin, after my ship comes in, of course. She told me if she reads it and loves it, I haven’t gained anything. If she reads it and wants me to cut things or rearrange chapters, I am right back where I was before I started her workshop. At some point you need to fish or cut bait and she thinks I am there.

    She has more faith in me than I do.

    She did, however, mention the offer as those first 5,000 words are what grab an agent’s or reader’s attention.

    I think there are online sites with writer’s conferences that are free. Save your money for the critique. Also, as I suggested, ask on the Books and Writers. They are really good to answer writing questions. They also have a novels workshop if you feel you might need some feedback. You have to critique some other works, but the price is your time instead of hard-earned money.

  5. I’m not sure that three to four weeks of shipping it around to agents is enough time to decide whether or not the first 5,000 words of my manuscript are the issue. Do you think it is?

    I mean, most agents just want a query letter and perhaps a synopsis. Then again, those few that have read the first couple of pages haven’t embraced Time Prism (my novel).

    It’s something for me to consider. Should I critique my own beginning since I’ve read hundreds of posts and three books on writing since the last revision of my book, should I pay Barbara the $50 and see how a pro does it, or should I wait for at least one agent to give me some concrete criticism?

    That’s just where I’m at right now: working on book two and sending book one out and about to see what happens.

    I seem to have scared off any others who might comment here. Sorry about that, but thanks for giving me more options to consider.

  6. Justus, I don’t really trust myself enough for a final edit. I see what I think is there and that usually includes what is in my mind, but not on the page.

    Critical eyes give it that objective view.

    I wouldn’t depend on agents giving you the feedback you need. Sometimes they will, but that is a rare gift. Mostly, they just reject and you don’t know why aside from whatever you sent didn’t grab them.

    I took Barbara’s complete Next Level workshop and I am sending the first 5,000 to her before I start submitting so you can take that for what it’s worth.

    You have one chance to make a good first impression.

  7. I’ve been finding out the hard way that agents aren’t big on feedback. “It isn’t right for us at this time” is at least slightly confusing.

    I had several friends and family members critique my manuscript, but they are friends and family members. I suppose an objective, professional eye wouldn’t hurt my chances of gaining representation from an agent.

    I don’t have a link to the $50 opportunity, but I will start searching on Google and so forth.

    By the way, you’re quite a saleswoman/advisor. I’m almost certainly going to spend the money for the critique.

  8. Justus, I’m familiar with Barbara through the Writer’s Forum and talked to several people who took her workshops. She really is excellent. She has the unique perspective of a former agent and editor as well as a successful author and teacher.

    I will most certainly take her next workshop with my new work.

    And, like I said, even though I just finished her workshop, I’m going to have her look at the first 5,000 words to make sure I have all my ducks in a row.

  9. Gloria Steimen once told me “You can’t write in a vacume. You’ve got to get out there in the world.”

    It was great advice.

    So to write a good battle, I suggest signing up to play paintball for a day, or going to a self defense class.

    Trust me, the words will flow if you do.

  10. Hi, Kelley and welcome.

    I’ve actually spoken to a man about taking sword fighting lessons. He’s an armor maker and he teaches the lessons with both people fully armored.I’m just trying to resolve the knee problems before I do.

    I’ve taken a self defense course so that helps a bit, but my major battle scenes are still unsatisfactory.

    I appreciate the advice as it is very, very true.


  11. Julie,

    Sword fighting lessons sound like a lot of fun. I bet it would help me if I decide to keep writing stories that resemble traditional “sword and sorcery.”

    I imagine major battle scenes are more difficult to write because most of us have been involved in small conflicts, but not wars.


    P.S. Barbara has the first 5,006 words of Time Prism.

  12. Justus, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with Barbara. She’s very good at what she does and she’ll tell you exactly what the agents are going to notice. It isn’t always news we want to hear, but it’s news we need to hear.

    As for the sword fighting, I agree. I’m looking forward to it if he is still in the area. I’ll probably call him this weekend. Since he also makes armor, he’s kind of an expert on many of the important elements in my story.

  13. An armor maker? Hmph. You may remember a secondary scene in Dragonfly in Amber, featuring such a person, and his son. From years of banging metal with hammer and anvil, one of them — I’m pretty sure it was the son — had lost much of his hearing.

    Of course I laughed when she told me she was including this scene, because the father-son team had the same name as my dad and I.

    That said, expect no swordfighting lessons from me, Sassenach. [g]

  14. Justus, I got an email from Barbara and she’s having problems replying to you.

    Can you go to the link in the sidebar I have under the Write Stuff and go to her site, then go to courses and then to special offer.

    I will also send her your email.

    Good luck,


  15. John, I think that is so cool Diana has included you and Dad in the book.

    I have always thought it would be awesome to make a guest appearance in one of her books.

    That said, expect no swordfighting lessons from me, Sassenach. [g]

    Sadness. I really am looking forward to taking these lessons. The armor maker is a tall, good-looking redhead with a beautiful smile and such a sweet personality. He will definitely be making an appearance in Paladin. Not sure where.

    Evil Editor and his weredingo have finally made their appearance and I love it.

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