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?
in college years, Beryl wrote French essays
and earned a Bachelors Degree in French
literature today she writes English fiction.
Her first book was in the genre of womens
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
didnt 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. Thats
not how it goes. A writer follows strict submission
guidelines, and in many instances, only a query
letter is allowed. The Writers Market
Guide states that an agent might ask to
read a mere twelve manuscripts a year. Thats
not a large number!
question her tenacity and ask why her first
novels 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 writers 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.
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 havent 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.
she speaks of modifications, she explains, Writing
has a rhythm. When read aloud, one can quickly
hear whats 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, Im
a lot like my father; he was a man with many
aptitudes. My website historical biography tells
all about him.
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 dont 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.
ask what advice she has for new writers. Dont
forget, Im 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, its 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 youd
be surprised to read passages that writers bring
to writing groups. Clearly, in some passages,
sentences are in a confused order.
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 dont bother with the scissor
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.
the end of our interview, I test the waters
this strongly motivated woman wades in and ask
if theres a chance she wont pitch
the novel at all. She sends me an Angelina Jolie
look of grit from the film WANTED and
states, I didnt do all this hard
work to tuck away my novel in the closet afterward.
Ill pitch it until there is no one left
to pitch it to.