As Halloween approaches, I'm reminded of a special October a few years back when skeletons and ghosts weren't the only things I feared.
I'd just finished my first draft of ABSOLUTION, and on the heels of great agent and mentor response, I decided to host an editing party.
Um, yeah. Clearly I hadn't thought that one through before inviting 50 people to basically "assault" my baby. Two weeks before the event - held at the Masonic temple (of course) - I sent the manuscript to my party attendees, oblivious to the glaring typos, cardboard characterization, and inconsistent plotting.
My invite list included readers, writers, want-to-be writers and book reviewers. Yep, book reviewers - because that seemed like a good idea (duh). I'd even invited people from out of town, though I never expected any of them to show up.
All of them did.
Eight key people helped with the planning. Two of them were in charge of designing the invitations, posters and specific decor. My invitations (shown in the picture) were beyond anything I could have ever imagined - no wonder people thought they should attend.
Another friend, my Italian connection, arranged for the food - an Italian FEAST of appetizers and deserts.
My Dad - after traveling 14 hours one way in the snow - supplied the wine.
We had props - mannequins, candles, departure gifts (Small bottles of Absolut vodka and cross shaped chocolates). And two of my friends built a video confessional so participants could express their feelings on the book.
And then came the main event. We'd created a spooky atmopshere heightened by the stormy weather outside. The food arrived just in time, the last of the decor was assembled only minutes before my guests arrived.
Only then did I start to feel scared. Perhaps terrified is more apt.
Writers are told they need thick skin, and that night tested the elasticity of my own quite effectively. The evening began with group sessions, my "group leaders" guiding attendees through a series of questions. What works? What didn't work? Were you scared? Did you laugh? Which character didn't resonate for you?
And when that was done, participants moved from station to station commenting on specific characters, plot gaps, even writing style. Who knew the name Nico Pasquali sounded a bit cartoonish? Blood really can't splatter that far? What do you mean I can't end sentences with exclamation marks?
To summarize the evening, I stood at the front of the room while these 50 people debated my book. Kind of like standing before a jury and waiting for the death sentence to be delivered. The feedback was overwhelming - both positive and, well, not so positive. And four hours later, when everyone went home, I had almost 50 manuscripts with edits on them to peruse and an hour and a half of video confessional to watch.
Despite the evening's success, I realize now the book was not ready for that audience. ABSOLUTION was in first draft, and my "craft" lessons had not even begun.
I continue to be overwhelmed by the generosity and support of my friends. They not only helped create the atmosphere of that event, but were involved in every step of its process - from leading mini discussion groups, to standing guard in case things got out of hand, right through to lathering cream on the cracks of my "thick" armour when the night ended.
But I also learned a lot. Like, a first draft probably shouldn't be tossed out to the masses. Don't get me wrong - my critics were tame, perhaps swayed by the decadent food or flow of good wine. And their feedback provided me with a plethera of solutions to problems they helped to identify.
Yet as I look back at what ABSOLUTION has become, it is THIS version I wish I'd put on public display, because even though I have much left to learn, I've come a long way since then.
I keep that in mind as I (taking a breath) begin to plan my second editing party. I can already begin to feel the first prickles of fear...