An icon of current fashion, Beryl Shaw sits before me; a woman who claims writing is now her obsession. We talk about her achievements in the past and come to the last seven years (2005-2012) when her facial expression changes to a charged-up one. "I have discovered fiction writing and it really excites me. Writing allows me to articulate everything I have in my head." Asked what influences her imagination, she answers, "I've always been creative. One of my friends put it well when she said, 'If you and I were to enter a room and see a chandelier hanging over our heads, you would see in the chandelier a myriad of visions, whereas I would simply see a lamp.'"
When we discuss Beryl's first novel that failed to gain agent representation, she enlightens me. "You have to understand that a writer doesn't send from the get-go the entire manuscript to an agent — unless that writer is well-known. Writers have to follow strict submission guidelines, and we're lucky if we're allowed to include in our pitch package a few chapters that give an example of writing style. Regardless, my pitch failed. But I'm no longer stricken by the rejection. I've now written for five more years and have found that practice is the key to better writing skills."
"The way I see it, the first novel is always a winner — whether it was read, published, or not. That's because the first novel begins a writer's career. In the process, a writer learns valuable lessons about the art of writing, the art of pitching, and the art of perseverance. By the time I was on my second novel, I had developed a strong work ethic, I had organized an office, and I had done miles of research on my next novel topic."
Clad in a hang-around-the-house, frilly and tiered skirt above her knees, Beryl says, "The novel I will soon pitch turned out to be quite different than I had expected. I even switched genres. But I didn't really get into gear until the day I bought a Dictaphone. Then I started hearing my narrated chapters rather than reading them, and I noticed that I had developed a writing rhythm. Hurray! But then I would hear a narrated sentence jolt my rhythm and the transgression would be as noticeable as an out-of-tune piano key."
The topic of professional editors comes up, and I ask if writers should have their manuscripts proofed before pitching. Beryl replies, "Ideally, of course. But not many new writers can afford such luxury, nor do they have connections to brilliant editors. Nevertheless, if writers will go ahead and prepare their pitch packages, their concise outlines and synopses will target most plot problems without needing editors to find them."
When I ask Beryl what advice she has for new writers, she says, "I would urge them to stick with a completed manuscript and to work through its problems. When non-writer friends push them to hurry up and pitch, they should rather keep editing, select every word, and solve all plot problems. A premature pitch only jeopardizes what might have been a strong chance for publication. And as for aborting a troubled novel with high hopes that a new novel will bring a literary masterpiece — forget it! Until writers learn to recognize and solve their blunders, they'll keep repeating them in a hundred novels. I much prefer to work out the marriage between me and my book. Besides, I can't stop. After seven years of writing, I'm only now starting to purr."