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An icon of current fashion, Beryl Shaw sits before me; a woman who claims writing is now her passion. We talk about her achievements in the past and come to the last five years (2005-2010), when her facial expression changes to a charged-up one. “I have discovered fiction writing!” she exclaims with high expectation. “It allows me to articulate everything I have in my head.” Asked what influences her imagination, she answers, “My entire life. Look at it! There has been nothing ordinary about it. Have you read Her History on my website?”

Although in college years, Beryl wrote French essays and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in French literature – today she writes English fiction. Her first book was in the genre of women’s fiction – a novel she pitched to a number of agents, none of whom requested the manuscript. “One agent almost asked to read it, but changed her mind at the last minute.” Not wanting me to receive the wrong impression, she explains, “You have to understand that although no agent requested my manuscript, that didn’t mean my book failed to sell. It meant my book was not read. I think people have the idea that writers send out their entire manuscript, when they first pitch a novel. That’s not how it goes. A writer follows strict submission guidelines, and in many instances, only a query letter is allowed. The Writer’s Market Guide states that an agent might ask to read a mere twelve manuscripts a year. That’s not a large number!”

I question her tenacity and ask why her first novel’s rejection letters did not discourage her from writing a second novel. As she sips her concocted green juice, she enlightens me. “The way I see it, the first novel is always a winner – whether it was read, published, or whatever. That is because the first novel begins a writer’s career. In the process, the writer learns valuable lessons about the art of writing, the art of pitching to agents and publishers, and the art of perseverance. With my first novel, I realized I had to stay focused on many elements at the same time – for instance, retaining characterization and integrating movement in time, while also telling a tale. Do you know how hard that is to do? Now having completed a second novel, it has become obvious to me that with each novel, come more lessons learned.”

Clad in a hang-around-the-house, frilly tiered skirt to her knees and a 2B Free grunge-gothic black top, Beryl puts the green pepper, chard, and Granny Pippin back in her refrigerator. “My second novel, the one we are talking about today – a psychological thriller – has been a different writing experience for me. For one thing, I haven’t rushed it, as I did my first novel that I now consider trash. At times, I have taken a recess to find objectivity and to study The Chicago Manual of Style. Each time I have returned to my manuscript, I have found blatant changes necessary.”

As she speaks of modifications, she explains, “Writing has a rhythm. When read aloud, one can quickly hear what’s wrong with a sentence or with a paragraph. The mistake sounds like an out-of-tune piano key.” She ought to know – Beryl Shaw studied classical piano for twenty-two years, in addition to everything else. Hearing her compare the application of musical rhythm to writing, I wonder how this woman learned so many art forms. Her answer is, “I’m a lot like my father; he was a man with many aptitudes. My website historical biography tells all about him.”

Looking around at her oil paintings that hang on every wall, I ask what she does in her spare time. “What spare time? For me, writing is slow-going, and the time required crowds out anything else. Also, I don’t go on career sprees. If I turn to a new form of expression, I commit to it.” She sees me marvel at her figurative paintings and her response is, “Yes, painting took me on a ten-year ride. But I worked large, and after breathing quarts of turpentine for years and years, it was time to quit.”

I ask what advice she has for new writers. “Don’t forget, I’m a new writer, too, but I write full-time. When a year passes, I have spent that entire year writing, weekends included. A year of writing for me might count for three years for someone else. Nevertheless, I have advice. When writing, it’s easy to get off course. I constantly remind myself that sentence B must follow sentence A for a reason. I know this sounds elementary, but you’d be surprised to read passages that writers bring to writing groups. Clearly, in some passages, sentences are in a confused order.”

“This same problem occurs when paragraphs are out of place within a chapter. I remember having a devil of a time with one chapter. What I finally did was print out the chapter and cut out each paragraph. With all the separate paragraphs scotch-taped to my kitchen windows, I plucked one-at-a-time and composed a new chapter that tracked in an improved order. For a problem sentence, I use an exercise of writing the sentence three different ways. Then I choose the best version, which is very rarely the original one. But for this exercise, I use the mouse and the monitor and don’t bother with the scissor bit.”

For a brief time, we discuss the slim odds of accomplishing publication. Beryl explains, "Oftentimes, agents avow the failure of a book to sell is merely because the writer has prematurely submitted the material". She notices my puzzled expression and elaborates. "Let me put it this way. A contestant on American Idol, after failing to do it right the first time, cannot say to Simon Cowell, ‘May I sing the song again?’ A writer has one chance to pitch a particular work – it had better be perfect.”

At the end of our interview, I test the waters this strongly motivated woman wades in and ask if there’s a chance she won’t pitch the novel at all. She sends me an Angelina Jolie look of grit from the film WANTED and states, “I didn’t do all this hard work to tuck away my novel in the closet afterward. I’ll pitch it until there is no one left to pitch it to.”


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