Interview Transcripts

Elizabeth Guy: Readingwriters and The Verb 6/12/08



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello all!

Welcome to our Professional Connection interview. I am so pleased to have Elizabeth Guy as my guest.

Elizabeth Guy's poetry, articles, quizzes and short stories have been published in newspapers, anthologies, calendars, magazines such as Woman's World, Writer's Digest, Writer's Digest Guide, Start Writing Now! and Byline as well as online publications such as Absolute Write, Writing, Etc., NAWW, Flashing in the Gutters, and Mouth Full of Bullets.

I discovered her when I stumbled onto The Verb, a wonderful ezine for writers. And I was fascinated! I had to 

find out just how this came about and why!

So, Elizabeth, welcome! I'm so pleased to have you here tonight!

Elizabeth Guy

Thanks so much for asking me, Mary.

rae

Elizabeth, your contest is going to have a lot of LR students and alumni entering it. It is good to meet you. Thanks for coming.

Mary Rosenblum

Yeah, I think you're now a household word around here, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Guy

Ha! I like that!

Mary Rosenblum

Good! J  We aim to please!

So let's start at the beginning, which is where I always like to start! When and how did you start writing?

Elizabeth Guy

I've been writing since I was ten. 

Poetry, mostly, but later on, I began to read many romances and thought I could write one of those .

And I realized that fiction was my forte.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, cool! Did you go on to write those romances?

Elizabeth Guy

Yes, several. A few were later published in romance magazines, many were discarded.

Mary Rosenblum

It sounds as if you're another short story writer, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Guy

LOVE short stories!

Mary Rosenblum

Me, too. My first love, although I do write novels, too.

Elizabeth Guy

Shot stories requires a great deal of editing, and I like the challenge.

Mary Rosenblum

Me, too. I think they're harder than novels, actually, even if they include fewer words.

Elizabeth Guy

This is true. You don't have as many words to work with, so every one counts 

and the characters, and the conflict, have to shine from page one.

Mary Rosenblum

Absolutely. Which is why I'm always encouraging novice writers to do short form  especially flash fiction challenges.

So tell us about ReadingWriters and The Verb. How did all this come about?

Elizabeth Guy

ReadingWriters was actually created out of frustration…

I'd hired some editors to analyze my work, and had gotten disappointing responses 

They were very good at pointing out where I had broken the rules, but didn't show me how to restructure the story. 

One even told me she had no idea how to revise it. 

Well, this wasn't helpful.

So I hired twelve readers/writers to read my entire manuscript and write an opinion of it. 

The results were eye-opening! I figured maybe such a service could help other struggling writers as well .

So ReadingWriters was born. By the way, that first novel was horrible, but now I know why.

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, what an impressive start!!! And what a lesson. 

(don't hire editors to deal with your work, ask other writers to read it!!!).

rae

Was it expensive to hire readers/writers to read your manuscript? Is it a practical thing to do?

Elizabeth Guy

I think it really depends on how much you're willing to pay.

Many writing groups will read portions of your work for free. 

Other prefer to have someone spend time with the entire thing.

That costs time and money, but it's INVALUABLE!

Mary Rosenblum

So what came first? Readingwriters?

Elizabeth Guy

Yes, ReadingWriters was online for a year 

when I realized I needed to start a newsletter. 

It was an advertising tool, really. But I didn't want it to look like all the other newsletters  .

I mean, there are so many excellent writing newsletters out there already that cover all the good stuff 

and I didn't want to simply repeat what they published. So I thought "bite size" pieces of info, along with historical tidbits 

.

(I'm a history buff) might interest readers and make them proud of their profession.

Mary Rosenblum

I love your format, actually. Those bite sized bits of information are much easier to digest and remember than a huge, multipage newsletter with lots of 'in depth' articles.

And it's fun!

Elizabeth Guy

Thank you! And they're more fun to write!

Mary Rosenblum

For those who might not have visited it, can you summarize what you include in a typical issue of The Verb for us?

Elizabeth Guy

I usually start with a theme or a genre .

I then research those writers who have excelled in that area 

so you get a Moment in History that tells the history of a top selling book and

you get a current author who tells you what's on her desk  .

You get a quiz, a sample of writing excellence and of course, Professor Write-A-Lot who answers all writing questions.

Mary Rosenblum

I love Professor Write-A-Lot. J  Are you his voice?

Elizabeth Guy

That's top secret. If I tell you, I'll have to kill you.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, oh  my dog would be so unhappy if I couldn't feed her dinner, so I'd better let it pass!

But he's delightful and has good answers, too.

rae

Is it better to get an opinion of your writing, or an edit? How many people do it to one manuscript?

