My Debut Novel To Take Flight!

1880s Arizona. Damaged almost beyond hope, Jesse inherits a bankrupt ranch. Survival comes at an inconceivable price: she must learn to trust the man who killed her brother.

That’s the logline from my debut historical novel, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON*. I am absolutely delighted to report that it will be released in late August by Soul Mate Publishing.

book to gull

 

After almost three years of querying agents, I participated in an event called SonOfAPitch, an event hosted by Katie Hamstead. I submitted a query letter and the first page of my manuscript, and wound up in the company of many other authors whose submissions knocked my socks off. Amazingly, I not only made it to the third round (where only 20 contestants were chosen), but subsequently got a request for the full manuscript directly from a publisher.

During that same time period, I also joined a pitch session at Savvy Authors, and received two more requests for the full MS from publishers.

Three fulls! After three years of traditional querying and Twitter contests, with never more than a partial request. It seemed impossible. Could this be my lucky time? I could only wait and see.

After reviewing my work, one publisher requested what would amount to a complete re-write of the manuscript, which I declined to do. But both of the others offered contracts; the first one for an e-book only. Now, I’m an old-fashioned girl and I like having a book I can hold in my hands, so I said no, wondering at the same time if I was eliminating my best chance at publication. But my luck held out and the third publisher came through. I took some time to educate myself on contract basics, and after a few rounds of questions which were swiftly answered, I accepted the contract offered by Soul Mate.

I could finally breathe. I had success! My words would be published for readers to peruse and (hopefully) enjoy. And I’ll have a book I can hold in my hands!

book girl grass hat

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This experience made something perfectly clear to me: it really is about taste. When one editor is looking for a complete re-write and another says “I love it!”, you’ve got to believe it’s about taste.

And the final “moral of the story”? There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Traditional queries to agents, direct queries to publishers, on-line contests, pitch sessions, self-publishing―they’re all great ways to get your words out there.

I feel now that I tried the agent route for much too long, but I know others who have had great success with it. I was just beginning to consider querying directly to publishers when the contest & pitch opportunities came along. Frankly, I initially thought of them as a chance to get my feet wet, hoping for but not expecting such great results.

So don’t let anyone tell you there’s a right way and a wrong way to get your work out there. Pick the option that appeals to you and give it a go. If it doesn’t work, move on to the next option. There’s a vast variety of tastes out there and somewhere, someone’s specifically waiting for the book that you’re writing.

I’d love to hear your experiences in publishing: what path are you on? what have you tried? what’s your next move? or have you already found success?

*Note: WHISPERS IN THE CANYON is the first book in the Donovan Family Saga. It was formerly known as LET THE CANYONS WEEP, and I’m absolutely in love with the new title!

#PimpMyBio for #PitchWars

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 2, 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 a mentor to work with me. I’ll start by telling you:

What I write: Historical fiction with romance—stories about a family of Irish immigrants who settled in the Arizona Territory. Right now there are three completed novels (two in edits), a “prequel” under construction, and at least three more planned. The story I’m submitting is LET THE CANYONS WEEP, the first novel of the series. (If by now this is sounding a little familiar to you, I did submit the manuscript last year, but it has been extensively edited since then and I believe it’s much improved.)

Why have I chosen that subject and time period?

  1. I grew up on cowboy TV and I really, really wanted to grow up 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 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. Family legend has it that his Uncle Sean 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 a third while 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.

Miscellaneous: 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 love story between two white, able and heterosexual people, 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 transgressor. 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? #OwnVoices? and an HEA? You’ve come to exactly the right place!

cat on book


What I’m good at:

  1. I’m a grammar nerd—that kid in sophomore English who completed the sentence-diagramming workbook in two days. 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 my meaning clear. 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 or plot. A few have stated they don’t understand the motivations of my male MC, though I believe that’s been addressed with the revisions I’ve done. I need to be sure that 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 definitely need 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 Fibromyalgia with 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 an occasional day or two. On a bad day, you may have explain something twice before it sinks in, but if you’re flexible and comfortable working 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 name 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 might not know. I might not even realize I was 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 10, 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 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. 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 also 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. 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!!!

Want to read about other PitchWars contestants? You can find other authors’ pimped-out bios here!

Contest News: DFW WRiTE CLUB

The annual DFW WRiTE CLUB competition is going on right now!

Choose any 500-word passage from your unpublished story or poetry and submit it before the April 31st deadline, and you could win  FREE ADMISSION TO THE DFW CONFERENCE IN DALLAS FOR 2016,  plus a professional critique of your work  AND  a $75.00 Amazon gift certificate.

For complete instructions, rules, etc., click here.

This opportunity won’t come around again until 2016, so enter now!

UPDATE: Submissions are now closed. I did get my three entries in, and am now awaiting news of the first round winners on May 18th. Join us for the fun of this March Madness style tournament!