Surrey, Stan Wakefield and Jacqueline Winspear

Yes, I promise I will get back to important things about the Surrey conference, but I am still meandering. Being a conference neophyte I imagined agents and editors ducking around back stairways and using secret elevators to avoid the stampeding would-be authors.

I loved the Surrey elevators. Of course, I have a long history with elevators. My two Cajun cowboys in DANCING HORSES regularly made elevator runs. These scenes involved them playing some rather horrible and creative pranks on elevator passengers. Elevators, to me, are a spawning ground for new material. I think next year I will even request a room on the highest floor I can get so I can spend more time in the elevator. As it was, Lisa and I were on the fifth floor and we spent a lot of time riding. I did more than Lisa since she was manning the tradeshow booth and meeting interesting people.

I regularly met Stan Wakefield on the elevator. He’s a very attractive, distinguished looking gentleman with beautiful blue eyes and spoke to me every time he saw me. He asked me if I was enjoying the conference so far and made other small talk. I’m the kind of person who walks by someone and smiles and says hi, but this surprised me at a writers conference. In grocery lines, I visit with the people around me, especially elderly people. However, I tried to rein in my country girl ways at Surrey and not appear too friendly lest people think I was invading their privacy.

Here I am, trying not to be a country bumpkin and talk to people who don’t know me so I don’t look like a desperate author trying to nab an agent or editor, and this man goes out of his way to make me feel welcome. Hmmmm. I was expecting agents and editors to be carrying vials of holy water, pockets full of wooden stakes and lots of garlic to ward off the blood-sucking writers. Instead this guy is making people feel at ease. He’s like a one-man welcoming committee.

Maybe he feels sorry for this cowgirl who has obviously lost her way. Nope, there he is talking to someone else.

All right. So one presenter is being nice to strangers. He has to be drugged or something. Agents, editors and famous authors aren’t supposed to be friendly and approachable. Right?

Well, it might have been a fluke, except it happened again. The first day, a beautiful, poised, and elegant lady smiled and said hello as we waited on the elevator. She asked me if I was attending the conference and I told her I was. She asked me what I wrote and I told her epic fantasy. Had I been paying a little more attention I would have mentioned DANCING HORSES and pushed the stop button on the elevator to pick her brain. Instead, I asked her what she wrote. She was a presenter.

Her lovely, British accent was as soothing and pleasant as a wonderful cup of hot tea on a rainy afternoon. I could have listened to her speak for hours. Instead, I got to visit with her in short bursts on the elevator or waiting for the elevator as she was staying on our floor.

I told Lisa that night I met a presenter at the elevator who was an author, but I couldn’t remember who she was. Lisa was very excited for me, but I spent most of my time, trying to figure out who she was and remember if I said anything really stupid.

Jacqueline Winspear, a world famous author, is being friendly with a nobody, wanna be writer? She’s written several best sellers. She’s supposed to be slinking around with dark glasses and a scarf covering her hair. Where’s her trench coat and running shoes? She’s supposed to have running shoes to escape the rabid fans and writers. What’s she doing talking to me? A nobody. Worse than a nobody. A nobody in a cowboy hat. Not only once, but every time she saw me.

Is this the way conferences are supposed to be?

I’m not sure, but if not they need to take some notes from Surrey.

I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t familiar with Ms. Winspear before Surrey. I’ve been away from the mystery scene for a long time, but her Maisie Dobbs books sound perfect to me. If she had been an erotica writer, I wouldn’t search out her books, but these sound fascinating to me and since getting a chance to visit with the author, they are even more attractive. She made a new fan. I will probably send a set of her books to Iraq as well. Mysteries are always fun.

Now, to be honest, I’m not much of a star gazer. I tend to think famous people put their pants on one leg at a time just like I do. Being a celebrity doesn’t impress me a lot. Having said that, I am intimidated about the idea of having to sell myself to editors, agents and publishers, so I have a bit of a split personality. I despise the idea of having to promote myself, but here are these famous people visiting and chatting at the elevators. My wall of resistance I had built up about talking to agents and editors was quickly getting torn down by their battery of friendly chit-chat.

I had an opportunity to visit with Ms. Winspear in a blue pencil appointment. She had an opening and I snapped it up so fast the lady at the table was afraid she was going to draw back a nub where her hand had once been.

Here are her comments about PALADIN.

Look for opportunities to build character and texture in your story. Use basic manuscript structure instead of the flush margin. Camera in like a director in a movie when you can. Clarify who is speaking. Watch the use of adverbs.

