PitchWars is not just another contest – not just another chance to snag an agent’s attention or improve your query, pitch or first page. No, on Wednesday, August 3, PitchWars is a chance to work one-on-one with a published author for two months, polishing up every page of your manuscript! The contest is run by the fabulous Brenda Drake and all the deets are on her blog here.
As a potential mentee, I’m pimpin’ out my bio to entice all the mentors any mentor to work with me. I’ll start by telling you
What I write:
I write character-driven stories with a literary bent, about a family of Irish immigrants who settled in the Arizona Territory. Right now there are three completed novels, a follow-up and a “prequel” started, and at least three more planned. The story I’m submitting is LET THE CANYONS WEEP, the first novel of the series.
Why have I chosen that subject and time period?
1. I grew up on cowboy TV and I really, really wanted to be a cowboy. Not a cowgirl – they wore silly skirts and sat sideways on horses. A cowboy. I was asked in school one time (I think I was 8) who was the greatest hero in American history, and I answered “Roy Rogers”. The hard-core Knight of the Range and the literature of that time, that place – both live deep inside me.
2. My father’s family were Irish immigrants. Legend has it that his Uncle Jack was chased out of Ireland by the Black & Tans, escaping by the skin of his teeth. Several years ago, I realized that my Irish ancestors from County Clare had to have lived through the worst of the Irish Famine (An Gorta Mor), a disaster that cut Ireland’s population by at least one-third while Irish-grown food was exported to England at astronomical rates. I felt compelled to tell the stories of the survivors – the ones who somehow held body and soul together, managed to live through it, and found a way to prosper.
3. On my mother’s side, I’m descended from the Lenape Nation, so I’ve spent my life absorbing Native American history and customs.
I’ve created a diverse village in the Arizona Territory called “White’s Station”, named for a real river in AZ. While LET THE CANYONS WEEP is the story of two (well, actually three) white, able and heterosexual people, one has been severely abused, and there are several citizens of other ethnicities and abilities with whom they interact. Some of my later manuscripts feature these villagers as MCs.
I write in the third person multiple POV. My style is literary (some say lyrical **blushes**), but my content is commercial.
Trigger Warnings: rape/murder; physical abuse; rape/incest. All of these occur before the story opens and are presented without graphic violence, and treated with respect and empathy for the victims and/or survivors, and no sympathy/excuses for the transgressors. Within the novel, there is an unwanted pregnancy, a stillborn baby, and depression.
That being said, LET THE CANYONS WEEP is a story about the resilience of the human spirit and there is most definitely an HEA (and no, not the kind that says, “See, he loves her – so now she’s okay.”)
So, you want dark secrets? angst? guilt? shame? romance that’s tender? and an HEA? You’ve come to exactly the right place!
What I’m good at:
1. I’m a grammar nerd – that kid in sophomore English who completed the sentence-diagramming workbook in two weeks. I have a love affair with the Oxford Comma (my husband understands there’s nothing he can do about that); I’m quite fond of the em-dash, the colon and the semi-colon, though I hate to see any of them used to do the comma’s job. I’ve also coached a couple of ESL novelists in English grammar and sentence construction.
2. I enjoy the judicious use of adverbs, adjectives and dialogue tags. I have a vast vocabulary, but know how to make the complex simple. I believe that any word can be used as long as it fulfills the sentence’s needs; as a reader I’m always looking to expand my vocabulary, and expect my readers to want the same.
Soooo… if you’re a staunch proponent of the “Heming-Way”, or otherwise totally opposed to any of the above, I’m probably not the right mentee for you. But if you enjoy the unparalleled grace of the English language, please… read on…
What I’m looking for:
1. About one-third of the professional feedback I’ve gotten states “I didn’t connect,” whether with characters, setting or plot. A few have said they don’t understand the motivations of my male MC. I need help making people feel connected to the story I have to tell and the characters therein.
2. This book explores the inner workings of a large Irish-American clan. There are scenes that advance the family dynamics while not necessarily moving the plot along, and at times provide much-needed comic relief. My critique partners and Beta readers are split on these scenes: three say they’re “dead zones” and should be cut; three find them enjoyable and want even more; and the last wants me to scrap the whole book and write a shoot-em-up. I need professional feedback on this issue.