Elizabeth Guy

I'll tell him. And oh, I love dogs!

Our Opinions are by far the most popular 

They're very thorough, polite and honest. 

We don't patronize our clients or insult their intelligence. If something's wrong, we say so. But we also immediately offer a suggestion. 

My Motto: Never point out a flaw unless I can offer a solution.

Mary Rosenblum

Good for you! Personally, my feeling is that if the critiquer can't offer some sort of solution, then he/she really should not consider himself/herself an expert.

Elizabeth Guy

Amen, sister!

Mary Rosenblum

That's the basic tenet for teaching. If there's a better way to do it, point it out. Don't just say 'this is wrong'.

paulab

What is the website for The Verb e-zine?

Elizabeth Guy

And a writer will never learn unless someone points it out.

Mary Rosenblum

Exactly.

Elizabeth Guy

The address is: http://www.readingwriters.com/TheVERB.htm

Mary Rosenblum

So do you offer opinions on and edit all genres?

Elizabeth Guy

Yes, we have Readers from all genres 

Sometimes they might be knee-deep in a project and unavailable for a few weeks or months 

Elizabeth Guy

but since we're all readers, we can provide thoughtful feedback for any genre.

charie'

If there are numerous problems, do you have a hierarchy of which ones you help them with first?

Elizabeth Guy

Good question.

First, I read the entire manuscript 

I then go back and note the problems, chapter by chapter ,

which deals with character, conflict and flow. What is this story about? Who is the main character? What does he or she want? Are these answered in the first chapter? 

If not, I tackle them all, one by one, and provide detailed solutions  .

Overall, I wind up reading a manuscript three times.

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, that's thorough, Elizabeth. I'm impressed. And time consuming.

This is a for-fee read, right?

Elizabeth Guy

I love to read. So that helps.

 

Yes. The VERB is free. We give a free article with each subscription and I happily answer all writing questions for free. But I don't read manuscripts for free.

Mary Rosenblum

I would hope not! That is a lot of time and expertise.

Mary Rosenblum

What do you charge for that service?

Elizabeth Guy

The fees are listed on the website. But, say, for a manuscript up to 70,000 words, the fee is $300

Mary Rosenblum

That's very reasonable.

Editorial and reading fees can be much higher.

paulab

Do you have other people helping with the reading?

Elizabeth Guy

Yes, Paulab, we now have 19 active readers.

rae

How did you come up with the name The VERB?

Elizabeth Guy

Rae, it came from the same train of thought of "bite size" pieces. I wanted something short, sweet and active.. Hey, that's a verb!

Mary Rosenblum

And verbs are such an under used and powerful tool it really fits.

Elizabeth Guy

Yes, verbs are good.

rae

How often do you come up with contests?

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, do tell folk about your contests.

Elizabeth Guy

We host quarterly contests. I think all writers love a challenge, and we try to offer that. 

They're all about stretching the imagination. 

It's also a challenge to choose a winner. These entries are brilliant! 

Most have no fees. And the prize usually consists of , publication in The VERB, one Opinion of the winning story and a signed book.

Our First Chapter Contest  '

where we offered three Opinions for each entry, was a huge hit for a while 

but now everyone seems to be hosting a similar contest. We may phase out that one.

Mary Rosenblum

You just set a trend, that's all! :-)

Elizabeth Guy

Ha!

Mary Rosenblum

Do you have a committee of judges? Who makes the final decision?

Elizabeth Guy

Sometimes, I have other ReadingWriters as judges. Sometimes, it's only moi.

Mary Rosenblum

I hope you keep the contests going. :-)

Elizabeth Guy

Yes, indeedy!

The contest page is our most popular page!

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, I bet! And I noticed that you tell people what music you're listening to as you do the newsletter. How come?

Elizabeth Guy

Well, I realized early on that I write better when I have music playing in my ears  .

It sets the mood and transport me into the story. 

I also do it when I'm editing The VERB, writing Opinions or proofing something.

And I thought it would be fun to post it on each VERB in case the reader wanted to listen to the same music. We could bond over the Internet. Ahhhh!

Mary Rosenblum

I found that very interesting. When my sons were young, music was my 'office' since I write in the main room. And to this day, I can still recall the music I was listening to when I wrote certain early stories. I love the bonding concept!

paulab

I write better with music also, I thought I was crazy.

Elizabeth Guy

Join the crazy club, paulab!

Mary Rosenblum

Do you do a print version of The Verb at all? Or is it just online?

Elizabeth Guy

Only online. We're asked this a lot, but it would cost way too much money to produce a print copy: ink, paper, postage. And the dancing bear. (He'd turn the pages for you.)