Gentyl glanced up from the smoky gray kitten, purring in her arm. (This sounds like she has the kitten embedded in her arm like a thorn. We decide cradled in her arm would be better. Every time she made a comment she got me involved in the process. What did I think about this and how can we change or strengthen this. She really has remarkable teaching qualities.) She continued to stroke the silky fur and grabbed at a tiny paw as he batted at the braid draped across her shoulder.(Camera in on the action of the kitten batting at her braid.) Kittens were the only animals allowed to trespass in her mother’s immaculate herb garden and even they were often shooed away if they started chewing on the plants. (Strengthen this sentence and make it more concise.) Yet there was Papa with his large farmer boots, standing in the middle of a lush green mass, and Mama too busy arguing to notice the molested mint.

(Check for the possible when putting together your words.)

Sunlight glinted again (delete again) off the silver (delete silver) knife her mother used for cutting flowers. A stranger would think she was threatening him alternately with a bunch of flowers in one hand or a knife in the other. (Rework this sentence.) Papa said she wouldn’t be able to talk if someone tied her hands. She was definitely talking now. The knife (clarify who is dropping the knife) dropped into her apron pocket and she reached out to grab Papa’s hand. He shook his head no, but his shoulders drooped in surrender.

(Use description to build character.)
They walked out to the middle of the barnyard where she was sitting without saying a word to each other.
“I’ve asked you to wear gloves outdoors, especially when you’re playing with the cats,” her mother said.
Gentyl set the kitten on the ground and took a deep breath, fighting to control her irritation. She stood and faced her mother, their eyes nearly even. “Petting a kitten with gloves on would be like trying to smell those flowers in your hand with a mask on, wouldn’t it, Mother? I don’t mind you using me to test your new creams, but this is insane. I’m just a–” She swallowed the rest of her sentence when her mother’s eyebrow shot up. She exhaled slowly from pursed lips and looked to her father, blinking back hot tears of frustration. “Papa, tell her.”

(Add umph to the girls character. Keep her speech patterns short and more like a teenager even if it is fantasy.)

“Tell me what?” her mother shot back. “That you want to be a Horse Guard with your aunt (end sentence here.) and (Delete “and” and start sentence with You.) you can’t even follow some simple instructions? Apparently you have no concept of what a soldier does, let alone a Guard.”

She snatched (up) the kitten back up (Delete back up.) in defiance. “I doubt any soldier has to wear gloves to play with a kitten. Use your own skin next time, Mother. Soldiers don’t need perfect hands.” She had to force herself to keep from screaming in frustration. “I just want a chance to ride with Aunt Khali. Is that so much to ask?” (Strengthen tension in this paragraph)

“You have no idea what you’re asking for.”

The kitten jumped out of her arms when Gentyl growled. (Find a different sound than growled.)

Her father put his hand on her arm. “Come on, Gen. Let’s go eat breakfast.” (Use this opportunity to build the father’s character.)

She resisted her father’s nudge as she planted her feet stubbornly (adverb) and glared at her mother.

Yes, and this is the chapter that has been rewritten until I am blue in the face, but it gives me an idea of things to look for throughout the manuscript.

I promise you, we will actually get through the Surrey adventures one day.


  1. Interesting post, though I rarely use elevators.

    It makes me wonder if I would have met any people running up and down the stairs, or if they all hang out in elevators with cowgirls.

  2. Justus, the problem with using stairs is you don’t have a chance to visit. If you stop in high traffic, like at a conference, you will get trampled.

    Besides, as I said, elevators are chances to observe people. That’s always a good thing for a writer.

  3. Julie,

    Did I not tell you how wonderful Surrey is? How intimate and friendly and welcoming? Hmmmm? 🙂

    The edit session with Ms. Winspear was fascinating to see. Thanks for sharing that.

    And I’m glad you’re back online again.

  4. Oh, Beth, everyone told me how great Surrey is, but I just didn’t think it would be that good for me. Then I openly stated I wasn’t going to do any pitch appointments or blue pencils, whereupon K.C. asked me what I had to lose.

    “Oh, my pride, my dignity, my lunch.”

    Yeah, well, I wound up talking to two authors, one editor and two agents at appointments.

    Wasn’t Ms. Winspear interesting? Of course, it makes me cringe to thing of going through 47 chapters that minutely. I’m anxious to get one of her books and see how she uses these techniques.

    As for being back on line again, phew, me too.

    I’ve been trying to get these chapters sorted out and saved to numerous locations today as I was warned it’s just a temporary fix. Unfortunately, my first haven, Liquid Story Binder hid six chapters, so I am starting over again. I hope to have all the chapters loaded this week.

    I looked at some refurbished laptops on Tiger Direct today and will probably buy one of those after the first of the year.

  5. Julie! You use Liquid Story binder, too? Is there anything in terms of user tips you could share? I’m still trying to get use to it; I’m feeling like I’m not really taking advantage of it.


  6. Kimberely, since I just closed it in frustration, I’m probably not a good one to ask. Lisa Norman loves it, however. She’s linked in the sidebar so you might contact her.

    It has some nifty features, but it’s just too chaotic between fighting the computer and trying to mesh all these bits and pieces together I scribbled out while I was down.

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