3. I’ve gone as far as I can to eliminate “telling”, but I wonder if it’s far enough. This has always been the hardest thing for me, and perhaps I can’t see the forest for the trees.
4. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which has the added benefit of “brain fog” on occasion. (I always feel I should say “CFS has me”, because it otherwise infers that I could, if I wanted to, throw it away like an old pair of shoes.) Anyhow, I need to have deadlines with some wiggle room – not in terms of weeks, but a day or two occasionally. On a bad day, you may have explain something twice before it sinks in, but if you’re flexible and comfortable with doing our work by e-mail and/or scheduled phone calls, I can bull my way through the problem days.
What I will/won’t do to get there:
1. I’m a perfectionist. I sometimes sweat the tiny details to the detriment of the “big picture”. I believe I’ve done everything in my power to make this manuscript the best it can be and I’m still not getting the response rate I want. So I’m willing to listen to any advice that will get me closer to my goal of traditional publication.
2. That’s not to say I’m a pushover. I won’t compromise my vision for the novel, but I will work – and work hard – wherever necessary, to create compromises we can both live with.
3. I will consider and appreciate every single bit of feedback you offer, even if it’s harsh, but
4. I won’t scrap the whole thing and write a shoot-em-up!
In conclusion, here are a few things about
Who I am:
1. Gifford MacShane is my pen name, but you can call me “Giff” (many do). It’s comprised of a family surname and a loose translation of “descended from John.” There are three important men with that name in my family: my grandfather, John Patrick Sr; my uncle, John Patrick Jr.; and my father, John Francis.
2. I’m addicted to traditional folk music, including Irish, American, Appalachian, cowboy songs, and African-American spirituals. I’m often singing or humming… anywhere, really, or any time… but if you were to ask me what the song is, I probably wouldn’t know as I might not even realize I’m singing. I’m a typical Irish soprano: if you like the Celtic Women sound, you’d like my voice. There are many snippets of traditional music contained in my works: life without music would be just too hard to bear.
3. My first library was a Book-Mobile. My grandmother lived in a tiny hamlet called Herbertsville (now part of Brick Township NJ, if you ever find yourself out that way), and my sister and I would visit her for 2 weeks every summer. The Book-Mobile came every week and parked at the village grocery store. Granny (pronounced “Grah-nee”, emphasis on the first syllable) would bring us to pick up books for my bed-ridden grandfather, who read voraciously.
Tired of kids’ books by the time I was 11, I asked the librarian to recommend something, and thus became acquainted with The Virginian by Owen Wister. Slam! Bam!! hooked on Westerns as a literary form. As a result, I read through my father’s entire collection of Zane Grey novels by the end of that summer, and still have and read those wonderful books. (If you think all there is to Zane Grey is shoot-em-ups, let me recommend The Vanishing American, The Shepherd of Guadalupe, The Light of Western Stars, or Riders of the Purple Sage. Read one and experience the depth of characterization – I’ll bet you get hooked, too!)
4. I won a puppy at the school fair when I was 12. I don’t know who was more surprised – me or my father! I do know who was happier.
5. Because of my fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, theaters are too cold for me; the last movie I viewed within one was The Search for Spock. Yes, I’m a Trekkie – one of the originals – saw them all before they were re-runs. Now, I watch limited TV, and in fact lived for over 6 years without one. The only shows I make sure to see are The Daily Show and Major Crimes. I usually record them and watch them later. I love black & white movies, and anything starring Katherine or Audrey Hepburn, or Vivien Leigh. I love to see Lucille Ball in a dramatic role, don’t think much of slap-stick comedy or spoofs. I also enjoy cooking shows and TV talent competitions, as well as Yankees baseball.
6. I read every day, averaging 3 books a week. In addition to #HF and #HR, I enjoy mysteries, especially vintage noir, Dick Francis & J. D. Robb. There are over 2,000 books in my personal library. Books I read recently that I considered “GREAT” were The Time Between by Karen White, and What Boys Are Made Of by S. Hunter Nisbet. I highly recommend both.
7. I love Sudoku, but no matter how easy I find Levels 1, 2 & 4 – and I occasionally breeze through the Challenger level as well – I just can’t seem to solve the mystery of Level 3. And I love those puzzles where you have to find the hidden word after you’ve crossed off all the used letter clues.
And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know. But if you’re still interested – please, Mentors, pick me for #PitchWars!!!