Mary Rosenblum

But you are doing a book of Mush Pump and Ice Noodle right? And now, of course, you have to tell us how this duo originated! I love them.

Elizabeth Guy

This goes back to that first novel. The one that was sooo bad. 

The lead character was emotionally withdrawn. He had a tender heart that wanted to articulate feelings, but the defensive brain blocked all data that might cause pain. 

Which left him with inner dialogue. So I had a lot of scenes with a tender sentimental Mush Pump arguing with the cold logical Ice Noodle. 

Problem was, these two jabbering organs took over the story and oh, it was a mess. 

But when I started The VERB, I thought it would be fun to crawl inside a fiction writer's head and watch the process of creating a story out of thin air .

Which should rule? Logic or emotion? So I resurrected Mush Pump and Ice Noodle and put them to work.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, I am ROLLING on the floor about your poor main character! So was this SF, or romance that just sounds like SF in your retelling?

Haven't we all done this  ?

Elizabeth Guy

It was a romance, if you can believe it. Bad, bad.

Mary Rosenblum

Everybody has to write that really baaaad first book. I did, too!

Elizabeth Guy

Yes, I think it naturally makes us better. .

I still have a copy of that manuscript, but I can't bear to read it.

Mary Rosenblum

There's a premise that everybody has to write a million words before they start writing good fiction. I tend to believe that's the case.

Elizabeth Guy

I read one writer, can't remember the name, who said, ""Every writer must write TEN YEARS before he can write a novel."

Mary Rosenblum

I don't know about time  .maybe it took him ten years to write his million words is all. J

Elizabeth Guy

Maybe. Poor fella.

tory

The artwork on the sites is great, but doesn't appear to be signed. Are you the artist?

Elizabeth Guy

No, tory, all the artwork is done by my artist, filmmaker son, Nathan. He has a clever way of signing his work by inserting his upside down initials into the works  .

They're there, but not easily seen.

Mary Rosenblum

Actually, the website itself is very well done! Do you or Nathan do it? Or is it a professional web designer?

Elizabeth Guy

Nathan does the artwork. I do everything else via Microsoft FrontPage. 

I also have a computer genius husband, so when I get stumped, I turn to him.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, super! Nice job!

laina

What is the most common mistake you see writer's make?

Elizabeth Guy

Thanks so much!

A lack of conflict. Many stories are full of narrative that doesn't go anywhere. They read more as a journal entry instead of a chapter 

A great story must have suspense. And suspense requires conflict. Will she or won't she enter that dark room? Will he or won't he make it over the waterfall? 

As long as your readers are asking questions, you're on the right track. Encountering obstacles--that's Conflict.

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, that's the core of story, all right.

laina

What would be the second most common mistake among writers?

Mary Rosenblum

Maybe we could just ask what are the most common weaknesses you see?

Elizabeth Guy

A lack of conflict is definitely #1. Second, may be not opening the first chapter with a bang. Many storytellers believe they have to set up the story first 

introduce the character, define her background, etc. But that's not the case. Grab readers with action from the get-go, and you'll have plenty of time later on to fill in the past 

As Mary wrote in her most excellent article, Embedding the Backstory: prose fiction is interactive. We leave out readers ROOM TO IMAGINE  "

They don't need to know everything.

Mary Rosenblum

You read that piece? I'm flattered. And yes, these are the same problems I see over and over in LR student and workshop mss.

Elizabeth Guy

Knowing WHERE to start the story is really an art form all its own.

Most of the time, we don't know that spot until we've completed the novel.

Mary Rosenblum

Isn't that the truth? I had published quite a few short stories before I could actually start my first draft where it needed to start, instead of 

lopping off the first scene or two during revision! LOL

Elizabeth Guy

I know the feeling. 

And it's difficult to lop off those scenes because I thought it was so brilliant. ;-)

Mary Rosenblum

Aren't the ones we usually need to lop usually the ones we love best?

Elizabeth Guy

Yeah, why is that?

Mary Rosenblum

You know, years ago, Orson Scott Card told me to find the scene I liked best in anything I wrote and take it out. He said

that we love something too much to be objective.

I have to admit I don't always do that, but often he's right.

Elizabeth Guy

Well, it's difficult to be objective at all when it's your work. It's very personal.

A favorite part of The VERB, for me, is the Liitle-Known Facts section. 

This spotlights writers who have already left us. 

But I'm struck by some of the horrible childhoods they had. They squleched their pain with the usual means: drugs, alcohol, violence, etc. Yet through it all, the managed to become incredibly gifted storytellers .

Unfortunately some greats, such as Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath committed suicide. But I wonder: did their background make them great writers?

crystalwizard

Like Robert Asprin?

Elizabeth Guy

Or were they great writers despite their backgrounds? Hmmmm.

Mary Rosenblum

That's a question isn't it?

A little hard to answer, alas.

Elizabeth Guy

True. Just makes one think.

onepozy

On your bad first novel, how long did you work on it before you shelved it and move on to other work

Elizabeth Guy

Four long excruciating and fun years, onepozy.

After the readers gave me their opinions, I was able to let it go.

Mary Rosenblum

Ouch. So do you feel that you learned a lot in the process, painful though it may have been?

Elizabeth Guy

Unquestionably. And I know now what beginning writers are feeling, and how lost some of them feel when they can't get answers. It's terribly frustrating.

paulab

Were you working on other things simultaneously?

Elizabeth Guy

I wrote a few short stories, but mainly spent every moment I could on that "organ-jabbering" novel.

Mary Rosenblum

But, hey, Readingwriters and The Verb were born! Would that have happened if you'd had a modest success in that first novel?

Elizabeth Guy

Probably not.

rae

How often do new writers succeed with their first novels?

Elizabeth Guy

And I've been SO MANY good writing people!

Mary Rosenblum

What do you think, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Guy

It's rare, but it happens.

Mary Rosenblum

Most pros I know never published the first novel they actually wrote, but most wrote 'em very young.

Elizabeth Guy

And some spent years rewriting that first novel until they finally got it right. But I wouldn't focus too much on the stats, I'd focus on writing a fabulous story.

Anybody can by the exception.

Mary Rosenblum

Exactly.

rae

Would you suggest that a writer only give you a manuscript when it is final or before?

Elizabeth Guy

I prefer to read an entire novel. 

This way, I can see the shape of the story  .

On the site, I compare it to stepping back and looking at a painting 

and then moving in and honing in on the details. 

I can't do that with a partial, but I do read partials, if asked 

It's just that I feel I don't provide an adequate Opinion with partials.

paulab

Are you looking for more readers?

Mary Rosenblum

Where do you find your readers?

Elizabeth Guy

I find readers online, or through writer friends. At this time, I'm not adding to the list, but please feel free to email me, tell me a bit about yourself and I will put you in my file.

That sounds painful, doesn't it? "I will put you in my file."

Mary Rosenblum

I envision this huge metal drawer!

But seriously, are you working on writing projects now? Or are you mostly involved with the website?

Elizabeth Guy

With two cats guarding it.

Mary Rosenblum

Two Egyptian cats.

Elizabeth Guy

I have just completed a thriller screenplay and entered it into the Nicholl Fellowship Competition. Should be hearing the results of that later in the summer. 

I am always reading manuscripts or working on The VERB, or writing a short story. Can't help myself.

I love to read!

Mary Rosenblum

Short stories are addictive! No novel in progress, though?

Elizabeth Guy

There’s one on the backburner that needs some simmering.

Mary Rosenblum

Don't forget to mention your Ice Noodle and Mush Pump book remember. Isn't it available?

Elizabeth Guy

Yes, you can view the book trailer and read an excerpt in The VERB, page 4. It is available at Lulu and your favorite online bookstores.

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, I think I sent folk to view the video trailer in a recent newsletter. Tell us about making that, will you? It was way cool.

Elizabeth Guy

First, I wrote the script. And then I spent DAYS playing with my MovieMaker program .

I inserted text and images, then changed it all, then lost it and had to start over .

And then I learned the music I wanted to use could NOT be used, copyright issues, so I went in search of free music and found Kevin MacCleod 

(He's linked on the page.) And overall, I'd say it took me a good month to get that baby ready to roll.

But it's a great advertising tool, and I recommend it to all.

Mary Rosenblum

Wow! You did a great job. :-)

Elizabeth Guy

Thanks!

paulab

I love your Are You Ready For Feedback? section on your website, all of the "a" selections are hilarious!

Elizabeth Guy

Thanks. That originally ran in Writers' Digest 

and I received so much email from it. People like to laugh.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, we're about out of time, fun though our visit has been! Any parting words that you want to share with everyone?

Elizabeth Guy

I've had a blast, and thank you again, Mary, for asking me here. 

Also, to all you writers out there, NEVER lose your sense of humor. It keeps you buoyant.

Mary Rosenblum

Excellent advice! Thank you for a great site! I'll keep mentioning it in the LR Newsletter as you put new issues up. Fine job, Elizabeth! Keep up the good work!

Elizabeth Guy

Same to you, Mary Goodnight!

Mary Rosenblum

Good night!

Thank you all for coming! I hope to see you Sunday at our casual chat. Same time, same place!

 

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